What’s all the fuss about?
Also called mushroom tea or Manchurian mushroom tea, Kombucha is all the rage—and has some pretty steep claims to fame. It’s a tart, fermented tea that has a long history. Some claim that kombucha is a cure-all, with the ability to cure liver disease, cancer, chronic pain, and even HIV. I am skeptical of all such claims, especially when made by the people selling kombucha. It’s as if these sellers need a grandiose claim—or a gimmick—to sell the product. It’s anathema in our culture to let the product speak for itself. Kombucha does have benefits, other than taste. Kombucha has been used as a detoxifier, a dietary aide, and has been beneficial to folks on a weight loss regimen because kombucha helps the body break down fat. There are cautions for not using kombucha unless you have a healthy liver and kidneys because kombucha’s detoxifying effects can put stress on the body’s avenues of elimination. But, some other people with problems with eliminating toxins out of their body swear by kombucha. I think it’s a part of the personal journey.
You’ll note any site that cautions you against using kombucha are sites that advocate Western, conventional medicine. Many of those sites will claim that kombucha can cause lactic acidosis, allergic reaction, and death. I think the only deaths linked to kombucha were from individuals with seriously compromised immune systems, who may have already had some life-threatening infection, and their bodies weren’t strong enough to handle the extreme detoxification brought on by kombucha.
I’ve only ever experienced one ‘adverse’ reaction to kombucha—mild kombucha addiction. And that only after I began making my own. For the first time I have an abundance of it in the house and I usually have 2 glasses a day, morning and evening, but not too late as it gives you a little zip if you use the conventional recipes. BUT I came up with what I call “Sleepy Time” recipes that use things like Lemon Balm, Skullcap and Lavender (though not together) with relatively low tea to herb ratio and I am out for the count in about 20 minutes.
Personally, I drink kombucha because I like the way it tastes. I see some immediate health benefits on a physical level. It’s a great digestive aide, helps settle the stomach, and keeps things flowing if you know what I mean. It’s an excellent detoxifier and purges the system. Whenever I go off my healthful dietary regimen, kombucha helps things go back into balance. With some recent health issues, and a need to do a complete cleanse, juice fast, and detoxification, I will experiment with using kombucha as part of that experience. Anthony and I also find that kombucha is a mild appetite suppressant, which probably leads to all the wild weight loss claims. I also find that certain blends give quite a bit of a lift, better than coffee or some teas. As I’m writing this, I came home wanting nothing more than to take a nap. Instead, I had a glass of kombucha, and while I’m not zipping around the house, I do have more mental acuity and a great reduction in fatigue. For someone who suffers from chronic fatigue, that’s a blessing. For a good, comprehensive history of Kombucha, take a look at Food Renegade’s article “Kombucha Health Benefits”
Anthony and I first came across kombucha almost a decade ago. We were in Brooklyn, had just eaten lunch, and were on our way to an important meeting that couldn’t be put off. About 20 minutes after eating, I became almost violently ill. I was feverish, and desperately wanted to go home. But, we couldn’t shirk the meeting—and I didn’t want to spew all over the folks we were meeting with (especially since one was a priest or bishop or some such thing). What to do? We had a little time and were near a health food store cleverly named after CS Lewis’ Perelandra. We were looking for something to settle my stomach. The shop clerk recommended kombucha. I think it was a ginger variety from that blasted company whose caps always leaked. Serenity or senility. It’s the folks who pulled all their product from the market after Lindsey Lohan was caught breaking parol by ODing on kombucha for the mild alcoholic content.
At the time I thought their product was a magical tonic. Inside of 15 minutes, my stomach was fine. I wasn’t in any pain, and I didn’t barf on any religious folks—or any nonreligious folks either.
We became avid kombucha nuts, but often had to be frugal with our consumption because it was cost-prohibitive at over $3 a bottle. We also didn’t like the packaging from that particular company because inevitably the beverage would burst forth upon opening, like little geysers and over half the bottle would be gone in a flash of carbonation and bubbles. Then, after returning onto the market after the Lohan fiasco, it tasted more like carbonated vinegar than kombucha—and had some god-awful new flavors with gritty bits of lavender floating around and guava (not together), amongst others. There were other kombucha brands on the market, but many were simple teas—like hibiscus and green tea—with sugar, carbonated water, and a dash of kombucha. Others ranged in flavor, from mild to oily. And all are extremely expensive—especially on an adjunct’s salary.
So kombucha became a once-in-a-while luxury. I became incensed at the idea of any kombucha being pulled from the market because some spoiled member of the 1% couldn’t handle her alcohol. Because kombucha is a fermented beverage, it does have mild alcohol content. The idea that we’ve fallen so far, as far as catering to the 1%, that for ONE person, an entire company had to remove its product from the shelves, an entire industry had to invest in relabeling, and in many instances reMAKING their product so no trust-fund babies or shattered teen icons would get a whiff of alcohol? I’m sure many small makers of kombucha went out of business because of this. Probably because of this, and the fact that when the kombucha hit the market again, prices went up making it even more cost prohibitive, I actually wrote it off.
On top of all this political nonsense regarding alcohol content, I pretty much couldn’t find a brand that matched my first experience as far as taste…. Until I attended Evolver’s Reskilling event last summer and tasted Beyond Kombucha’s positively intoxicating elixirs. Spiro offered a few bottles of his brand and they were exhilarating. But, if any of you’ve read my review of the event, you’ll know Spiro taught a workshop on how to make your own kombucha—and, after momentarily forgetting his scobie, he bequeathed the scobie into my keeping.
Once you learn how to make kombucha, it is almost a life changing process. It’s so easy that once you know how to do it, you won’t ever want to pay for kombucha again. . . . except maybe Spiro’s. Beyond Kombucha takes kombucha to the level of fine cider and wine. And, there will be a bit higher alcohol content, since their kombucha is fermented and aged. It’s also refined, without the messy kombucha ‘poo’ floating around inside the bottle. I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on that kombucha, because, it is very much like wine. Even though I can make my own wine at home, it won’t stop me from buying a splendid bottle of moscato.
Above all, I decided to write this article to teach you how to make basic—and more artesianal kombuchas—to basically pay forward the knowledge I learned while at that Reskilling, and to share the gift I got in that blessed scobie.
I also wanted to voice my concern—and outrage—at the exploitation going on in the kombucha industry. First, are the wild claims about kombucha being some magical panacea. Do I believe someone needing a liver transplant was spontaneously cured after a regimen of kombucha? I’d be more inclined to believe it if that person wasn’t trying to sell her own brand of kombucha as the cure-all. I also find it part of our exploitative culture that so many people are trying to hoodwink so many consumers into believing that kombucha is some occult knowledge only available to the mainstream via their books for 3 simple payments of $12.95 plus shipping and processing. Or that kombucha needs some extravagant kit with specialized equipment (available on their site for anywhere from $65.95 to $140, plus shipping and processing).
Kombucha is no more complicated than a gallon wide-mouthed glass jar, a cup of sugar, 15 to 25 grams of tea (depending on your tastes), water, a pancake colony of microorganisms called a scobie, and some time in the dark.
My recipes are a combination of knowledge learned from Spiro’s Reskilling workshop, instructions read in Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation, and from trial and error. In the past 7 months I’ve made about 60 gallons of kombucha, in a variety of batches from as small as 1 quart to as large as 2 gallons in a single jar. I am by no means an expert. But, I think I’ve learned enough over the past few months to pay it forward. If it wasn’t for learning from a master at the art, I wouldn’t have the wherewithal to experiment. As far as taste, once you make your own, there is NO going back.