Two beverages with an international reputation, each of them a centuries-old tradition entwined with national identity and lifestyle. (Though, consuming one of them may get you pulled over by traffic cops.)
In Hong Kong, I’ve realized the deeper, historic correlation between Czech beer and Chinese tea. Both, it turns out, flourished as a reliable alternative to drinking water, which was often polluted.
As Czech-beer connoisseur Evan Rail has explained, “Water was contaminated in the Middle Ages, but beer was almost always safe … Soldiers often drank beer for the same reason.”
Likewise, in China, the process of boiling water for tea was viewed as necessary for a health ier life. I see this in Hong Kong, as I’ve heard mixed opinions about whether tap water is safe to drink. My apartment manager says no, but I’ve already drunk plenty elsewhere – and feel fine.
But it’s in the restaurants where this belief stands out. In the States, a waiter will automatically bring you a glass of cold water. Here, it’s a cup of hot tea – or glass of hot water. On my first night, we were served hot water, and my companion then requested ice. It was served in a tall glass, with a spoon for scooping. (Of course I wondered: where’d the ice come from, tap water?)
I’ve now grown accustomed to the oddity of drinking hot water. I just close my eyes and imagine I’m drinking tea … a very, very weak tea.