What is Sheqian, Mingqian and Yuqian tea?

mingqian tea

Tea enthusiasts who love to buy artisan Chinese teas often come across terms like 'Sheqian', 'Mingqian', and 'Yuqian' tea. Among those, you may encounter the term 'Mingqian tea' most often, which refers to tea that's made from leaves harvested before the Qing Ming festival, celebrated on either the 4th or 5th of April.

To understand the concept of Mingqian tea, we need to first explain what the Qing Ming festival is all about. Afterwards, we'll go into the definition of the related 'Sheqian' and 'Yuqian' tea.

Qingming Festival & Tomb Sweeping Day

Qingming stands out as a significant celebration in China, distinguished as one of the four traditional festivals, honoured with a one-day holiday. Qingming can be divided in qing (清) meaning 'clear' and ming (明) denoting 'bright,' symbolising the arrival of the spring season.

In context of the Chinese meteorological system, Qingming is one of the 24 fifteen day periods in a year, approximately from 20 March to 5 April. The Qingming festival is celebrated on the last day of this period, which is also known as 'Tomb Sweeping Day'. On this date, family members gather at their ancestors graves to pay their respect, clean up the graves, and have delicious dishes together, such as green sticky rice balls (清明果).

From a tea production perspective, teas made during the Qingming period are highly sought after. The period before and after Qingming are also relevant tea harvesting periods known as Chunfen (春分) and Guyu (谷雨), respectively. Teas produced during the Chunfen period are known as 'sheqian' teas, while teas produced during the Guyu period are called 'yuqian' teas.

Sheqian teas are even more expensive than Mingqian teas, while Yuqian teas are better value. In fact, all teas of our luxury tea collection are Sheqian teas. While are other teas are mostly Mingqian or Yuqian teas. However, more expensive doesn't necessarily mean it suits your taste buds better. We'll discuss the difference in taste in a later section of this article.

Which Regions of China Produces Mingqian tea?

While Qingming festival is celebrated everywhere in China, the term Mingqian tea is only relevant to a certain part of China.

China's tea cultivation areas are broadly categorised into four regions based on their climate: the Southwest (Xinan), South (Huanan), North of River (Jiangbei), and South of the River (Jiangnan) tea region. The latter, encompassing tea production areas of Zhejiang, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui, and southern Jiangsu located the south of the Yangtze River. This region is in fact the cornerstone of China’s tea production, contributing about two-thirds of the country's total tea output. The Jiangnan tea region also produces the majority of Mingqian teas.

However, the concept of Mingqian tea doesn't apply to all regions of China, and their are 3 main reasons for that:

  1. Climate: In many regions, the harvest simply occurs later than in the South, thus bypassing the Mingqian period.
  2. Tea leaf size: Some regions may not use the tender buds to produce their tea. For example, Tai Ping Hou Kui, sourced from Anhui Province in the southern Yangtze area, does not offer Mingqian varieties. This tea requires larger, more mature leaves rather than the young buds, which is typical for Mingqian teas. Thus, tea leaves for making Tai Ping Hou Kui tea are harvested later in the season, in the Guyu (谷雨) period, which is during the 15 days following the Qingming festival. Teas sourced during this period is also known as 'Yuqian tea'. Also, most oolong teas and pu erh teas taste better when produced with larger, more mature tea leaves. Thus the term 'Mingqian' is also irrelevant for this category of tea. The term 'Mingqian tea' is mainly relevant for green teas and some black teas produced in the Jiangnan region.
  3. Tea cultivar: At last, certain tea cultivars simply sprout later in the spring season. More about this in the next section.
jin jun mei mingqian tea
Jin Jun Mei black tea, which is a typical Mingqian black tea.

Sheqian, Mingqian, Yuqian and Chunwei tea

Tea regions that do produce Mingqian tea, may also produce tea in the period before and after Qingming. In some cases, a different cultivar is used for the different periods of spring. Perhaps the best example is China's most popular green tea: longjing tea (dragon well tea):
  • Sheqian tea (before 20th of March): Longjing tea crafted during this period are often produced with tea leaves of the Wu Niu Zao (乌牛早) cultivar, which is the earliest sprouting tea cultivar.
  • Mingqian tea (20 March to 5 April): Mainly tea leaves harvested from the longjing #43 cultivar, which in turn sprouts earlier than the classic Qunti cultivar.
  • Yuqian tea (5-20 April): During this period, most longjing teas are made from tea leaves of the Qunti longjing cultivar.

At Teasenz, we currently stock all three types of Longjing teas in our green tea collection.

Appearance and taste

Appearance wise, the earlier the tea is harvested the smaller and more tender the buds are. From a taste perspective, teas harvested earlier in the season tend to have better fragrance and better aftertaste. Due to slower leaf growth, they also tend to be more nutritious. For many early spring teas, the aroma just can't be reproduced with tea leaves harvested later in the season. At last, the earlier the tea is harvested, the higher the price tends to be due to more demand and smaller supply. This is the reason, why early spring teas tend to be not great value for money.

That said, not everyone is fan of early spring teas. For those, who like tea with more endurance (in terms of the amount of steeps) and more robust flavours, Sheqian and Mingqian tea might not be the best choice. Instead, Yuqian tea or even late Spring tea (Chun Wei Cha/ 春尾茶), are a better alternatives. Moreover, these teas feature much more affordable prices.

While we've tried to explain the concept of Sheqian, Mingqian, Yuqian teas as simple as possible, we didn't want to leave out the important details. We hope the above information helps you to make a good purchase decision. If you've any questions, feel free contact us through the chatbox.

Tilbage til blog