Any Westerner coming to China will quickly notice the contrast between liquids. In the West, restaurants serve their meals with a tall glass of cold water and in China meals are served with a small cup of hot water.
Hot water not only pervades the restaurant scene, but also other areas of life. Chinese people carry around portable mugs of hot water. When I first arrived in China back in August, this phenomenon really stood out to me. Construction workers were sweating under the hot sun during their breaks whilst drinking cups of hot water. The gym I joined offers complimentary cups of hot tea and water after your sweaty group exercise classes. Even after going to eat Sichuan food, which is some of the most spicy cuisine in the world, the waitresses will give you hot water when you’re sweating bullets.
After much discussion with my students on the Chinese hot water preference, I have been informed as to why the hot water conundrum exists. Many students agree that hot water is settling for the stomach and liquid going into your body should match the temperature of your body. Hot water is also believed to aid in digestion with all of the complex ingredients in Chinese cuisine. Chinese culture is rooted in finding harmony in all areas of life. Think of the ancient Chinese Yin and Yang concept. I’ve had some students describe cold water as very “unsettling” and “uncomfortable” for the stomach. I was also hearing this from many women. Which brings me to my next point.
During one of my classes yesterday, a student went onto further say that hot water is more suitable for women and cold water can be more suitable for men. In her words “men can handle cold water because it’s stronger and hot water is easier for women to handle.”
Sooo, now the temperature of liquid is prescribed gender roles?
While some students claim hot water is science based, my belief is that more of the hot water consumption comes from thousands of years of habit in Chinese culture. I mean hot tea did come from this culture, right?
It is interesting to note that some of my students are just as curious as the reason I carry around a large nalgene full of cold water. In my truest of opinions, I said that cold water is refreshing and makes me feel less dehydrated. I told them that I drink warm water/tea when I want to feel comforted or when it’s cold outside. I received nods and blank stares.
Why do you drink hot or cold water?