Carusel Tours
7 May 2021

Ivan Chai. Healthy Russian Herbal Teas and Infusions

Ivan Chai brewed in Russian porcelain cup
You have probably heard that tea in Russia is very popular. A lot of different blends of tea brewed in teapots, not from tea bags, are served in most Russian restaurants, cafés and coffee houses. In southern Russia we even grow black tea and it is really good.

However, recently the position of black tea and green tea has been seriously challenged by its local competitor. I mean Ivan Chai. Ivan Chai is made from the herb of the same name and has a very pleasant taste, somehow reminiscent of tea. This magical infusion is caffeine-free and it contains a huge number of vitamins. Besides, Ivan Chai helps your digestive and nervous systems function well.

As an avid Ivan Chai drinker, I really want you to try this wonderful drink too! In this post, I will tell you about the history of Ivan Chai, the secrets of Ivan Chai brewing and other herbs that will complement its taste!
Ivan Chai or Willowherb blooming in Russia
Willowherb blooming on one of the forts of Kronstadt in St. Petersburg

What is Ivan Chai or Koporsky Tea?

Ivan Chai is prepared from the fermented leaves of willowherb or fireweed plant (Chamaenerion), that is widely spread all over the European part of Russia. What does its name mean? Chai in Russian stands for tea and Ivan is a popular male name, all heroes in Russian fairy tales bear the name of Ivan, there are also a lot of folklore jokes about "Ivan the little fool" – Ivanushka durachok, who in the end turns out to be not as foolish as he seemed. So, Ivan Chai is literally "the tea of Ivan".

For many centuries, it had been used as an inexpensive substitute for black tea. With time the process of its fermentation was improved and it became a delicious drink on its own. So delicious, that before the revolution it was even exported to other countries, mostly to England.

Initially the leaves of willowherb were dried inside the Russian stove when it was cooling down and some happy owners of big old stoves in villages and monasteries still use this method today. Ivan Chai dried this way has a very pleasant smoky flavour. However, most Ivan Chai producers nowadays prepare it with the help of special equipment that is also used for tea fermentation, but on lower temperatures and for longer periods of time.

Today Ivan Chai infusion is regaining more and more popularity in its homeland and old recipes of fermentation have been revived by the local producers of organic teas and dried berries. It happens thanks to the trend on healthy diet and mindful lifestyle.

Ivan Chai served with organic sea buckthorn and blackberry marmalade
Ivan Chai served with organic sea buckthorn and blackberry marmalade

Ivan Chai improves the work of digestive system, calms your nerves, has anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties, and, not the least, it is a really delicious drink! Ivan Chai is a storehouse of useful vitamins and other elements - it contains vitamins A, B1, B2, B5, B6, B9, C and PP.

Unlike black and green tea, it is caffeine-free and does not affect blood pressure to that extent. Therefore, it is no surprise that Ivan Chai is very popular among vegans, people with sensitive gut and stomachs and those who can't drink much tea for health reasons.

Ivan Chai with brusnika leaves and berries
How to Brew Ivan Chai

I love Ivan Chai blends with dried Russian berries – brusnika and brusnika leaves (lingonberry), wild strawberry, raspberry and sea buckthorn. I also often add dried leaves of mint, thyme or rose petals to my Ivan Chai and it smells divine!

Brewing Instructions

Brew in teapot, French press or tea strainer
2 teaspoons for large teapots and French presses
1 teaspoon for tea strainers and smaller teapots
brew time – 3-7 minutes
temperature 90-98℃

Ivan Chai brews the same way as green tea:

- Rinse the teapot with the hot water

- Add one or two teaspoons of fermented Ivan Chai leaves and cover them with a little bit of almost boiling water (but not boiling). Shake it up and pour the water out

- Fill your teapot with Ivan Chai with almost boiling water, cover the lid and wait for several minutes
The water should be close to the boiling point, but not reaching it, because once it is boiled, it will lose its distinct taste and be free of many micronutrients, that are essential for your well-being.

If you do not have a thermometer on your kettle, wait until the first fumes of smoke appear together with the roaring sound. Do not wait until electric kettles turn off automatically.
Once brewed, consume Ivan Chai straight away. In one hour, it will oxidize too much and its taste won't be as delicious. This rule also applies to black and green tea, as well as most herbal infusions.

The taste of Ivan Chai also depends on the process of its fermentation; therefore, it may differ significantly from one producer to another.

We drink Ivan Chai on its own, after meals or with desserts.

You can try cooking Karina's traditional hand pies with cranberry to accompany Ivan Chai!

Ivan Chai must be sold in Russian food shops in most cities with significant Russian immigrant population. Besides, you can order it online.
Koporie Fortress
Why Ivan Chai is also called Koporsky Tea?

In Russia Ivan Chai is also known as Koporsky Tea. The name derives from old Novgorodian village Koporie not far from St. Petersburg. Near Koporie Ivan Chai was collected and dried on an industrial scale, but before the revolution. When the Soviets came to power, the mass production of Ivan Chai came to an end and it began to recover slowly only several years ago, but not in Koporie.

Now it is a peaceful village with the medieval Russian stone castle. In the vicinity of St. Petersburg there are 5 old castles built by Novgorodians to protect the area from Swedes, Livonian Order and other invaders. All of them have been preserved to a certain extent.

Novgorodians are the citizens of Novgorod the Great or Veliky Novgorod, one of the oldest Russian cities-states that used to own the lands around St. Petersburg.
Read about this ancient and incredibly beautiful city in our post.
Koporie is situated close to Oranienbaum and Peterhof, beautiful summer residences of Russian tsars.

The first castle in Koporie was made of wood and it was built by German knights of the Livonian Order in the first half of the 13th century. Alexander Nevsky, prince of Veliky Novgorod, captured the castle in the battle and it was later rebuilt in stone.

Now it is a great example of medieval Russian castle architecture and a constant place for archaeological excavations where the artefacts from 13th – mid 20th centuries are often found.
Thyme growing in Russia
Thyme Tea Infusion

Thyme is another very popular herb for infusions in Russia. There are dozens of different varieties of thyme that grow on the territory of our country, and as it is widely spread all over the world, finding it won't be a problem. The most common type of thyme for tea infusion is garden thyme.

Thyme is very good for your digestive system and it has been known for its anti-inflammatory effects since the time of ancient Egyptians. No need to say, that thyme is rich in minerals and vitamins, particularly vitamin C. Besides, it has a pleasant intense aroma and wonderful refreshing taste.

In Russia, black tea with thyme is very popular and it can be found almost everywhere. In season, we add fresh thyme to our tea infusions, at other time of the year we use dried thyme sprigs.
Herbs are better dried on a piece of paper in a warm and dark place, covered by another piece of paper on top. This way they will preserve their aroma.

When herbs are dry enough, you can store them in glass or tin jars. This way you can keep them for several years.
dried mint leaves and flowers
Mint Tea

Again, there are many varieties of mint that grow in Russia. The most popular ones are peppermint, spearmint and apple mint. Mint has a soothing effect and softens sore throat. Mint tea calms down and helps fight motion sickness. And what a divine aroma it emits!

We like adding fresh or dried mint to any type of tea - green, black, herbal or brewing mint infusion on its own!
Linden trees blooming in Peterhof
Linden trees blooming in Peterhof

Linden Flower Tea

Linden is the main tree in old estates of Russian aristocrats, from which often only linden alleys have survived, linden trees are planted in all parks of imperial residences and city parks in our country.

This unpretentious tree is ubiquitous in our cities and the delicious sweet aroma that linden alleys exude when flowering in early summer is so often described in Russian literature and songs!
linden tree flowers
We collect linden flowers when they have just opened and the fruits have not yet been formed, plucking them together with the "wings", and dry them so that we can enjoy linden tea later on cold winter evenings.

Linden infusion has an antiseptic effect and it is remedy against viral infections and sore throat.
Linden tea can cause allergy, especially if you are already allergic to honey. So be careful when trying it for the first time.
And what are your tea rituals and favourite herbs? Tell us about them and have a look at our other recipes.

Text by Alexandra Carusel Tours
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