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Published on May 14, 2013 in Asia, China

Chinese Prefer it Hot

         The Chinese prefer to drink their liquids hot. Go to a KFC in China and order an orange juice, and they’ll ask you if you want it hot or cold. A decade ago I thought when they said “hot” it meant room temperature. But that turned out to be the wrong assumption as I soon found out when the server handed me my orange juice that was at the same temperature as my coffee. At that temperature I thought it tasted more like Tang. Not all Western restaurants follow this practice, and I’ve been able to get a cold orange juice, not just one at room temperature, at McDonald’s and also at TGI Fridays, a couple of the gourmet restaurants I frequent when I’m in China. On occasion, I’ve even seen the elusive ice cube thrown into my glass. But generally I didn’t have my expectations set this high.

In business meetings you’re likely to have a similar experience. For example, if you ask for water, you’ll likely get it served one of two ways. The first is simply a warm bottle of water with a 20% / 80% chance of getting an accompanying glass. No problem, I man-up. The second is a glass of hot water. Sometimes the hot water will contain tea, and other times it won’t. Unlike business meetings in other countries, no cold beverages are served. Why?

The reason is cultural. Culturally, the Chinese have been raised on warm liquids. They’ve had it served to them in this manner all their life. Without Western influence, the only ice cube they’d likely see would be in a magazine. Parents generally taught their children early on that drinking cold liquids is bad for their stomachs, while other’s tried to be more “scientific” and told their children that cold liquids solidify fats in the stomach and can lead to digestive problems. However, one of the most common reasons for serving hot water was the ingrained habit of boiling water before drinking it to kill germs. That’s still not a bad practice as sometimes, in rural areas especially, I’ll take water from the teapot and “wash” my bowl and plate over another bowl with the hot water. Drinking tap water in China is, in my opinion, not an option unless you’re having a colonoscopy the next day and want to clean out your system. Otherwise, everyone usually drinks bottled or hot water or tea.

If you try and speak with Chinese about why they prefer hot liquids, most will pretty much tell you that it’s because they’ve been raised with the expectation that their liquids would be served hot, such as the habit of drinking hot tea with most meals. Most Chinese, in fact, don’t give a thought to the fact that a cold liquid quickly will go to body temperature once consumed, or that cold liquids don’t actually solidify fats in the stomach as the stomach contains acids that break down any solids. It’ natural for them to drink hot liquids because they’ve been raised that way. Many also believe in the yin and the yang of things and, as such, feel that cold water can disrupt the yin-yang balance in your body and cause sickness. The younger generation is more international in their outlook. They don’t buy that cold liquids are bad for you, but usually adhere to the practice of drinking hot liquids because that’s what their parents did and that’s the way they were raised. Eventually things will change in China and ice cubes and refrigerated drinks may become more a part of Chinese life. Until then, when you’re in China, don’t be surprised when you’re served hot liquids in Chinese restaurants and business meetings. That’s just another part of Chinese culture.


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