However, specialist tea houses serve a vast variety of brews, ranging from the pale, delicate white tea ç½è¶ bÃ¡ichÃ¡ to the powerful fermented and aged pu'er tea æ®æ´±è¶ pÇ'ÄrchÃ¡. Tea in Chinese culture is akin to wine in Western culture, and even the same type of tea will come in many different grades. Always check prices carefully before ordering as some of the best varieties can be very pricey indeed. Most tea shops have some teas at several hundred yuan per jing 500 g and prices up to Â¥2,000 are not uncommon. The record price for top grade tea sold at auction was well over Â¥7000 a gram.
Various areas of China have famous teas. Hangzhou, near Shanghai, is famed for its "Dragon Well" é¾äº lÃ³ngjÇng green tea. Fujian has the most famous oolong teas, "Dark Red Robe" å¤§çº¢è¢ dÃ hÃ³ngpÃ¡o from Mount Wuyi and "Iron Goddess of Mercy" éè§é³ tiÄguÄnyÄ«n from Anxi. PÇ'Är in Yunnan has the most famous fully fermented tea, pÇ'ÄrchÃ¡ æ®æ´±è¶. This comes compressed into hard cakes, originally a packing method for transport by horse caravan to Burma and Tibet. The cakes are embossed with patterns; some people hang them up as wall decorations.
Most tea shops will be more than happy to let you sit down and try different varieties of tea. "Ten Fu Tea" is a national chain and in Beijing "Wu Yu Tai" is the one some locals say they favor.
Black tea, the type of tea most common in the West, is known in China as "red tea" ç´ è¶ hÃ³ngchÃ¡. While almost all Western teas are black teas, the converse isn't true, with many Chinese teas, including the famed PÇ'Är also falling into the "black tea" category.
Normal Chinese teas are always drunk neat, with the use of sugar or milk unknown. However, in some areas you will find Hong Kong style "milk tea" å¥¶è¶ nÇichÃ¡ or Tibetan "butter tea". Taiwanese bubble tea çç å¥¶è¶ ZhÄnzhÅ« NÇichÃ¡ is also popular and widely available.
bars, discos and karaoke
Western style pubs are becoming increasingly popular across the country. Especially in the more affluent urban centers such as Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Hangzhou one can find painstakingly recreated replicas of traditional Irish or English pubs. Like their Western counterparts most will have a selection of foreign beers on tap as well as provide pub food of varying quality and often feature live cover bands. Most of these pubs cater to and are frequented by the expatriate communities so you should not expect to find many Chinese in these places. Be aware that imported beer can be very expensive compared to local brew.
To just go out for a few drinks with friends, pick a local restaurant and drink beer at around Â¥5 for a 600 ml bottle. It will be Chinese lager, around 3% alcohol, with a limited choice of brand and may be served warm. Most mid- to high- range restaurants will have small private suites for gatherings usually offered free if there is more than around 5 people, and the staff will generally not try to hustle you out even if you decide to stay until closing time. Many residents frequent outdoor restaurants or roadside stalls and barbecues shÄokÇo - ç§ç¤ for a nice and inexpensive evening.
In discos and fancy bars with entertainment, you normally buy beer Â¥100 at a time; this gets you anywhere from 4 import-brand beer Heineken, Bud, Corona, Sol, .. to 10 local beers. A few places offer cocktails; fewer have good ones.
Other drinks are sold only by the bottle, not by the glass. Red wine is in the Â¥80-200 range served with ice and Sprite and mediocre imported whiskeys Chivas, Johnny Walker, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels; extremely rarely single malts and cognacs, Â¥300-800. Both are often mixed with sweet bottled green or red tea. Vodka, tequila and rum are less common, but sometimes available. Bogus "brand name" products are fairly common and may ruin your next day.
These places often have bar girls, young women who drink a lot and want to play drinking games to get you to consume more. They get a commission on whatever you buy. In general, these girls will not leave the bar with you; they are professional flirts, not prostitutes.
Karaoke å¡æOK is huge in China and can be broadly split into two categories. More common is the no-frills karaoke box or KTV, where you rent a room, bring your friends and the house gives you a mike and sells you booze. Much favored by students, these are cheap and fun with the right crowd, although you need at least a few people for a memorable night. Bringing your own booze can keep the price tag down but must be done on the sly - many places have windows in the door so the staff can make sure you only drink liquor they sold to you.
Rather different is the distinctly dodgier special KTV lounge, more oriented to businessmen entertaining clients or letting their hair down, where the house provides anything and everything at a price. At these often opulent establishments — over-the-top Roman and Egyptian themes are standard — you'll be joined by short-skirted professional karaoke girls, who charge by the hour for the pleasure of their company and whose services may not be limited to just singing badly and pouring your drinks. It's highly advisable not to venture into these unless you're absolutely sure somebody else is footing the bill, which can easily run into hundreds of dollars even if you keep your pants on.
As elsewhere, never never accept an invitation to a restaurant or bar from an available-looking woman who just picked you up in the street sometime after sundown. At best, suggest a different place. If she refuses, drop her on the spot. More than likely, she will steer you into a quiet little place with too many doormen and you will find yourself saddled with a modest meal and beer that will cost you Â¥1,000 or worse. And the doormen won't let you leave till you pay up. This is somewhat rare. But it does happen.
Many drinks that are usually served chilled or with ice in the West are served at room temperature in China. Ask for beer or soda in a restaurant, and it may arrive at room temperature, though beer is more commonly served cold, at least in the summer. Water will generally be served hot. That is actually good, because only boiled or bottled water is safe to drink, but it's not pleasant to drink hot water in the summer.
You can get cold drinks from small grocery stores and restaurants, just look for the cooler even though it might not actually be cool. You can try bringing a cold beverage into a restaurant. Most small restaurants won't mind--if they even notice--and there is no such thing as a "cork" charge in China. Remember that most people will be drinking tea, which is free anyway, so the restaurant is probably not expecting to profit on your beverage consumption.
Asking for ice is best avoided. Many, perhaps most, places just don't have it. The ice they do have may well be made from unfiltered tap water and arguably unsafe for travelers sweating bullets about diarrhea.
Beer å¤é pÃjiÇ is very common in China and is served in nearly every restaurant. The most famous brand is Tsingtao éå³¶ from Qingdao, which was at one point a German concession. Other brands abound and are generally light beers in a pilsner or lager style with 3-4% alcohol. In addition to national brands, most cities will have one or more cheap local beers. Some companies Tsingtao, Yanjing also make a dark beer é»å¤é hÄipÃjiÇ. In some regions, beers from other parts of Asia are fairly common and tend to be popular with travellers — Filipino San Miguel in Guangdong, Singaporean Tiger in Hainan, and Laotian Beer Lao in Yunnan, The typical price for beer is about Â¥2.5-4 in a grocery store, Â¥4-18 in a restaurant, around Â¥10 in an ordinary bar, and Â¥20-40 in a fancier bar.
Unfortunately, most places outside of major cities serve beer at room temperature, regardless of season, though places that cater to tourists have it cold.
Locally made grape wine è¡èé pÃºtaojiÇ is common and much of it is reasonably priced, from Â¥15 in a grocery store, about Â¥100-150 in a fancy bar. That said, most of the stuff bears only the faintest resemblance to Western wines. The Chinese like their wines red and very, very sweet, and they're typically served over ice or mixed with Sprite. Great Wall and Dynasty are large brands with a number of wines at various prices; their cheaper under Â¥40 offerings are generally not impressive. Chang Yu is another large brand; some of their low end wines are a bit better. If you're looking for a Chinese-made, Western-style wine, try to find these labels:
Suntime (http://www.suntime.com.cn), with a passable Cabernet Sauvignon
Yizhu, located in Yili and specializing in ice wine
Les Champs D'or, French-owned and probably the best overall winery in China.
Imperial Horse and Xixia, from Ningxia
Mogao Ice Wine, Gansu
Castle Estates, Shandong
Shangrila Estates, from Zhongdian, Yunnan
There are also several brands and types of rice wine. Most of these resemble a watery rice pudding, they are usually very sweet and only have a very small amount of alcohol for taste. These do not generally much resemble Japanese sake, the only rice wine well-known in the West. Travelers' reactions to these vary widely.
BÃ¡ijiÇ ç½é is distilled liquor, generally 80 to 120 proof, made from sorghum and sometimes other grains depending on the region. As the word "jiÇ" is often loosely translated as "wine" by Chinese beverage firms and English speakers, baijiu is frequently referred to as "white wine" in conversation. Baijiu will typically be served at banquets and festivals in tiny shot glasses. Toasts are ubiquitous at banquets or dinners on special occasions. Most foreigners find baijiu tastes like diesel fuel, while a liquor connoisseur may find high quality, expensive baijiu quite good. Baijiu is definitely an acquired taste, but once the taste is acquired, it's quite fun to "ganbei" a glass or two at a banquet.
The cheapest baijiu is the Beijing brewed Ã¨rguÅtÃ³u äºé å¤´ Â¥4.5 per 100 mL bottle. It comes in two variants: 53% and 56% alcohol by volume. Ordering "xiÇo Ã¨r" Erguotou's diminutive nickname will likely raise a few eyebrows and a chuckle from working class Chinese.
MÃ¡otÃ¡i è å°, made in Guizhou Province, is China's most famous brand of baijiu and China's national liquor. Made from sorghum, Maotai and its expensive cousins such as Kaoliang in Taiwan are well-known for their strong fragrance and are actually sweeter than western clear liquors as the sorghum taste is preserved - in a way.
Chinese brandy ç½å °å° is excellent value, about the same price as grape wine or baijiu, and generally far more palatable than either. A Â¥16-20 local brandy is not a Â¥200+ imported brand-name cognac, but it is close enough that you should only buy the cognac if money doesn't matter. Expats debate the relative merits of brandies from French-owned Louis Wann (http://www.louiswann.com/...), Chinese brand Changyu (http://www.changyu.com.cn...), and several others. All are drinkable.
The Chinese are also great fans of various supposedly medicinal liquors, which usually contain exotic herbs and/or animal parts. Some of these have prices in the normal range and include ingredients like ginseng. These can be palatable enough, if tending toward sweetness. Others, with unusual ingredients snakes, turtles, bees, etc. and steep price tags, are probably best left to those that enjoy them.
Coffee åå¡ kÄfÄi is becoming quite popular in urban China, though it is nearly impossible to find in smaller towns.
Several chains of coffee shops have branches in many cities, including Starbucks æå·´å , UBC Coffee ä¸å²åå¡, Ming Tien Coffee Language and SPR . All offer coffee, tea, and both Chinese and Western food, generally with good air conditioning, wireless internet, and nice decor. Â¥15-40 or so a cup.
There are also lots of smaller independent coffee shops or local chains. These may also be high priced, but often they are around Â¥15 a cup. Quality varies from excellent to abysmal.
For cheap coffee just to stave off withdrawal symptoms, there are several options. Go to a Western fast food chain KFC, McD, etc. for some Â¥8 coffee. Additionally, almost any supermarket or convenience store will have both canned cold coffee and instant NescafÃ© black or pre-mixed with whitener and sugar - just add hot water.
Chinese toast with the word gÄnbÄi å¹²æ¯, literally "dry glass". Traditionally one is expected to drain the glass in one swig. During a meal, the visitor is generally expected to drink at least one glass with each person present; sometimes there may be considerable pressure to do this. And it can be considered rude, at least early during the meal, if you do not make a toast every time you take a drink.
Exercise caution. Fortunately, the glasses are usually small — even beer is often drunk from an oversized shot glass. The Chinese liquor, baijiu, is definitely potent up to 65% alcohol. Baijiu is often drunk in small shot glasses for a good reason. US president Nixon practiced drinking before his first trip to China to be ready to drink with Mao Zedong. Unless you are used to imbibing heavily, be very careful when drinking with Chinese.
If you want to take it easy but still be sociable, say suÃbiÃ n éä¾¿ before you make the toast, then drink only part of the glass. It may also be possible to have three toasts traditionally signifying friendship with the entire company, rather than one separate toast for every individual present.