What is THAT!” hollered my young daughter when I opened the box we’d just gotten in the mail. Floating in the plastic bag inside was a whitish disk with brownish threads hanging from it that looked more than a bit like a very flat jellyfish read this.
“That,” I said, “is a kombucha…thingie,” I finished lamely. How to explain to a child what a symbiotic collection of bacteria and yeast (aka “scoby”) is? Because that’s what we’d just gotten in the mail, a “thingie” commonly called a kombucha mushroom, even though it’s not a mushroom at all.
“It looks like an alien!” yelled my daughter. Maybe it is, added her father. One thing led to another, and we named our scoby Gonzales–Alien Gonzales, get it? Never mind. Suffice it to say that as quickly as we could, we put Gonzales to work in a gallon jar of strong sugared tea on the counter, where a Gonzales descendent has been happily brewing ever since for the last two years.
Why, you may be asking yourself, do you have an alien-like organism floating in a vat of sweet tea in your kitchen? Ah, so that it will turn the tea into kombucha, a drink with both amazing flavor and amazing powers for healing. Or at least so its adherents (and a couple of studies) say.
I’m one of its adherents. When I’m regularly drinking kombucha, my digestion is better, my skin improves and my blood sugar seems more stable. When I first started drinking it, my gray hair even started coming back dark, but that was a passing trend at best. All of this is completely subjective in my case; I have no clear proof that drinking kombucha did any of this definitively and of course Your Mileage May Vary. But I can tell you definitively that kombucha is delicious and cheap to make yourself. You can pay upwards of $3 for a small bottle of it at the health food store, or for the price of five plain old tea bags and a cup of sugar make a big batch of it yourself for pennies a bottle.
The first step in brewing kombucha is to obtain a scoby. I bought Gonzales mail order, but here’s the thing about scobies: Every time you brew kombucha you get a new one. (That’s not actually Gonzales; it’s something like Gonzales XXIV.) It should be easy if you live in a larger area to find someone with a spare scoby to give away through Freecycle or Craigslist–heck, just email your friends and I bet you’ll turn one up. If, however, you’re out in the middle of scoby-less territory, I bought mine at Kombucha.org, which is also a good source of information. You can also try the International Kombucha Exchange, where you’ll find people who will give scobies away. When you get your scoby, make sure the person gives you at least a cup of kombucha as well.
Once you have your scoby, you’ll want to keep it in the fridge in the kombucha it came in until you’re ready to use it. Store it in glass if at all possible; plastic can leach into the kombucha, and metal is reactive with its acids. I have a Corningware container I keep mine in.