If you are a Chinese green tea lover, you are probably very familiar with the word “Mingqian”, which refers to a tea picked before Qing Ming. And in the tea world this is nearly synonymous with a better quality green tea, but is this a steadfast truth? It is helpful to understand what Qing Ming is in order to answer this question.
Qing Ming, one of 24 Chinese solar terms, is also a festival for Chinese to pay respect to their ancestors. This tradition dates back to at least 2500 years ago. Like other old civilizations, the ceremony includes offering sacrifices to ancestors. Besides the familiar food and liquor sacrifices, another kind of sacrifice is also very important – tea, because the fragrance of tea was believed to help connect us with those in heaven, not only for common people but also for royal families. When the royal families asked the tea to be delivered before (or on) Qing Ming, it had a great influence on peoples’ impression – the royal families always had the best of the country, so if they wanted tea before Qing Ming, it must have been the best green tea. It’s the same phenomena that occurs nowadays with celebrities and the rich and famous.
Despite the royal preference for Mingqian green tea, what about the quality of the tea itself? There’s no question that it’s the most delicate green tea of the year. Before Qing Ming, the temperatures in many green tea areas are still quite cold and volatile, so the tea buds are small and rare around this time. As the first batch of buds, they definitely have unparalleled freshness. The vigorous green colour as well as the fresh brisk aroma is definitely tantalizing, however, because it’s picked so early it also means the tea buds don’t have time to fully develop. This limits the endurance and the taste of the green tea. It is not uncommon to find that a Mingqian green tea tastes plain after only three infusions in spite of its delightful aroma. And the taste in general is relatively lighter. At the same time, the Mingqian green tea is much more expensive than regular green tea due to its limited quantity.
Despite the fleeting flavour and higher price, a Mingqian green tea is absolutely a must-try for any green tea aficionado. There is something precious contained in the first buds of spring that is worth experiencing, but in terms of daily drinking, it might not be the most economic choice.