Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Three Levels of Tea Drinking: The Flavour Level, The Sense Level, and The Qi Level

There are three different levels of drinking and appreciating tea.

The most superficial and probably the most common way of drinking tea is by simply enjoying the taste of tea. Tea is a beverage, people drink beverages for their taste. This level can be enjoyed without too much thought or energy- tea for what it is, a delicious beverage. Thousands of people around the world enjoy tea in this way everyday without much thought. This is the first level of tea- the enjoyment of its taste.

The secondary level of drinking and appreciating tea is through the use of all senses. At this level people rely on their sense of smell more robustly. They also rely on their sense of hearing, seeing, touch, and of course taste, to enhance their experience with tea. Tea is enjoyed as a result of the interplay of all these senses. Besides the taste of the tea, those who drink tea with all their senses generally value the smell of the dry leaves, the smell of the liquor, the smell left behind in the cup (or the aroma cup), the mouthfeel of the tea, the look of the dry leaf, the colour of the liquor, the look of the wet leaves, and, although not directly connected with the tea itself- the sound of the boiling water, and the pouring of tea and water. Those who drink tea at this sensory level often wish to enhance their sensory experience with the use of specific teaware and techniques which allow for the honing of the full sensory experience with tea. This is the way that most bloggers, connoisseurs, and experts of tea drink it. This is the second level of tea appreciation, the sum of our sensory experience with it.

The deepest and least common way of drinking tea is by sensing its energetic qi level. At this level people go beyond their five senses and touch the deep level of the tea's qi, the chaqi. At this level tea is enjoyed as a result of its vibration within the body and mind, and the affects it imposes on them. Those who drink tea at this level often meditate with it to better sense its nature, movement, and affect on the body and mind. Because not everyone has sharpened such abilities, most people don't drink tea at this level, but everyone is capable at doing so.



Anonymous said...

Yes, I can definitely agree with all this. I'm one of those who's devoted to the spiritual feeling of drinking tea, called its "Qi" by the Chinese. I've written a lot about it in my book "Spirituality of Tea."

Veri-Tea said...

Beautiful post as always Matt.

Do you have any suggestions for learning how to sense the qi of a tea? Obviously it might be different for each different person, but I am always interested to hear about and learn from other people's experiences and wisdom.

Matt said...

Veri Tea,

Learning how to sense qi...

The first step involves learning how to 'listen or sense' your own body and mind. When you are in touch with what's going on inside yourself, you can then develop a baseline at which to begin to sense or measure chaqi. If you don't know yourself first you will never know if it is the tea's qi you are sensing or someother internal variable within yourself. You are the measuring device that measures qi. If you've never seen that device before how will you know how to measure with it? Get to know your measuring device.

The second step involves learning how to 'un-listen or unsense' your own body and mind. After you have become comfortable with what's going on inside yourself, then you must 'quiet' yourself. If you can't 'quiet' yourself, you may be able to identify the chaqi but you will also sense all the other variables that abound within yourself. This is very distracting and confusing and impinges on getting to know the chaqi after you have identified it. Once you have became comfortable using the measuring device, you must calibrate and fine tune the device. If your measuring device is bombarded by input how will you be able to get the information you need? Eliminate the 'chatter', 'thinking', 'thinking about thinking', or 'extraneous variables' so that its just you and the tea.

Hope this helps. Thank you for your ongoing positive support.


Wojciech Bońkowski said...

Great post, Matt. Thank you.

Moving from the first to the second level is a challenge, but an easy one. Practice, training, experience; comparative tasting, vertical tasting, horizontal tasting. Tasting. Learning names. Learning techniques. The way of tea.

Moving from level two to three is also a challenge, but a much trickier one. No tasting. No technique. No brewing parameters. Just feeling and intuition. It is more about giving up than taking in.

Matt said...


Good point. They both require some sort of 'effort' but of a different sort.

No doubt, they are both tricky to master.

Thanks for your insight.


geneviève meylan said...

I think what you write very interesting because i never read something about the qi so well explain before.
But sometimes are not the 3 levels moving together, passing from one to another when you have a long tea time session ? or can you just decide before a tea session just the level you want to experiment and focus on it ? With my little beginning experience ir appears to me that when i have no time I can drink tea just like another drinking and I choose an everyday-tea but when I take time to enjoy tea I feel what you describe level "2" but the "3" one appears when I am relax or when I drink outside but I nerver had made any concentration or effort to understand and identify it is very intersting what you share here.

Matt said...


You could be at more than one level at once. When you're drinking tea at the sensing level you are definitely at the flavour level also because tasting is part of the full sensory experience with tea. Also, when you are drinking tea at the qi level you are most likely touching the sensing level, and consequently, the flavour level, but this is not always the case with the qi level.

Because the qi level involves 'un-thinking', 'un-tasting', and 'un-sensing', those who are very good at touching the qi level, such as say a zen master or high level meditation practitioner, may not experience the flavour or sensing level of tea and excusively touch the qi level. Just before breaking through meditation, it is said that zen monks loose all sense of taste. Obviously, this very high level of touching qi is quite uncommon.

Like you, most people likely move in and out of these levels depending on their level of concentration with the tea.

Thanks for your insight Ginkgo.


Anonymous said...

I didn't know that. It explains a lot. I'm so focused on the spiritual feeling I get from Puerh (and so sensitive to it) that I'm not the best at describing the different tastes of the teas I drink. Often I'll need to read what someone online said about it. I have long considered myself rather "distracted" from the flavor for the more-important spiritual sense. It's reasonable to know that it happens to other people. What I'd like is to be able to move from one level to the other so I can do some tea reviews too.

Matt said...


It sounds like you are a bit new to tea and are concentrating on the qi level, in affect skipping the sense level. Perhaps because you haven't developed a rich background in the sense level, you find it hard to sense the tea. Like Nerval commented it actually takes a lot of practice, a lot of experience, a lot of 'doing' with tea before the sense level is adequately developed.

Some advice to develop the sensing level is to just concentrate on your 5 senses when making and drinking tea.


Rich said...

Hey Matt, thanks for your recent comment. Are you in Vancouver often? My gf is from Vancouver and we go up there every so often. It seems you enjoy Hong Shui Oolong, I have a 1979 and a 1990s one I just got from Nine Pots Manor in Taipei that is quite exquisite. I still owe you for your tea recommendations when I was in Seoul last year - let me know if you're free sometime (or are in Seattle) and we'll share a pot. Or 10.


Matt said...


Definitely have to get together for some tea soon. Either in Seattle or Vancouver.

Post a message when you are in Vancouver. One hopes to make it to Seattle within the next year.


Unknown said...

Will do - you're welcome to visit any time. I will be up in BC again in mid Feb.

Happy Holidays