SCOBY: is it from outer space?? No, it's not an alien; its a SCOBY - a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. The Mother, the life force behind the Kombucha Brew. Without it, we'd have no booch. It is the cellulose disc that is formed by the bacteria during fermentation. It grows every week during home brewing and can look different each week; sometimes its thick and smooth, sometimes its thin and transparent, and sometimes its splotchy or has bubble pockets of yeast. The growth is effected week to week by temperature, brew ingredients and the relationship status of the bacteria and yeast. It is fascinating to watch and really cool to touch.
As the popularity of kombucha has grown and it has become available at the local market, it's easy to enjoy this drink without thinking about how it is made. It is is easy to find a SCOBY today, but where exactly did the first SCOBY come from? It's exact origin is mysterious, but it is very likely that it came from an ancient Eastern culture where fermented foods were always popular. There are several stories that have been passed along over time and here are the 3 most common origins of where in the world the first SCOBY came from:
- The most popular legend comes from China and dates back to 221-206 BC where it is believed that the emperor Qin She Huang extended his life by drinking the “Tea of Immortality” created for him by an alchemist. There is some speculation among scholars as to whether this was truly kombucha or reishi mushroom tea.
- Russian folklore says a monk with healing powers was beckoned to help a dying emperor. The monk promised to save the emperor with an ant that he drops into the emperors tea and instructs him to wait until the jellyfish forms to drink it. The tea transformed into a healing potion that saved the emperor.
- According to a legend out of Tibet, a monk fell asleep and a bacteria-carrying insect landed in his fresh pot of tea. The teapot was forgotten and a culture was able to form. When the monk discovered the incredible properties of this tea, he shared it with friends.
There is probably a bit of truth mixed into every fable (unless, maybe it is an alien after all). As the effects of this fermented tonic became more understood, it is likely that it was shared between cultures and countries. Where ever the geographic location might actually be, chances are an insect landed in a cup of sweet wine or tea and left behind some acetic acid bacteria that colonized with some yeast and began the first kombucha ferment. SCOBYs work with several different types of yeast and bacteria suggesting it could have thrived in a variety cultures. Regardless of where the first SCOBY culture came from, we are glad it’s here and has had the resiliency to thrive through the centuries and make it all the way to the western world. We agree with the Tibetan monk - that Kombucha should be shared among friends - so why not start brewing your own Kombucha today? Click Here to start your YEABUCHA home brew. Don't worry, we know where your SCOBY came from, and we guarantee that it’s healthy and organic, just like we like them!
Way back in the ‘90s, a Sikh friend gave me a SCOBY and some starter tea with some instructions. The instructions read like some Amish friendship bread instructions encouraging love and harmony by keeping the chain of SCOBYs going by passing it along to the next set of friends. The instructions also included an origin story about some aliens giving an emperor of China the “Elixer of Life.” I’ve brewed it for years, often passing along the SCOBY. However, I never knew the concoction was called Kombucha until a Millennial Hipster I worked with brought some to the office around 2015.