Scoby Seduction

Want shiny thick hair? Weight Loss? Relieve joint pain? How about increased metabolism, congestion relief AND a new boyfriend? Then I have one word 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 grocery stores, health food establishments, 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 200 B.C. during the Tsin dynasty in China and through trade routes was brought to India and Russia, and to Japan by a Korean Dr. named Kombu in 415 A.D. It 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) were scarce due to rationing. Others say that this is all completely false, so the history of this tea seems to be as elusive as the health claims (and home brewing instructions) themselves.

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 Kombucha, and she might as well have handed me a crack pipe. At first, I found it disgustingly vinegary and was a bit put off from the floating slimy chunks, but strangely I couldn’t get enough of it. My body craved more. At my height of Kombucha drinking I was downing up to 3 bottles a day. Yes. I had become a Kombucha addict. I felt more energy, it calmed my stomach, and I rationalized that 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 over $5.50 at some bodegas) I was eager to find out more about home brewing. As fate would have it I attended a yoga class one evening and the few people there were talking, which was unusual, and actually irritating (I prefer a quiet and 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 (my mom fondly refers to it as “the monster”) looks and sounds a lot scarier than it actually is. The correct name for it is scoby—symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Each brewing cycle the scoby creates a new daughter mushroom, or baby, to protect itself from any harmful pathogen that might also enjoy sharing its home. Get one and the rest is relatively easy. You add about one cup of organic sugar to one gallon of distilled boiling water, and steep about 5 green and/or black organic tea bags in it (time varies depending on who you ask). Pour this mixture into a sterile 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. Then you let the scoby do its magic, and in about 7-10 days you have Kombucha! Time depends on personal taste and temperature. Some great sites for recipes, troubleshooting tips and mail order scoby’s are www.organic-kombucha.com and www.HappyHerbalist.com. In your research you will most likely come across very conflicting opinions such as you must use at least half black tea while others will say you can use all green. Try it all ways, and just watch the health of your baby—I have killed a few so far.

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. 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 stomach. For that, and my tea-loving yoga boyfriend, I am definitely grateful.