Drinks in China
It’s important to make sure you consume enough fluids while on the road, especially during the summer months, and China offers a host of ways to quench your thirst, be it a refreshing cup of jasmine tea or a nice cold Tsingtao beer after a hard day sightseeing. You should never drink the tap water, but bottled mineral water is readily and inexpensively available throughout the country (¥1-2 for a small bottle, or ¥3-4 at tourist sights), while hotel rooms and trains will always have a supply of safe boiled water.
Soft drinks are also popular and you’ll find all the familiar brands along with a few of China’s own such as Jianlibao, which is worth a try. You’ll also find fresh fruit juices, especially in the south.
Tea has over 2,000 years of history in China, but only gained widespread popularity during the Tang dynasty and has unquestionably become the drink of the Middle Kingdom.
Originally, it was only drunk for its medicinal value, but over time tea became much more of a social drink. Teahouses sprung up around the country, particularly in temples and parks, and were the social hub of an era, featuring everything from political debate to musical performances. During the Cultural Revolution, teahouses were seen as subversive and most were closed down.
These days, while coffee houses seem to be stealing some of the show, you’ll find few people in the country who don’t drink tea. Trains and hotel rooms are stocked with boiled water specifically for this purpose and on long train journeys almost every traveler has their individual flask close at hand at all times.
There are hundreds of strains available around the country and they are broadly divided into green (lucha), red (hongcha) and flower teas (huacha).
Tea is usually taken without milk or sugar (with the excellent exception of the sweetly infused babao cha, or Eight Treasures Tea), although the preparation process varies.
The best growing areas are in the east and Yunnan in the far west and some of the most famous varieties are longjing (Dragon’s Well), grown in the hills around Hangzhou where there is also a tea museum, and guanyin (named after the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy) from Fujian. There are also elaborate tea ceremonies performed in certain parts of the country (particularly Fujian, Guangdong, Yunnan and Zhejiang), which give an idea of the level of refinement in this aspect of Chinese culture.
Alcohol is widely available in China in many forms and most restaurants and cafés will serve beer and spirits, while big cities have plenty of bars, pubs and clubs.
Beer (pijiu) is the most common alcoholic drink, thanks to the German annexation of Qingdao, which produces the country’s finest beer, internationally exported Tsingtao (an old transliteration of the town name).
Almost every region has its own brewery and they’re all fairly quaffable, all the more so due to the low price. At around 40 cents for a 640 ml bottle from a canteen or shop, beer is similarly priced to mineral water, although you’ll pay far more in bars, especially for imported brands. This affordability and availability makes beer a common accompaniment to most meals, even if that’s lunch served at .
While beer is most often drunk, liquor is fundamental to the banquet scene and shouts of ganbei (dry glass) echo around the room with alarming regularity. Drinking games are also popular and you’ll see groups of men furiously shouting out numbers to try and guess the number of fingers their competitors will hold up.
Baijiu, made from millet or sorghum, and mijiu, made from rice, are the principal liquor offerings, but in the city bars you’ll find all manner of imported brands. Don’t be surprised if you see a liquor bottle with a snake inside it; this is yet another alleged booster for male virility.
China also produces a few wines, the best-known being Dynasty and GreatWall, though if you want to drink wine you’re better off splashing out on an imported European or New World bottle, available at upscale restaurants, supermarkets and department stores. This said, things could be set to change with a little help from France in the form of the Sino-French vineyard, which had its first harvest in 2003.
Eating and Drinking in China
Culinary experiences not to miss in China
Where to eat in China & How to order food
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