The Kombucha Babushka
Around these parts, we get a lot of mileage out of the term “Kombucha culture” because the double entendre is so rich and completely fitting. Our Head Brewer hearts our live culture so much that he’s actually created characters to personify the bacteria (Big Al) and yeast (Li’l Buddy) we use. The other culture of Kombucha—the one that speaks to its associations with “art and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively” (props: Googlemachine)—is over-the-top intriguing, exponentially so. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure game. Spin a globe with your eyes shut and see where your finger lands. There’s an 86.4 percent chance (give or take) people in that place at one point in the history of time brewed Kombucha. I’ve started scanning for references in ancient Japanese texts and the Old Testament and Season 2 of Marco Polo. It’s pretty addictive, actually.
One time…at Kombucha Kamp (kombuchakamp.com), here’s what we learned: “From Asia, it traveled via the Silk Road to Russia and consequently all of Europe. The most definite recorded history of Kombucha began in Ukraine and Russia during the late 19th century.”
I have to admit some disappointment in how recent that seems in comparison to our Alien Invasion theory, but there are a few frostbit tales of the barren, post-apocalyptic, Lev Tolstoy variety that make this gnarled branch on the Kombucha family tree a worthy scramble.
The household staple grib or gribok (Russian for “little mushroom”) was lauded as a delicious, health-giving beverage that could literally save your life. Nobel Prize winner Alexsander Solzhenitsyn claimed it kept him alive while in exile in Siberia. Also called “tea kvass” —in reference to another Russian frothy lacto-fermented concoction made from stale rye bread and sold to Muscovites on street corners out of large metal drums fixed with communal spigots—Kombucha was popular until World War II, when sugar and tea rations made it scarce and too expensive to brew for the average Vasya Pupkin.
So whom can we thank for preserving ancient fermented tea traditions during wartime and through the lean post-war years? Kombucha-slugging grandmas. That’s right. The now documentary-film-famous “Babushkas of Chernobyl” [http://thebabushkasofchernobyl.com/] whose inconceivable good health and heroics in the wake of the 1986 disaster have stunned doctors and scientists studying the effects of nuclear fallout in the radioactive Dead Zone surrounding Chernobyl’s Reactor No. 4.
Thus, in honor of Hanna Zavorotyna, Maria Shovkuta, and Valentyna Ivanivna, we offer this drawing, The Kombucha Babushka.