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Immortali-Tea: The Ancient History of Kombucha

It’s pretty surprising how popular kombucha has become in recent years, considering what’s in it and how it’s made. It is literally fermented tea, and so unlike other popular drinks like soda and regular iced tea packed with refined sugar. Who came up with this odd beverage? 

Kombucha is ancient. Though we aren’t quite sure what went into it, a record during the Tsin Dynasty (221 B.C.E), mentions a “tea of immortality.” It makes sense China first came up with it, considering legend has it they were the ones to discover tea leaves. The name “kombucha” caught on much later. A Korean doctor named Kombu or Kamba – which one is lost to time – treated a Japanese emperor with fermented tea, and it must have worked. Eastern Europeans started enjoying the drink, but it fell out of fashion in WWII. This wasn’t because people stopped liking it, but because the pressures of war caused a shortage of tea and sugar. 

Kombucha rose from the ashes thanks to a German doctor who started prescribing it for patients. He used it for everything from cancer to diabetes to high blood pressure. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that kombucha started getting popular in the United States, and it quickly earned a reputation as a powerful health potion. While claims about it can be outlandish (it probably doesn’t cure cancer), limited studies have shown some benefits. Big companies like Starbucks took note, and last year, the coffee chain started selling it. You can read more about that announcement in a Livestly article back in 2018. 

So many teas, so many kombucha possibilities

What goes into making kombucha? First, you need tea. Any kind will do. Then, you need a SCOBY, or symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts. That culture goes into the tea with sugar, and fermentation goes on for 1-3 weeks. After another 1-2 weeks in a bottle, the kombucha is ready, and it’s produced a brand-new baby SCOBY. It’s the circle of life.