Kombucha's origin is loosely traced to 220 b.c. China. This does make sense as the word 'cha' is mandarin for Tea. Although, in Vietnamese Chả means sausage so go figure. The exact origin is unknown and unclaimed. Like somewhere in the far east is all we know. Doesn't mostly everything really cool come from that area of the world? Ah-yuh!
Like most delicious yeast fueled delicacies ( beer, bread ) Kombucha was more than likely an accident. I envision an old bearded man living in a cave in the himilayan mountains. Out for his morning stretch... after drinking his cup of tea ( forraged by hand a stones throw from his cave dwelling.. brewed over a campfire ) he left it precariously shelved in a dark corner of his cave yard. A gust of wind brought a tiny little cluster of yeast. Days later upon returning, his tea had fermented. A delicious slightly sparkling beverage was born!
Kombucha is a type of fermented tea popular for it's supposed "ProBiotic" ( insert yogurt commercial of choice here) bacteria that aid digestion, clear skin, shine hair etc. It may also have detoxifying properites aswell due to glucaric acid, which helps the liver to break down toxins. No scientific evidence has proven these facts however, they are hypothesis only.
A batch of sweetened tea is made and into this tea, a scoby ( simbiotic culture of bacteria in yeast - how nerdy) is inserted and left to work its magic for several days.
Over these few days the yeast eats the sugar and produces gas. Thus, the light and pleasant carbonation. The tea develops a tart and refreshing flavour.
Now that i've given a brief introduction, I'd like to start telling my personal kombucha story.
The first taste of Kombucha i ever had was a bottle of 'Kombucha Wonder Drink' I bought at fresh and wild. Self described as a 'sparkling fermented tea' , it sounded delicious and I thought I'd give it a try. It was dark rose in colour and came in a tiny stubby bottle. I asked the girl working the counter if she could open it for me. It wasn't a twist off.
"Would you like it over ice?' she asked
She poured it over ice and popped in a straw for me. It was foamy, fizzy, smelled like fruit and looked alot like a beer! I was ready to try it. I walked outside into the sun and took my first sip.
It was.... interesting.
The first sip of anything is never quite right. Memories of tasting my parent's wine at dinner as a child remind me that anything that is an 'acquired taste' takes some getting used to. Something that at first tastes awful can really grow on you. And that's what kombucha is. An acquired taste. And once you've acquired that taste for it, there's no turning back.
I was hooked. But at $3.50 a bottle ( and a stubby bottle at that) my addiction was going to start becoming expensive. That and it was SO hard to find. Fresh and Wild carried it but only sometimes, and only at one location. The organic shop in my neighbourhood carried it.. but only sometimes. Seemed I was one of very few who was buying it enough for it to be a well stocked product. Hmph.
I stumbled on another brand! Yipee! Fairy Tonic was the name... Sure i'd give it a try!
Awful. It was so awful. It tasted like apple cider vinegar. Was this what kombucha really was? Was the brand I liked so much just a softened up version? I was so confused. This dilemma called for serious research. To my laptop I went.
On a hot july night i spent 3 hours google surfing anything and everything I could learn about Kombucha. I learned that it needs a started or scoby. I also learned that you could create this scoby if you had a bottle of ready made kombucha, some heat mats, and alot of time and patience. I tried this, sans heat mats. But it failed. A speck of mold blew my chances. I felt frustrated. Catching yeast is hard! Anyone who has tried to create their own sourdough bread starter will know that, as romantic as catching yeast from the air sounds, unless youre in a really fertile area, with lots of wind and ocean humidity surrounding you, the chances of catching a good yeast, or any yeast at all, is very slim. Toronto didnt seem like the place to be doing it. A california vineyard? Ok. Defeated, deflated, I forgot about this project for awhile.
Then an ad on craigslist renewed my drive. Scoby's for sale! In Toronto!? No. Well, yes. That night, feeling a bit like a greasy kid waiting on the corner for my drug connection, I met up with a lady who sold me my very first real live scoby. It was an exciting day.
"You just bought it from a stranger ? How do you know its not poisonous?" - my mom
Hopes renewed I hunkered down for my first experiment. I looked up a few reciped online and got going. Make your sweetened tea, sink your scoby, and let it rest for 2-3 weeks. Alright then. Off I went. I set it up, and put it right next to my radiator ( it was still winter at this point and was hot!) I had made the mistake of confusing making a starter with brewing. It didnt really need the heat. But I didnt know this at this point... let's carry on...
3 weeks later I unveiled my little kombucha jar and took a sip.
Awful. It was like Fairy Tonic batch I'd tried in the summer. So sour. So vinegary! A disaster.
So.. i decided to write to my new kombucha friend who had sold me the scoby.
"Three weeks!? That's way too long!! I usually leave mine for 3 days... 5 days max!"
Ooops. Back to the drawing board. Made a new batch with black tea and brewed it for 5 days. I really didnt believe it could be ready... so I wrote my friend again for tech support
"Just taste it. If it no longer tastes sugary it's ready to bottle!"
Well, it was no longer sugary.. but it wasnt very bubbly. I ended up jarring it and it did taste quite nice. But not as bubbly as I wanted it to be....
My second batch I tried green tea. Again, tasty, but not bubbly.
This brings me to my third batch which I will begin this afternoon. Green tea again. A wu-long 'blue' tea (semi-oxidzed) from the Jianxi province in China. Grown in the mountains, 5000 feet above sea level.
I'd like to post some pictures of my kombucha adventures so far.. I'm in the process of figuring out how to do that. So... stay tuned!