Kombucha is a sweetened tea that has been fermented using an ancient culture that is a symbiotic combination of bacteria and yeasts (S.C.O.B.Y.). It is thought to have originated in the Far East, probably China, where the drink was considered to have medicinal value, and has been consumed there for at least two thousand years. The first recorded use of kombucha comes from China in 221 BC during the Tsin Dynasty. It was known as "The Tea of Immortality" or the “Elixir of Life” and was given to the Emperor to keep him young and healthy.
Several hundred years ago, the fermented kombucha recipe made its way to Eastern Europe, Russia and Japan. The name kombucha is said to have come from Japan in 415 AD. It was named after Dr. Kombu, who brought the drink back from his travels for the Japanese Emperor Inyoko. The name of Dr. Kombu was added to the “cha”, which means “tea”, and the drink became known as Kombu-cha. The energy boost that it gives was utilized by the samurai warriors, who drank it before battle.
In 1913 A.D., after a medical epidemic broke out in Germany, researchers sent to find a cure discovered a village of Russian peasants who were not sick. It was found that all of them were drinking a home made beverage called Kombucha. Later, a German doctor called Dr. Skelner began to use it in his practice to treat his patients, having found that the probiotics in it boosted immunity and improved overall health.
During WW II, due to rationing of sugar, Europeans were no longer able to afford making Kombucha and its use and popularity died down. In the 1960s it surfaced in California and was known as “Groovy tea”, and spread to other parts of the US.
In 1995 GT Dave, after he discovered its effect on cancer during his mother’s sickness, established the first and largest commercially sold brand of Kombucha called GT’s.
Today, because of its health benefits, Kombucha’s popularity is on the rise around the world. More and more people moving towards a holistic lifestyle are choosing it as a healthier alternative to the sugar and additive laden commercial drinks, and Kombucha is now easily available all over the US and in many parts of the Western world.
My first encounter with Kombucha was in 1990, when I visited my parents in New Delhi and found my mother making and drinking what she called Manchurian mushroom tea, which she claimed had caused her digestion problems to disappear and gave her alertness and energy. In those days the only way to get some was to find someone who made it at home and was willing to give you a baby culture so that you could make it for yourself. But most people found that they did not have the discipline and consistency required to keep doing it, and eventually their culture would die and they would discontinue. And so I made it off and on over the years, as it was hard to find someone to get a new culture from when mine died.