; Cwyn's Death By Tea: April 2015 ;

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Grease Your Local Politician 2006 Xigui

I shook the hand of my first politician at the age of four, a Wisconsin Congressional Representative standing in our driveway. My father's pride was on the line when he introduced his oldest child and I was scared to death. Then I realized I could pretend to be someone else, so I put out my hand and said "how do you do?" At the height of his law career in the late 1980s, my father managed to lubricate his way all the way up to the US Senate. The story behind Crimson Lotus' new 2006 Xigui cake is that the source material is from a bribe of sorts to a local Yunnan politician, who has apparently accumulated a massive stash of puerh payments over the years. I know a lot about bribes and as I consider the tale of the 2006 Xigui, I can't help but sift through everything I learned from my dad on political grease.

Recently sourced by Crimson Lotus Tea.
My father campaigned for Jack Kennedy in 1963 in Madison, WI, an effort that earned him a payoff of an appointment as a district attorney to a small rural county in northern Wisconsin. Just fresh out of law school, my father became the youngest appointed DA ever in the history of the state. Back then the governor appointed district attorneys. Today these positions are elected by voters. 

"Your dad would never have won an election here," a former sheriff told me who later worked for my father as a private investigator, driver and drinking partner. "He just has the wrong last name." We had a Polish surname in a county of mostly Scandinavians. Maybe cash is how my father solved a dilemma of too many consonants.

I know cash talks with politicians because they just kept coming over. A family dinner at our house was a rarity, for we always had company. Dinner began at 5 p.m. with hors d'oeuvres (horse's doovers), usually some sort of fish filets, fried or pickled along with vegetables, cold sliced salami-style sausage, cheeses and crackers. And copious drinks. Dinner at 7 often consisted of steaks, potatoes and salad. And more drinks. If my father didn't have professional politicians or priests at the house, then it was the neighbors. Even the neighborhood dogs stopped by hoping for a piece of freezer burned meat, and rarely left disappointed. Often the party went all night and we stepped over passed-out bodies lying in puke the next morning. I learned to sleep to the sound of our tinny upright piano (my room was in the basement, just off the bar) and bellowing singing. Those who survived the night left with a check or cash in hand. My dad liked drinking buddies and drinking was his price, though to be fair he had offered fine food in return. But you can see why I retired to the convent early, entirely skipping the boozy college years. When you grow up in a party, you're done with all that before you reach the actual legal drinking age. And I wasn't alone. I surveyed our community of nuns, and 47% of our 600+ community members identified themselves as survivors of a similar childhood. 

Dad held court every night like he fancied himself Henry VIII, but it wasn't always his bribe going out the door. Far more often people offered him gifts instead. But these gifts were not strictly bribes, they are what you could call "in lieu of's." Rural areas are surely the birthplace of the "in lieu of," the payment offered instead of cash, and my lawyer father accepted all kinds of payment. My father did divorce work for women who had nothing to offer in cash, but he accepted their defunct wedding rings instead. Farmers paid for legal services in loads of manure, cords of wood, plots of land, half a hog, guns, fishing poles, and even leather gloves. Later as a parish nun I found myself forced to accept "in lieu of's" though I never charged anything personally for my services. 

"Tell us what you like, Sister." 

"I'm already getting a salary," I said to people over and over. Wrong answer. People still wanted to pay me for a home visit or just for doing my job. When I said I liked bran muffins, fresh fish filets (I did miss one thing from home) and maple syrup, these items arrived at my office regularly every week. Accepting these small food gifts was easy enough only because of my father. Sometimes people want to give. What are you gonna do? The price of refusal is just rude. Maybe "bribe" isn't a good word for the bran muffins or for the 2006 Xigui. Perhaps the tea is really an "in lieu of," which means the local people appreciate a nice guy, and he likes nice things. After all, he could be worse and sometimes you're better off propping up an average joe just to keep a current situation afloat instead of risking an alternative. 

5 Grams
What strikes me, though, about the Xigui "bribe," is why tea? My dad offered a service, and so accepting something other than cash was a favor to people who didn't have the money. But politicians usually want cash. Why not ask the farmers to sell the tea and bring back the cash? Or buy tangible and portable wealth like gold jewelry or Fendi bags? We can see from our perspective "over here" that tea is a kind of money, but tea is a local crop and it grows every year. Neither my father nor local officials here want bushels of corn, dried milk or cranberries though all of these, dollar for yuan, are certainly worth as much as tea. These crops grow every year, we can always get more.

What people really want is money, they don't want something they have to figure out how to sell on their own. "In lieu of" gifts are worth it only if you really need the item, or if you're doing the other guy a favor. But bribes are always cash. Always. So I can't entirely understand why this politician accepted tea. At best I believe this tea to be an "in lieu of," a wise local official willing to do favors and overlook an actual cash debt. I just don't buy the bribe story, myself. Unless he already has Chanel hidden in the garage.

Glen from Crimson Lotus generously sent me a sample of this tea when I asked, so to be clear he wasn't looking for me to write all this today. I brew up 5 grams of the tea, Just in case the tea is really fabulous, I save the remaining 5 grams for another session. 

Steep 2 showing storage, later steepings turned lighter yellow.
After two washes, my first taste of the tea yields a flavor which I always call the "tea mall" scent. For the leaves indicate dry storage gone bad, brown leathery dried out leaf with a slight taste and odor of incense. Maybe not literally incense, but I cannot describe the flavor of sour dry storage any other way. This is a flavor I most often find in teas from EBay or from tea mall sellers. What I'm guessing is that the tea was put up wet and then dried out, really really dried out. The leaves get this accordion pleating, like a dried out bellows. When tea like this stays dried out long enough, all the water in the world never really straightens out the leaf, returning it to a condition similar to that when young and fresh. And the char from the wok on the leaves imparted more than a little of the flavor, but gone from smoky to something like incense, the smoke didn't really integrate because the tea got too dried out. 

Most recently I've seen this type of dried-out leaf in samples from Sample Teas, larger online tea vendors (the kind that have hundreds of teas), Taobao and EBay. It's as if the tea sat in a tea shop for ages and didn't sell. Or maybe under the floor boards of a local politician? Lots of people like this storage flavor that I call "mall tea." I'm just not one of them.

Having said that, I got really stoned on this tea. I don't mean over-caffeinated, or a tea drunk, or even qi. I mean stoned. Like when cannabinoids deteriorate you get that fuzzy head instead of a clear head and then you get the munchies. One of my friends on Steepster tried this tea and reported she also got tea stoned. This effect is similar to what I get off white2tea's 2005 Naka, but the leaf quality in the Naka is much better and the price is higher accordingly. As today's session went on, that awful storage flavor eventually went away. By cup number eight or so, most of the leaf had lost the accordion pleating which I don't usually see. This tea has been rescued from the poor storage literally by a hair. Or maybe even months or days just before complete ruin. 

Later cups past 8 I get a pleasant grapefruit sour flavor, which is rather nice for me since I'm unable to eat grapefruits anymore due to a medication interaction. The soup turns a lighter lemon yellow and the leaf appears more normal by steep 10 when I took this photo. The tea doesn't have much body, but again this tea has been rescued from a bad situation and clearly the processing is local with the uneven wok burn. 

Leaf after 10 steeps.
My friends over at Tee Talk in Germany have been discussing this tea recently. Few of them have prior experience with Crimson Lotus and thus have not partaken of the rather decent shou puerh that this company sells as a mainstay. I also favor the Jian Shui teapots that Crimson Lotus sources directly. Shipping costs are always a factor. The description for the 2006 Xigui recommends drinking the tea immediately, and I have to echo that suggestion. Storage is not going to fix the unfortunate drying that happened to this leaf earlier on. The leaf quality seems to rescue itself in later steeps, but just barely. If you really want stoner tea, then pony up for the 2005 Naka from white2tea, but if the price is just too much for your wallet, then the 2006 Xigui from Crimson Lotus Tea is worth considering. 

Requiescat in Pace.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Old Cwyn Goes A-Blogging

For some reason tea blogging has a glamorous reputation. People think it's all about invitations to Tea Expos and getting free tea gift bags with spa makeup and nail polish. Or that tea blogging is about getting two thousand followers on Twitter and Instagram and Imgur and Pinterest and Google+ and Facebook and Tumblr. And that blogging is about Fans sending you emails and samples from their tea collections, along with rich Asian businessmen and their 1950s collection (well yes, that happened). Let me tell you what the reality is.

First off, I do have a Fan Club. It's maybe two guys over at Tee Talk in Germany. And they do write me nice emails asking things like "Are you really a gay man, you can tell us." Truthfully I'm fairly certain I AM a gay man, but it's rather unfortunate that when I get to the Men's toilets I have absolutely nothing to share, I won't pass the physical. But that's my Fan Club, not too glamorous but a reason to go tea shopping nevertheless. I love you guys. And I've got a big surprise coming up for y'all on one of your current topics. No, it's not my patent leather school shoes. It's a TEA.

Next in the reality of blogosphere the emails arrive Re: Your Post. This week it's emails wondering if he or she might be the person who gave me the "fake" 1990s tuo I wrote about. And the people asking never sent me any 1990s tea. Still that doesn't stop a few from trying. I know I'm old and confused, but not about that. They are trying to trick me into thinking they sent me really old tea, and hope I'm forgetful enough to think I owe a return. I keep explaining that anyone who truly sent me 1990s tea actually owns more tea than they know what to do with, and I'm trying to get them to take my venison jerky instead. So far no takers, which merely leaves us with "thank you all for the tea."

I have other t-mail situations too, even well-meant from other bloggers. H. recently gave me a lecture on building an outdoor space for the Petr Novak/Mirka Randova outdoor charcoal burner set I bought and want to give away. Designing an outdoor tea space. What a lovely thought! But I'm a curb picker, not a designer. My "designs" are about vintage finds, making do and spraying them for roaches. And I'm not objecting because I need "Let's Do It" home renovation lessons. In fact, I watch HGTV all day long. So far the only thing I've learned is how to demo with a sledgehammer. For some reason that stuck.

Also, I get emails every month from people who want me to do online debate forums with other bloggers. This would be the most boring and silent event ever because I agree with every single tea blogger out there. It's a darn fine tea and I'm so tea drunk, full stop. No one writes "this tea is a dried out piece of manure and I sincerely recommend you spend $200 and try some for yourself." Good bloggers add to the Idea Well, which we may draw from and so readers will too. But basic consensus over agreeable tea just doesn't lend itself to super bowl debates. And with a limited stock of tea online we all can access and buy, we don't have much room for debate. In fact, with most teas I am looking for a hook, something in the tea that says "do me" because most teas are unremarkable, and one runs out of things to say about the average after awhile. This is the best explanation of where my own writing comes from. My family just thinks I'm demented.

If this isn't enough reality for you already, we have our dear tea vendor friends weighing in and I can talk about how blogging affects one's tea shopping. Currently, my Tea Pimp has cut me off. I'm almost out of the Fujian oolong I bought from white2tea last fall. But Twodog has banned me from white2tea shopping. Says if I try it he'll return my money. I'm not sure why this is. Where am I supposed to get my tea, the grocery store?? There seems to be a conspiracy going on and I highly suspect my son is in League with Twodog and probably the Postmaster too. For Dear Son thinks I keep sending money to some guy in Nigeria.

"No, it's China," I tell him.

"Same difference," he says.

This is coming from a child who gets boxes in the mail of dodgy photocopies of classical sheet music which he uploads to a free database for a Yale graduated lawyer to make money for himself. Son is a bassoon player which explains everything about him you need to know. To be fair I did email the lawyer's smarmy ass and told him to start paying my son and I haven't seen any more boxes since. So my flesh and blood going after my tea shopping habit is entirely off the hip right to the jugular, but damned inconvenient when I'm running on fannings.

The last of my fine oolong stash.
At the heart of this conspiracy lies something far more devious and expensive. The boy keeps stopping in my room where I'm moping to show me photos of TVs he thinks I should buy. See?? My current TV turns on fine if I use a hairdryer on High into the humidity sensor vents for ten minutes before I plug it in. In other words, the TV works. So I don't need a new TV, I need oolong. Small comforts are important when you live in an anti-marijuana state with a nut job for a governor who is probably running for President. Very soon all these will be your problems too. Anyone who agrees with me needs to start by writing to my son and complaining to the post office.

I've emailed all this to TeaDB.org to show proof of a conspiracy of family and vendor against my tea buying. TeaDB.org is a 501c which means they are the Government Tea Office. They get a tax write-off to assist helpless old ladies like myself living in under-served Rural Areas to resolve tea problems. In return for the help, I even offered to draw a cartoon for their newsletters as a volunteer so I can qualify for Food Stamps. I got a long form letter in reply which boiled down to me taking a number and waiting my turn. They are still expecting the plastic chairs to arrive for their complaint division, so I'm surprised to be asked to sit on the tweed. Fine, it's their tweed after all and not mine. Eventually I get the message that I might hear something back but not before 2019. By that time we Americans will be buying puerh in the grocery store with Food Stamps if the TeaDB office does what it is supposed to. TeaDB is getting super successful now with the Tea Party ever since Denny got guns. In the meantime, I'm stuck with my situation. And I'm fairly certain my name is on a list in their office of Restricted Persons based on some sort of Chapter 51/50 Part P Section 7542, leading to the conclusion that TeaDB is in on this conspiracy.

That leaves me with complaining to my church, so I head over to see the priest. I'm in luck here because our priest is from India. My diocese imports priests from overseas because all of ours are either in Prison or the nursing home. The best thing about the Catholic Church is they have nothing to do with governments, we have our own. So none of this take a number and watch your nails grow type of treatment. That's right. We have the Vatican and the best thing about the Vatican is they are Over There and I'm over here. This gives the priest the divine right to do whatever he darn well chooses. In my case, a priest from India is likely to have some good tea, but turns out he doesn't. The Father has, you guessed it, Darjeeling. In tea bags. From the grocery store. God.

Shared a cup anyway.

Requiescat in Pace, People

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Breaking the Bad

It's not what you think.

But you'll understand anyway.

Last Sunday I decided to do a massive historical sheng session. Over the past few months I've collected a number of samples from a single maker. All of the samples came from different people sharing a bit of their collection. I saved up all the samples until, by good fortune, I had a representation spanning a total of 15 years of tea storage. So in one day I was able to sample a 2012, 2011, 2008, 2005, 2003 and a 1990s. I prepared 8 grams for each tea, and used the same gaiwan and tried to keep the steep times similar, with a few minor adjustments in case a few leaves didn't want to open up. In other words, I did everything I could to make comparisons of apples with apples, while making allowances for the individual circumstances to pay attention to each tea. In the end, I found myself with a sad conclusion. One of the teas is a fake. Not only was I faced with the task of deciding whether or not to write about it, the worst part is if I can bear to even discuss the fake tea with the friend who owns it. The writing part isn't so important, it's breaking the bad that bites.

The tea that appears fake to me is the oldest tea in the bunch. So right away you know that the friend in question spent the most money of everyone whose tea I sampled on Sunday. When bad news involves hundreds of dollars, I have to sit back and wonder if I'm really going to tell him. Or if I might say something completely untrue instead. There are different types of lies: lies that spare feelings, lies that preserve dignity. The Black Lies of the criminal. Little white lies, those don't hurt so much. Lately I'm telling the truth as best I can when I write, but so often the honesty I'm trying for causes more problems than simply lying. Sparing feelings seems the best way to go, so I'll just label the teas using a bit of statistical nomenclature. Thus, I have tea samples Xi where i = 1...6.

Second Steep
The youngest tea X1 is a 2012 tuo. This sample was given to me to experiment with storage. So I put it through some crock abuse. And despite that, the tea kicked me in the arse up front and center. The 2012 tea is so bitter I thought my teeth might fall out, and this is as it should be for this tea when young. The tea is darker and more angry cloudy than it should be at this age because of the crock treatment.

Next the X2 tea is a loosely compressed (stone compression) "boutique offering" from 2011. It's one of those "drink now" types of teas, boiling water doesn't make it bitter.

Second steep.
This is a sample from a friend too, and his dry storage is paying off now. In this case, I'll let the friend know so he can drink it up sooner rather than later.

X3 is a vendor sample from 2008, passed on to me by another friend. This is an export tuo, dry stored, completely broken up into very small pieces and then bagged.

Second steep more yellow than the boutique and crock stored samples.
Hard to know what happened with this sample, but the tea has gone flat with no flavor at all. The leaves are dried out and have been for a long time. Maybe the tea was packaged as a sample 7 years ago. Given the condition of the leaves, and the fact it is a vendor sample, it's not worth evaluating so I just throw it out.

My own sample has some honker sticks (border tea tuo).
X4 is a 2005 compressed mushroom shape tea with dry storage, and this one I bought for myself to share with a friend. But this is almost a year ago now, so I doubt we're gonna get together for tea any time soon. Why should I resist trying this tea, especially because it keeps rolling out of my pumidor whenever I open the door. Roly Poly Mama's Little Fatty. I've given this tea the Gold Treatment storage, a stable RH at 65% for nearly a year. The tea looks a luscious brown. My friend can't seriously believe I'm going to simply look at this tea any longer without trying it.

Second steeping and...yum.
The leaves on this one are of a far lower quality than the others, this is a border tea. We were going to try and make yak butter type tea with it. The tuo is full of large leaves and sticks, including a few honkers. These twigs are in a tea that is meant to be boiled, and twigs must be boiled in order to extract any flavor. Steeped infusions do not extract flavor from huge twigs so I just pick them out. If I were to go ahead and boil the tea, I'd leave them in but I'm doing a steeping in a gaiwan so I pick out the big twigs. The tea has that untanned animal smell that I've called "yak butt" in other border teas.

So, X4 produces the thickest tea by far of those I've sampled. Engine oil thick body. Some bitterness, but surprisingly smooth. Just a bit of the animal meat flavor. I took a break for lunch before trying this tea, and now I'm breaking into a sweat. The qi on this is great, and I sit back and enjoy 4 cups altogether, reminded of my dad gutting deer when I was a kid.

The next tea X5 is a 2003 machine-compressed cake. I received this from a friend who wanted to me to crock-store it, but I haven't had a crock available for it without breaking up the entire cake. So it's been sitting out in a plastic bag with nothing special added for humidity. The tea has had dry storage and is fairly easy to chip off at 12 years of age. Leaves are smaller and more chopped than the other samples.

Second steeping, machine pressed, choppy.
But the cup is similar to X4 in the thicker body and similar color. The flavor is similar to X4 minus the yak butt, a bit smoky and still bitter but not biting. I expected a sharper tea, and I don't know for certain this is the real deal but it's close enough to X4 which I know for sure to be real, that I can temporarily believe in X5 unless I get some new information.

Finally I get to my sample of X6 which is the 1990s-era tea. This tea has had traditional Hong Kong style storage, unlike the other samples which are all dry stored.

Oldest of the samples, 1990s.
The storage isn't terribly heavy, but the tea is really tight in the chunk, after a cold water soak and two boiling rinses I pry apart the tea and it's still dry on the inside. I didn't cold water soak the other teas but the soak didn't do much anyway. Once I get a good brew going, the tea seems thin and watery compared to the other samples, except of course the X2 is a boutique tea and the X3 got ruined by the vendor so they don't really compare.

Second steep. Leaves have that softness of wetter storage.
But some of the thickness and flavor of the other samples should be present here. I'm tasting a thin tea and just storage. I do about 7 steeps to give the tea a chance but it just thins out even more. I am not convinced this tea is the same maker as the others. The original wrappers on the tea look brand new in photos. I can't see how wrappers can be this shiny bright with the wet storage, unless they were stored naked and recently rewrapped. I want to talk to my friend about this tea, but don't know where to start.

When I think about how people feel about their tea choices, I'm reminded of marriages. The tea cake is the spouse. We have honeymoon stages with tea cakes, and then we have the long term relationships with them to look forward to. Marriages turn into battlegrounds with everyone defending their individual turf. Props go to the person who suffers the most, who takes the biggest hit to their integrity while standing beyond reproach. The point of all that pain is trying to find each other desirable again. Desperately wanting to prove to oneself that a mediocre tea is fine, just fine. I want to feel betting the farm was a good decision. This is the scenario we hope for, and I think most of us can live with some uncertainty about a tea purchase over the long haul, because so many factors are involved in the life of a good tea, including a few bad years. You're in deep with the branding and the purported age, and can't see when the tea doesn't hold up to more than a few brews. And when the heavy storage is masking reality. The problem is nobody wants to know they sunk a few hundred into wrappers so shiny that everyone but you sees she's a floozy. And because you care about your buddy, you can't tell him she's bad news.

In case you're wondering, this tea isn't yours. It's someone else's. And I really enjoyed spending a full 7 hours with all these samples. One reason I did this today is because with my health issues I just don't know how much more time I have to drink bitter sheng samples. If I come clean to my doctor the time would be zero. So I'm on my own cliff edge and starting to get some acid reflux from anything but the highest quality sheng I own. A cup or two for tasting is probably just fine, if I limit myself, but I can't completely steep out teas like this anymore. My time has come to wrap up any remaining love affairs and turn my attention to the best tea I can get.

Requiescat in Pace.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Best New Tea Books

My favorite tea cookbook hands down. To die for: the Bulang Buttercream between stone-pressed layers of Menghai Melons. 

To appreciate the nuggets of tea wisdom in this volume, you need to read the previous three. Lots of wisdom on things like holding your drink, hiding tea stains, tucking tea sandwiches underneath plants, and which accessories the hostess is least likely to miss after the party.

A new scholarly tome from freshly minted doctoral scholar Jane B. Wood, PhD, funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education in conjunction with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, with auxiliary funding from the Committee on Better Asian Relations and the Free Tibetan Yaks PETA Task Group. The author argues for the authenticity of the yak voice on the changing quality of brick tea. 

A more readable critique than the yak book, this text explore the role of rappers in the western-facing tea market, the infiltration of rap culture in the tea blogosphere, and a review of the best rolling papers for dried maocha spliffs.

Excellent advice for parents sending their kids to immersive tea meditation summer camps, with a set of tear-apart flash cards to train phrases like "This is inappropriate" and "It hurts when you do that."

A great book for teens on dealing with your parent's problem. Learn things like making room for food in the fridge without disturbing the tea, creating password locks on tea vendor websites, setting browser filters for tea porn, and keeping your college fund intact with tea coupons.

Now in its third printing, the author is making big bucks selling the dream to a new sucker every eight minutes.

A serious self-help book that appears to be the most promising alternative to religious conversion in avoiding the Supermax transfer.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

What's the Frequency, Kenneth?

Rose Window of Notre Dame Cathedral
Tea is our Benzedrine, yah huh. Every day a new tea company opens up. Well, maybe a dozen new tea companies. And they all have a new Zen logo and Zen photos of teas that suggest meditation. My fellow tea drunks post similar photos and so do I, pretty photos of tea, like icons meant to draw us to our higher selves. Or that suggest a world more serene than the one we live in, which might include mountains in China and greenery in Japan. A more honest self portrait might be a tea drunk hunched over a gaiwan surrounded by piles of spent leaves. But that is not the side of tea most people want to see or get in touch with. In a recent post, I explored why Qi might be a difficult idea to import into the west as a whole. By "whole" I mean for people who don't drink tea or do yoga. Now I want focus more on tea drinkers and ideas of collective consciousness. Tea drinkers may want to tune in to qi, as it were, but finding the door can be a challenge. I know it was so for me.

Ideas of the Collective Consciousness

Every culture has deeply embedded ideas. Every child raised within a culture carries a tradition of ideas that are transformative. Most of these ideas are very old, and run across subcultures in different forms. Carl Jung worked with transformation within the field of psychology by looking at cultural "archetypes," recognizing that common ideas are the agents of history and change, both collective and personal. Iconic ideas, or ideas of the religious hero, require centuries to develop deeply into our collective unconscious.

Qi is an idea of the collective consciousness in the eastern part of our planet via Buddhism and other religions and philosophies even older. Today the notion of Qi is more Sexy for the west than our own collective concept of the Holy Spirit or Shekinah. Our culture developed and at the same time wounded our idea of spiritual energy. The words Holy Spirit are enticing and embarrassing because of both historic understanding and subsequent wounding.

Tibetan Sand painting
Likewise, God is a relationship both developed and wounded to the point where culturally and individually we almost cannot say the word anymore. Qi is the same idea without the Baggage. We trade the languages of religion for languages of science. Science can serve as a bandage for religious wounds, but the language of science lacks emotional pull, lacks a poetic connection, and lacks the necessary fuel to the fire of our being. Art adds this aspect, like a serene tea photo, into the void where primitive folk religion dwells.

Detail of the Rose Window of Notre Dame.
Cultural concepts in the collective consciousness are the door. Growth and transformation come through these ideas. Your inmost idea of the Holy is what you want to reach and dwell in more than anything else. Or your notion of the Void or Darkness or whatever appeals to you. The point is, whatever is the most sacred, the most transformative, will be the deepest wish you have. And this wish is, more often than not, something in you from your earliest childhood. Because your wish lies at your deepest consciousness from early in childhood, this is where your power and force lie.

If the notion of Qi is confusing, it is because this word is not in our cultural archetypes. We lack experience with it. It wasn't present in our earliest childhood, and thus does not have the same power and lacks our sensitivity. We do have equivalent ideas to Qi in our collective consciousness, but very often the words we use instead of Qi have personal and communal Pain and Baggage blocking us from using them. If you have wounds and blocks around your cultural concepts, your subconscious cannot open up until you get rid of the blocks and heal the wounds.

When I encounter Catholics, very often they want to dump baggage about their background with religion. As a former nun, I'm a walking garbage can for the collective subconscious. So I always say, "Lay it on me, I will have it." The person may be able to repeat the dumping process enough to remove blocks that will allow them to access the notions of the holy now covered by a layer of wounds and scabs. Regaining access to their transformative concepts means the person can come home to themselves. This may or may not mean rejoining the bureaucracy of religion, but at least the person can find a home to themselves in the collective ideas they inherited.

Adoration Chapel of the FSPA, two nuns have prayed here 24/7 for over 100 years. 
On the other hand, sometimes the wounds are just too much and the person needs to reject their cultural heritage and find their way through another set of traditions, new words that will get at the same notions of the divine within. If this is the case, to replicate the power that your childhood ideas have on you, then you must move into a culture or community in order to take these new words into the fiber of your being. You will need to get those concepts as deeply ingrained within you as if you had grown up with them all along. The new words and archetypes need to marry with your childhood archetypes and become as one. Perhaps you will need to move yourself physically to a new locale to get what you need.

You need someone or something to tip you over.

To appreciate qi in tea, you must develop your sensitivity. This means sitting still, breathing, lightening up your diet etc. but also it requires we leave our heads behind along with physical density. We have to open the door to the collective unconscious and walk through it. In my case, I didn't get a gentle experience. I had to go hurtling through the dark and light of my own personality through painful excavation and even this was not enough. I know for a fact I couldn't have done it without powerful notions of good and evil buried in my subconscious. Even though I may not have intellectual ideas that I buy into about the nature of good and evil, for example I'm not big into the idea of demons, still these ideas lie within my cultural subconscious, and I have to go there anyway into clash of opposites between what I feel I am and what I want to be. The larger the notion of the Holy, the bigger the dragon guarding the door. And they develop together too, the snake biting its tail, when I sense the tautology within myself I know that is where I must go excavating.
Jung and Titus Andronicus, nilesritter.com
The resistance to sensitivity is very great for all but the most gifted people. We don't want to be soft, we would rather be hard and impenetrable. We defend rather than let go. We fight. My door is all of western mythology and religion. Some people can walk through on their own. But I need something or someone to tip me over the edge of the abyss. This will be someone or something part of my culture. For if the Buddha appeared before me I would not know him.

Watch for a Herald, a Forerunner, or the sound of the Shofar. 

You might get a notification in advance before getting tipped into the unconscious or before an encounter with the Holy. This is a very old idea in our cultural history, millenia old. It is biblical but happens on every level including your own if your cultural subconscious is that of the western religions, even if you are not actively participating in a religion. Changes in our society have often had a forerunner event, and the collective and personal are one. Keep your eyes out, you may encounter someone or something. Keep your ears open for the sound of the horn, the Shofar. Lamps lit like virgins watching and waiting for the beloved, then they run.

Sometimes I get advance notice. I wrote before about the Manifestation I have had for a number of years. Just prior to this happening, I felt some change about to happen, but nothing was bringing the change about. What tipped me over was a person at work, someone who shares my cultural and ethnic  background. This guy is very tightly wound as a person, and as often happens with people like this, the subconscious tends to ooze out at the sides of a repressed person. So he was giving a talk and used a personal story to illustrate a mathematical point he was trying to make.

His story was about a priest, and I knew what he was going to say before he said it. I guessed because he paused right before, and I just knew he was going to launch into a story, something he felt compelled to say, and that he couldn't stop himself even though the story wasn't particularly appropriate for a secular setting. Because we share a similar background, the same collective concepts, I knew what was coming. I can't even repeat the story he told now, because I don't really remember it, but it was about an encounter with a priest. It was enough that it suddenly opened up the door to our shared cultural concepts, and our shared collective unconscious. His pause first, and then launching into this story about the priest was like the sound of the horn, like the air dropping away around me.

I followed my colleague around for awhile for weeks afterward, to see if this had any sort of significance beyond simply opening me up to our shared collective subconscious. But there was no other real significance to this person in my life. I was undergoing a period of great change on the inside and he simply tipped off the process. He had no idea of anything going on with me, nor that he was a kind of trigger.

The weeks to come were a combination of meditation, walking, raging, crying and literally falling through my subconscious into a vision. I emerged 20 pounds lighter and minus a great deal of emotional tension. Gone was a thickness I had developed, and in place I grew softer as well as more in tune with the mythology I live by. I visited a confessor and also my former novice director. Both said the same thing "You are no longer a student." and "Now go do that again and again."

Sensitivity to Tea and Patterns.

Requiescat in Pace.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

All the Better to Smell You With

Just before Easter I decided to treat myself to some tea ware and purchase a fragrance cup. I didn't own one before, and lately I'm getting more immune to certain tea scents. What's a puerh drinker who doesn't notice that unique note of unwashed laundry in a wet-stored tea cake? I could lose all credibility. Not to mention all the emails I might get from people who bought a cake I like and oops, I failed to mention that teensy weensy storage issue because I quite frankly don't smell tea properly without that fragrance cup. Oh yes those floral fragrances might be nice to smell too. Now that I think about it, maybe I need two fragrance cups, one called Naughty and another called Nice. I must also mention that my tea ware shopping episode evolved into purchasing a matching teapot too as well as a couple of cups. Yes, you know the slippery slope once you start looking at tea ware. I can only tell you that once you get older and feel like you're running out of time in life to enjoy your tea the shopping excuses get harder to resist.
The fragrance cup on the slippery shopping slope is by Lin's Ceramics, and that led to getting the fairness cup, two drinking cups and a tea pot. I'm attracted to the purity of the cream color and the set matches the gaiwan I own from white2tea as well.

100g Silver Needle by Mandala Tea
To test my new set, I picked this 2012 Silver Needle tea cake from Mandala Tea. I've had the cake for almost a year now and haven't tried it. Just an oversight since I bought it around the time of other spring teas and it just got lost in the shuffle.

On the puerh news website puercn.com, I read sometime last year a prediction that white tea cakes will be the new hot collector item. I don't know if this prediction will come true. Perhaps it might if puerh sales continue to accelerate on "drink now" tea cakes, because I don't think many of us believe white tea has much aging potential when the floral fragrance fades so quickly. But old people like me need tea we can drink now since we don't have time to age anything aside from ourselves. Also, I'm starting to turn to things like white tea cakes more often, because I'm getting a bit more acid reflux from sheng. My days of drinking the harsher stuff are numbered.

Teapot holds about 100 ml at the very top.
I've had this Silver Needle cake in my puerh storage with other regular puerh cakes, and I'm surprised it hasn't picked up any odors from those cakes. Also, I'm surprised that the fragrance and flavor in this is quite fresh. Got lucky.

And of course I enjoy the experience of a fragrance cup. I smell the tea in the cup, and then empty the tea out. The tall narrow shape of the cup forms a tunnel of scent, preserving it longer. I should think that anyone can benefit from a fragrance cup, sometimes we need to smell tea for awhile to figure out just what notes are coming out of the tea. Even more on a bad sinus day.

My Silver Maple tree outside reflecting in the tea.
But what really surprises me are the drinking cups in this Lin's set. I've never put much money into drinking cups for tea, not like what I put into tea pots. The clear cups and the white cups I use for my photos are literally all I owned before now. Somehow I missed out though on information that a proper cup conducts heat in a particular way. This cup by Lin's stays hot much longer than even the double walled clear glass cups. By that I mean the tea stays hot. I'm getting a completely different mouth experience with the tea, more of a larger mouth feel because the tea is uniformly hot. Whereas with my other cups the tea at the top of the cup is cooler, so I'm sipping cooler tea off the top. What a big difference a more evenly heated sip does for the mouth feel!

I used a far too hot temp for the Silver Needle cake than is probably recommended, I went with 208 F degrees (97 C). However, the tea is still very sweet and peony floral at this temp. I also prefer a bit of a bitter note to my tea, I don't care for cool/sweet tea. The fragrance cup must be rinsed out with hot water between teas because it retains more scent than other cups. The clay is supposed to get a patina over time too, though how much time I have for that remains to be seen.

Requiescat in Pace

Thursday, April 9, 2015

This Much is True, Relatively Speaking

Spring is in very early days for tea, and I find myself thinking about this year's tea cakes even though I could easily let such thoughts slide for another month or two. I think what brought this up is the early appearance of Misty Peak 2015 Spring Puerh cakes in late February or early March. I wasn't entirely paying attention at the time until people started questioning whether the tea being sold could possibly be new spring tea this early. In fact I still wasn't really paying attention at all until I drank a swap sample of 2010 Chen Sheng Yi Hao currently offered by Tea Urchin. Issues of marketing and representation crossed by truth and relative truth can leave tea drunks like me more confused than usual.
2010 Chen Sheng Yi Hao at Tea Urchin
The 2010 Chen Sheng Yi Hao is supposed to contain 10% Lao Banzhang leaf. Tea Urchin discloses that the cake also contains Bulang leaf. Nothing about this description is inaccurate, at least not on the part of Tea Urchin. But when I tasted the tea, what I taste is the "Bulang" character. All I can surmise about the LBZ in the cake is that it is likely chopped leaf and/or sticks and twigs because the LBZ certainly isn't very prominent in the flavor profile. Tea Urchin doesn't say how much Bulang is in the cake. Is Bulang the other 90%? Or something less? Perhaps Tea Urchin doesn't have the answer to that 100%, and tea origins sometimes are so murky that nobody has the answer after the tea changes hands too many times.

My sample of 2010 Chen Sheng Yi Hao
And this is the whole problem. How much is true? We really have a kind of Relative Truth going on. Tea factories or vendors can call a tea cake LBZ, price it accordingly and when there is some truth, some LBZ leaf, even if just chop and sticks, well that's apparently enough to truthfully label the tea a LBZ, relatively speaking. But as long as the cake has at least SOME of what it claims, we can't really point the finger at any lying cheating bastards because nobody is lying and nobody is cheating. I have been told what I'm getting and the rest is up to me to decide, up to me whether or not I want to buy, and up to me to determine how much is true. I can decide whether the cake is fairly priced for what it is and make up my own mind to spend the money or not.

But the situation isn't always so clear. And "clear" is rather relative too, since the Chen Sheng cake is only 10% clear in truth when we come right down to it. Things can deteriorate from there. Some tea vendor lying is fairly obvious. MarshalN has pointed out a million times that ancient gushu is not going to be $6.99 on EBay and most of us are smart enough to figure that out. But what we face far more often isn't the obvious scam, it's the situation of Relative Truth when we have 10% LBZ, and the cake is sold accordingly because of the LBZ content. Tea Urchin isn't guilty of anything, and in fact if the cake is 90% Bulang, the 400g cake is priced somewhat fairly for Bulang at 5 years of age. People are starting to notice Bulang too. The price for Bulang has been increasing, and we are seeing cakes labeled all-Bulang, when in past years Bulang was simply a filler as it was in the 2010 Chen Shang Yi Hao cake. You can argue with me over the word filler or the specifics on Bulang if you want. However, Relative Truth is far more difficult to pin down when nobody has done anything particularly wrong. No one is at fault for the fact that LBZ is hyped to the point where no one can afford it, and nobody has misrepresented the tea because barely enough information is available for a buyer to freely decide whether or not the price is worth it. 

Misty Peak Spring 2015
In the situation of Misty Peak current "2015 Spring," I decided to order a small cake for myself. I have 2 other seasons of Misty Peak tea, you might recall my crock experiments last fall when I used a Misty Peak sample to test the viability of southwestern US native pottery for use in tea storage. This was just a test situation when I needed a fresh new tea sample, as opposed to a dried out and aged sample, so I could find out if new tea picked up any odors from desert pottery. And I found out that it does pick up odors from that style of pottery. So I have some 2013 Spring Misty Peak and then I have Autumn 2014 also, in addition to my "Spring 2015" that has been available for a month or two now. 

So the question with the tea is, what is it and where did it come from? After some of the chatter questioning these early spring cakes, I immediately noticed a topic on Steepster that Misty Peak posted asking people "how important" is knowing the season of the tea....hmm I figured that "oolong" is not really the tea situation Misty Peak wants to discuss. Relatively speaking. Because I have no way of knowing for sure whether their 2015 tea cake really contains 2015 Spring tea, or any spring tea at all. 

Second Steep plus more compressed Spring 2013, on right
When the cake arrives, I can tell from the brown leaves and loose compression that this is stored maocha that perhaps has been pressed only recently. But there is no way this is "new" spring tea. In fact, when I place my 2013 spring cake piece next to the new tea, I can see a difference between fresh wet tea pressed into a cake in the same way juicy freshly-cut grass compacts itself than I'm seeing in this far drier, loose Spring 2015. 

For comparison, Autumn 2014, also with loose compression,
Could the Spring tea be, say, 2013 or 2014 spring tea in a fraction like the 10% of the LBZ in the Chen Sheng cake? I see some buds in my tea. But I can also see the browning of older tea. 

Browning on the steeped leaf
Flavor-wise, I do like the flavor of Misty Peak's Yiwu-floral type character. And I'm now in a position to treat it better than last year with this vintage crock humidor I found this week in a thrift shop. My 2013, 2014 and now "2015" seem to all have the same amount of aging so I don't feel guilty breaking up the new cake and putting all the tea together since it is single-origin. Or so we believe.

I mix together all my Misty Peak tea into this vintage humidor.
Misty Peak really isn't misrepresenting, relatively speaking, if the 2015 cake is a 2015 pressing containing true "spring material." Right?? Maybe in 2015 they pressed up some material that happens to contain spring material from another year. So the cake is 2015, check. Spring material, check. But we don't know how much Bulang is in the Chen Sheng and we don't know how much Autumn might perhaps be in the Misty Peak tea. We might have spring tea in the Misty cake but maybe it is mostly older twigs and chop like the LBZ in the Chen Sheng. Again, maybe the vendor isn't really doing anything wrong, and might have hit upon a brilliant marketing idea in doing a new pressing in Feb/March before real spring tea is available and tea drinkers are thirsty for spring. But still we have a Relative truth because the tea really isn't the fresh spring pick.

When I consider other industries, Relative Truth is the order of the day. I remember the bomb to the cosmetics industry back in the early 1990s when Paula Begoun "the Cosmetics Cop" exposed how little of an active ingredient is actually present in facial creams. She wrote huge encyclopedic books taking apart the ingredients of nearly every popular cosmetic available on the market. For example, many face creams labeled as "shea butter" had less than 5%. Sometimes a cream contained even less than 2% of the miracle ingredient claimed to be in the formula. Finally she developed a rule of thumb that anything not in the first 5 ingredients can be considered to be virtually non-existent for the purposes of any effect on the skin. 

Beautiful mid-century humidor pipe crock by Deco.
Cosmetic companies hated Paula for showing that most skin creams contain water, a humectant, a binder, preservatives and virtually nothing more, and that a $5 face cream might have the exact same ingredients as a $100 face cream. The companies defended themselves with the response that anything truly effective must be regulated as a medicine or a drug, so of COURSE a cosmetic mustn't actually contain active ingredients. Paula's work barely made a dent in the end. The cosmetics industry charged right on and the prices of face creams continued to go up while touting miracle ingredients present in such miniscule quantities as to actually have no effect. Women regularly buy $200+ creams and we can't call the companies lying bastards because the cream might actually contain an teensy weensy amount of an ingredient, thus making the cream worthy of its claims. Relatively speaking.

Another possibility in the tea world is we could have a bait and switch situation when the tea that is chosen for pressing is not the one that is delivered. Tea is expensive, and a bait and switch can be quite lucrative. This happens in the jewelry industry, when the diamond bought and paid for in an engagement ring isn't the stone that gets mounted into the ring setting. Or the kitchen stove that I bought which was a "floor model" and the one delivered to my house actually has a dent in it. Or when I buy a Ralph Lauren shirt. Ralph Lauren never touched nor even designed the shirt, he has an army of people creating "ready-to-wear" lines under his name but the shirt costs $100 because his name is on it. The shirt is "his," relatively speaking. Nobody complains about this relative truth and people continue to buy Ralph Lauren shirts that he wouldn't even recognize. So what do we think about tea vendors who might have bought a quantity of leaf, but then the tea that is delivered is not what they picked out? Or that a tea can be called 2015 simply because it is pressed in 2015 but actually consists of tea from other years?

The entire cosmetics industry shields itself by doing what everyone else is doing, and if tea is doing the same, why should I be surprised? I might be smart enough to call an Ad Populum when I see it, but how does this really help me or anyone? The truth is I'm probably an idiot for not going along with all this Relative Truth and downright fallacy. My life might have turned out better than it has by going along. I could convince myself that I'm quite the scholar if I had published the exact same article in 6 different academic journals, just changing the details slightly so as to appear to have written 6 different articles, qualifying for tenure based on this absurd quantity, rather than the quality or originality of the papers. 

Am I too "pick-y?"
Who do I think I am, believing the world should have this perfect type of moral honesty? If truth is so relative, I'm just a fool and late to the big party of life. I missed out and probably just because of unattractive appearances, because my childhood visions of success included guys with beer bellies, gold coin nugget rings and Brylcreem holding court every Friday night at the supper club over a steak and a Manhattan. And the rest area toilets north of Highway 10 that are wider because, let's face it, the women are fatter and only later I find out the real truth that the genetic heritage around here, taken out of the farm, doesn't even need to eat meat to fatten up because just sitting around is sufficient. My efforts to avoid appearances of sleazy relativity in business sales masked a reality of people who actually were successful.

If I had looked past those appearances and drank the collective Kool-Aid I might have more to show for a life. All it takes is shameless self-promotion no matter what that entails. Like promoting myself as a representative of a miracle skin cream that contains less than 2% of the ingredient. Or promising the security of "life insurance" that in truth only pays out upon an accidental death? I definitely reached a certain point years ago when I stopped being critical of people doing well through faking, because the reality is they are successful at what they do, and nobody is forced to buy the Relative Truths they are selling. Objective Truth is that a cabbie with a PhD has no respect and the dignity of honesty tastes even better when it has meringue and a cherry on top, even if what's underneath came out of the deep fryer.

So why do I expect the tea world to be somehow more honest? Is this a hidden form of magic and mysticism I am STILL placing onto tea, despite my efforts to de-mystify and remove my fantasies behind tea drinking? But the truth is tea is a business like any other business and we can't get clouded by the product no matter what a vendor decides to do. A tea seller suggested to me that not using regional labels at all might be better for sales, so that one store's Spring Laoshan isn't confused with someone else's Spring Laoshan. Like maybe calling teas evocative names like Envy or Rapture. A Dead Rabbit puerh might be a better idea than Yiwu. I don't know. At this point hubris will probably sell tea just the same as a product in any other industry, and maybe much better.

Whatever happens in the end, most tea vendors will need to follow suit. Offering spring tea "early" is like KMart deciding to stay open on Thanksgiving Day. The outcry from other retailers is huge, but eventually they have to give in and do the same, or lose the holiday dollars spent on Thursday rather than Friday. Misty Peak sold out their first run of 200g cakes in just a couple of days. Now they have 100g cakes on offer too, and that's what I decided to pick up to add to my crock. The $39 price point grabs people who want "new" tea but are also holding dollars for the big buy later this spring. A lucrative fudge like this is hard to pass up for tea vendor and tea drunk alike. But where does this leave people who don't know what they are getting into?

This much is true: 1) the tea industry is full of Relative Truths like many other industries; 2) the power of my wallet isn't enough to change things; 3) I could use a nap, and 4) I can leave it to the young people to sort out this mess.

Requiescat in Pace

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A "Bit" about Qi

"Impression," 2014 Yunnan Sourcing
I want to write a bit about the concept of qi in tea. People have an understanding and experience with this quality of tea, but describing it in a rational way is difficult, and can get contentious at times. We westerners hit a brick wall when talking about qi because we get slapped up against our cultural dualism, a split between science and religion. We also get stuck because ethnic religious ideals embedded in our culture contradict the concept of qi. I will start with more general issues on why this concept is difficult to promote in the west, and then finish up with my more personal experiences.

Qi is the Pin Yin for breath, Chi is the Wade-Gilles. The compounds in tea that are identified with the qi effect are generally referred to as theanine. Theanine crosses the blood-brain barrier and increases the production of alpha wave states in the brain that we experience in REM sleep and during meditation. The practice of meditation is the exercise of observing one's breath. The goal is to lengthen the attention span in order to discover more subtle internal sensations. Circulation of the breath is the movement of qi. Qi is viewed as a life energy that permeates all living things.

The Problem of Pantheism

The concept of qi is the life energy of the universe, not merely theanine. What does it mean to say that a cake of tea contains qi? If we view qi as Oneness, or One energy, then this very general idea doesn't clash so much with western religious notions of spiritual energy from an all-powerful, Omniscient and Omnipotent God. However, qi found in an object is problematic in western theology. A tea cake is an object, not a person. Pantheism is the idea that Everything is God, and the essence of the divine can be found in all elements of nature. So God can exist in a tea cake, a wafer, a tree, or animals. For the "qi/God is in everything" concept to hold logically true, a Tea Cake must be the same as a tree, an animal, a table, a bridge, a rock, a child, a rosary, a crucifix, and a communion wafer. Either all is One or all is Not One, for every Set A we have Not A. As soon as we split qi into objects that "have it" over objects that don't, we no longer have a singular concept of qi. Instead we have a dualistic concept of positive and negative.

What do we call things that don't have qi? By definition, everything must have the same universal energy, or the concept is flawed. Tea cannot possibly have qi in a way that any other object lacks. Unless of course we are referring only to the chemical compounds. What about relative qi? Does qi exist in degrees, with more qi in humans and somehow a lesser amount in animals and plants? If not, then what makes a tea cake more than any other object? I could eat an orange or a yak and the same effect exists and I'm merely ascribing more to a tea cake out of fantasy thinking or only because the chemical compounds are fooling my brain.

This logic problem is where science gets hung up on the idea of qi, making systematic study impossible. For qi to make sense, it must be everywhere and in everything, or we run into problems of definition. Trying to prove Qi exists is a similar problem that Thomas Aquinas grappled with trying to prove God exists, we find a tautology, a circular argument that falls back upon itself.

I think the best scientific idea we have right now is the theory that all matter contains particles from the original Big Bang, when matter "won out" over anti-matter by an unexplained fraction of a chance, the moment when perhaps an intelligence beyond us made the call. So maybe the energy of qi could be the remnants of the original creation of matter in the universe and all matter is equally filled with this creation energy. Einstein and Hawking tried to come up with universal ideas of everything. But the truth is, universal theories are problematic once we begin to differentiate one object or being from another and then attempt study specifics. Einstein's flirtation with Pantheism came via reading Spinoza. In the 19th century, Catholic Christian theology rejected Spinoza, and declared the notion of Pan-theism as heresy. As a counter-argument or attempt at clarification, theologians came up with an idea known as Panen-theism. Panentheism is by far more prevalent in western culture.

Panentheism and Eschatology

Panentheism is the idea of God as Omnipresent in all dimensions but also removed, existing in another reality outside of the objective world we know. Instead of spiritual energy existing in everything equally, the Human Being is viewed as the center of the universe. Objects or non-human beings like animals are thus viewed as lacking soul, or essence. If God is said to dwell in an object or person, it is only in another dimension, not actually within the real properties of the object. In this view, life force energy cannot be said to exist in any object. Under this notion, a puerh tea cake certainly does not qualify as an appropriate vessel for divine energy. 

Where Pan-theism means Set A is divine everything, under Panen-theism the Divine Alone is Set A and everything else is, by default, Not A, until proven otherwise. The heavenly dimension where God/Allah/Jehovah exists is where the righteous dwell, along with 40 virgins and a resurrected Jesus. Where we live is outside of that dimension, though the divine can somehow insert or intervene, a moved or unmoved mover. But God would never deign to lower to a teacake, though God is viewed to have lowered himself into bread in the myth of Jesus, a singular exception that Christians believe. A saint is made and not born, holiness must be rigorously tested. Such a rationalist western idea, and a far cry from the unifying life energy in the concept of Qi.

Early believers in the resurrection of Jesus believed Christ would return imminently, which gave a defining eschatology to the Christian religion, though all religions have theories of the End Time. Christianity and Islam both have a most urgent eschatology, earthly life doesn't compare with the world to come after death. Heaven is not earth, and the point of religious practice is to leave this world and get to the next one with a front row seat. If a divine Qi exists, it is in an alternate dimension and the whole goal of life is to hurry up and get to this new dimension.

Urgent eschatology is both a method and a lifestyle. When you expect or hope to die tomorrow and wake up with the Divine, you live accordingly and keep yourself on a path worthy of such a fate and avoid anything that could affect your spiritual expectations. Very likely this conformity means adhering entirely to the tenets of your own tradition and avoiding exposure to anything outside of it, or contrary to it. I've observed this struggle in a tea friend who wants to get into puerh tea, but is dealing with a religious tradition which disapproves of caffeine addiction.

An urgent eschatology is a method of spiritual progression worldwide. Most religions have some notion that a Fast Path to divine union is possible. Tea can fit into an idea of the Fast Path, along with mushrooms, weed, LSD, meditation postures, Tai Chi, frequent Communion, evangelical practices such as talking in tongues, ecstatic dancing and singing, faith healing, revival meetings etc. At the very same time, eastern and western traditions of meditation also advocate Rejecting all Manifestations, specifically ignoring experiences of minor ecstasy in favor of pushing toward the ultimate union with the divine. Like St. Therese of Lisieux advocated, throwing oneself into the arms of God like a little child, rejecting everything else and everything less than God alone. This notion of rejecting all but God has taken hold in western culture more than we realize, back to a time when Jesus was expected to return imminently. If the world ends tomorrow, one finds it difficult to believe in, or care about concepts like a life force permeating a tea cake. Overcoming a preference for the Big over the Little means a culture must reject the idea that our Personal God/Messiah is coming to get us anytime soon.

Rejecting all but God can also include rejecting society and ideas outside of our cultural tradition, making the adoption of concepts like qi even more unlikely, unless qi is already a part of the tradition you're in. Immigrants to the Americas brought with them language and cultural religious traditions to their new country. But after immigrating, most ethnic groups keep to themselves, viewing the outer culture of the Americas with a moral suspicion. Major western religious groups all share a tendency to view holiness as endemic to their own cultural group. In other words, the path to holiness and the divine is due to participating fully in a cultural religious tradition that excludes those outside of it. So here we have powerful family traditions that erect a massive cultural barrier between those on the inside and those outside. Even if some unifying concept like spiritual energy exists, cultural groups reserve this energy for themselves and specifically condemn anyone outside their group as inherently unable to obtain the same experience. Such exclusivity adds to the logical and theological problems already present in the idea of a unifying life force energy potentially located in a beverage.

Anyone born into such a cultural tradition is likely stuck for some time. Maintaining the integrity of the group is a powerful force for at least two more generations after immigration. Once people assimilate and begin adopting a more secular lifestyle, they feel more free to start borrowing ideas and become more individualistic, more prone to personal philosophy that may depart from their original ethnic enclave. So today we have people who might belong to a western religion but they also attend yoga classes, and nobody sees any contradiction in that. For many people, exploring eastern philosophies is additive, or part of a pick-and-choose consumerist mentality with spirituality.

Summing Up...

So let's sum up the problems with a concept of Qi in western culture, and why such an idea is difficult:

1. Proving qi exists seems impossible, as a tautology.

2. Whether Qi exists in relative degrees.

3. Unresolved logic problems, what has qi and what doesn't.

4. Culturally rooted Christian theology has rejected the idea that a divine energy can exist in any object except a communion wafer.

5. Western philosophy promotes the idea of spiritual energy existing in an alternate dimension.

6. Major Western religions have an urgent Eschatology, a focus on life after death and arriving at another dimension.

7. Most religions have a Fast Path method, rejecting "lesser" spiritual manifestations in favor of the alternate dimension, full union with the divine, or the after death experience.

8. A moral view that drugs or artificially-induced states are not the same as spiritual states, even when an analysis of the brain action shows they are the same.

9. Immigrant religious groups promote the idea of salvation from within the group, making the adoption of new ideas difficult for at least two generations.

Faith and Belief

I think we can reasonably conclude that the concept of Qi, aside from the chemical compounds present in tea, is not a concept that currently can be studied with scientific method. So, right now Qi is an idea of Faith and Belief, relative to the Individual. Here we are again in the Relativist Universe of Tea. You can tell me "No, Qi is objective" but I think you'll end up in a tautology when you try to explain it. Instead, we'll have an easier time of it moving to the other side of our brains, that of internal experience. St. John of the Cross, the great Carmelite monk who wrote of the dark night of the soul and union with the divine, instructs that the pre-requisite is to quiet the senses and empty the rational mind. All that is Objective is put to sleep. We need to do this if we want to explore whether Qi really exists in tea as an experience greater than the sum total of its theanine content. 

During my training as nun I was sent to study at a meditation center with a Sufi master who also had training in unitive methods across religious traditions. I was exposed to the concept of Qi when taught the first 40 postures of Tai Chi, psycho-calisthenics, Buddhist walking and sitting, breath techniques, and even the idea of circulating deep breaths when giving a social hug. Circulate the qi with your neighbor. The point of all of this, along with the training I'd had as a novice in Catholic inner prayer, was to prepare myself for a life as a contemplative nun in which the goal is nothing less than union with the Divine. My training emphasized the idea of the human being as the ultimate container of Qi. When I first encountered the idea of qi in a tea cake, and the idea of looking for this experience in tea, I felt rather uncomfortable thinking of qi in an object like tea.

I learned that a continual practice of observing the breath eventually will pay off if you have Manifestations, regardless of the type or source. Manifestations are experiences which we cannot explain any other way except as spiritual or religious. Feeling Qi in tea is one of these experiences. Most spiritual masters instruct us to deepen our attention and continue our breathing and prayer practice when a Manifestation occurs. I was taught to observe and deepen the experience when it happens, rather than chase it away. I might have to let go of cultural exhortations that tell say "you must not feel that" when the Manifestation occurs. At the same time, both Christian and Buddhist teachers say we should not develop an Attachment to the manifestation. We are to look further, to look for God above all. Or the Nothing of the Void if that is what you believe.

I have had a type of Manifestation since the age of 33. It is the experience of everything around me as a golden wash of light. I see and feel this. It came after a change that happened to me psychologically due to my practice. This was a difficult change and I sought a swami to help me through it. Christianity does not have all the spiritual guidance tools I needed due to the Fast Track and Urgent Eschatology. Which led to the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton traveling to a Buddhist monastery in Thailand when he needed more help. He knew where Catholic contemplative method ends, and how much more developed methods are in Buddhism and Sufism, just to name a few. Because of Thomas Merton, I know when I need help from traditions outside my own training. I hit that underdeveloped wall in Christianity which is where Manifestations like Qi reside.

The manifestation I have is something I participate in, rather than fully control. I might be able to do more with it if I had more help today, but this is not very important to me. The experience of the light comes and goes. I can relax into it, and do my breath practice as I've been taught. Sometimes I get it when drinking tea, but I haven't noticed that physical sensations from tea automatically produce the manifestation, even when tea drunk. I can relax and breathe and very often experience the manifestation whether I'm drinking tea or not. But I have been taught very clearly that experiences like this are NOT to be sought, because a person can get stuck in them like a side road on a highway. They are not an end in themselves, despite all my jokes about Tea Drunks. My jokes are part of my Foolishness, as Francis of Assisi taught about embracing the Fool in ourselves. I believe that it is entirely possible to participate in something that my rational mind finds absurd.

Where to Go from Here

I'd like to recommend a book Spiritual Cannibalism by Swami Rudrananda. Rudrananda born Albert Rudolph (1924-1973) in Brooklyn, New York, was raised in Judaism and became a practitioner of Ratha Yoga. I think some of the principles of Ratha apply very well to consuming tea. Swami Rudi's method and practice was entirely about the physical body. The human being is the greatest container of Qi. Rudi's work is very short, just a couple hundred pages, but these were very helpful to me in physically assimilating emotional experiences through his image of the body as a Blast Furnace.

Garbage in Yunnan. If all is one, there is no contradiction.
"An open fire fed by enormous logs burns large amounts of fuel. A pot-bellied stove uses less wood but gives more heat. So, too, a calm exterior not only conserves the inner fuel but, being less visual and external, does not capture the mind. It also heats deeply and for longer periods of time. A person seeking truth should not be caught by outer drama or illusions. Within a spiritual being, deep surrender should collect fuel from everyone and everything. It is our conscious need that continually brings us this material for our internal furnace. Everything, to be of service to make us grow, should be consumable--surrendered and used as fuel."


"A steady diet of refined food or vibrations will not suffice to attain the ideal growth that is theoretically possible. It is not possible for a human being to change the inner condition by just fasting or altering the diet. To effect a real change, conscious effort is needed to clear out the system and allow it to grow organically strong enough so that it can absorb the change. Real change takes several years of effort."

Swami Rudrananda, 1973. Spiritual Cannibalism. Links Books.

Qi experience from tea is like pouring water on the hot pot-bellied stove so the steam rises up. Just because we drink tea with qi compounds, we don't become qi because we already ARE qi. Our bodies and the tea are all one in qi. The qi reminds our bodies and instructs our minds in what we really are, especially the mind because it is a slow donkey which understands nothing, Brother Ass as Francis of Assisi used to say. If we think tea is the only thing with qi and we ourselves are not qi, then we are experiencing an essential lack, a need. A craving for sugar, or chocolate, has been compared to a need for love. If I think tea merely contains qi, then I am forgetting who and what I am.

Still the Split

If my writing here is indicative of anything, it illustrates the split between rational thought and experience within a particular cultural background. The only possible middle ground is to continue to observe and to feel. Drinking tea provides an opportunity for continued contemplation, regardless of our traditions and beliefs. We are closer now than 20 years ago to absorbing ideas like qi which are not native to the west and we have more tools with which to study experiences contrary to current scientific reasoning. Our cultural experiences are a door we pass through to new understanding and the fuel for the fire that heats our Tea.

Easter 2015