What do Chinese people drink?
A wide array of drinks are available across China, ranging from sugary sweet teas to liquor that will blow your head off.
Some you’ll know, while others – which are uniquely Chinese – may come as a surprise to you.
Whether you’re planning a trip to China, or you just want to find out what Chinese people drink, here are the 10 most popular beverages.
As always, leave a comment if you have any questions or you feel I’ve missed a drink.
This is undisputedly the national drink of China.
Tea is to China like soda is to the US. You can sip it on its own or with a meal, it’s available in every restaurant, and you can drink it at home.
There are countless versions of Chinese tea, including specialty teas like oolong, chrysanthemum and tieguanyin (a type of oolong).
Green tea is the most common. It’s found on restaurant tables across the country.
In many restaurants in China, the tea is free as long as you buy food.
Practically every corner of the country has its own unique tea and drinking preferences.
I remember a trip I took to Shenzhen once. I bought a few tins of lychee tea (Chinese tea is a great souvenir).
Lychee tea may sound a bit strange, but the flavor is actually really subtle and makes for beautiful tasting tea.
Wang Lao Ji is one of the most popular commercial tea drinks in China today. It’s also one of the country’s most valuable food and beverage brands.
Wang Lao Ji is a sweet herbal tea which is said to reduce your body heat in summer and even treat sore throats caused by winter dryness.
Personally, I don’t mind the taste, but I’m not sold on the health benefits.
2. Hot water
Chinese people prefer hot or warm water over cold water.
You’ll see people carry around flasks all day which keeps their water warm. And there are hot water filling stations everywhere.
Some people even carry their own fancy hot teas – you can see the leaves floating around.
The reason Chinese people drink hot water instead of cold water is for health reasons. Basically, they believe it is better for the body.
If you want to read more about this, check out this blog which is dedicated to the quirks of the Chinese including why they drink hot water.
Cold and room-temperature bottled water is also available everywhere in China.
You just don’t seem to see people consume it with a meal, like they do with tea.
Nongfu Spring is the most popular bottled water in China. The company’s CEO, Zhong Shanshan, is one of the country’s richest people.
See also: Who are the most famous Chinese people?
3. Soft drink
The Chinese love their soda.
Pepsi and Coke are huge, and so too is Sprite. The local knockoffs aren’t nearly as popular.
You’ll find soft drink at convenience stores and supermarkets across China, as well as in all the restaurants and fast-food outlets.
During my adventures in China, I have found it extremely hard, if not impossible, to find sugar-free or diet pop.
I don’t know the reason for this, whether it’s local tastes or a reluctance from distributors or manufacturers. Who knows?
Sadly, like many other countries, the locals are getting fatter. And soft drink – often accompanied with an unhealthy fast-food meal – is a small but important piece of that puzzle.
In fact, China is in the midst of an alarming increase in obesity in both men and women.
4. Bubble tea
Have you tried bubble tea before?
You might call it milk tea or something similar. Essentially, it’s a tea drink (often sweet) with tapioca pearls or other little floaty bits.
This famous Chinese concoction originates from Taiwan.
I find bubble tea a bit strange, especially sucking up the pearls through the straw. And the sugar hit can be overwhelming too!
But bubble tea is huge in China, particularly with young people. Maybe it’s because real pearls represent affluence.
The flavor options are endless, ranging from black teas to fruity mixes.
And for entrepreneurial locals, stalls are relatively small and easy to set up. Many stalls are on wheels and can be carted away.
If you go to China for a holiday and can’t speak Chinese, just point at the drink you want on the menu.
Chinese people, especially guys, love their beer.
But Chinese beer is a bit different to other beers, especially heavy European beers and stouts.
Most Chinese beer is fairly light. I would say it tastes even a little watery.
But I really like it, especially on warm summer nights. It’s easy to guzzle.
You may have heard of Tsingtao – this is the national export beer. It’s from the city of Qingdao in China’s northeast.
If you’re traveling in Qingdao, you can even visit the Tsingtao Beer Museum. And, like all good beer museums, you get a beer at the end.
As you’ll see in the photo above, even kids can drink beer in China!
Snow is the most popular beer in China. Every year, about 2.8 trillion gallons of the ale is sold.
It’s similar to Tsingtao and is fairly light.
Another specialty Chinese beer is Xinjiang Black Beer, or Sinkiang.
This one is heavier than Snow and Tsingtao. It’s a dark lager with hints of brown sugar.
It goes well with the spicy food that Xinjiang province is known for.
Coffee is another favorite beverage in China.
I’m a bit ashamed to admit I tried my first ever coffee in China… in my thirties!
I was hooked.
But then I returned home to Melbourne, Australia and I discovered what great coffee actually tastes like.
Chinese coffee is typically weak and milky, and the milk is gross or doesn’t taste like real milk. That’s my opinion, anyway.
You rarely see fresh milk in China – it comes from a long-life carton instead.
See also: Foods from China that will gross you out
Coffee is massive in China though.
Starbucks is on every street corner in the big cities. Luckin Coffee, a Chinese brand, is also everywhere.
I find the price of coffee in China to be exorbitant.
The cost may not hurt your hip pocket if you’re holidaying in China (it’s probably the equivalent to what you pay back home), but it’s expensive when you compare it to other everyday items.
Drinking coffee in China is really a middle to upper class experience.
You wouldn’t see someone from a rural area, or someone who earns a minimum wage, drinking coffee in China.
Baijiu is the world’s most consumed alcohol.
It’s commonly distilled from sorghum (a cereal grass) as well as other grains like rice, wheat, corn and millet.
In Mandarin, baijiu literally means ‘white alcohol’ but Westerners tend to call it Chinese rice wine.
I find this a bit misleading because it tastes nothing like the beautiful Australian wine I’m used to!
Usually drank straight, I would say baijiu is an acquired taste. It’s the kind of drink that takes hair off your chest!
It’s not the kind of drink you’d be sipping while on a date in China.
(Read more about dating in China here.)
But if you’re ever in China on business, you’re going to be served baijiu. Culturally, this is the accepted drink that Chinese businessmen enjoy at the dinner table.
So, if you want your business deal to go through, don’t refuse it.
You can find out more about this Chinese drink in the amazing book, Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World’s Oldest Drinking Culture.
8. Spirits and cocktails
In bars, clubs and hotels across China, you’ll find all different kinds of liquor.
Whisky is popular but if you have a sweeter palate, bar staff will be happy to fix you up a luscious cocktail.
The nicest (i.e. strongest) Long Island Ice Tea I’ve ever drank was in Zhejiang province (you can read up on China’s provinces here).
Prices aren’t any cheaper than back home.
9. Milk drinks
The Chinese love their milk drinks.
Soybean milk in particular is very popular. Soybeans are entrenched in East Asian cuisine, especially in liquid form.
You can find soybean milk in all the stores and even street vendors sell it. Vitasoy is a popular brand in China.
(Check out the guide to Chinese street food here.)
In southern China, where it’s warmer, you’ll see people drinking coconut milk.
It’s full of sugar though, so watch out!
As I mentioned earlier, cow’s milk, and dairy in general, isn’t big in China.
This is good news if you’re vegan and wanting to travel to China.
10. Sports, vitamin and other sweet drinks
You can find these drinks in convenience stores across the country, and people love them.
One such brand, Mai Dong, comes in a number of fruit flavors. It’s not carbonated and is what you might call vitamin water.
Some locals like to drink it after exercise. I say stick to water, but that’s me!
Plum flavored drink Suanmeitang is another popular choice. It’s sold in little glass bottles.
Suanmeitang – which literally means ‘sour plum soup’ – is sweet, slightly salty, and of course, sour.
The drink is believed to have health benefits like improving digestion.
See also: The 10 most popular sports in China
Chinese drinks will tantalize your taste buds
If you’re lucky enough to visit China, make sure you try a few of these local favorites.
Or, bring some home as souvenirs for family and friends. Boxes of tea make beautiful gifts.
If you’re not planning an overseas trip for a while, try your local Asian grocery store. They’re bound to stock some of the best Chinese drinks.
I hope you liked my article about the most popular Chinese drinks. I’ve written one similar to this called 15 popular foods from China.
Or, step it up a notch and discover the ins and outs of Chinese dating.