China is renowned all over the world for its wonderful tea. Chinese tea was originally intended for medicinal purposes until it eventually became one of several staple Chinese New Year drinks.
China is largely responsible for the popularity of tea culture worldwide. Tea is among the first things the Chinese offer their visitors and you won’t see it served as much as during the Chinese New Year.
Aside from relaxation, tea is also great for relieving hangovers – which is why it is only one of two of the most prominent Chinese New Year drinks. What is the other one? Wine!
The Wine Culture in China
As an agrarian society, the first alcoholic drinks in China were made of fermented grain. Not soon after, various ingredients were added including fruits and berries, flower petals, and milk.
Like tea, Chinese wine was often used for medicinal purposes. Alcohol was even referred to as the leader of all medicine. As a matter of fact, there are many prescriptions are still in use today after being scientifically proven for benefits.
But of course, alcohol is also used in China for socializing. Apparently, the Chinese like to get drunk. So much so that wine is consumed in practically every Chinese ceremony or event. Wine is offered to ancestors and gods, wine is drunk with new in-laws during weddings, and alcohol is virtually a staple in Chinese holidays.
Alcohol in Chinese Festivals
In Chinese, “alcohol” is a homophone of “long-lasting.” During festivals in China, people drink to everlasting happiness, friendships, and other wishes of longevity. There are even different drinks for specific Chinese holidays.
During the Dragon Boat Festival, you should indulge in sweet sedge wine. For the Double Nine Festival, chrysanthemum wine is the staple. As for the famous Chinese New Year, the prominent drink is niánjiǔ (年酒), which literally translates to “year alcohol.”
Chinese New Year Drinks
The most important dinner of the year is the feast on Chinese New Year’s Eve. A table may not have hot pot, spring rolls, or dumplings, but every Chinese household will almost certainly have wine.
In China, 16 and 17-year-olds are allowed to drink alcohol as part of a meal. In some regions, every member of the family has to at least take a sip of niánjiǔ on Chinese New Year as it is believed to provide protection from bad luck.
The Chinese drink during dinner and will continue to drink after the meal as they wait for the coming of midnight. Chinese New Year drinks will also be brought out when guests come over or when people pay New Year visits.
However, there isn’t a specific type of niánjiǔ. The drinks people consume may vary from household to household.
One of the most popular Chinese New Year drinks is baijiu or Chinese white wine. Baijiu has a clear color and is made of fermented sorghum – which is why it is also referred to as white sorghum wine. Baijiu can also be made of fermented cereal grains other than sorghum including wheat, barley, and glutinous rice.
Because of its high alcohol content, the closest comparison to baijiu is vodka. It can be bought in glass or ceramic bottles and is commonly consumed using a shot glass.
Tusu wine was the most popular type of niánjiǔ in Ancient China. The wine is also referred to as suìjiǔ, as “suì” is a synonym of “nián.”
Legend has it that in ancient times, a man would go around his neighborhood to give out bags of medicinal ingredients. He instructed his neighbors to soak the bag in water and drink it on New Year’s Day. They later discovered that the drink was able to protect them from the plague.
You can also check our article on interesting Chinese New Year myths to read more on the origin story of
Another thing that makes tusu wine even more interesting is its drinking order. Chinese customs would dictate that the eldest of the family should give their blessings and drink first. On the contrary, children are allowed to drink tusu wine first.
A scholar from the Jin Dynasty explained that children can go first because children grow a year older during the Spring Festival and this is something to celebrate about. On the other hand, there is nothing to commemorate when seniors lose another year.
This type of wine is essentially baijiu infused with flowers of Sichuan peppers and cypress tree leaves.
Jiao represents peace, health, and longevity. It is also served during the Spring Festival as an offering to ancestors and consumed to give New Year blessings.
Other Chinese New Year Drinks
Aside from other variants of wine such as red wine and rice wine, foreign drinks are also popular in China. If you are into beer, you can never go wrong with Tsingtao beer.
The country also houses 56 ethnicities, many of which are known to be fond of alcoholic beverages.
The Inner Mongolians love horse milk wine. Households of the Yao ethnicity even give a kilogram of grains to the community leader to make New Year celebration wine.
If you aren’t into getting drunk, there are also many varieties of Chinese tea to choose from. When you want to ease digestion after a heavy New Year’s Eve dinner, try Pu’er tea. Green tea and oolong tea are also great at relieving your stomach after eating greasy or oily food.
Aside from these Chinese New Year drinks, the holiday is also an avenue for the best Chinese New Year food.
The essence of the Spring Festival is to bring the family together and express one’s wishes and blessing for the new year. There is no better way of gathering your loved ones than preparing delectable food and drinks!