The etymology is uncertain but is thought to come from the word "chikhir'" (чихирь) meaning a strong Caucasian wine, or a Siberian word for wine that has gone off and become sour and acidic. The tea used to make Chifir is said to be spoiled and contain "a dangerous alkaloid - guanine".
Chifir' is typically prepared with 5-8 tablespoons of loose tea (or tea bags) per person poured on top of the boiled water. It is brewed for 10–15 minutes without stirring - until the leaves drop to the bottom of the cup. Chifir' is often drunk without sugar by those that seek a caffeine high. Those that prefer to simply enjoy the Chifir drink it with milk. To avoid bitterness, sweets can also be held in the mouth before or with the tea. Sugar is sometimes added, however, the nature of the tea tends to have it retain a bitter flavor.  Milk is often used to make the tea less bitter or to make it less acidic. It is to be drunk slowly, otherwise it may cause vomiting. Ultimately to make Chifir' is brewing a great deal of black tea and for a long time. It may be left to brew overnight and drunk either hot or cold.
Irina Ratushinskaya describes the brewing of narcotically-strong chifir as a banned activity sometimes undertaken by prisoners, in her memoir of her years as a political prisoner, Grey Is The Colour Of Hope".
In Vasily Aksyonov's novel Ozhog ('The Burn'), the convict Shilo make chifir' in a tushonka tin and gives it to Tolya von Steinbock. Tolya falls into a blissful, dreamlike state, but is awake enough to overhear an escape plan being hatched.