One of the most significant and powerful human beings I met in the Taoist tea world was Master Yu. Master Yu was raised in the art of tea cultivation from a very young age. He was born in one of the Taoist centers of the world, in Wuyishan in Fujian Province. Wuyishan is filled with Taoist temples, Buddhist temples and many monks belonging to various groups and sects. This was the perfect environment for creating a Taoist tea master. After a childhood spent in cultivating tea, Master Yu met a Taoist master while he was still a young boy. It was several years into his study with his master that he realized that he could combine his two loves, Taoism and tea. After all, tea was a part of Taoist culture. He took the natural science of Taoism and applied it to tea cultivation.
Taoism asserts that cosmology plays a major role in impacting the energetic fields on earth and in people’s daily lives and emotions. These same energetic fields can also affect tea. While most farmers pick their tea according to the season, weather and time of day, Master Yu added another dimension to his harvesting calendar. He would pick teas according to their alignment with different planetary and star constellations, adhering to the Feng Shui principles I mentioned earlier. The results were tea crops that surpassed just about everything in quality, taste, and flavor. He has passed on his skills to other disciples and students who have integrated his teachings into their work on various other tea plantations and wild tea forests.
Master Yu taught me that each tea has its own spirit. When you drink a tea, you are not just drinking a liquid, you are drinking the spirit of that plant. This sounds similar to the Native American belief that when you drink Peyote, you are drinking a spirit. Master Yu advised me to be “careful what tea you consume because you could be drinking bad spirits.”
I am a seeing-is-believing kind of guy, but I believe in staying very open-minded. I asked him to show me a tea with a spirit so potent that even I could feel it. With a sly smile, Master Yu pulled popped open a ceramic jar and handed it to me to smell. The scent of roasted cocoa bean mixed with roasted pine and honey filled my nose immediately. Overwhelmed by the delicious smell, I asked, “What is this?”
“Ye sheng wulong, ” he answered.
Ye sheng wulong is a type of Wild Oolong. “Ye sheng” means “wild”. I have come across and tasted many Oolong, but never one that was grown in the wild.
“Tea is an extremely absorbent plant that constantly takes in energy from everywhere, even from many other dimensions. If a tea is grown next to fragrant flowers, it will take on that fragrance. If it is next to pine trees, it will have the scent and characteristics of the pine. This is on one dimension, but it goes deeper than this,” he continued. “Tea is absorbing not only smells but also the energy from the human beings it comes into contact with,” he added. This reminded me of the stories I had read about how plants respond and grow better when people talk to them regularly.
“Tea is also absorbing the energy of the universe. It even absorbs constellation energy,” Master Yu explained. Intrigued by this, I asked him to explain.
“This tea that we are about to drink has absorbed energy from the constellation Pleiades. When the tea is just about ready, I wait until the tree is aligned with the Pleiades and right at that moment, I pluck the leaves,” he clarified. This is the work of a true master, I thought to myself. In combining his storehouse of knowledge of tea cultivation and harvesting with his Taoist practices, he became a tea artisan without peer.
I was nearly frothing at the mouth for a sip of the Wild Rock Oolong. I could barely wait a moment longer. When he steeped the leaves in the gaiwan, the sweet smell permeated the room. I looked at my small cup, took a whiff of that amazing fragrance and ventured a single sip. I held it in my mouth for a moment to savor the taste; it was almost orgasmic. I swallowed it and kept note of the flavor as it went down my throat.
The Wild Rock Oolong liquor tasted and felt more like a thick liquid than a regular tea. Master Yu confirmed that the sensation of thickness originated from the strength of the spirit of the tea, which was more potent than that found in many other teas. Just as he said that, I felt the warm liquid fill my stomach and a spiral of energy rise up to my head. Pretty soon my whole body felt as if it was vibrating, like the strings of a guitar when softly strummed. It wasn’t akin to a caffeine rush; it was something deeper, something more powerful. After several more cups, I felt like I was in a different dimension. It was as if I was getting high on this tea!
I ended up studying with Master Yu for all my time in China.
During my time with him, I became more acutely aware of how Qi (Chi/氣/Energy) comes in every form. If a tea tree is surrounded by a rich bio- diverse forest with a large variety of plants and living organisms, the Qi (Chi/Energy/氣) of the tea plant and of the surrounding environment is far more potent than the Qi (Chi/Energy/氣) of a neatly farmed plantation that has little or no mix of plant species.
The difference in Qi is palpable to the skin. A monoculture feels like “dead Qi” to me whereas when you walk into a wild forest, there is a marked feeling of vibrancy and energy. That is because the Qi of your own body is impacted by the living energy of the wild plants and trees. When I visit the ancient tea forest in Xishuangbana (西雙版納) and Puer(普洱) where the tea trees are towering over me, I feel great. When I visit a picture perfect tea plantation where the native plants have been ripped up to make way for a single crop, I don’t feel nearly so good. It may be psychological, but I attribute the differences in my energy level to the disparities in the energetics of the areas.
Master Yu and I spent countless nights and days together. He is
the top disciple of my I-Ching master and in fact is looked up to in Wuyishan (Wuyi Mountain) as a talented ghost catcher. When he is out ghost catching, he traps the spirits in a ceramic jar. When he is done, he carries out a special ceremony. He utters a special prayer and thereafter writes out some calligraphy on a piece of paper, which he inserts into a special pouch worn around his neck. He does this for several weeks as a protection from the spirits. When I went out ghost catching with him, he created the same protection for me.
When Master Yu practices Qigong, you can hear loud popping sounds coming from his body like the snapping of rubber bands. His Qi is so strong it is almost explosive, a phenomenon found in those who practice Fajin. The term Fajin means “to issue power” and is a manner of channeling power for short, swift strikes or for healing from the core.
Watching Master Yu brew tea is a special occasion in and of itself because he demonstrates that same natural power and grace in every small movement he makes, from the manner in which he pours hot water over the tea to the way he deftly handles the lid of the gaiwan to stir the leaves in the cup. His movements are firm but supple, crisp but fluid because in order for Fajin to work, Master Yu has to be relaxed enough for the wave of energy to travel from his core to his feet or to his hands.
Transcending from a Tea Taster to a Tea Feeler
Maybe I should call myself a tea “feeler”. I taste and feel teas all day long, every day of the week. I taste and feel thousands of teas per year from all over China, India, Taiwan and Japan. Does this make me a professional? I think judging tea is beyond tea tasting; it also involves looking and feeling. I think it is extremely important to feel the energy of the tea and be aware of the effects on your body as you are drinking it and after.
If you are sipping tea while busily talking or multi-tasking, you can never achieve this. If you never get to feel your tea, you are missing out on one of the greatest joys of the tea experience. I find that most people never get this sense of enjoyment or pleasurable experience, partly because most of the commercially available tea is low-quality mass-produced tea, say equivalent to Budweiser Beer in the world of beer. Of course, there is no feeling as such, just a caffeine buzz. Many of the biggest tea companies in the US sell so-called “Premium Teas”; "Organic Teas"; "Fair Trade Teas"... but when you compare them to real high-grade premium teas, you will realize that the teas labeled “Premium” on your grocery selves are actually of low quality.
One way to feel tea is to follow the method mentioned earlier when I was sipping Wild Rock Oolong with Master Yu (see Tea Qigong p.60 for more details). Following the footsteps of Qigong and Kungfu masters in China who have adopted this practice for millennia, I include it with my Qigong practices and absolutely love it. I have what I call a “Tea and Qi Hour” of tea drinking followed by various Qigong forms to “play with the Qi”. You can try it before “moving” Qigong practices or “sitting” Qigong forms. You can use different teas to create different Qi effects. For example, Dr. Liu would use an ancient tea tree fermented puer to connect to earth energy and a Wild Rock Oolong to connect to heaven energy.
Within each type of tea, you have different kinds of Qi (Chi / Energy / 氣). For example, a wild tea growing deep in the rainforest would have a different kind of Qi from an ancient tea tree growing on a bright, dry, sunny mountain in North Yunnan Province. Tea is such an absorbent plant its Qi is influenced by the Qi of the plants that grow around it. Wild Snow Oolong is grown at higher elevations, and that may partly explain the “rising energy” that is associated with it, which connects it to the heavens. Fermented puer (Ripe Puer) draws energy towards the earth and has a more grounding quality.
However, its Qi can be negatively impacted by the type of compression used to shape the tea into blocks as well as the quality of the leaves. Traditionally, puer is tightly pressed into blocks or rounds by using stones or wood, but many factories these days use a machine to compress the leaves. If too much pressure is applied during the mechanical compression, the taste and flavors are negatively impacted. When the puer is overly compacted or is fermented from low-quality leaves, you cannot make out the individual tea leaves. The puer in such a case is just a tea of compressed tea dust and shredded leaves.
Let’s take a closer look at how to judge the “feel” of a tea. It is like a meditation:
I am now drinking a Rattan Qi Tea Raw Puer. As I drink the first cup, I feel a warm feeling, the tea is filling my mouth, it is warming my throat all the way down to my stomach. Now I sip the second cup.
I feel a tingling sensation rising upwards from my stomach and spreading out into my chest.I sip the third cup. Now I can’t stop from smiling, I am feeling happier. I sip the fourth cup. My body is vibrating with warm energy. I want to get up and move, dance or do something active.
Here is how Master Yu guided me through drinking Wild Oolongs.
First, inhale the fragrance through your nose; following the nasal and retronasal routes, the Qi will go straight to your brain, stimulating but yet quieting the mind. Then the Qi fills your lungs with this wonderful sensation. Let your senses absorb and fully enjoy the feeling. Now slowly sip the tea, allowing the liquor to roll over your tongue. Swish it around your mouth and savor the flavor. Notice the thickness of the liquid as there may be a difference in the body and the flavor from the time the tea first touches your lips to when you fill your mouth. Now swallow, letting the soft liquid flow gently down your throat, following the sensation down to your stomach. Next feel how Qi energy rises up through your body. Every tea has a different Qi quality; Wild Rock Oolong has a rising energy. Notice how the sweet chocolate aftertaste sticks to your mouth, adding a sense of fullness.
Be aware of the subtle changes in flavor and smell in each cup you brew. After each sip, feel the energy rise through your body. Get in touch with the sensation of rising Qi after you have finished each cup.
To introduce Yin and Yang energies and balance into the ceremony, have a man handle the water and the infusion, and a woman to serve the tea.
Cleansing the internal and external body before drinking tea is a Taoist practice. Before you begin, you clear your mind and thoughts by breathing deeply and letting them go. Repeat this for a few cycles to cleanse the mind. The next step is to wash your hands and face before you begin drinking to cleanse the external body. You follow this with a cup of pure hot water to cleanse the internal body.
While I found that the Buddhists drink tea before and in between their meditations, I discovered the Taoists were also drinking tea as part of their spiritual practice, especially before doing their Qigong. The Taoists believe that tea contains very important energetic properties that can boost their practices.
Qigong is an ancient Taoist practice of moving energy in and around the body through breath and visualization. Many Taoist sects believe that we are constantly absorbing energy from nature and use breathing practices to absorb beneficial energies from the surrounding environment. In keeping with their philosophies, Taoist monks and practitioners prefer to live high up in the mountains, surrounded by beautiful, wild forests. By being in beautiful forests with fresh air and good energetic alignments, they can take their practices to a higher level.
This is the Yangsheng lifestyle. Yangsheng means to “nourish life”. Qigong is considered Yangsheng fa or a method of nourishing life. Tea is also considered Yangsheng fa as it is a means of nourishing life. A more contemporary definition of Yangsheng would be longevity, something that both the ancient Chinese and generations of today have sought and continue to seek. Any lifestyle or set of practices that nurture longevity is considered Yangsheng.
The Taoists pay great attention to what they eat and drink and subscribe to the belief that tea is a direct way to ingest a certain type of energy. Therefore, it is crucial for them to have their tea grown in an environment that has good energetic flow, like a biodiverse forest because through tea, they are ingesting energy of that particular environment. I observed that most of the Taoists I met in Wuyishan drank Oolongs and Black teas whereas those in Wudangshan were drinking green tea, the general rule is that they prefer to drink teas from their local regions.
Many Taoists apply the principles of the Five Element Theory, also known as Wuxing(五行), to their tea drinking. The Five Element Theory
is integral to Chinese Medicine, Qigong and even Taoist martial
arts such as Baguazhang(八卦掌) and Xingyi Quan(形意拳). Different teas could be associated with different elements.
The Five Elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. This order is called the creative sequence in which the preceding element would have a beneficial impact on the one that followed. Therefore, Wood feeds Fire, which boosts Earth, which in turn nourishes Metal, which supports Water, which nurtures Wood, and the cycle repeats.
In the order of destruction or “mutual overcoming”, they are Wood, Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal. In this case, the element before would have a moderating or “destructive” impact on the one that follows.
This is how the interplay between elements works. For example, when the Taoists felt they needed more fire for more motivation, they would drink a tea, such as black tea, that had more fire. If there was too much fire in their bodies, they would restore balance by drinking a tea associated with water, such as a White Tea, to douse the fire. Each element is also related to a season and an organ in the body.
In keeping with these concepts, I observed that the Taoists would choose their teas according to the time of year. They would opt to drink green tea in the spring, as green tea is associated with the Wood element and Wood, in turn, is associated with spring and the liver. Thus, spring would be a good time to cleanse the liver.
Using The Five Elements of Tea for Healing
Tea is being increasingly consumed for its health properties. One of the things I have realized during my time in China is that the people in the US drink tea for reasons that differ greatly from why the Chinese drink tea. To understand how the Chinese view the relationship between tea and health, we must first understand how they view tea in relation to medicine.
I mentioned the Five Element Theory in the previous section on the Taoist approach to tea but it is also one of the foundational theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Elaborating further on the Five Element theory, each element is related to an internal organ, time of day, season, temperature, sound, taste, direction, and sense. For example, green tea is related to the Wood element. Wood is related to the liver, the gallbladder, a sour flavor, the color green, the season of the spring.
The Chinese believe that all foods, including tea, have a type of temperature. Foods could be “heaty”, i.e. they will raise the body’s internal temperature and would be appropriate for cold seasons, or they were “cooling” and recommended for the hot months of the year.
So now you can see how important the Qi relate with tea, and having a cup of high-quality tea from true natural biodiversity environment is the key to keep your Qi flow and nourish your life for longevity.
- Read More at The Wild Truth of Tea
For more informations. Please check:
• The Qi of Tea - Ancient Rattan Tea Tree Raw Puer
• The Spirit of Tea - Ancient Artisan Moonlight White
• Ancient Ideas On How To Preserve Natural Healthy Energy
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