Chaga has been taking the world by storm lately, as consumers on every continent warm to its unique medicinal properties. Brewed as a tea, chaga has traditionally been used as a folk remedy in northern lands for its immune-boosting properties as well as a host of other benefits. However, one stumbling block for new chaga consumers is its taste. What does it taste like? Is it possible to improve the taste if one doesn’t like it?
The answer is yes to the latter question. Here’s what chaga tastes like, what factors affect its taste, and how you can change its taste if it’s not to your liking.
The Taste of Chaga
While chaga is a mushroom, don’t expect it to taste like the salad mushrooms you can purchase at your local grocery store. Chaga has a distinctly earthy taste, with a slight bitterness that isn’t overpowering. It’s difficult to describe the taste to someone who hasn’t experienced it, but when you drink a glass of chaga tea, it will instantly make you think of the forest and of nature.
In addition to this, chaga has a unique savory quality to it; even when drunk cold in the form of an iced tea, the taste conveys warm. This quality is called “umami” and is one of the five basic tastes, and is also found in broths, gravies, tomatoes, soups, and more. A glass of chaga tea will leave you feeling filled up even if it’s not warm.
However, there are a number of other factors that can influence how chaga tastes. In general, chaga that is harvested from polluted areas, is combined with additives, is prepared poorly, or some combination of the three will have a worse taste than pure chaga. Here are some of the factors that influence how chaga tastes.
How the Taste of Chaga Can Change
The first aspect that can affect chaga’s flavor is harvesting techniques. As a rule, chaga should only be harvested in northerly climates such as Alaska and Siberia, and only during the winter months. This ensures maximum nutritional value. Chaga should also only be harvested in remote regions that are removed from civilization in order to minimize the possibility of pollutants infecting the chaga and also influencing its taste.
It is also possible for chaga’s taste to be altered depending on what type of tree it is harvested from. Chaga generally only grows on birch trees, of which there are several types, from paper birches to yellow birches and more. These birch variants have different makeups, and given the symbiotic relationship between chaga and the trees it grows on, the type of tree can have a subtle effect on the chaga’s overall taste. Many reputable chaga vendors will control for this variable by only harvesting chaga from a single type of tree.
Chaga’s taste can also be impacted by poor preparation techniques. Quality chaga vendors will, after acquiring their chaga from the wild, immediately clean, process, and dehydrate the chaga in a sterile, airtight facility. This minimizes the ability for unnatural pollutants or particles to find their way into the chaga after it is picked. Conversely, purchasing chaga from fly-by-night operators may result in terrible-tasting chaga due to insufficient preparation techniques.
As part of the preparation process, chaga needs to be properly sealed in order to maintain its unique flavor. Chaga easily picks up smells and odors from its surrounding environment, such as coffee, food, and more. Chaga that is exposed to the air for too long can also oxidize, producing a dust-like taste that is quite unpleasant. Chaga vendors should always take care that their products are sealed carefully to prevent exposure to the elements, and chaga users should keep their chaga sealed until they are ready to use it.
Finally, the presence of additives in chaga can also alter its taste. Many unscrupulous chaga vendors will combine their chaga with dirt and other unwanted additives, which make the chaga taste horrible on top of introducing potentially harmful substances into the product. Chaga vendors should carefully clean their chaga before sale to ensure that it is not contaminated with additives.
How to Change the Taste of Your Chaga
If you’re not a fan of the way chaga tastes but you still want to drink it, there are a number of ways you can change the taste. Most directly, you can disguise the taste of your chaga tea by using honey and/or lemon juice. These are commonly accepted additives to tea for their healing properties and they also have the side effect of making your chaga tea sweeter and more pleasant.
One other way you can change the taste of your chaga is by using a different brewing method. The quickest method of brewing chaga tea, where a cup of water is rapidly boiled and a tea bag is inserted into it, produces a mild, less pungent flavor. However, a slower-brewed pot of chaga tea will have a stronger and more bitter taste akin to coffee. Experiment with both methods to see which one is best for you.
Chaga’s unique, earthy flavor is one of the most polarizing things about it. Some customers enjoy its rich, refreshing taste, while others dislike its bitter qualities. Fortunately, there are many ways you can change the taste of chaga tea to your liking, allowing you to enjoy chaga the way you want to.
In general, for the best-tasting chaga—regardless of your preferences—you should only purchase chaga from ethical, reputable vendors with strong quality control. Your chaga should not taste like dirt, bark, or air pollution, and if it does, it means you’re consuming a contaminated product. By doing your research and choosing a preparation method that works for you, you’ll ensure that your experience drinking chaga tea is a pleasant one.