Somewhere around 2,500 years ago, a fermented beverage of tea, sugar and a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast was first brewed in a place we now call Manchuria. In 414 A.D., Dr. Kombu from Korea brought kombucha to Japan as treatment for the Japanese emperor Inkyo. The word for tea in Japanese is cha, so the literal translation is Dr. Kombu’s Tea.
Kombucha has survived and spread across the planet, handed down from one brewer to the next for over two millennia, enduring droughts, famines, wars, migrating families, sugar rations, tea shortages, thousands of years of civil and industrial revolutions, and, presently, our own American Food and Drug Administration. This beverage has gained in popularity in the United States since the early 2000s and is a household name for health food aficionados and beyond nowadays. But its true setting for over 2,000 years was in the closets and pantries of homes all over Eurasia, not in the drink coolers at the grocery store.
While the cultural and familial traditions around kombucha are many, and many lost, the story surrounding this Korean tradition has been preserved. In Korea (back before there was North and South, so this applies to the entire area), kombucha was preserved and brewed by an elder woman, the matriarch of the family. When any woman of this family is due to wed, the gift given is a scoby directly from the matriarch’s kombucha stash for the bride to begin brewing with her new family.
Scobys symbolized connection to family roots as this Korean tradition spread kombucha around the country and beyond as families moved here and there. It’s a cultured drink to keep your culture alive.
Furthermore, kombucha symbolizes commitment and ability to change and adapt.
In order to brew kombucha you have to commit to the process of feeding the scoby, which means you need clean water, a fire source, ample amounts of tea and sugar and a desire to take care of the scoby like you would a house plant or a pet. The scoby needs a home, which could be a glass jar or ceramic vessel of some sort and a dedicated shelf-space or countertop spot.
You can pour off ready-to-use kombucha and brew a new batch every 14-17 days usually, depending on temperature and the time you have available. If it does not brew long enough, then there are fewer health benefits, and if it brews too long then the desired flavor might be lost to an overgrowth of acetic acid (what we taste in apple cider vinegar). The level of commitment to brewing is reflected in the kombucha’s flavor and health benefits.
The ability to adapt and change is proven with each batch made. Every batch starts off as four ingredients but comes out as one thing: kombucha. It adapts according to the temperature of its home, the amounts of tea and sugar in any given batch, the time it is given to ferment, additional ingredients added in for flavor, and all the other things going on in the home around it whilst it sits and brews.
The scoby replicates itself each time a new batch is brewed, so it is self-sustaining as long as it is fed good water, tea and sugar and given a good brew spot. Kombucha continues to survive and spread as long as we as humans are committed to taking care of it and hand it out to people who want to grow their own.
Another of the many reasons kombucha has survived millennia are its health benefits. Many have seen changes in their health attributed to drinking kombucha. Kombucha is full of enzymes, B-vitamins, amino acids, nutritives, detoxifiers and probiotics. While some may argue the benefits, the truth is, each batch will be different, each scoby will be different than the next, and every scoby, just as every human, utilizes nutrients in different ways. The list is endless as to reasons health benefits can vary. Check out the book Kombucha – Healthy Beverage and Natural Remedy from the Far East by Gunther Frank for more info.
Probiotics in general are what kombucha is most famous for. They can communicate up to three times faster than our nervous system signals, so if we start drinking a probiotic drink and think, “I am doing something healthy for myself,” that message is now moving three times faster through our cells than the previous message which may have sounded something like, “Oh man, I feel sick, like I’m not going to get better.” I know which message I want my cells sounding off on.
Kombucha has survived because it is an authentic balancing health tonic that reminds us of our healing, commitment, adaptability and culture. It feels at home in our closets and pantries, and that is where it will continue to be found as long as we take our health in our hands.
Begin Within. Keep Kombucha Homebrewed & Healing. Be Well. Be Sound.
Author: Geoff Lamden is a sound therapist at Continuum Healing and co-founder of Sacred Springs kombucha.