The Kombucha Culture

Kombucha. It’s a word just about as common as “sustainable” or “GMO” here at Green Mountain College. Just about everyone you talk to; students and professors alike have drank or do drink this fermented beverage. But what exactly is it, and why is it so popular in the GMC culture?

Well, I, investigative journalist extraordinaire, took it upon myself to find out. 

Komucha is a “sugar-sweetened tea fermented by a community of organisms into a delicious sour tonic beverage” according to fermentation guru, Sandor Katz. Basically it is tea, most commonly black tea, that is fermented by adding sugar and something called a SCOBY. 

(Sandor Katz. What a cool kat…z.)

What is a SCOBY you ask? 

Well, picture an alien baby. Slimy. An odd grayish color. An object that seems like it shouldn’t go in something you consume. Yeah, that is a SCOBY. Now, despite that less than appealing description, they are vital to the fermentation process. It takes the form of a rubbery disk that floats on the surface of the tea as it ferments. 

SCOBY stands for “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast”. Basically, it is a happy little colony of yeast and bacteria that are really excellent at consuming sugars. Much like children around halloween… Anyway, as this colony munches away on the sugar, it causes the tea to ferment, and soon enough it becomes kombucha. 

                  <—-A real live SCOBY


In an effort to better understand a bit more about the kombucha culture here on campus, I talked to a few students.  

Firstly, I chatted with my good friend Sam, a Vermonter, cow milking ninja, and part time SCOBY dealer. She first tried kombucha in high school, but decided that at the time it wasn’t her “cup of tea” (get it? tea? eh?). It wasn’t until she arrived here at GMC did her attitude towards kombucha change. 

Her first year here, she tried some kombucha made by a friend of hers, and soon after was given a SCOBY by the same friend. Sam was really pleased with how her first batch turned out, and has been making her own kombucha ever since. 

In the time Sam has been fermenting her own kombucha, she has also become quite the SCOBY peddler. You see, making kombucha is an ongoing process. The SCOBY must be submerged in tea and fed sugar in order to survive. As they do their thing, they get bigger and often make new layers, which in turn means new SCOBY’s. So,as she’s been fermenting and making this beverage, Sam has created several new SCOBY’s. In the year she’s been doing this, she has already distributed five to friends in Vermont, and a few in Wisconsin.

And just like that, after coming to GMC, Sam went from skeptical bystander, to an integral part of the SCOBY trade and kombucha culture here on campus. 

Before departing, I asked her why she thought kombucha was such a big part of Green Mountain culture. 

“It’s something the government isn’t really messing with, so I think that appeals to people”  she says with the air of a true Green Mountain College student. You rebels you. Keep on keeping on.

I then talked with Matty, a self described kombucha virgin. Never before has this New Yorker tasted kombucha, but she had heard of it before coming to Green Mountain. She remembers first seeing it at a Whole Foods in Connecticut. However this first encounter was not nearly as memorable as the first time she saw a SCOBY while at the Rutland Farmer’s Market. 

“To be honest, SCOBYs freak me out” she recounts. Me too Matty, me too. And, because of this, she has no inclination to make her own, but she loves how it contributes to the community of our school. 

As I left, I asked her the same question I asked Sam, “Why do you think kombucha is such a thing at GMC?”

“When one person is into something, their friends are too. It’s kind of like a cold on campus; it spreads like wildfire” she replies. “I also think people like it because it is easy to do, it’s a form of slow food and homesteading” she adds insightfully. Despite never having tasted it herself, Matty touched on the most important reason for the wide spread kombucha culture here.


UPDATE: Since conducting this interview, Matty has tried Kombucha, upon my urging. I recommended she buy a mango flavored kombucha available at the co-op (my personal favorite), and give it a try. Her reaction was film worthy and it will be one of my life’s regrets knowing I wasn’t able to capture it visually. Simply put, Matty was not a fan. 

 After much reflection of my investigations (picture a cop movie style montage; jogging, kombucha photos on a pin board connected by red yard, pushups,close SCOBY examination, more jogging) I have come to this conclusion:

The kombucha culture here at GMC is just a by product of our small, caring community and the views we share. 

It’s about more than just plopping an alien fetus into tea and letting it ferment. 

It’s about creating something.

It’s about taking part in slow food.

It’s about sharing a SOCBY with a friend.

It’s about practicing what we preach.


It’s just a Green Mountain thing. 

And with that, I bid you adieu and happy fermenting.

2 thoughts on “The Kombucha Culture

  1. This is quite possibly the best Rope Swing post that I've read this year! (Where did you get your writing skills? 😜). I think I'll get Matty a Scoby for Christmas!


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