In China, spring is celebrated with an entire festival called Qing Ming – or the Pure Brightness Festival. Qing Ming, pronounced “ching ming,” translates as “clear and bright,” and it is the name of a traditional Chinese festival. The Qing Ming festival occurs on the first day of the fifth period of the lunar calendar, which is usually April 5th (April 4th on leap years) and is celebrated as a day of remembrance for deceased relatives. It is ultimately about honoring one’s ancestors through various customs meant to acknowledge both spring and Chinese history.
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 (rice balls, cakes, porridge, and other traditional foods and snacks) and various pre-Qing Ming teas.
The Story of the Qingming Festival…
It originated more than 2,500 years ago from the Cold Food Festival or Hanshi Festival, three days without fire that memorialize Jie Zitui, a loyal follower of Chong’er, Duke Wen of Jin. The holiday gained additional importance when the Tang Emperor Xuanzong restricted expensive displays of ancestor worship by decreeing that such respects would only be observed once per year on the date of the Qingming Festival. Though tomb sweeping remains the holiday’s primary observable practice today, people in some parts of China still eat only cold foods during the Qingming Festival.
What does Pre- Qing Ming mean…
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 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.
Chinese spring green teas are lighter and sweeter than Japanese green teas with much
of the sweetness coming from tender new buds. As the spring temperatures rise it signals the plant to emerge from winter dormancy. Over winter the roots have stored up glucose and other flavor compounds that they now send to the buds to restart growth. The early spring green teas also contain more antioxidants because the plants send out additional polyphenols to protect the leaves from bugs.
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. After this time the tea bushes flush rapidly and as the leaf grows larger, the tea quality diminish diminishes a little with each passing day.
Hallmarks of these teas are the tender buds which 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.
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