While tea was brewing in my gaiwan, I came across a translated passage from the Pen Tsao Ching, a Chinese medical book touted as one of the earliest written by the mythical Emperor Shennong:

Tea is better than wine for it leadeth not to intoxication, neither does it cause a man to say foolish things, and repent thereof in his sober moments. It is better than water for it does not carry disease; neither does it act like a poison, as does water when the wells contain foul and rotten matter. 1

Ironically and coincidentally, the very tea I was enjoying at the time was leading me well to intoxication. It was a rather old and rare sample of the Guang Yun Gong puer from the 1960’s.

Its leaves were dark-colored, ranging from deep brown to black with visible whitish film on the surface. Such white dusting is common among pu’er tea that had been stored in a humid environment.

The tea tasted earthy, woody, clean and very smooth. There was a faint sweet sensation and the aftertaste was slightly minty. Its body was rather thin, though the amount of leaves and the type of water I used may have played a role. All in all, it tasted average and somewhat ordinary.

Extraordinarily, however, the tea had a strong chaqi (tea energy) and the ability to intensely affect me physically and mentally. The first cup shot tingling sensations around my lower back and neck. The second warmed my shoulders, hands and front. The third made my head swim. And by the fourth and fifth cups, I was in a state of stupor. I felt tea drunk and high! It was a sensation I rarely get from merely 5 infusions, especially with a filled stomach right after lunch.

Conventional wisdom says that tea should not be drunk on an empty stomach. Should anyone have the desire to break this rule, be forewarned that this is not the tea to do it with.

I brewed the precious leaves carefully and savored each cup slowly. On and off, I wondered about the events surrounding the decade in which the leaves of this tea were harvested. China was at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, while in America, the sexual revolution was hitting high (wonder what Woodstock was like). And then there were the war in Vietnam, The Beatles, the moon landing, etc. Those were the world — and moon — events that I learned through my elders, books and films. In many ways, I felt as if it was the history that caused my stupor, and not the tea by itself.

1 Liquid Jade by Beatrice Hohenegger, p. 6.