The Tea And
Other Drinks

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The Tea: Of course the big drink in China is tea, although tea is not necessarily made of tea - it can also be made of ginger, rose, jasmine, mint, and so on.  And actually, if you don’t want to get in over your head, this is a really good place to start. 

Even in a straightforward, cheaply priced restaurant certain varieties of tea can be very, very expensive.  I’m just guessing here because I didn’t get into tea while I was in China, but it seems that the Chinese treat tea the same way that the French treat wine... it can be aged, matured, refined in a hundred different ways, which can leave it also costing about the same as a rare, vintage French wine.  Which you may not appreciate.

But on the other end of the spectrum, the Chinese treat tea the same way that the French treat wine... as something to be enjoyed all the time.  Which is why you will see people carrying jam jars (or more commonly these days, Tupperware cups) containing a few tea leaves.  These jars will get topped up with hot water all day, and that’s their tea.

The good news is that you can get tea pretty much everywhere, and every hotel that I stayed in had a decent kettle and tea tray - and when you want to sit down for half an hour most places do a reasonably priced pot of jasmine tea.

I know it sounds ridiculous but I would actually recommend you take your own tea bags to China if you are keen on a particular type of herbal tea.  I enjoy white tea, green tea and various other kinds, but the tea on offer in my hotel rooms was either not really labelled or just jasmine, so it’s worth having your favourites or even checking out what’s available at the local supermarket (which are usually extremely cheap!)

Just one more thing about making tea in China - the complimentary tea leaves you find in hotel rooms are not like your average tea leaves - they expand.  So please only drop in a couple, or you will find yourself trying to drink half a cup of seaweed.

Coffee:  Apparently coffee used to be quite hard to get hold of in China, and it’s still not that freely available - but it can be found.  With Starbucks opening up left, right and centre if you’re a fan you should be okay, but if, like me, you try to avoid this chain, then there are a few good places to stop - generally hotel cafes (the Puli Hotel, Shanghai does an excellent latte.) But for everyday hits of caffeine I highly recommend the very popular Nescafe cans (which they even do in an Extra Rich version) and which you can get from most supermarkets, and (hoorah!) in most outlets on top of Huangshan for about 15 yuan (£1.50).   And, of course, if you are a huge coffee fan, can I recommend Les Suites Orient in Shanghai, where I not only had my own kettle, but my own espresso maker in my own lounge (as well as complimentary tea and coffee in the hotel lounge - with freshly made cookies... mmm.)

Milk: One of the reasons that coffee is probably not so hot in a lot of places is that milk in China can be a bit... well off.  Soy milk is common in places, but even in Beijing, where they now even have a cheese maker, I did have some dodgy milk.  Luckily the Nescafe cans have the milk already in them.  If you need a milk fix I highly recommend cans of almond milk, or cartons of other nut milk - quite yummy!

Juices: Fresh fruit juice is widely available and very cheap (sometimes cheaper than water) - my favourite is watermelon juice (which is weird because I don’t really like watermelon), but as always you need to be careful about where you drink fresh juice for hygiene reasons.

Water: Bottled water is widely available, and even provided free in some hotels.  Some hotels also provide free filtered water, so it is worth taking a water bottle which you can either fill from the filter, or from the kettle, once you have boiled the water.  A water bottle is also a great option for your flight as, not only can you fill it up on the plane to keep you hydrated, but there are also water filters in many airports so you can fill up after you’ve been through security.  A lot of restaurants also will now give you glasses of water without even ordering, but maybe check if it is filtered, or just don’t drink it?

Ice: And of course be careful about where you choose to take ice in your drinks. 

Tea, watermelon juice and my water bottle, Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

Almond milk in a can, Beijing

Information as at September 2010

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