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Naturally Delicious: Inside Birch Boys Chaga

One of the unique locally-owned and -operated businesses in Tupper Lake is Birch Boys Chaga, a company that produces popular teas not from leafy plants but from local fungi. To learn more about what this is all about, we caught up with Garrett Kopp, Birch Boys' founder and mushroom guru.

What is chaga?

Chaga is a fungus that protrudes from the sides of living birch trees. It has a parasitic relationship with the birch tree, meaning that for years, it extracts vital compounds, minerals, and nutrients from the birch tree and stores them in a highly concentrated mass of fungal growth. This rough, dark mass that protrudes from the birch tree is that part of the fungus that we call chaga. The Khanty people of Siberia were the first known to brew chaga into tea for its healing benefits, some 2,000 years ago. It has also been used by Native Americans.

What prompted the start of this business?

I (accidentally) drank a cup of iced chaga tea that I had found in my Grandmother's refrigerator. When she saw, she enthusiastically pulled me into the backyard where she showed me a piece of chaga mushroom growing and taught me all about its history and health benefits. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and shortly after I began chaga foraging on my own, and bringing it to farmers markets!

How long does it take to grow?

Chaga may take anywhere from one to four years to grow to protrude from the birch tree. It may take as many as eight to twelve years to reach full size, at which point it will end its relationship with the birch tree.

How do you find chaga and where is it harvested from?

Chaga can be found in any old forest that is considered "semi-arctic," especially those with higher altitudes. This includes Russia, Japan, Canada, and Norway.

What are the benefits of drinking chaga?

Consuming chaga, in both tea and tincture forms, can effectively strengthen your immune system. It can also give you motivational energy because it helps convert food into usable energy. Chaga's beta glucans also stimulate the growth of healthy new skin cells, which can help make your skin more youthful and elastic. What is perhaps most remarkable, in my opinion, is that chaga is one of nature's most potent sources of melanin, which is essential for healthy skin pigmentation and natural resistance to UV rays. We make chaga into tea bags, loose tea, tinctures, and skin cream.

Could you describe what it tastes like?

Chaga tastes like an extremely mild black tea. It kind of tastes like a tree, if you can picture that. I like to drink one cup of chaga tea once per day, as soon as I wake up, because it works kind of like a coffee substitute, but better. There is no caffeine in chaga. No jitters, no crash. It's the perfect thing to drink if you need to do something like organizing a closet. I often think that the main reason I was able to build this business at such a young age was quite literally because I started drinking chaga.

Is there anything else that goes into your chaga tea?

We do not add anything to our chaga tea bags or loose tea. But we do have a separate tea product, maple chaga tea bags, which are subtly sweetened with one gram of real maple sugar per tea bag. We also sell other mushrooms, such as Reishi, which only grows every other year. The summer of 2020 is a special time for Birch Boys because the reishi harvest is actually underway right now. Reishi is a gorgeous red, shelf-like mushroom that grows on fallen hemlock trees. In it's natural habitat, reishi appears shiny, almost as if it had been brushed with varnish, which is why it is nicknamed the varnish shelf. Reishi may help balance or guide a number of bodily processes. It also helps with allergies, because it can regulate the release of histamines. Reishi is great for anxiety, your circulatory/respiratory systems, and it has naturally calming properties. It's a great meditation aid or nighttime tea. We add organic rose hips to our wildcraft reishi tea, which adds vitamin C as well as enhancing the tea's flavor, which tastes sort of like a tangy, mushroomy, green tea. There are no preservatives, dyes, or unnatural ingredients in our products.

What other products do you sell?

We also sell mushroom tinctures, which are 2 ounce dropper bottles containing a potent liquid "double" extract. Tinctures use alcohol to break down the components of mushrooms that aren't water soluble, which is then combined with a hot water extraction, effectively maximizing the bio-availability of many of the mushrooms' benefits. The mushroom tinctures we sell include reishi, lion's mane, maitake, and turkey tail.

Why do you like doing business in Tupper Lake?

I do business in Tupper Lake because we lease over 150,000 acres of local private forests in order to sustainably source chaga, reishi, and other healing polypore mushrooms and process them into teas and tinctures. Being located in Tupper Lake makes perfect sense given the unique operations we conduct, because we are surrounded by the most vast and pristine bounty of nature and rich forest habitat. After all, "Adirondack" translates to "bark-eater," and that's exactly what our products technically are. Tupper Lake is the home of mushrooms we sell! It's also a great place to live in general because it feels like a microcosm of good natured people, and the wilderness feels like a scene right out of the Lord of the Rings. I call it the big woods!

Where can people buy your products?

You can purchase our products in Tupper Lake at 83 Park Street, inside of The Adirondack Store. We encourage any of our existing customers, new customers, or people who are interested in learning more to walk downstairs to the basement, where we can show you our facility, product line, and more. You can purchase all of our products online at the Birch Boys website, as well as on Amazon! If you order today, we ship it today, no matter what.

If you're interested in learning more about chaga, Birch Boys Chaga products, and especially any potential health benefits, be sure to visit Birch Boys Chaga on Park Street at The Adirondack Store or get in touch through their website. While you're in town, enjoy a socially distant donut or outdoor adventure.