Not all popular Chinese drinks are flammable.
CNN  — 

Few can argue that baiju is the most infamous drink in China. 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 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 citizens and visitors in China can’t live without:

1. Sinkiang Black Beer

Also known as Xinjiang Black Beer, this nut-scented hooch hails from northwest China. It has a strong flavor with a hint of brown sugar-like sweetness; like an American dark lager. This ale goes well with any Xinjiang meal, complementing lamb, cumin and other spices.

Try it at: Xinjiang restaurants throughout the country carry this regional brew – or find it at grocery store Fei Dan, 382-1 Da Gu Road near Shimen Yi Lu, Shanghai; +86 21 6340 0547, 9:30a.m to 10:00p.m daily

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; Chaoyang District, Beijing, China. +86 10 5293 0333; open 8:30 late.

3. Pearl milk tea

Dessert in a cup.

One of the most popular soft drinks among young people in mainland China, this Taiwanese 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 young 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. Bubble tea has recently gone global and is a hit in the US and Europe.

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

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.

Try it at it: Grocery stores throughout China, such as Carrefour.

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 tea is sometimes referred to as “curled up leaves of jade.”

Try it at: Wan Ling Tea House, No.1, 619 Jian Guo Road (near An Ting Road), Shanghai, China. Shop: +86 (0) 21 6054 0246. Mobile: +86 (0) 135 6424 8308; open daily, 10:30 a.m.-7:00 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.

Try it at: Local convenience stores (especially in Shanghai) carry salt soda water.

7. Jiuniang (fermented sweet rice wine)

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

“Most of time, rice wine is made by families,” says 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.”

Try it at: During the Dongzhi festival (also known as the “arrival of winter”) and at street stalls throughout China.

8. Soybean milk

Yellow wheat beans are used to make China’s version of the protein shake. Ma Xin, a 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.

Try it at: All grocery stores and convenience stores carry bottled soy bean milk. Vitasoy is one of the more popular brands.

9. Chrysanthemum tea

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

Try it at: It’s ubiquitous in Chinese restaurants and teahouses, though the most famous tea plantations are in Hubei, Hangzhou and Mount Huang.

10. Tsingtao beer

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

Try it at: The brew can be found in any restaurant, grocery store 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.

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

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.

Try it at: Happy Lemon, a fast food-style 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.

Try it at: It’s most common in summer and can be found in powder, liquid concentrate or bottled form in grocery stores.

14. Yunnan coffee

A caffeine rush has put Yunnan province on the global coffee map. Coffee connoisseurs will enjoy AiNi’s cinnamon-flavored beans. They’re a lighter roast, but throw out a flavorful cinnamon punch with a herbal aroma. More than 98% of China’s coffee comes from the area.

Yunnan even grabbed Starbucks’ attention. The US coffee giant signed a joint venture in February 2012 with one of the province’s coffee operations, AiNi, the most widely available Yunnan brand.

Try it at: Starbucks launched its first Single-origin Yunnan coffee cross Starbucks locations in January 2017, available across Starbucks stores in Mainland China.

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, a consultant from Guangzhou.

Try it at: The wine is common in the southern Chinese city of Guilin, whose name literally means “Forest of Osmanthus.”

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.

Try it at: Convenience stores like Kedi and Lawson.

17. Cooling tea

Although many stalls in southern China sell homemade “cooling tea,” or herbal tea, the two dominant brands are Wang Lao Ji and Jia Duo Bao. 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 honey, the drink has a soothing effect on the throat and isn’t too sweet.

Try it at: Grocery stores across China.

18. Kvass

The Russians brought this amber liquid to northern China in the 19th century, and the sweet alcoholic drink has remained an iconic home brew 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.

Try it at: Head to the city of Yining, near the former Chinese-Soviet border and enjoy a bottle of Kvass at one of the many restaurants.

Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2013. It was reformatted and republished in 2017.