A common internet story is that the kombucha mushroom originated as far back as 213 BC during the Chinese Tsin Dynasty. Back then it was referred to as the "tea of immortality", "the elixir of life" or the "Godly Tsche (tea)".
Another story tells of a Korean doctor in 415 A.D. called Kombu who treated the Japanese Emperor Ingyo  with a special tea, however this is more likely referring to kelp and the Japanese preparation of a fermented kelp drink which is often confused with kombucha.** The early Japanese history Kojiki ("Record of Ancient Matters"; the oldest extant chronicle in Japan) does mention a similar envoy from the ancient Korean state Silla who was "deeply versed in the medical" and cured the Emperor's sickness - but his name was not Kombu. It is pronounced Kim/Gim Mu (in Korean) or Kin/Kon Mu (in Japanese).
These stories have propagated throughout the internet now. Although the stories sound nice, there is no evidence or any reference to kombucha or even tea during that time period.
The first definitive recorded history of Kombucha came from Russia and the Ukraine towards the end of the 19th century. By the help of Russian and German POWs during WW1, kombucha began to reach new countries at a fast rate. By the 1920's, kombucha was popular throughout Germany as a home and folk remedy. It was especially widespread in the Westphalian industrial region of Germany. According to Dr. Harms (1927), kombucha was "eagerly sought after in certain circles, and is gladly passed on to others". It was also sold in pharmacies under such names as "Mo-Gu" or "Fungojapon". From there it spread all over the world.
A Dr. Waldeck (1927) of Poland recorded during WWI that he was rooming with a Polish pharmacist who showed him a Russian home remedy called "miracle mushroom", "Volga mushroom" or "Tea-Kvass mushroom" .
The kombucha culture itself can be referred to by the following names, but is most commonly referred to as a 'kombucha mushroom', 'mother' (or baby), and 'scoby'. The Kombucha beverage has acquired many names from all over the world, including:
• Mushroom Tea
• cajnyj grib (lit. "tea mushroom" in Russian)
• grib ("mushroom" in Russian)
• Tea Kvass
• Cajnyj Kvas
• Cha Gu
• Hongchajun (lit. "red tea fungus/mushroom" in Chinese)*
• Hongchagu ("red tea mushroom" in Chinese)*
• Chameijun ("tea mold" in Chinese)
• Kocha Kinoko (lit. "red tea mushroom" in Japanese)**
• Miracle Fungus
• Magical Fungus
• Russian Fungus
• The Tea Fungus
• Indo-Japanese Tea Fungus
• Fungus Japonicus
• Tibetan Mushroom
• Elixir of Life
• Gout Tea
• Kombucha Tea
• Kombucha Organism
• Japanese Sponge
• The Divine Tsche
• Mongolian Wine
• Indian Wine
• Pichia fermentans
• Cembuya Orientalis
• Volga Spring
• Mo Gu
• Champignon de Longue Vie
• Kargasok Tea
• Pseudo Lichen
• Tea Kvas
• Manchurian Tea
• Scoby (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast)
• Health Tea
• Ferment Tea
• Tea Cure
*Both the Chinese and Japanese names use hongcha or kocha "black tea" rather than cha tea or lü cha "green tea".
**Japanese kombu "a Laminaria kelp; sea tangle" is dried and powdered to produce a
beverage called kombucha (lit. "kelp tea"), which is different to kombucha. The English kombucha fermented tea name is pronounced like, and confused with, the Japanese 'kombucha' seaweed tea name.
1. Harald W. Tietze, 1995, Kombucha" The Miracle Fungus, Tietze Publications, p. 7.
2. Siobhan Roth, Kombucha fermenting a revolution in health drinks, Pittsburg Post-Gazette June 07, 2007.
3. Basil Hall Chamberlain, 1919, The Kojiki: Records of Ancient Mattters, The Asiatic Society of Japan, p. 367.
Chamberlain transcribes the doctor's full name as "Komu-ha-chimu-kamu-ki-mu".
4. Crystal Wong, U.S. 'kombucha': smelly and no kelp, The Japan Times July 12, 2007.
5. Günther W. Frank, A Cow in Exchange for a Kombucha Culture http://www.kombu.de/cow.htm (The Kombucha Journal).