Fermented Koporye Tea (Ivan Chai)

Koporye Tea, also called Ivan Chai, is a fermented tea that has it's origins in ancient Russia, and is made from the leaves of the common perennial plant, Rosebay Willowherb, also known as Fireweed. At one point in time, this delicious tea was extremely popular in the UK and other parts of the world, so much so, that it was Russia's second biggest export, after wheat. For reasons that are unclear, it's popularity dwindled - some say that it was due to a smear campaign by the East India Company, and others say that production and export of the tea was disrupted after the Crimean War and the Revolution and never fully recovered again. Whatever the cause, Koporye tea remains a hidden gem of a beverage, and it's so easy to make, due to the abundance of Fireweed in the UK.

Koporye tea leaves are hand-rolled and left to ferment for a number of days prior to drying. This fermentation gives the leaves a unique colour and flavour.


Prep Time: 2-3 Hours

Fermenting Time: 3-5 Days

Drying Time: 24 Hours

Quantity: Makes a 1 litre Jar

  • 10 full stems of healthy Rosebay Willow Herb, complete with leaves and flower spikes.


  1. Harvest the healthy leaves from the collected stems of the Rosebay Willowherb either before or during flowering and leave them to wilt in your foraging basket for 6-8 hours.
  2. After wilting, roll the leaves between your palms to break up the leaf tissue and release their polyphenols. The rolled and twisted leaves should hold their shape.
  3. Place the rolled leaves in a ceramic bowl covered with a tea towel and leave them to ferment for 3-5 days. They should start to develop a fragrant grassy smell that will dissipate after 24-48 hours or so. The leaves should be periodically stirred to distribute them evenly and prevent the growth of mould every 12 hours or so. If you want to add additional flavours, such as fresh water mint, rose petals, or the flowers of the Rosebay Willowherb plant itself, these can be added at the start of, or mid-way through, the fermentation process.
  4. When the rolled leaves have turned from green to brown-black, the fermentation process should be stopped by drying the leaves with heat. This can be done in an oven at 90-120 degrees, or in a dehydrator on medium heat.
  5. Once crisp-dry, remove the tea leaves from the dehydrator / oven and store in a jar. They can be used straight away, or left to mellow for a further few months before use. Two teaspoons of the tea steeped in boiling water for 10 minutes will make a beautifully fragrant drink, that can be sweetened with sugar or honey. Some people also add milk.