I regularly taste a lot of different teas, and I always do my tasting in the morning before I have altered my palate with other food or beverages. The downside of this is that I am tasting teas for several hours on an empty stomach. The result being one of the most interesting side effects of this process: I get tea drunk. I get this heady feeling and when moving from one counter to another, my gait even gets a bit wobbly. I almost have to sit down because of the fleeting thought that I may just tip over. I guess that’s where the term tipsy comes from.

Phyll Sheng has written about his experience with this in a previous post, but I wanted to revisit it again and delve a bit deeper. Although, while it is occurring, I am able to just enjoy the full experience, sometime afterwards, my curious science mind kicks in and wants to know, what exactly is tea drunk? What causes it? I’m very curious about this phenomenon and would like to hear your thoughts and personal experiences with it.

I find that, for the most part, I get tea drunk when tasting a lot of oolong or pu’erh, but not much else. What is it about these types of tea that causes my body to react in this way? Is it just the cha qi? Is that enough to account for this physiological effect? Doesn’t all tea (or at least all fresh tea) have qi? For that matter, doesn’t everything have qi? Why, then, do I get tea drunk only with these two teas but don’t have any similar type experience when I drink a fresh fruit/veggie smoothie that also is laden with good qi? What is the difference?

There are several factors that I have been considering that I will lay out for your consideration:

1. Cha Qi – I’ve already addressed this somewhat, but I do believe that everything has a vital force or qi associated with it. Does the particular vital energy of Camellia sinensis coupled with certain processing methods create an energy profile that is unique to certain teas?

2. Slurping – Since I do a lot of repetitive slurping when I am tasting, which causes me to hold my breath so as not to inhale the tea, I have to wonder if reduced oxygen to the brain might have an effect.

3. Sniffing
a. I also do a lot of aerobic sniffing to assess the different aromas of the teas, which makes me take in a lot more oxygen rapidly. I wonder if this, psuedo hyperventilation may be the cause of some of those effects.
b. The detection and perception of scents, plays a powerful role in the evolution of species. Is it possible that the aroma of some teas (as does the consumption of some) trigger a relaxation effect that with consecutive repetitive exposures, becomes powerful enough to cause you to want to sit down?

4. Theaflavins and Thearubigins – These 2 compounds are found exclusively in oxidized teas. Might one or both of these compounds create a physiological effect that causes the sensations often experienced with being tea drunk?

5. All of the above – Might there be a synergistic effect related to the energy of the tea combined with certain processing methods, the inherent compounds, the tasting procedure, the mindset of the tea drinker and the environment where this occurs?

Please share your thoughts and experiences.

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