The Chinese pre-Qing Ming festival is the mark of the new year. It also marks the first tea harvest of each calendar year.
Spring is celebrated in different ways in each part of the world as the flowers bloom and the sun emerges. While we at Heavenly Tea Leaves kick off every season with new and climate-friendly teas, spring is especially dear to us because of the range of teas it welcomes. The teas we favor in this warm-up season can be hot or iced, bold or delicate, white or black, invigorating or calming. Regardless of your choice, this season is all about good moods and positive energy; no doubt, these feelings can always be channeled through tea.
In China, spring is celebrated with an entire festival called Qing Ming – or the Pure Brightness Festival. Starting this year on April 5th, this annual festival incorporates ritual sweeping of tombs (as well as pouring wine and tea around the tombs as an act of commemoration), kite flying, lighting of firecrackers, and of course, food and beverage offerings, which is where the tea comes into play.
As a major historical producer and consumer of tea, China has adopted the drink into the core of its culture. This holiday is ultimately about honoring one's ancestors through various customs meant to acknowledge both spring and Chinese history. Along with rice balls, cakes, porridge, and other traditional foods and snacks, those celebrating the festival consume various pre-Qing Ming teas.
What does pre-Qing Ming mean, anyway? The teas served at this time of year come from tea plants that are harvested earlier in the season, before the festival; this signifies drinking from the very first harvest of the year in accordance with the Chinese calendar. These early harvest teas, according to Fresh Cup magazine, are a super-valuable agricultural gift. "When the buds and leaves of the tea plant are harvested early and with care, they can constitute some of the highest prized, praised, and priced teas of the year. But each harvest of new growth—known as a 'flush'—has its own character," writes Fresh Cup's Liz Clayton.
She continues: "Teas harvested before Qingming... are rare due to the extremely short harvest window—which can range from a few weeks to around ten days—between bud readiness and the arrival of the fifth of April. Hallmarks of these teas are the tender buds that yield a range of complex and delicate flavors—from tea to tea these may be more vegetal, floral, or grassy than the later-harvest expressions of the same plants. They may contain a richer concentration of nutrients like amino acids and a lower concentration of astringent-tasting catechins than later pickings."
Early harvest Chinese teas are beloved by the Heavenly Tea Leaves team, too, as they are noted for their versatility and delicate nature. Here are some of the newest pre-Qing Ming teas we are featuring this spring:
Qing Shan Lu Shui hails from the Chinese Tashan Mountain region and is grown at an unusually high 800-meter altitude. Picked from the Anji white tea bush, this prized tea is noted for its mixture of bright green and yellow tea leaves, delivering a fresh flavor and a subtly sweet finish. Celebrated for its cooling properties, Qing Shan Lu Shui makes the perfect hot weather comfort beverage.
Gou Nao Gong is the most well-known of Hunan province's specialty pre-Qing Ming teas. This variety originates in Chenzhou City in the Mangshan Mountain region, which has become a popular tourist destination thanks to its warm and pleasant weather. The young Gou Nao Gong leaf is picked from the Fuding Da Bai tea bush, whose distinctive twisted shape and thick body yield a light and fruity taste.
Jin Jun Mei is harvested in the famous Fujian tea garden on the southeast coast of China, which is owned and run by a small and dedicated tea farming family along with expert tea masters. This black tea is processed with the whole leaf and the half-open bud of the Fuding Da Bai tea bush, resulting in a reddish brew and floral aftertaste. Jin Jun Mei is one of the rarest teas in our collection, as only 50 kilograms a year is available for distribution.
Drangonwell is a highly-prized green tea. The flat, long leaf is typical of this pan-fired tea, which is a result of highly skilled shaping techniques developed over centuries. This years harvest was plucked on March 19, 2018, containing notes of roasted nuts, with a smooth, crisp mouthfeel.
Silver Needle is a very mild white tea with woody notes. Although it is typically cultivated in Fujian, this pre-Qing Ming tea comes from Yunnan, China.
Above all, springtime is about coming together with friends and family to enjoy beautiful weather, happy occasions, and delicious meals. Mark any of these happy moments with a delicious cup of tea – and this spring, make it a pre-Qing Ming one from Heavenly Tea Leaves!