Cha Qi (AKA: "The Essence of Eternal Oneness and Infinite Knowledge") is, perhaps, the most highfalutin and bullshitty buzzword surrounding high-quality tea, especially puerh and oolong. A quick Google search will immediately yield results attesting to its spiritual transcendence and otherworldly bliss--and for the individuals who genuinely experience such life-altering sensations as a result of pouring hot water over some leaves and twigs and shit...well, let's put it this way: I am beyond envious.*
For those new to the language of spiritual awakening, Cha Qi (茶氣; pronounced: "Cha Chi") is, in a broad and anticlimactic sense, the "energy" present in a tea that is imparted to the drinker (more on this concept in a minute). Most tea reviews, mine included, mention some aspect of a tea's Qi, but almost never in concrete terms that give the reader any tangible insight into what the author is experiencing, nor what they, as potential customers (you know, it being a review and all), can expect. In part, this lack of clarity is due to the absence of an operational definition for what Qi even is, and definitions such as these,** in my humble opinion, serve to further confuse and/or frustrate those new to tea, prompting a witch-hunt for some sort of tea-induced transcendental experience.
In an article published by the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition (detailing the results of a studyconducted by Oxford University in collaboration with the Unilever Food and Health Research Institute), L-theanine was found to "significantly increase activity in the alpha frequency band [of brainwaves] which indicates that it relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness." The data collected from the study showed that "L-theanine, at realistic dietary levels,*** has a significant effect on the general state of mental alertness or arousal." These same outcomes have been documented in similar studies of L-theanine,**** many supporting the evidence that L-theanine causes relaxation without drowsiness.
But so then what's the deal with all this talk about being "tea drunk?" Isn't tea drunkenness caused by a potent Qi? Tell me, Sheng: what's up with your reviews' "Intoxication" category, and all the dumb fucking GIFs that nobody likes? What's up with all the bro-talk about how totally black-out wasted that young pupu got you last night? Because when I drink tea, Sheng, I don't experience any sort of "high"--so tell me: is it all a hoax? And most importantly, if it's not all a bunch of BS, then, well: how do I experience cha qi?
To be blatantly honest, I cannot claim, with any degree of certainty, that it isn't all in my head. It's entirely possible--maybe even verging on probable!--that I am so psychologically primed to believe in the physiological/psychoactive effects of a tea's Qi, that, like a placebo, my brain exaggerates the effect. (Especially with high-quality teas nearing the ~$1.00USD/gram mark--I mean, who would want to believe that, after shelling out ~$250 for a single beeng, the damn thing has no mystic energy, and is instead just a bunch of normal-ass leaves from a "famous" village?)
At the same time, I can confidently say that, when I drink high-quality oolong and puerh (especially young sheng), I do perceive and experience a multitude of physical and psychological sensations,***** ranging widely from tea to tea (e.g. some teas produce a heady THC-esque buzz; others produce a feeling of weightlessness throughout my limbs; others make my body feel warm and replicate the goofy light-headed feeling after taking a couple of shots). Whether or not I only perceive these sensations because I've been primed to feel them, to me, ceases to be important. The way I see it: it makes no difference whether the sensations are caused by a chemical interaction, psychological priming, or a mystical life-force aura present in the infinite wisdom of the tea tree. Regardless, I feel the effects; and the more that I drink tea, the more variety I experience.
So, for those of you who are frustrated by the flowery language surrounding Cha Qi, or those of you who have never experienced being "tea drunk" and clicked on this article in hopes of a practical guide for how to get totally F'd (bro), the best practical advice that I can offer is to try and approach your next gongfu session****** without any unrealistic expectations from yourself or the tea. In my experience, Cha Qi isn't an on/off switch. It doesn't just sneak up on you out of nowhere. It's a nuance of high-quality tea that, to fully appreciate (much like stinky cheese or old-ass wine), requires a bit of palate-training. Therefore, instead of hoping to have some sort of out-of-body experience, try just sitting with the tea and attempting to be truly present in the moment: feel the warmth of the cup in your hands; smell the aroma of the steam wafting up from the cup; be mindful of the tea's texture in your mouth; try to decipher the flavors and how they evolve throughout the session; see if you notice a change in your internal temperature; etc., etc., etc. If you spend more time focusing on what you are concretely experiencing instead of what you expect to be experiencing, then, over time, you just might be surprised...
*Seriously, though. Like if I wanted to have a similar experience? I'd have to wander out into the Chihuahuan Desert without any food or water, find a butt-load of peyote, gobble it up, and then hike to the peak of the Sierra Madre Oriental, where, on the fifth day without water, my spirit animal would reveal itself during the momentary transition as I pass from life and death.
*****I can also confidently claim that, when I first started drinking tea, I cannot recall ever experiencing a potent "tea drunkenness." In my memory, my ability to recognize the sensations beyond simply "relaxing" came after months--maybe even longer--of drinking tea on a daily basis.
******I've never experienced Qi from western or grandpa style brewing; typically those methods I experience much more the familiar caffeine buzz similar to sipping down some coffee.
(Side Note: This article intentionally omits the spiritual aspect of Cha Qi. To many, this is an essential aspect and, to them, is inseparable from Qi. If you're interested in the more mystical side of Qi, then I encourage you to do some digging. There are plenty of well-written resources out there dealing with Qi's spiritual aspect, and the main reason that I omitted it from this article is because, personally, I have not found it to have any effect on my ability to experience Qi...unless the Qi I'm experiencing isn't real Qi, making my Qi fake Qi, and fake Qi is arguably the worst type of Qi, and there is rumor that those who experience fake Qi and propagate the spreading of fake Qi are promptly eliminated by the IllumanQi. Also, those who make terrible Qi-puns are killed on the spot.)
All photographs taken from the interwebs. I.e. not mine. Plz dnt sue?