What is Qingming?
You may have heard the term Qingming used in relation to tea but what does this term mean? Qingming (also known as Chingming, or Tomb Sweeping Day) is a traditional Chinese festival that usually falls between the 1st and 5th of April each year. The literal translation of the name is “pure brightness”. During this time families visit the tombs of their ancestors to clean the gravesite and make ritual offerings. It also an extremely important day in the calendar for green tea harvesting.
Teas harvested prior to Qingming are prized for their tender buds and delicate aromas. You might see them marketed as Mingqiang or pre-Qingming. The first harvest after a long winter rest will have a higher concentration of amino acids and lower levels of catechins, making the taste sweeter and more complex. The quantity of leaves harvested from each tree is very small. For that reason, these teas will fetch a high price in comparison to later harvests.
Pre-Qingming is a name you’ll see attached to Chinese green teas like Dragonwell and Bi Luo Chun. It is important to keep in mind that Pre-Qingming is not the harvest time for all teas. Teas produced in cooler climates or at higher elevations grow more slowly. They will be harvested after Qingming. Oolongs use larger leaves so they are harvested later in the year. Black tea and puerh are not categorized in this way either. The weather in each region will also affect when the tea is harvested.
Are pre-Qingming teas worth it?
Buyer beware! Much like Japanese shincha, pre-Qingming teas are wonderful but they are really only worth the extra money when they are fresh. Once the spring season has passed, you’ll get more bang for your buck with a tea that was harvested just a few weeks later.
If you do purchase these delicate teas, make sure that you store them properly. Keep the leaves away from any sources of heat, light, and moisture. Refrigeration can help extend their life but I only recommend doing that if you have an appliance dedicated to tea. Otherwise, you might end up with chicken fried rice infused dragonwell.