18 drinks China can't live without

18 drinks China can't live without

Our favorite? Cheese, salt, chocolate and milk -- all in one cup

Few can argue that baiju is China's most infamous drink. This omnipresent liquor is served liberally at banquets and stored on the shelves of convenience stores right next to the mineral water.

But toasting with 80-to-120-proof firewater with paint thinner undertones isn't everyone's idea of a refreshing beverage.

Not to worry, China has plenty more outlandish but delicious drinks to offer, from pearl milk tea to fermented rice wine.

Here are 18 beverages that keep the country refreshed.

china drinks -- inline 1Goes beautifully with lamb skewers.

1. Sinkiang Black Beer

Also known as Xinjiang Black Beer, this nutty-scented hooch hails from the Muslim grasslands in northwest China.

It has a strong flavor with a hint of brown sugar-like sweetness, like an American dark lager.

This ethnic ale goes well any Xinjiang meal, complementing lamb, cumin and other spices. 

Xinjiang restaurants throughout the country carry this regional brew. Or find it at grocery Fei Dan, 382-1 Dagu Lu, near Shimen Yi Lu, Shanghai; +86 21 6340 0547;

More on CNN: How to survive a Chinese drinking frenzy

2. Chivas mixed with green tea

Chinese night owls love drinking this late night/early morning concoction while belting out Hong Kong and Korean pop songs at the karaoke bar.

Fusing Scotch whisky with sweetened, bottled green tea, this cross-cultural mix has a smooth and honeyed taste.

Many glittery nightclubs include it on their drinks lists.

Try it at: Vics, inside Worker’s Stadium north gate, on the east side; +86 10 5293 0333; no cover (Sunday-Thursday); RMB50 (US$8) after 10 p.m. (Friday-Saturday); open 8:30 p.m.-late

china drinks -- inline 2Dessert in a straw.

3. Pearl milk tea

One of the most popular soft drinks among young people in mainland China, this Taiwan import includes jelly or pudding-like bubbles in sweetened milk tea.

It has a slightly bitter aftertaste.

"I really enjoy the bubbles inside," says Li Yanyun, a 25-year-old teacher in Jiangxi province. "The black bubbles look like pearls. When I drink the pearl milk tea, it reminds me of my childhood." 

The chewy "pearls" are actually made of tapioca and have a soft texture.

Try it at: Bakery 85 C, a bakery chain with stores in most Chinese cities, including Heifei, Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai and Suzhou.

china drinks -- inline 3Vitamins on the go.

4. C100

This is China's version of electrolyte water.

From lemon to grapefruit flavors, the vitamin-rich drink has a tangy, sweet and acidic lemonade taste.

It can be found at supermarkets throughout China, such as Carrefour.

china drinks -- inline 4One of China's best leafy teas.

5. Tieguanyin

Known as the “Iron Goddess of Mercy,” tieguanyin falls somewhere between green and black tea taste-wise, but is yellowish in color.

With a fresh floral aroma and a fruity, berry-like sweetness, this premium variety of oolong tea leaves a honey aftertaste. 

Tieguanyin can be found throughout China in local teahouses, but it's most notably produced in Anxi, Fujian province.

Harvested in spring and autumn, the teat is sometimes referred to as "curled up leaves of jade."

Try it at: Wan Ling Tea House, Surpass Court, Shop 215, Building 2, 570 Yongjia Lu, near Yueyang Lu, Shanghai; +86 21 6073 7573; open daily, 10:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.

6. Salt soda water

A refreshing carbonated water that's been around since the 1960s -- mainly in Shanghai -- this was the drink of choice for locals before Coca-Cola knocked on China's door.

Hints of lemon and mint add a kick to the sweet and fizzy water.

Local convenience stores (especially in Shanghai) carry salt soda water.

More on CNN: Baijiu factory tour: How Chinese brew their national liquor

7. Jiuniang (fermented sweet rice wine)

This soup-like Chinese dish is actually unfiltered rice wine, but has a very low alcohol content. Osmanthus flowers bring up the fragrance.

"Most of time, rice wine is made by families," says 26-year-old newspaper editor Qu Zhi, who grew up in the Shandong province. "There are some different brands of rice wine in the supermarket, but rice wine isn't common in restaurants."

Served during Dongzhi festival (also known as the "arrival of winter"), the warm beverage is sold by street vendors throughout China.

china drinks -- inline 9Milk for vegans.

8. Soybean milk

Yellow wheat beans are used to make China's version of the protein shake.

Ma Xin, a 28-year-old Weibo coordinator from Qinghai province, describes the popular drink as "very natural and a little sweet."

"When you combine different beans, it creates a different taste," she adds.

The drink is usually made at home with a milk machine. But fresh, boiled versions can be found at most breakfast stalls, which serve it sweet or savory.

All supermarkets and convenience stores carry bottled soy bean milk. Vitasoy is one of the more popular brands.

china drinks -- inline 5Looks good, tastes even better.

9. Chrysanthemum tea

Flowery in scent and taste, chrysanthemum tea is an herbal remedy. Reputed health benefits include cholesterol maintenance and sinus relief.

It's ubiquitous in Chinese restaurants and teahouses, though the most famous tea plantations are in Hubei, Hangzhou and Mount Huang.

china drinks -- inline 6So popular it's sometimes sold in plastic bags.

10. Tsingtao beer

The most recognized Chinese beer in the world, Tsingtao is sold in 62 countries and region.

A lager with a high-malt flavor and a hint of hops, Tsingtao is easy to drink and doesn't leave a bitter aftertaste.

Produced in the seaside city of Qingdao, the German-style beer uses spring water from Laoshan in Shandong province, a mountain area known for its water purity.

The company imports its hops, yeast and barley from Australia and Canada.

The brew can be found in any restaurant, supermarket and convenience store in China.

11. Coconut milk

China's canned coconut milk is made from the meat of the fruit. Milk, water and sugar give it a thicker consistency than regular coconut water.

Incredibly sweet, it can be found across China, but is particularly popular in southern parts of the country.

china drinks -- inline 7Cheese, salt, chocolate and milk -- all in one delicious drink.

12. Cocoa, rock salt and cheese

This sounds-odd-but-tastes-great drink is a testament to Chinese creativity.

China's version of chocolate milk with foam -- some call it a "cheese creamsicle" -- the cocoa, rock salt and cheese are blended into a cup of milk.

The rich chocolaty flavor combines with the saltiness from the cheese to tease the taste buds.

Find it at Happy Lemon, a fast food-like drink spot throughout China.

13. Suanmeitang (sour plum drink)

This cooling and soothing drink is a great match for hot pot and spicy Chinese dishes. The sweet-sour taste helps ease a burning tongue and stomach.

Made of sour plums, hawthorn, licorice root, rock salt and sweet osmanthus, it's most common in summer and can be found in powder, liquid concentrate or bottled form in supermarkets.

china drinks -- inline 8China's best coffee beans.

14. Yunnan coffee

A caffeine rush has put Yunnan province on the global coffee map.

More than 98% of China’s coffee comes from the area. It even grabbed Starbucks' attention, which signed a joint venture in February 2012 with one of the province’s coffee operations, AiNi, the most widely available Yunnan brand. 

Coffee connoisseurs will enjoy AiNi's cinnamon-flavored beans. They're a lighter roast, but throw out a flavorful cinnamon punch with an herbal aroma.

15. Osmanthus wine

This delicious after-dinner drink is similar to French liqueur and can be served chilled or warm.

"It’s super sweet while having the special scent of the flower itself," says Ou Wenmin, 28, a consultant from Guangzhou.

The wine is common in the southern Chinese city of Guilin, whose name literally means "Forest of Osmanthus."

china drinks -- inline 10Milk just got a whole lot tastier.

16. Wahaha Nutri-Express

Comparable to what liquid Skittles might taste like, this drink is a mix of fruit juice and milk. Its consistency is lighter than yogurt drinks and similar to skim milk -- a little watery.

A healthy alternative to the milkshake, it's one of China’s top selling bottled drinks and can be found at convenience stores like Kedi and Lawson.

china drinks -- inline 11Jia Duo Bao is a major cooling tea brand in China.

17. Cooling tea

Although many stalls in southern China sell homemade “cooling tea,” or herbal tea, the two dominant brands are Wang Lao Ji (in green paper cartons) and Jia Duo Bao (in red cans).

Both share the same recipe, which has been passed down from the historic label, Wang Lao Ji, and taste almost identical.

This herbal tea's history dates to the Qing dynasty. With hints of mint and a honey, the drink has a soothing effect on the throat and isn't too sweet.


18. Kvass

The Russians brought this amber liquid to northern China in the 19th century, and the sweet alcoholic drink has remained an iconic homebrew in the region, especially in Xinjiang and Harbin.

Often flavored with herbs, mint, raisins or strawberries, this beer is made from rye or black bread.

The alcohol level is low (around 1%). It tastes a bit like shandy, but with a thicker texture.

Kathy Vitale is a freelance journalist based in Shanghai. She moved to China in October 2011. Ever since she landed in Asia, she's been traveling, writing or studying Mandarin.

Read more about Kathy Vitale
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