You might think kombucha is a new 21st-century trend—but you’d be wrong. Tack on a few thousand years, and you’ll have a better idea of how far back booch goes. While we’re all about booch finally getting the attention it deserves, there’s much more to the story than its recent glowing headlines.
Today we’re breaking out the booch history books and deep-diving into the origins of kombucha and how it reached its present-day, far-reaching popularity.
Where Was Kombucha First Made?
The origin story of booch is a little hazy since it occurred so long ago (we’ll get more into that timeline later). One thing most booch historians can agree on is that kombucha brewing first happened in Asia.
Kombucha All Starts With the Tea
Before kombucha, there was its base ingredient, tea. Although some associate tea with European countries such as the United Kingdom (Boston Tea Party, anyone?), tea was first brewed in China.
Legend has it that Emperor Shen Nong (you may know him as the Father of Acupuncture) needed a break, felt ill, and decided to rest under a tree. Feeling thirsty (and in the days before clean drinking water), he boiled water. A few tree leaves fell into the water, but herbalist Nong kept the leaves and drank the water anyway. Not only did Nong feel relief from his symptoms, but the water tasted great. Just like that, tea was born.
Kombucha Got Its Start in China
Some believe kombucha was first brewed in Northeast China during the Qin Dynasty, specifically in Manchuria.
With tea as the base of kombucha, the two can't help but have an interwoven history. Like tea, kombucha is thought to originate in China, but unlike tea, its popularity didn’t take off until a certain person brought it to Japan.
Who Popularized Kombucha?
That person would be Dr. Kombu, who was not Chinese or Japanese but actually Korean (And yes, kombucha tea likely gets its name from him). This Korean doctor brought booch to the Japanese Emperor Inkyo, citing its medicinal benefits.
Inkyo praised the drink for its tangy taste and health properties, and its popularity quickly grew across Asia, especially along the Silk Road, the most popular trade route of the time.
When Was the First Kombucha Brewed?
Kombucha might be popular today, but its origins are ancient. Like, really ancient.
Emperor Shen Nong’s original tea was thought to be first brewed in 2373 BCE. Dr. Kombu’s booch was thought to be created around 221 BCE. Sometime between those years, tea was likely fermented for the first time, and ancient booch was born. Drinks would never be the same.
In those days, kombucha racked up a lot of nicknames, including “elixir of life” and “tea of immortality.” Ancient kombucha drinkers believed it had healing properties and rumors of increased longevity, which only added to its popularity and general mystique.
One age-old nickname that’s stuck around today is “mushroom tea.” Despite the nickname, kombucha actually doesn’t have any mushrooms on the ingredient list. The nickname comes from SCOBY, or symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, which is what distinguishes kombucha from plain sweet old tea. The kombucha culture vaguely resembles a mushroom cap, leading kombucha lovers across the world to use that nickname, even now.
Kombucha Reaches the Western World
Kombucha’s popularity couldn’t help but spread outside of Asia. The Silk Road was a key factor in bringing the drink to the rest of the world. Along with traditional tea, other foods, textiles, glassware, and silk (of course), kombucha made its way on the trade routes and soon to the tables of new booch lovers everywhere.
Europe became the next continent to rave over kombucha’s flavor. In fact, Russia was among the first countries to become booch fanatics. From there, booch spread to Germany, possibly during military activity in World War I with Russia, before circulating around the rest of Europe.
While kombucha spread like silk trading across Europe, it wouldn’t be until much later in the 20th century that it hit the United States and the rest of the Americas.
The World Wars and Booch
When kombucha was reaching a new height of popularity, World War II was at the forefront of news around the world.
Food shortages resulted from the conflict, affecting the availability of kombucha ingredients. Tea and sugar, two of kombucha’s most essential components, faced shortages that contributed to the downfall of kombucha’s popularity. The drink became too expensive to produce and purchase, and kombucha (sadly) disappeared from households in favor of less costly (and far more boring) beverages.
Luckily, once conflict ceased, recipes for this fermented beverage hit the scene once again. Italian elites took a quick shine to the drink, which was still considered rare since its ingredients were scarce for so long. However, this period of exclusivity was short-lived. Kombucha would fast become a drink that anyone could access — and even brew themselves.
Peace, Love, and Kombucha: The 60s
The 1960s saw the resurgence of kombucha’s popularity. A study in Switzerland claimed kombucha had similar health benefits to yogurt, another fermented favorite. Health-conscious folks quickly made booch a household staple, and for the first time, Americans became infatuated with the fermented tea.
The 1960s saw one of the first environmental movements concerned with issues such as pollution and the use of pesticides. This movement, which eventually led to the establishment of the Earth Day holiday, pushed for a “return to the earth.” Americans became interested in consuming and using products derived from natural materials and ingredients. Kombucha blended right in with this movement, thanks to its plant-based ingredients like black tea or green tea.
Most kombucha in the United States during this period was made via home brewing. It would take another few decades until kombucha became commercially available in US grocery stores (and on our pantry shelves).
A Fever for Fizz
In the 1980s, carbonated soft drinks were all the rage in the United States. Companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi dominated the market and, at the time, had limited availability overseas.
Looking for an alternative to the popular drinks, Russia returned to its kombucha-loving roots and started drinking kombucha as a fizzy substitute for soda. Kombucha was just as common in Russian households and other places in Eastern Europe as sodas were in American homes at the time.
When sodas became available in Russia in the 1990s, kombucha fell out of fashion as everyone turned to the latest beverage fad.
Around the same time soda reached Russia, kombucha reached American grocery and health stores. While Russians craved American soda drinks, Americans began to try the beverage Russians had been drinking in lieu of soda. Talk about the tables turning.
Kombucha’s Present and Future
Today, kombucha is nearly as popular as it was thousands of years ago, perhaps even more so. The only difference? Instead of trekking along a trade route, you can find it in your grocery store.
In fact, it’s one of the fastest-growing drinks in the beverage market and is expected to expand even further in the future.
Americans in the ‘60s loved kombucha for its plant-based ingredients, and today’s Americans share a love for its better-for-you ingredients. Millennials, in particular, have, with their love of all things wellness (they aren’t called the wellness generation for nothing), embraced kombucha as one of their favorite go-to beverages.
Changing the Game With Hard Kombucha
Kombucha’s latest resurgence brought fresh new spins, including our favorite: hard booch. By increasing the specifics of the fermentation process, kombucha can be brewed to have a 21+ buzz while keeping its classic fizzy texture.
When crafting our hard kombucha, we pride ourselves on honoring the ancient art of kombucha making while giving the beverage a modern twist. Our alive and wild flavors are handcrafted with plant botanicals, superfruits, and adaptogens to create flavors that feel as good as they taste.
Our ingredients are USDA certified organic, vegan, keto-friendly, and gluten-free, so they fit into a variety of lifestyles. Plus, all of our drinks have zero sugar and zero carbs — proof that better doesn’t have to be boring.
Kombucha has come a long way from its earliest days in ancient Asia over 9,000 years ago. Still fizzy, still bubbly, it’s no wonder booch survived wars, food shortages, and the introduction of sodas — and keeps gaining fans today.
Enjoy the uplifting effervescence of a classic, but with our welcome modern touches like organic ingredients, no sugars or carbs, and shelf stability. Make everyday special and give a nod to the past with our lighter, brighter, weeknight-friendly booches in the present.