If you are tapping into Chinese tea, you will notice a lot of buzz around the term "Pre Qing Ming" or “Ming Qian” (明前). So what exactly is this and why are some tea lovers getting excited over it and placing pre-orders front and back?
First of all, it is almost an universal understanding that tea harvested in Spring is highly sought after by tea lovers. This is because the winter allows the tea plants to rest and recover while growing at a much slower pace. The results are tender buds that make for a sweeter tea packed with flavor and delicacy.
Qing Ming is an important Chinese festival (清明節) which falls between 4-6 April (April 4th for 2021). It is a day to commemorate and pay respect to the deceased families and ancestors.
And in the tea world, tea leaves picked between Spring Equinox and Qing Ming can produce the most flavorful tea, green tea in particular. After Qing Ming, the weather warms up with more rainfall, which leads to more rapid growth of the tea plants - even though the yield will certainly be higher, the flavor will not be as intense and sometimes might even be more astringent in comparison. That’s why Pre Qing Ming tea creates such a buzz in the tea world.
While this golden standard applies to many tea regions, it is also worth noting that tea regions in higher elevation or latitude, such as Shandong (where our Laoshan Green from Vol 1 came from), has a much longer winter. The Pre Qing Ming standard normally should not apply to all tea. Yet due to market preferences for Pre Qing Ming tea, many tea farms are pushing their harvest earlier and earlier. Some tea farms in the north are now keeping their crops in green houses to speed up the process. While there is nothing wrong with this practice, let’s not forget the famous umami of northern tea is achieved from tea plants fighting the harsh elements. Sheltering them would certainly diminish this wonderful quality somewhat. Perhaps, instead of rushing our tea producers, we should all be a bit more patient. Just remember, Pre Qing Ming is not the prime tea picking time for all tea types, so don’t get blinded by this label.
If you have not tried Pre Qing Ming tea, you should definitely try getting your hands on some. Best if you can also acquire later tea from the same tea plantation to do a direct comparison. It's fun and you will be amazed by the difference.