Sipping your way around a country will really give you a taste of local life, and China is no different.
Given China’s rich cultural traditions and fascinating history, there’s no doubt a few beverages that have stories of their own. Here are a few to keep your eye out for when travelling.
Stretching all the way back sometime before the Han dynasty (AD202-220), tea, or cha in Chinese, is deeply rooted in local cultures with strong associations to Buddhism. Lu Yu, a writer in the Tang dynasty, linked tea drinking to Buddhist thought in the eighth century, and so, became widespread throughout China. These days, a whole range of teas are available to try, including chrysanthemum tea (steeped in flowers, goji berries and rock sugar), and green tea. Both have their own medicinal properties to aid in digestion, lower cholesterol and get rid of body toxins. Traditional tea ceremonies are still performed during weddings and Chinese New Year.
You’d be hard pressed to find an Asian nation without its own local liquor. For China, it’s Baiju (or shaojiu) – a collection of at least a dozen Chinese liquors made from different types of grain, including sorghum, wheat, barley and millet. Although it’s not super well known outside of China, Baiju is the world’s highest-selling spirit. It’s tradition to drink it neat and with food, rather than on its own.
The Chinese invented soymilk thousands of years ago, and is still a staple in many peoples’ diets, especially for breakfast. In China and Taiwan, eating youtiao (Chinese fried dough) with soymilk on the side is a popular morning meal, and the drink itself is mostly enjoyed at the start of the day, or had chilled when it’s hot. Soymilk has gained a flurry of popularity in Western countries as a non-dairy-based alternative to milk.
Salted soda water
Once the most popular drink in China, it’s now more one of nostalgia for older locals. Salted soda water may not sound super appealing, but it’s basically a sweet and slightly salty soda water that comes in a range of fruity flavours. It might taste a little different to the ones you’re used to, but it’s definitely worth a try.
Drunk often in the summer months, this plum flavoured soft drink has a sweet and sour taste and goes well with spicy Sichuan and Hunan cuisine. It’s a centuries’ old drink which is now been picked up by commercial beverage companies, and has a deep recognisable magenta colour.
It's important to stay hydrated while travelling in China, but drinking tap water isn’t recommended. Remember to avoid drinks with ice and to peel fruit before eating it, too. Help the environment and try to avoid buying bottled water. Instead, fill a reusable water bottle with filtered water from your hotel or pack water purification tablets.
Click to read what to eat in China
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