The 2018 Mingqian Spring Harvest teas of China are here! Similar to the anticipated release of Beaujolais Nouveau or a seasonally sought-after wine, there are certain celebrated seasons within the annual calendar of the global tea harvests. True tea connoisseurs know these seasons well and eagerly anticipate the release of the new crop vintage.

Buds emerging for the early spring Mingqian harvest in Xuan’En county, Hubei province.

In China, the early spring season teas are cherished for their lively energy and delicate, naturally sweet flavor. In most tea producing regions of China, tea plants go dormant during the winter months, from around November through February. During the winter, the nutrients are stored in the plant’s roots. Beginning in March, the tea plants awaken from dormancy and draw the nutrients and energy up from the roots. These elements, including natural plant sugars like polysaccharides and umami-rich amino acids, are concentrated in the new tea leaf buds and leaves that sprout from the top and outer branches of the tea plants. It is this new growth that is picked and collected during the tea harvest. Spring teas are noticeably brimming with energy due to this annual effect.

Spring vibes in Hubei

Harvesting Mingquian tea in the rocky gardens of Xuan’En county in Hubei.

In China, the spring tea harvest is categorized into several phases that coincide with the traditional agricultural lunisolar calendar, which is divided into 24 periods each lasting a little over two weeks.

  • Mingqian Season [明前茶] – Teas harvested before the Qingming Festival [清明节 “Tomb-Sweeping Festival”] on April 4th or 5th are given the “Mingqian” designation. Mingqian literally means “prior to Qingming.”
  • Qingming Season [清明茶] – Teas harvested in the two weeks after the Qingming Festival (April 4/5 – April 18/19) are designated as “Qingming” teas.
  • Yuqian Season [雨前茶] –  Teas picked in the two weeks after the Qingming season (April 18/19 – May 2/3) are designated as “Yuqian” teas. Yuqian literally means “before the rains.”

In the 2018 spring harvest from China, we sourced first-picked teas from the celebrated Mingqian harvesting season from Fujian, Yunnan, and Hubei provinces. We sourced teas from a range of cultivars and produced according to a variety of processing methods. These variables offer us a few ways to taste in thematic flights that highlight the taste of region, cultivar, or process.

Hubei Province: Mingqian Harvest Green Teas

Xuan’En county in the remote hinterlands of Hubei is the source of many of Rishi’s organic direct trade Chinese green teas. During the Mingqian season, we taste and select unique micro-lots of the early harvest. Some lots are only 10 to 20kgs in volume. We buy each in full and import by airfreight to enjoy within the spring season. We recommend trying several of the Hubei teas from our 2018 selections to taste a range of cultivars and artisanal production techniques.

Dragon Well Flight

This flight offers us a chance to taste three teas produced in the same region, during the same time, according to the same process. Each is made from a different single cultivar, allowing us to taste their unique cultivar characteristics.

  • Dragon Well, Single Cultivar Long Jing #43: the classic Dragon Well cultivar offers a balance of pleasant grassiness and savory Maillard toasted chestnut aroma
  • Dragon Well, Single Cultivar E-Cha #1: this cultivar offers a unique flowery fragrance and a tighter structure than the Long Jing #43 or Bai Ye #1
  • Dragon Well, Single Cultivar Bai Ye #1: this cultivar, which is used to produce the famous tea Anji Bai Cha, has a unique amino acid profile that gives it a glistening umami character with a smooth

From left: Long Jing #43, E-Cha #1, Bai Ye #1

Long Jing #43 Cultivar

E-Cha #1 Cultivar

Processing our organic Mingqian Dragon Well micro-lots in Hubei by paddle roasting, just 50g at a time.

Long Jing #43 Single Cultivar Flight

This flight allows us to taste the same cultivar (Long Jing #43) produced using three distinct processing techniques.

From left: Dragon Well Long Jing #43, Green Needles Long Jing #43, Yulu Jade Dew Long Jing #43

Fujian & Yunnan Provinces: Mingqian Harvest White Teas

Mingqian Silver Needles Flight

We sourced Silver Needles from both Fujian and Yunnan this year. Fujian is the original birthplace of white tea and offers us a classic taste of white tea’s heritage. Yunnan, chiseled with mountains and valleys extending down from the Tibetan plateau, offers a strikingly different environment from maritime Fujian on China’s southeastern coast. The differences in these teas is apparent as a result. Each of the teas in this flight has its own merits and offers a sublime taste experience with distinct aromatics and balance of umami and sweetness. Known as the Scholar’s Tea, each of the white teas in this flight are at the top of their class.

  • Fuding Silver Needles, Single Cultivar Fuding Da Hao: the traditional Silver Needles is made from a cultivar that is bred to have high amino acid contents for a savory umami flavor and heady L-theanine buzz. The coastal climate of Fuding is said to add depth to the oceanic qualities of this tea. This highly sought-after tea fetched extraordinarily high prices in China in 2018 due to soaring domestic demand from tea enthusiasts there.
  • Yunnan Silver Needles, Single Cultivar Da Huang Ya: our partners have adapted the white tea process from Fujian and have applied it to unique cultivars growing in Yunnan. This lot, from a cultivar known as Da Huang Ya or “Big Yellow Buds” features a very delicate sweetness and an almost cooling sensation on the palate in the finish. It is remarkably patient and yields plenty of brilliant infusions.
  • Yunnan Silver Needles, Cultivar Blend: this original white tea is produced from four cultivars known to yield densely sweet and aromatic buds, including Da Huang Ya, which are grafted onto 30-40 year old tea plant rootstock in Jinggu county in Yunnan. The established rootstock supports a rich nutrient concentration and gives a boost to the specialized tippy cultivars.
  • Wild Silver Needles: this amazing tea was harvested from a 1,300+ year old wild tea tea grove in Qianjiazhai village in southern Yunnan. Only 9kgs of this spectacular tea were collected. It exhibits an original forest aroma and hints of melon water and damask rose. In recent tastings we have done with coffee and wine professionals, this tea has stood out as a cherished favorite of many tasters.

From left: Fuding Silver Needles, Yunnan Silver Needles Da Huang Ya, Yunnan Silver Needles Cultivar Blend, Wild Silver Needles

Origin of our Wild Silver Needles: this 1,300 year old Wild Rea Forest in Qianjiazhai village in Zhenyuan county, Yunnan province.
Spring tea leaves emerging in coastal Fuding, origin of our Fuding Silver Needles.

Rishi Tea founder and tea buyer Joshua Kaiser checking the early morning tea plucking in Jinggu county, Yunnan province. This garden is home to specialty grafted cultivars such as Da Huang Ya, Chang Ye Bai Hao, Jinggu Da Bai, and Que Ya #100. These tippy cultivars offer densely sweet and fragrant buds that create a rich tase in our Yunnan Silver Needles white teas and are the abase teas for our Moonlight Jasmine green tea a little later in spring.

Da Hung Ya cultivar in Jinggu county, Yunnan province.

After withering, Da Huang Ya buds are amassed and reasted to cure and mature into a rich taste.

We hope these flights inspire you to try these stunning teas now while they are fresh and in season. New season teas tend to have a shorter shelf life than most and are best enjoyed during spring and summer, at their peak quality performance. One of our favorite ways to brew these teas is with our Ming Cha Teapot. The glass invites us to appreciate the vibrant colors and sappy, showy buds of these seasonal teas.

Ming Cha Teapot, $30