What to drink in Beijing, China
Most of Beijing‘s bars are located in one of the bar clusters around the city. A few years back, the only one was Sanlitun, but almost every year the last few years have seen a new area emerge. The most important areas are:
- Houhai in Xicheng District located around the lake, Houhai. Generally speaking, drinking at any bar in this area can be expensive, even by western standards, and the quality of cocktails or even beer varies greatly. Make sure you have checked the price before ordering; otherwise you may accidentally order a bottle of spring water whose price can be very stiff.
- Nanluoguxiang in Dongcheng District is a winding and weaving area in one of the city’s most visited hutongs.
- Sanlitun in Chaoyang District was once the centre of nightlife in Beijing and still popular with expats.
- Workers’ Stadium in Chaoyang District has taken over part of the action in nearby Sanlitun.
- West Gate of Chaoyang Park in Chaoyang District is one of the newest bar areas in Beijing.
- Ladies’ Street in Chaoyang District. By day it has some fashion shops, as its name suggests, but it is also home to some interesting new bars, restaurants and clubs.
- Yuan Dynasty Wall Bar Street in Chaoyang District is a new ready-made bar area located nicely along a small river and a park but with quite uninteresting bars.
- Wudaokou in Haidian District, where most of the foreign and local university students hang out. There are a number of bars and restaurants which serve a great variety of wine, beer and liquor for cheap. This area is also well known for its huge Korean population and a good place to find Korean food.
- Dashanzi in Chaoyang District, Beijing’s trendy art zone, this old warehouse and factory district has been taken over by art galleries, art shops and bars. Well worth the t
Tea, tea, and more tea! Some shops are in malls and others are stand-alone establishments. Whatever their location, always ask the price before ordering or else brace yourself for the most expensive egg-sized cup of tea in the world. You can experience different styles of tea ceremonies and tea tastings at tea houses especially in the Qianmen area south of Tian’anmen Square. These can range widely in quality and price. Some tea houses are really tourist traps whose main goal is to milk you of your money. You can get a free tea demonstration at most Tenrenfu tea houses which are located throughout the city and at some malls. After an afternoon in such shops the remaining tea is yours to take home. Once tea is ordered, the table is yours for as long as you like.
As a tea-loving country and grower of much of the world’s tea, coffee is not as easy to find but a taste for it–along with more expats dotted throughout Beijing–has seen more emerging middle class and students drinking it. For example, the city alone has more than 100 Starbucks locations. Most are situated around shopping malls and in commercial districts of the city. Other international chains such as Costa Coffee and Lavazza also have locations around Beijing. Coffee of varying qualities is also available in the ubiquitous Taiwanese style coffee shops such as Shangdao Coffee. These are usually located on the second floor of buildings and often times offer Blue Mountain Coffee, making places like Starbucks seem a real bargain. Most coffee shops offer wireless. Baristas in non-chain coffee shops may not be educated on how to make generally accepted espresso drinks, like lattes and cappuccinos. Espressos, alone, usually taste better and are more consistent.
The most common hard liquor is baijiu, made from distilled grain (usually sorghum) spirits. It comes in a variety of brands and generally for very cheap prices for a small bottle and should be avoided if you want to have a clear mind for your travels on the next day. The most famous local brand is called Erguotou, which has 54% alcohol content. It should be noted that the local Erguotou is sold in gallon containers, often on the same shelf as water and with a similar price-range and indistinguishable color. Care must be made not to confuse the two. Maotai, the national liquor, is one of the more expensive brands, and it used to cost about as much as an imported bottle of whiskey. Wuliangye is another high-end brand. Due to its mild taste, Wuliangye might be a better option for first time baijiu drinker. A large selection of imported liquor can be found at most bars and big supermarkets. One should better buy expensive liquor (both domestic and imported) from big supermarkets in order to avoid fake ones. Capital Spirits Bar is a good place to sample and learn about baijiu through their tasting flights.
Beer can be quite good and nearly all are low-alcohol lagers. Beijing’s own, Yanjing, has perhaps the most dominating presence in the city (Yanjing being the city’s name from its time 2,000 years ago as capital of the state of Yan). Beer mostly comes in large bottles and has 3.1%-3.6 alcohol content. Tsingtao, the beer most easily found throughout all of China, is similar in taste and has several bottles which, like Yanjing, come in green. Both Yanjing and Tsingtao come in standard and pure varieties; the difference mainly seems to be price. Beijing Beer is the probably the third most popular brand in the city and typically found for even cheaper than other local brands. Craft beers and microbreweries and specialty beers can found in various German-themed restaurants throughout the city, which have been in the city since the 1980s, as well as a second wave of foreign-style microbreweries in the mid- to late-2000s.
Great Wall is the most popular local brand of grape wine. Wine made in China does not have a great reputation, though this is changing. Giving wine as a gift is not a common custom in most places in China and most people will not be accustomed to wine etiquette or appreciation (white wine is often mixed with Sprite in clubs). Imported red wines are usually of a better quality and can be found in big supermarkets, import good stores, and some restaurants.