scoby seduction

Want shiny thick hair? Weight Loss? To relieve joint pain? How about increased metabolism? Aid your digestion? Blood alkalization? Relieve congestion AND find a new boyfriend?  Then I have one work for you my friend: Kombucha.

Yes this purported “elixir of life” has claimed to do all of this and more.  Kombucha is a fermented tea that has gained a huge following in the past several years.  Companies like G.T. Daves, Carpe Diem, and Kombucha Wonder Drink are lining the shelves of your local grocery stores and every other bodega in New York.  Yet this relatively new craze has an ancient past.   It is said that Kombucha tea was created sometime around 212 B.C. During the Tsin dynasty in China and through trade routes was brought to India, Russia, and Japan (possibly by a Korean Dr. named Kombu in 415 A.D).  Kombucha found its way to Germany from Russia at the turn of the last century and was popular throughout Europe until the Second World War when both tea and sugar (the main ingredients of the tea other than the “mushroom”) were scarce due to rationing.  Of course, other sources say that this is all completely false – so the history of this little tea seems to be as elusive as the health claims (and home brewing instructions) themselves.  I feel that it just makes one’s own experience of kombucha more personal.

I started drinking Kombucha about 3 years ago when my mother introduced me to a nice sparkling cold bottle of G.T. Dave’s Gingerberry, and she might as well have handed me a crack pipe.  At first sip I found it disgustingly vinegary and was a bit put off from the floating slimy chunks – but I couldn’t get enough of it.  My body craved it.  At my height of Kombucha drinking I was downing up to 3 bottles a day – yes – one could say I had become a Kombucha addict.  I felt more energy, it calmed my stomach, and I thought it was better for me that other drinks of choice - namely coffee and beer.

Fairly confident that I had put at least G.T.’s first born through their freshman year of college (the stuff isn’t cheap! $3.39 per bottle at Whole Foods and Fairway and over $5.50 at some Bodegas) I was - needles to say - eager to find out more about home brewing for pennies! As fate would have it I attended a yoga class one evening at my gym and the few people there were talking, which was unusual, and actually irritating, as I prefer a quiet and anonymous start to class.  But as I began to settle and pay attention I realized that they were talking about brewing kombucha!  I excitedly smashed my way into the conversation and almost begged the kind man with the brewing experience to teach me and give me his next baby. Of the mushroom persuasion.

A kombucha mushroom or scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) creates a new daughter mushroom, or baby, with each brewing cycle to protect itself from any harmful pathogen that might also enjoy sharing its home. There are many many different recipes for kombucha making and almost each website seems to say “you must do this” or “don’t ever do that” but the basic instructions are adding about one cup of organic sugar (more or less depending on taste) to one gallon of distilled boiling water, and steeping about 5 green and/or black organic tea bags in it (time again varies depending on who you ask).  Pour this mixture into a sterile (the most important thing throughout this whole process is keeping everything extremely clean) one gallon glass jar (I found one at the Container Store for about $10) add your precious kombucha baby when the liquid has cooled, and finally cover it with a napkin and rubber band to keep out fruit files and mold and such.

The fun part about making Kombucha is the communal aspect of it, getting a baby from a friend, or a strange man in yoga class, and then getting another one when you realize the one he gave you also came with some fruit fly larvae.  I ended up ordering another one online from Travers City, MI as was very happy until I killed her on a road trip… but that is a story for another day.

Somehow in spite of the sick baby I ended up going out to coffee with the kind kombucha yoga man… and then dinner… and then another fancier dinner followed by ferry ride… and now we make kombucha together on Tuesdays in our apartment.  He carries home two gallons of water and we look at each other sideways and make comments about how the other one brews.  Some weeks the babies that come are happy and strong, and others paper-thin.  I think it takes time and a lot of trial and error to get into your own personal kombucha groove, and I don’t think I’ve hit it yet.  I still grab the occasional G.T.’s and I don’t know if I am really any healthier or shinier from all the tea, but it does seem to help settle my often cranky and anxiety ridden intestines.  For that I love it and always will.