How To Drink Baijiu

How To Drink Baijiu

When we visit another country, there are any number of different traditions and cultural proprieties that must be observed. China is no different, with this nation placing a great deal of pride in their heritage.

One of the key elements of ingratiating oneself with the Chinese is the consumption of alcohol. To be more, specific, baijiu.

While this may initially appear daunting to a novice drinker, Chinese traditions surrounding alcohol are actually very relaxed. A Chinese national will not quiz you on different brands of baijiu, and laugh if you order a brand that is not considered to be elite.

There is no snobbery surrounding the alcohol industry in China, and no pretension. You will not be judged if you’re intoxicated, either – most natives of China will clap you on the back and appreciate your willingness to put yourself out there and join their festivities.

How To Drink Baijiu: What to Expect in China

Whilst China is fairly free and easy surrounding alcohol, offering no judgment on those who become inebriated, there are unwritten rules and social cues in place. The most pivotal is that you accept a drink that is offered, especially if you have been toasted. Refusing to drink after this is deemed to be the height of rudeness.

If you plan to do business in China, skip breakfast. Many meetings take place over the dinner table in this nation, and where there’s a banquet there is baijiu. An old Chinese proverb claims that, “you cannot set the table without wine”, and that’s an etiquette that still stands today. Baijiu is an omnipresent part of Chinese culture, and is often paired with a regional dish. (See: What Food Goes Well With Baijiu?)

If invited to dinner in China, it’s hugely important that you show the appropriate respect. Hospitality is pivotal to a Chinese national. Most dining tables are round, and the host or most senior diner will be expected to take the seat at the ‘head’ of the table.

In Chinese culture, this means the seat with the most direct line of sight to the door. If you absentmindedly perch in such a seat, your meal will be off to a bad start before you even start. Ignorance is no excuse – you will have committed a substantial social sin. If in doubt, wait to be seated by a host.

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How To Drink Baijiu: How to Receive Chinese Alcohol

Never attempt to refill your own glass while at a Chinese meal, unless you have provided with an individual supply of alcohol. Instead, wait for a host to full your glass for you. Once they have done so, tap one finger on the table. This is a gesture of acknowledgment and gratitude.

Also, do not panic when your glass is filled to the brim. This is custom in China; Raising one hand and saying, “when” will get you nowhere. In Chinese dining custom, an overflowing glass is a sign that are a welcome guest in the home or territory of your host.

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How To Drink Baijiu: Toasting in China

Your host will always raise their glass first in Chinese custom. This will be followed by a few words that offer wishes of health, wealth and happiness, in addition to thanking guests for attending the event.

Once the host has completed their duties, all members of the table are expected to clink glasses. If the banquet table is particularly sizable, this may be unrealistic. In such an event, tapping your glass against an object in the middle of the table is an acceptable substitute.

What really matters, as we have mentioned, is that you empty your glass upon being toasted. Now, baijiu can be rather potent, so brace yourself for that! There will be no escape, or any opportunity for pretense. Once you have emptied your glass, you will be expected to present it to your fellow diners as evidence that you have embraced their hospitality.

The only exception to this rule is in Northern China, where baijiu is served in teacups. It’s at your discretion how much you drink in such a setting, but know that your dinner guests will notice if you opt to merely sip. In the South, baijiu is more likely to be served in a thimble-sized shot glass with a cry of, “gan bei!” This means, “empty the glass”, and you will be expected to do just that. (See: Ganbei! Through The Ages)

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How To Drink Baijiu: Drinking with Dinner

If the idea of drinking baijiu throughout a meal makes you panic, there is no need to despair. You will be welcome to sip on more conventional beverages, such as beer or even soft drinks, while eating.

Water is advisable here, because baijiu will remain present for toasting – and you may be toasted at any time! As we have said, refusing this toast is hugely inadvisable. You may have to make a judgment call at some point – whether you are prepared to risk causing offense over taking yet another drink. That’s your decision to make. Just remember that you are not just politely saying no to a drink in the mind of your hosts. You are snubbing an essential element of their culture. (See: What Food Goes Well With Baijiu?)

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How To Drink Baijiu: The Mixing and Infusion of Baijiu

We have discussed the use of alcohol as a social lubricant in Chinese culture, but it’s also a very prominent ingredient in the country’s medication. You may find that your drink contains ingredients linked to traditional Chinese health.

This could range from such inoffensive fare such as goji berries and ginseng to the testicles or antlers of a deer, or the hide of a snake. You will need to swallow down any squeamish tendencies when offered such a concoction – and you may be surprised at their positive impact. The rougher edges of baijiu can be smoothed out with fruits or berries that create a unique taste.

You may also be offered a baijiu cocktail, though this is rare in China. Baijiu is such an important part of the nation’s culture that deliberately masking its scent and potency is greeted with suspicion. However, as attempts are made to create a global audience for baijiu, distillers are prepared to experiment.

If in doubt as to how to act while eating and drinking with Chinese nationals, follow the lead if your host. Accepting and embracing hospitality is hugely important in China, and you can rarely go wrong by acting as a grateful and flexible guest. Remember, though, offense cannot be given – it can only taken. Bear this in mind when considering how to react to Chinese generosity.

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