When I was a newcomer to the tea world, I remember the idea of cha qi and tea drunkenness being thrown around all of the time on every forum I visited. At the time I primarily drank white and green teas, but after learning about the marvelously inebriating effects of puerh (and some will claim oolong as well), I decided that I had to buy some and learn what all of the buzz was about. I’m sure that my introduction to puerh is not an original one, and I believe it to be one of the worst possible ways for anyone to be introduced to such a wonderful tea. Personally, I think that the banter surrounding cha qi is more confusing and misguided than informative or helpful.
I’m going to discuss some trends that I’ve observed concerning the discussion of cha qi in the Western community, then attempt to describe the phenomenon as accurately as I can.
It’s not uncommon for me to find this kind of speech in tea reviews –
“This tea got me sooooo tea drunk. Seriously, I couldn’t drive. This tea is like marijuana. It’ll make your head spin and you might even get dizzy and doze off between infusions. Seriously, if you’re looking for potent teas, try this one. It’ll knock you down.”
It reminds me of the way I hear frat guys on campus talk to one another, but ironically, it’s all about a beverage that society places in the realm of tranquility and peace.
“Yeah, bro. I was at a tea bar the other night trying to pick up some babes. I got super tea drunk. I drank a ton of young raw puerh, and my stomach hurt so badly that I thought I was going to throw up. I only remember 15 infusions, after that I dozed off. Some buddies of mine had to follow me around and make sure I was okay. They said I walked over to a soft patch of grass and started meditating. Apparently I couldn’t stop meditating and after so long I became enlightened and ascended.”
Alright, alright. All jokes aside, I do frequently read romanticized tea reviews that describe the potency of cha qi as though it were more intoxicating than heroin. I’ve had many teas with strong qi, and none of them have caused me to astral project yet.
Then there’s the other reviewers who think that qi doesn’t exist, and that tea should be judged solely on its flavor. This is a very intriguing concept to me because (and I’m paraphrasing twodog here. I don’t remember exactly where I read this) there are so many more flavorful teas than puerh. If one is simply in search of the best tasting tea, they should focus on other types of tea.
My opinion, concurrent with TwoDog, is that other types of tea differ from puerh in that they lack qi, but provide vastly different tasting experiences.
Another big trend I see in reviews is describing qi as temperature changes throughout the body. Things like “This tea is very warming, starting in the gut and proceeding to spread through the legs.” or, “This tea has notes of menthol. It cools the lungs and causes the extremities to tingle.”
My experience with cha qi hasn’t been very accurately characterized by the reviews that I read discussing it. For me, qi wasn’t something that was very present until I had been drinking puerh for awhile, and stopped hunting for it so desperately. It was very subtle initially, only becoming more obvious when I began taking a personal inventory of how I was feeling before drinking tea. Qi is something that isn’t felt the same way by everybody. It’s a very personal, experience that is unique to each individual. When I first started feeling qi, I would try to show all of my friends the interesting effects. I would invite them over for tea, and talk about how it was affecting me mentally, only to discover that they didn’t feel the same way. Babelcarp defines cha qi as the vital energy of tea found in Zhongyi and Taoism. Just as in Taosim, where The Way can only be discovered within oneself, cha qi must also be an individual’s self discovery. This is why defining qi can be difficult, and discussing it in reviews causes confusion.
That’s why qi is such a beautiful thing. It’s a feeling. An energy that makes the drink in your hands exceptional. It establishes a connection between the drinker and the tea that is a remarkable feeling.
But I think there’s a problem with the way that we discuss qi. I think talking about how tea drunk a tea made you, or choosing to ignore it both do the community an injustice. Talking about (and typically romanticizing) how inebriating a tea is is not conducive to helping potential puerh drinkers find their way. Like me, many new tea drinkers become interested in puerh because they hear stories about how it acts like a narcotic without any of the negative effects. Not only are these claims inaccurate, but it causes new drinkers to gloss over so many of the other wonderful aspects of puerh. They’re chasing a high, and usually completely neglecting the other sensory experiences that the tea has to offer. Ignoring qi causes another issue. If tea reviewers neglect to discuss qi in a puerh, they’re ignoring one of the most important parts of the tea. Qi is part of what makes puerh so special.
So, how do I propose we remedy this issue? Well, unfortunately I don’t have a great solution. My only thoughts are that tea reviewers should stay away from the extremes of the spectrum previously mentioned. Don’t go on and on about how tea drunk a tea made you. We should probably do away with the term “tea drunk” when discussing cha qi. However, don’t neglect to mention qi either. I believe that many reviewers are handling their discussion of a tea’s energy very well by choosing to describe body response instead of qi. Body response and qi are very different things (though sometimes new puerh drinkers will mistake caffeine effects as qi), but they are linked. Body response is much easier to describe accurately, and much more likely to be a shared experience across multiple drinkers.
So, to conclude with more cognitive dissonance, while cha qi is one of the most important aspects of drinking puerh, discussing it too much can lead to new drinkers having an overrated view of the tea, and thus hinder their ability to discover qi for themselves. Drinking puerh to find a new physical or mental sensation is an easy way to slow down ones’ journey to what qi truly is.
Thanks for reading!