About three weeks ago I jumped on the kombucha "bandwagon." Kombucha has been around for a long time, but it has recently become popular among the whole/raw/fermented food crowd, at least as far as I have noticed. Several blogging friends of mine, Shaye in particular, are regular kombucha makers and consumers, and they got me interested in the concept.
For those of you unfamiliar with kombucha, it is, simply put, fermented sweet tea. The tea is fermented using a SCOBY, a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria & Yeast. The scoby, sometimes referred to as the mushroom, is not a very pretty-looking thing. It is alive, and it grows and "reproduces." It is the scoby which turns sugary tea into a lightly bubbly, healthy-bacteria-filled, tart and delicious beverage.
I started making my own when my mom got a scoby from a friend and started making kombucha herself. Homemade kombucha is FAR cheaper than buying the expensive mass-produced version found at specialty stores (you can get it at Trader Joe's, among others). Each time you make a batch of kombucha, the scoby "reproduces" and creates a baby scoby, which can be separated from the mother and used to start another batch, or go in with the mother in a new batch. (It's like Amish friendship bread--the starter keeps reproducing, so you keep getting more starter.) Apparently you can actually eat the scoby, although given its rubbery texture and unappealing looks, I don't think I would. But, to each his or her own. :)
The history of kombucha is quite interesting--it was first made in China and from there spread to the rest of Asia, Europe, and eventually the rest of the world. If you'd like to read more about it, this Wikipedia article is very informative.
I could go on about what I've recently learned regarding the uses for kombucha, the varieties, the different techniques in home brewing. But you can Google that for yourself. And check out my friend Shaye's post on kombucha-making (that's basically the recipe/technique I used), and some more info from foodrepublic.com.
My own experience with kombucha so far has been an enjoyable and tasty one. I got two scoby's from my mom so the last time I started a batch I detached the original two and just kept the one from the batch I made. Yes, I just tossed them in the trash... maybe at some point I'll decide what to do with the extras. They're kind of a pain to mail, but if you live in my area let me know if you want a scoby!
I have been keeping just a small batch going, because I just drink half a cup to a whole cup a day. I make about eight cups at a time. Instead of using bottles with rubber stoppers, my kombucha goes in large glass jars and with a piece of plastic wrap under the tops to make a more airtight seal. The first batch I made I neglected to use the plastic wrap and my kombucha went kind of flat. Flat kombucha isn't nearly as fun as fizzy kombucha. :)
I used Earl Grey tea for my first two batches. The batch I set to ferment today I made with plain black Lipton tea. I'd like to try it with a good green tea, just because of the healthy aspects that green tea already has. The taste and smell take a little getting used to. Finished kombucha has a distinctly vinegary smell and taste; it's quite tart. It's good by itself and I often have it with breakfast.
I have to say that at this point I haven't noticed significant health benefits. I know it's good for my digestive system, but without going into detail, I haven't noticed much of a difference since I started drinking kombucha. I'm sure the long-term benefits will definitely be noticeable, however.
If you're still curious about something I didn't cover, feel free to comment or email me!
UPDATE: This page has posts by quite a few people about kombucha: Kombucha Challenge Linky Carnival. Many of the posts have additional links as well. There are a lot of great ideas, advice, and suggestions included there!
Linking with Real Food Forager.