Chinese Drinking Etiquette: Beer, Tea Etiquette, Bottled Water, Hard Liquor

This article is about Chinese drinking etiquette. Depending on what you are drinking, the drinking rules change. Learn about how different beverages have different etiquette.

Alcohol

Drinking in ChinaIf you are at a bar, don’t be shy about saying that you don’t want to drink anymore. The Chinese people I have met can hold their liquor (most of the time). Don’t feel the need to keep up.

Unlike Europeans (and a select few in-the-know Americans), in China, looking someone in the eye when you toast is not imperative. It actually never happens. Don’t be offended, or wait for them to look you in the eye.

Bai Jiu Chinese Hard Liquor“Bai jiu” (pronounced “by-joe”) tastes like vodka. Be sure not to sniff it before you drink or you might gag. I think it is made from fermented rice. I whole-heartedly say it tastes like manure. And you’ll know when you’re drinking bai jiu when they bust out the clear bottle with the red cap. You can say, “Wo bu hui he jiu” (“wo boo hway huh joe”), that means “I don’t drink,” but it probably won’t work and they’ll pour you a glass anyway. Good luck.

Don’t worry about what the books say, “gan bei” does not mean you have to finish your drink (despite the literal translation of “dry cup”). Just take a sip and put your cup down.

General

Cold drinks are not usually served at restaurants in China. 98% of the time you will have a cup of steaming hot tea. Sometimes people will order a 2-liter of soda, but it us room temperature. About half the time, the beer is not cold. Asking for ice is okay, but don’t expect it to be available.

Water

Fresh Water in China is EverywhereFresh, clean, bottled water is everywhere in China. It costs between 1-2 RMB per 12 oz bottle.

Do not drink any tap water in China unless you want to experiment with your digestive system. It is okay to use tap water to brush your teeth or wash your face.

Tea

Pu’er Cha (Tea) from Yunnan by Robert Thompson China Travel Tips

  • Drink it slowly. Some types of tea cost thousands of RMB per bag. Never ask for ice or sugar for your tea.
  • If you ever pour tea for someone else, fill the cup 3/4 full. (When pouring alcohol, top it off, brim to the rim.)
  • When someone hands you a cup of tea, take it with two hands. When you give someone a cup of tea, use two hands. (One hand on the bottom, on hand on the side).
  • When drinking tea, it is polite to use two hands.
  • When someone pours you more tea, it’s polite to touch the side of the teacup as they pour it, and be sure to say “Xie xie” (roughly pronounced “shay shay”), or thank you.

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5 thoughts on “Chinese Drinking Etiquette: Beer, Tea Etiquette, Bottled Water, Hard Liquor

  1. Also depending on where you go, beer is drank out of little glasses slightly larger than a shot glass instead of straight from the bottle (especially if it’s the big bottles). I found I got on very well with my boss after he saw I was able to hold my liquor. And it’s not totally uncommon to see a person puking in the bushes early in the afternoon from drinking too much. I’ve even seen the ladies do it.

  2. I know the chinese people are very serious about their customs. I like the valued information, about the quality of the alcohol, and the other health information. I know the tip about the water quality
    will sure help visitors have a nice travelling experiance.

  3. My husband and I are moving to china as ESL teachers. We have never been to Asia before but we have read and heard about the “tea ceremonies”. We are concerned because we don’t drink alcohol or tea (religious reasons) and we are worried about offending them if we refuse to drink with them. Any advise?
    -Ali

  4. Ali, don’t let that stop you from going to China!

    Obviously you are foreigner, so you’ll always get a little leeway in the etiquette department (‘laowai’ the most commonly used term for foreigner is actually best translated as ‘crazy old foreigner’ (prob from breaking all the customs) while ‘waiguoren’ is the politically correct term meaning ‘person from another country’).

    The thing about cultures is that respect goes two-ways: try to adhere to their customs as much as possible (you are the guest) but they should respect that you are coming from another country as well. Just decline in a light-heartened manner and you’ll be allright. And, you can always explain that you don’t want to offend but you have to decline. If you show that you make an effort to adhere to local customs as much as possible, you will not offend, because it is obvious that you treat them with respect, even though you might be different.

    And if someone is offended, just let them be; they show no respect to your side of the story either, so why bother?

    you can always explain by saying
    我不喝茶或者酒因为我的宗教不许可 (wǒ bù hēchá huōzhě jiǔ yīnwèi wǒde zōngjiào bù xǔkě)

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