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Mountains, Clouds, Tea

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  • Writer's pictureerick

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

Tea and Zen are one flavour is an often heard refrain among the students of Cha Dao — the Way of tea. It can just as easily be said that tea and qigong are of one flavour, or go hand in hand. For many of us that practice qigong, taichi, meditation or similar energy based arts — yoga — the practice of one informs the other. For many of us the practices become inseparable, with one both informing and fueling the other. This blog is intended as something of a dialogue, or document of this these pursuits — in hopes that it inspires others to grasp that which is (perhaps) most ephemeral.


Kevin Hartwell (@gentlepathwalker) is a student of nature. He describes himself as cultivating peace, presence and balance, through the energy arts of tea, qigung and Reiki. Kevin practices in Ucluelet, on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, in. Ucluelet is a wild and lush temperate rainforest of towering ancient trees, cloaked in moss and mist. This ancient rainforest is the center of his spiritual practice. It is also home to eagles, wolves, cougars and bears.


Erick Smithe is the living link to a number of exceedingly rare ancient Chinese disciplines. Like all good “monks” his disciplines are equally divided between martial and the healing arts — in addition to aesthetic pursuits. Upon the completion of many years of study in language and culture in Taiwan, and with the publication of the translation of Chao Dao —From Tea to Tao for the Cha Dao Research Society of Taiwan, Erick returned to the West. A classical wildman in the old Taoist way, he is currently in exile in Victoria on Vancouver Island. Fate facilitated the introduction (via Portland) to the eminent Kevin Hartwell, with whom he shares this dialogue on Tea and the Energetic Arts.

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  • Writer's pictureerick

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

I first learned tea in Taiwan, from one of the chief proponents of the smelling cup (along with tasting cup) for drinking Pu-Erh tea. The tea tasting cup set was developed for drinking High Mountain Oolong tea primarily. It was a way of booth aerating the tea, cooling it slightly for drinking and providing a narrow point of focus for evaluating tea fragrance and such.


Among professionals, it is believed that we should be able to identify the tea mountain simply by smelling the tea. Some more practiced tea buyers will be able to identify individual farms or even specific roasters based on the simple waves of the beaker in front of their nose. This may not account for what is known as great skill (Kung fu) in tea culture, but it is a good start.


In keeping with the views of my teacher, Pu-Erh, and especially aged Pu-Erh tea, is extremely fragrant. We must concentrate and in a sense slow down in order to be able to perceive the intricacies of their aroma. The ability to perceive these micro details in turn set up a certain architecture in the mind, which then allows us to evaluate the origin, quality, age, and purity of a tea without any additional information being provided.


The secret — I find — in being able to fully perceive the quality of a tea through scent, is to take enough time with smelling. Different teas reveal themselves at different temperatures and so we catch the rhythm of the aroma at different points. The moment of recognition often happens slightly after the point where most people give up or switch to sipping. It is, all the same, one of the surest ways of tuning the mind into the vibration of a given tea — the Cha Yun (茶韻).


If you don’t have smelling cups or prefer one of the tea styles which spurns them, then the lid of the gai wan, the empty tea pitcher or the tea pot itself will provide a clear read of the tea. Exploring this technique will greatly expand (more than double) our ability to know a given tea. The degree to which we expand our subtle awareness in the tea brewing process, the finer and more nuanced our tea will be.


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  • Writer's pictureerick

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

A well brewed pot of tea creates an empty space for the Universe to rest a while. It is the eye of a storm, offering complete stillness, complete calm — if only for a moment.


In advanced tea brewing every single factor is significant. This extends to every movement, every sound, each thought form. When awareness is raised past a certain point, we as tea makers are operating under a microscope. Here is the platform where upon the all illusive place of perfection becomes a possibility. It is even possible, for some, to transcend perfection — or at least conventional attitudes toward what is possible.


To try and control the manifold variables consciously would be too much for anyone, and so the expert comes to rely on the automatic functions of mind and body. Much as we trust the heart to regulate its beating, the blood to circulate, the organs to do their various jobs — so it goes with the actions of a tea service. Having to consciously regulate all these functions individually would prove overwhelming, the results often times disastrous.


Willingness to surrender control over the process, of the moment, is alien to some people. It is, all the same, the only way to go beyond the autonomic, wooden marionette way of tea brewing. It is the path by which one comes to achieve the states of being described as: tea and tea maker as one, heaven and earth united, tea and Zen are one flavour…


In the end, as with all things related to the philosophy of gong fu, either you can do it or you can’t. The result will, absent of all explanation, speak for itself.

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