Kombucha, kvass, and kocha kinoko, also tuba, and shrub

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Impress your crafty kombucha swilling friends with these handy factoids and make yourself intolerable!

  1. Kombucha isn't from Japan (its from Russia)
  2. and it isn't called kombucha (its kvass)
  3. If you ask for kombucha in Japan, you'll get what you asked for: a tea (cha) made from dried seaweed (kombu or konbu) instead of dried tea leaves.
  4. but if you describe it, and you happen to talk to an old person instead of someone born in the past fifty years, they might have vague memories of something called kocha kinoko that you can't really find anywhere at all (at least not in Sapporo).
  5. This is all from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kombucha#History)

Japanese people are really surprised by the idea of Americans drinking rotten tea, calling it Japanese, and giving it a name that doesn't fit. I was really surprised about all this because I love kombucha and was really eager to drink some in Japan. That isn't going to happen.

Here are some less snotty factoids on the subject---constructive rather than destructive:

  1. If you are anywhere with coconut palms, try asking around for tuba, or tubah, or too-ba. If you are lucky you'll get the most amazing rotten coconut milk, a.k.a. palm wine. At its best its sweet, vinegary, alcoholic, carbonated, and straight out of the tree. I think its coconut sap, or coconut flower nectar, rather than coconut milk. Not sure, but its amazing. I've had it in Mexico and the Philippines under the same name. In Mexico it is mild, yeasty, and served with peanuts sprinkled on top. In the Philippines it is much more intense and wonderful. If you don't refrigerate it, its all vinegar by evening. Or, as they say out there, beenegar.
  2. Whereever you find it, its going to be a very local drink, and people might be surprised that you are interested in it. That can make it harder to find.
  3. In the Phillipines its actually distilled into a different drink called lumbanog.
  4. Again Wikipedia, with lots more to say: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm_wine
  5. Its also worth mentioning shrub, an old Americana summer-time mix of vinegar, fruit juice, and soda water. Its not alive, but don't let that be a dealbreaker.
  6. Wikipedia doesn't have anything to add about shrub, but Google does.