Historically speaking, chaga mushrooms have been around for centuries. They can be found growing mainly on birch trees in different parts of the northern hemisphere. This fungus thrives in colder climates and an abundance can be found in Siberia, northern Europe, Canada, and Alaska.
Chaga tea is made simply from chaga mushrooms that have been dried and processed. When it is found, it looks like a burnt rock or mass protruding from a birch. While it has grown in the wild for thousands of years, special farms have started to crop up due to its increased popularity.
Chaga in the Wild
In order for this type of mushroom to grow, the hardwood needs to have some sort of gash or split in the bark. It is this weak spot that the fungal spores use to make their way into the tree and start the 20-year life cycle.
Growing from the inside out, the identifiable black growth can be seen on the bark of the tree. As the mushroom continues to grow, it causes the tree to decay. Once the tree dies, the mushroom spores are released, allowing more fungus to grow elsewhere.
While the outside of the mushroom is dark and rough to the touch, the inside of the mushroom is golden in color and has been described as having an elastic texture similar to that of a cork. This beautiful interior can’t be seen until the mushroom is harvested from the dead tree, which can only take place when its size is roughly four to six inches in diameter. These large chunks of mushroom (referred to as a conk) can reach over a foot in diameter.
This type of mushroom is harvested by chopping it off of the tree. Using a hatchet or a hammer is essential due to the hard exterior of the chaga. As long as a small portion has been left after the large piece has been removed from the tree, the rest will slowly regrow for later harvests.
Preparing for the Brew
While this special mushroom can be purchased already prepared for easy tea brewing, a freshly harvested conk can also be used after being properly prepared.
- Rinse off the mushroom under cold water to remove any debris that may be hiding on its rough exterior.
- Shake off the excess water and break the mushroom up into smaller, baseball-sized chunks.
- Once these two steps have been taken, the smaller chunks need to be dried in a shady place outdoors for a few days.
- After two or three days outside, the chaga can be brought back inside where it should be left to continue drying over the course of a month. During this time, it should be kept in a dark and cool spot.
- After the month of indoor drying is complete, the mushroom should be brittle, lightweight, and completely dried. During this time, it can be chunked even smaller (to about the size of a golf ball) and ground down to brew different styles of tea.
Brewing Chaga Tea
Whether making the tea in large batches or brewing a single cup at a time, the process is simple and quick.
If you are making a large batch of chaga tea, all you need is a large pot filled with four cups of water, four to five of your chaga chunks, and a stove. Simply simmer the chunks in the water on the stove for up to three hours. Then, strain the tea and enjoy.
If you want to make this type of tea on a smaller scale so that you can enjoy it one cup at a time, all you need is some way to boil water, two to three teaspoons of ground chaga, a cup to drink it out of, and a reusable tea bag.
While the water is boiling, the pre-measured ground chaga should be put into a reusable tea bag and then placed it into the empty cup. Then, pour the boiling water over the tea bag and fill the cup. Steep the tea for fifteen minutes, remove the tea bag, and enjoy.
Taste & Variety
Chage has been described as having a mild and earthy taste with a slight bitterness and subtle notes of vanilla. While some people love the taste, others choose to add honey or maple syrup to give the tea more sweetness. It can also be prepared with milk, coffee, and/or other additives to create more personalized beverages.
When brewed traditionally with no additives, this mushroom-based tea has a darker color similar to that of freshly brewed coffee. When additives like milk are used, the color lightens but remains brown like that of coffee and creamer (or coffee and milk).
Diving Inside the Cup
In one serving of chaga tea, there are zero calories, carbs, and sugars. There is also no caffeine in this tea, making it ideal for people who don’t like or can’t have caffeinated beverages.
Chaga mushrooms have been naturally occurring in the wilderness of cold climates for thousands of years. Similarly, the idea of making chaga tea is just as old. Usually only found on birch trees, these large growths of black fungus (called conks) grow slowly and have a life span of 20 years.
Due to the increased popularity of this mushroom-based tea, places have begun to farm this type of mushroom in order to keep up with the demand. After harvesting, which can be done manually with a hammer or hatchet, a month of drying time is needed before the tea can be brewed. The process is quite simple, however, and no fancy equipment is needed.
Known for its earthy and mild taste, a cup of chaga tea resembles that of a freshly brewed cup of coffee. With the idea of chaga tea growing in popularity, different varieties and additives are also being experimented with. Essentially, chaga is a naturally occurring fungus that makes tea that can be enjoyed as is or fancied up.