A kind of tea that is still widely known in China today is called Mingqian tea (明前茶). It does not refer to a particular type of tea, but rather to the tea that is harvested before the fifth small season of spring like our Artisan Yunnan Longjing Green Tea, Ancient Baked Heart Green Tea etc., Ching Ming (Qingming 清明): The ancient Chinese lunar calendar calculated the exact time of the twenty-four solar terms that should appear each year. Each year they appear on a slightly different date; this is the valuable wisdom of the ancient Chinese people after thorough observation and study of celestial changes through accurate measurement. Some modern Chinese people still follow the lunar calendar to find the seasonal changes of the nodes to carry out traditional agricultural activities. The Lunar New Year is also based on this ancient celestial prediction.
In ancient China, Mingqian Tea was considered the highest quality among the teas. Usually, only the royal family could enjoy it. The reason why Mingqian Tea is so valuable is that it is a highly summed up result of people following the natural changes of the world and the laws of nature to determine when to pick and make the best quality tea. It has the following characteristics. Depending on China’s geographic location, the time of the entry of spring in most regions is approximately from February to April each year. During these three months, all the plants will start to sprout. According to the laws of the stars, the first rain since the beginning of spring will come in the middle of February, and this day is called the day of rain. This rain is usually not very heavy, and the ancient Chinese mentioned this spring rain to be as expensive as oil. This rain is usually not heavy, but after the harsh winter, it symbolizes of the warming of the earth. Everything in nature is in great need of rain to awaken and bring life, so the Chinese believe that this rain is as valuable as oil.
When this rain has passed, and the time is from March to the beginning of April, the weather is very sunny; for the most part, the sun's ample rays will give plants plenty of energy. After the nourishment of the first rain, the first wave of budding growth is regarded as having absorbed the essence of the heavens, earth, and enough of the universe's Qi, which means that the first wave of tea grown at this time can be called the uppermost of the teas. This top-of-the-range tea can also be said to be the fullest of tea Qi.
Like plants, animals, nature, heaven, and earth, the human body also has a tremendous amount of energy. Still, we need to have a good understanding of nature, the heavens, and earth, to control the energy in our body, to achieve a balance. Only when the balance of energy is achieved can we have real health. As I have said before, in ancient Chinese medicine, it was discovered that the five organs of the human body have five different types of Qi, and these five different types of qi can produce five different emotions. When these five emotions are not in balance, they will affect our five organs in turn.
From the beginning of spring until the arrival of the day of Qingming, our bodies, like plants, need sufficient sunshine, gentle and natural energy to nourish it during this time of winter and spring. People have had three months of cold winter, and as spring has just arrived, the cold energy in the body has not wholly been discharged. We need to slowly start doing outdoor activities and enjoy the warmth of the early spring sunshine, strengthening our immune system and allowing the gentle, early spring sunshine to discharge the cold from our body slowly. At the same time, we should use freshly sprouted plants, not only tea, but also edible plants that sprouted after the first rains, such as asparagus, Mingqian Tea 明前茶 (the tea plucked before Qingming festival), bean sprouts, and all kinds of edible spring flowers. As long as the human body absorbs the qi from these plants, it will be able to correctly discharge the cold qi that gathered in the body for three months.
Because cold directly affects or increases our emotions of worry and fear, once the cold accumulates too much, our emotions will be affected, and the kidneys and bladder will be directly affected. This theory comes from the ancient five element theory that has been used for thousands of years to this day. Cold, winter, worry and fear, the kidneys and bladder, all belong to the water element in the five-element system. When spring arrives, we must immediately adapt to the changes in the world and begin to expel the excess cold from our bodies.
This explains why we should avoid picking tea on rainy and cloudy days. Both cloudy and rainy days are the natural universe gathering energy generated by the cold. If we pick tea with rain at this time, we are undoubtedly picking away the natural cold. If the human body absorbs such tea, it will bring more cold to the body. In this way, it is also a complete violation of the rules of nature, and the human body will eventually be punished through illness. On the other hand, when the rainy days come, the plants absorb the nutrients of heaven and earth through the infiltration of rainwater and the sun's energy. Afterward, the tea leaves can absorb the total cosmic energy. In turn, such tea leaves can be adopted by humans and used to keep the body in a healthy balance. Therefore, when spring comes, and before the arrival of the Qingming Festival, the heavens and the earth will share the first rain at the beginning of spring through the sum of the ancient experience.
After this rain, the universe allows the earth to begin to turn from cold to warm. The earth's natural things begin to sprout life in the new year after receiving the message through the rain. So be sure to wait until the rain has passed and the sky has cleared to pick the first wave of sprouting tea, so you are sure to get the essence of heaven and earth. Drinking such tea is no longer just drinking tea, but absorbing the essence of heaven and earth to help expel the cold from your body and achieve emotional and internal balance so that you are healthy when you welcome the new year.
But what if we violate this rule? From the human body's point of view, if we don't care when the tea leaves are picked and made, and the people who pick and make the tea leaves happen to pick and make the tea leaves on a rainy day when your body absorbs such tea leaves, it will bring a lot of cold energy to your body, especially in spring, when the earth is changing from cold to warm in accordance with the universe. Suppose your body is still consuming cold food. In that case, it will cause significant damage to your kidneys because the kidneys themselves correspond to water and cold in the theory of the five-element system. Too much cold causes the kidneys to lose balance, and when the earth officially enters spring, your kidneys will not be able to function healthily, and your liver will not be able to start functioning properly. Because the kidneys and liver are closely connected, when spring arrives, the liver is like a newly sprouted plant that needs the good qi of heaven and earth to help it work.
Give the kidneys and liver the energy they need to function well for the new year. We all know that the liver has an essential hematopoietic function, so once the liver receives too much cold, it can be severely damaged. When spring arrives, it is a critical time where the body needs fresh blood to promote immune system health. At the same time, the intake of tea with cold Qi can affect your mood! It starts to be unstable, and when you are no longer stable, it, in turn, increases the damage to your kidneys and liver. And so, a vicious cycle ensues. With this much explanation, I hope you now understand why a simple tea picking requires so much attention to the weather. The tips given to us by the Tea Sage Lu Yu in the Tea Sutra are not just to guide us in making good tea, but more importantly, to make good tea that is truly good for you.
However, the scary thing is that even though most Chinese people know that spring rain is as expensive as oil and that the air of heaven and earth means the air of the world, many of us are not willing to continue to explore or follow the warnings of this ancient wisdom. We are no longer sensitive to the weather, and we do not cherish everything that grows on the earth. Our happiness, anger, and sadness are not based on the changes of heaven and earth but on money, power, and drugs. Our ability to predict and perceive the weather has been weakened, and people still only trust the weather forecast on their mobile phones even when there are dark clouds outside their windows.
So now, I hope you have a better understanding of self-discipline and how to follow the laws of nature to live a non-self-centered lifestyle. When you drink your tea again, can you seriously examine where it came from, who picked and made it for you, when it was picked and how it was made? When you drink tea again, can you control your desire for your taste buds' sensory stimulation and not just pursue the taste, the aroma?
Tea harvested in the right way at the right time, in a natural way, will not be as sweet and aromatic as a cup of Starbucks, but it will calm your body and your mouth and allow you to feel nature’s tremendous energy in a lasting way.
When you drink your tea again, don't waste the leaves either. Many people don't know that the leaves of a good tea are edible after drinking the tea juice. If you don't like consuming them, fermenting them and putting them back into the soil to become nutrients for the soil is the right thing to do. Control and manage your actions and give back to nature.
The Covid-19 catastrophe that we are experiencing today, along with environmental pollution, food pollution, hatred, anger, the emotions of hostility between nations, between people, should not be blamed on others. They are the consequences that each one of us has to suffer due to the loss of our ability to follow the rules of nature and to exercise strict self-discipline and self-management.
Let me conclude with an old quote:
“The wisdom of man is too shallow for all things. Yet if one wants to shine universally within the four seas and save all things, not by virtue of the principles of the Tao, but only through one's own talent, then one will be trapped and fail to reach one's goal. Hence, human intelligence alone is not enough to put the world in order.”
- Hong Lie
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