It’s time to end this brief excursion into some of the persistent myths that are still assumed about Russian culture. Some ‘mud’ sticks and is difficult to shake off -even in our ongoing age of information. Whilst our technologies change, it often appears that the weak link is still “us”; keen to spread our lazy myths and half truths faster and more efficiently via new, super-charged means rather than disseminate a “truer” version of the truth. As ever we are the weak link in the chain of communication! -but let’s continue.

“Russians: are gloomy, never laugh, aren’t friendly”

We’ve covered this subject relatively recently in the All Smiles and Laughter article, so there’s no need to reproduce it here. These perceptions have a place though as they are still some of the most  persistent and misguided “go to” assessments of Russian people.

I’m in frequent contact with a few of them, and have also dealt superficially with others. Logically this means I should know something rather than nothing. The key factor is the invisible barrier that separates those who are “in” (friends, family, colleagues, close acquaintances etc) with those who are “out” (essentially: strangers). I think it’s fair to say that they don’t “do” superficiality, so a disposable “have a nice day” culture doesn’t exist in Russia at all, in fact it’s bizarre to them. So, as a stranger, expect something akin to the coldness of the Russian winter. As a friend, expect all the shared warmth of the traditional Russian hearth. Transcending the wall between the two is the problem.

Paradoxically though; if, as stranger, you approach a Russian on the street for directions in St.Petersburgh (for example), it’s very likely that you will receive considered and useful assistance. So it’s not an issue of hostility, just the requirement of something ‘solid’ at the heart of the exchange. Finally, you may of course meet an unpleasant individual; we’ve all got them – have you been to England?

White, towering and Slavic

Yes, whilst you will find this phenotype whilst travelling through Russia, particularly on the European side, all Russian and Siberian inhabitants are not all cut from the same cloth. With 160 to 190+ separate peoples dwelling within the collosal Russian federation, you will find a wide diversity of looks, beliefs and traditions: even if you are of a mind that “they all look the same to me”. Expect Asiatic features, those resembling first-nation Americans, the aforementioned towering Slavs and more.

Boiled meat, potatoes and vegetarians

“But what am I going to eat in Russia?”. No, Russians don’t survive on boiled cabbage and gruel, slabs of boiled meat, or other barely processed chunks of rudimentary nutrition. The image of pre-revolution peasant food still prevails in some quarters but the reality is a lot more sophisticated, accommodating and frankly: delicious. Oh, and you won’t have to stand in a bread queue either.

Incidentally, as To Discover Russia points out: peasant and courtier food did not necessarily differ as wildly as we might assume:-

“In Russia, the difference between peasant and the prince’s food was not particularly noticeable. It was rather expressed in the amount and availability of food on a table rather than its form. With the emergence of privileged classes, on which a prince could rely, Russian food culture became different for different classes.”

If you haven’t tried Russian food, then you really should; the available range and quality is enticing to say the least, whatever your budget. I arrived in St. Petersburg expecting to buy and cook my own food, but then I discovered Stolovaya No 1; a chain of canteens where the food is so cheap (as in price not quality), varied and tasty that I didn’t have to touch the cooker for the entire stay. Expect salads, meat and fish dishes, soups, desserts, drinks (alcoholic and otherwise), snacks, vegetarian dishes, breads – anything in fact that you could reasonably want.

As you move up the financial scale then expect more of the same, perhaps with nicer wallpaper. To be honest I didn’t patronise the more upmarket establishments – except for an inflated price-tag coffee that left me feeling even more detached than usual. Ok, I prefer venues that are a little more ‘real’, but each to their own.

Food and drink have been vital parts of Chinese society and culture for centuries, a fact that has made Chinese food famous all over the world. You’ll be surprised by just how diverse the food and drink scene is on your upcoming trip to China, with the range and variety of ingredients available something you may not have experienced before, even if you’re a fan of Chinese cuisine at home. The Chinese culture offers a never-ending supply of delicious dishes to sample, but one place where you enjoy Chinese flavours at their most authentic has to be at a street food stall.

Street food is synonymous with Chinese culture. Although the street food scene is one of a kind, travellers often need to pay attention to what they’re eating. If you’re travelling to China with food intolerances or allergies, you may have more reasons to exercise caution when sampling street food. Awareness about food allergies is improving in China. Allergies or not, following these dos and don’ts will help you negotiate Chinese street food safely and enjoyably.

Do forget everything you know about street food

Street food stalls are full of cheap eats, making them perfect for travellers of all budgets. Contrary to popular belief, the cheap and cheerful Chinese street food available is actually some of the freshest around. The vendors selling street food have to prepare it quickly, and thanks to the hustle and bustle of most Chinese markets, food items don’t tend to stick around for long. That being said, those that aren’t particularly strong of stomach and people that are still worried about food hygiene would be better off avoiding meat snacks and raw food items, especially in the height of summer. Cooked classics, such as dumplings, pancakes, and fried goods, tend to be the safest options (and often the tastiest!).

Don’t forget to exercise caution when drinking too

As well as watching what you eat, being aware of what you’re drinking is also important, especially if that drink is water. TripSavvy offers some great advice for drinking water in China:

“Yes, you shouldn’t drink tap water anywhere in China, but this doesn’t mean that what you’ll see coming out of the pipes is brown or has chunks of garbage floating in it. Shanghai’s problem lies in the pipes that deliver the water. Many are frightfully old or damaged so groundwater seeps in or nasties from the pipes themselves get involved in the water, so by the time it reaches your mouth from the tap, it’s best not to drink it. The water can be boiled or filtered and should be okay. The safest bet is to drink bottled water wherever you go.”

Do look out for the signs of a great reputation

How long the queue for food is at a street food stall can be vital indicator of whether the food is good to eat. Chinese street markets are popular with tourists and locals alike so if you see lots of people queuing, especially if they look like local people, join the line.

Chinese street markets don’t just sell great food, they also give you the chance to shop until you drop. Read our China shopping guide and indulge in some retail therapy on your upcoming trip.

In this post we challenge more myths about what the Russians “are” or “are not”. We are swamped with stereotypes that catch our attention and become permanently associated with their subject, preceding any further information. The flip-side is that there is often a solid element of truth in there somewhere; as a pearl lost in the mud. We’ll also touch on some of those in an attempt to separate both sides.

Siberia (and/or Russia) is absolutely freezing!

Well: yes; but only in winter! The “cold” thing has particularly stuck with Siberia and is almost guaranteed to surface if you ask a westerner to tell you anything they know about the region. The temperature differential across Siberia as a whole is almost 100℃, with a range from -70℃ to +27℃ recorded at either extreme, although no single point experiences such a contrast.

Those misleading extremes are due to the sheer size of Siberia permitting many truths to be true in their own specific regions. For example, one of the most moderate locales; Petropavlovsk, typically experiences a modest fluctuation between -8℃ and +12℃. Ojmjakon however -which did achieve the -70℃ record- typically oscillates between -46℃ and +13℃ across the year, so location (as with the housing market) is a critical factor. The wild claim, “absolutely freezing!” solidifies into a more realistic, “much colder on average” – which isn’t such a punchy headline of course.

The other important factor to bear in mind is the weather pattern across the seasonal cycle. Whereas we are used to an evenly shifting climate that keeps pace with each 3 month season, the wintery weather in Russia seems disproportionately extended (by our standards), lasting about 6 months alone. Their “normal”, after all, is not ours and vice versa.

The alcohol/vodka thing

No the streets aren’t awash with raging drunks, despite what your consumption of YouTube clips appear to convey. There is a real chance that you’ll put your foot in your mouth over this (instead of the vodka) as it can be a sensitive subject. Would we like to be considered a nation of drunks? Probably not, so similarly, casual references to them getting tanked on vodka, may not be appreciated. One of the great loves of Russia is tea; they have a whole tradition of samovars to prove it. Coffee too.

Then there is Kvass of course, a summer favourite fermented from rye bread. The fermentation process gives the brew an alcohol content of around 1%, and it’s been drunk by adults and children alike for centuries. Mors is a berry-based drink, again fermented to around 1% and Kompot is a non-alcoholic, slow-boiled fruit/berry combination. There are more, but you get the idea, it’s not all vodka or even alcohol per se.

However, it’s fair to say that they do take their drink seriously when they do partake -and they drink more units on average than us too. Significantly, there is also a higher incidence of ‘binge’ drinking -considered the most damaging way to drink. Alcohol has always been a significant part of Russian culture though, with strong traditions associated with it; never leaving an opened bottle unfinished, always placing empties on the floor, the tradition of ‘toasting’ etc. It’s also fair to say that coming out of the Communist years, alcohol (along with cigarettes) was (and is) a primary contributor to male mortality, with 37% of men dying before the age of 55 as late as 2006. This figure then proceeded to shift to a less-appalling (but still dreadful) 25%, though the mortality varies according to the state of the country at any given time.

Better times

It’s a problem that still exists today although there has been a marked improvement. They -as a nation- still drink, but the last ten years has seen death rates due to alcohol (directly or otherwise) fall by a remarkable 50% -and that’s a conservative estimate, according to the WHO.

The BBC’s Reality Check site references their study, whilst contending a much higher stated reduction in mortality:-

“If you look at figure 3.9 in this publication you will see a downward trend but nothing like 80% over five years. The more dramatic fall has been in death rates from alcohol use among Russian men, which chart 3.10 suggests have been cut by about 50% in the last decade.”

Anecdotally; I didn’t see one drunk staggering around St. Petersburg, mind you: the police would have given them short shrift if they had dared to “let it all hang out” in public.

Previous post


We come to the end of our festive season and arrive at the start of Russia’s annual holidays. So, from somewhere in the middle we say: Best regards for the new year! Thanks to all the clients and interested parties throughout the last 12 months. See you after the chaos has subsided and start planning your trip to Russia 2019!

Spring roll

Whether to visit Shanghai or Beijing is one of the most common debates for people travelling to China. Although the majority of people travelling with us don’t have to choose between these two great destinations, for food lovers the Shanghai dining scene sees this Chinese city end up on top almost every time. As the mainland’s most cosmopolitan city, Shanghai offers a food lover’s paradise for people of all tastes and budgets.

From its street food treats to its Michelin star cuisine, the city is one of the top places to experience regional Chinese food at its best. Dine like a local in Shanghai on your upcoming China trip with the following insider tips direct from our team.

Sample the king of Shanghai street eats

You can’t visit Shanghai without experiencing its street food scene. Street food is an integral part of Asian culture, but in Shanghai there’s one food item that is the king of street eats. Shanghai dumplings come in all shapes and sizes, and with all manner of fillings. The xiao long bao is the most common on the street and in the many dim sum restaurants lining each and every Shanghai district. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Managing Culinary Director at Serious Eats, shares his love for xiao long bao:

“This is the meal I’ve been waiting for—the main reason I felt compelled to make my wife re-visit Shanghai, in fact. Ever since having my first taste of a Xiao Long Bao—variously referred to as ‘soup dumplings’ or ‘juicy steamed buns’ on American Chinese menus—I’ve yearned to taste them at the source in Shanghai. Why the love? Well, if you’ve yet to experience XLB (as those cool kids in the know like to refer to them in tweets), they’re made by gently folding a gelatin-rich filling into a thin round of stretchy wheat dough.”

Don’t forget the noodles

When talking about iconic Shanghai eats, you can’t overlook the city’s noodle dishes. Like dumplings, Shanghai noodles are found in a variety of flavours throughout the city, with many noodles hand pulled to ensure the best texture and taste.

Whether you love salty, sweet or a mixture of both, you’re certain to find a noodle dish for you. Shanghai fried noodles are popularly served across many street markets providing a hearty vegetable and meat combination. In more well-to-do eateries, it’s scallion oil noodles that are the must-try.

Discover where East meets West

Unlike many Chinese towns and cities, Shanghai has a strongly international feel and this influences the food and drink it serves, particularly at breakfast time. Breakfast in Shanghai offers just as much of an experience as dinner, with its authentic street breakfast and decadent, restaurant-served brunch both delivering powerful insights. Think sweet and savoury steamed buns, Chinese crepes, fried dough sticks and sesame seed pastries, and try not to drool!

Enjoy afternoon tea in a fabulous setting

Although synonymous with British culture, the UK isn’t the only place that observes afternoon tea. We know that the Chinese love their tea, but afternoon tea in Shanghai is an experience all its own. Many top restaurants and hotels throughout the city host afternoon tea, offering British high tea customs with a classic Chinese tea culture twist. First time in Shanghai, or China as a whole? Check out these top tips and plan your itinerary to perfection.

Chinese dining

When visiting a country and experiencing a culture that isn’t your own, one thing that really makes trips memorable is enjoying food and drinks that you aren’t familiar with.

It doesn’t matter which part of China you choose to visit; it’s really important to step outside your comfort zone and sample a little of everything. But it’s not just visiting a local tea house that will make your experience extra interesting. Dining out should be an essential part of any itinerary, but just as the food items on offer differ so too does the dining etiquette.

Unlike the way most cultures use food, Chinese dining is full of traditions, a fact that makes eating out at a real, local restaurant in China particularly daunting for many visitors. Here, we take a closer look at the Chinese dining etiquette rules that every visitor needs to know, so you can dine with complete confidence and enjoy some of the best food around.

Let your host do the hard work

When it comes to dining like a local, your host will be in charge of most of your dining experience. Ordering is a biggie in any Chinese restaurant. But in many cases taking advice from the host or simply showing up and eating whatever is put in front of you is the way to go. Be prepared for a feast though, many Chinese dinners consist of around 10 courses.

As a guest you do have a vital role to play, even if you’re not charged with ordering your own food. You must dress well for dinner and always arrive on time, particularly when dining in formal settings.

Service is by age and authority

If you’re dining as a group, be prepared to wait if you’re eating with older relatives or party members. How you’re served in a real Chinese restaurant comes down to your age and status within your family or party. This means your grandparents, or older members of your group will be served first, and then your father, mother, aunts and uncles, before you and the rest of your group even gets a look in. The same serving strategy applies when drinking Chinese tea.

Whether eating food or drinking tea, the seating arrangements of your dinner party are also dictated by your seniority. Elderly guests tend to be given the coveted title of guest of honour. The guest of honour has special status at any Chinese dinner. If your guest of honour is not seated, other guests must stand. If they haven’t begun eating, you can’t tuck in either.

There is such thing as chopstick etiquette

Your eating utensils must be used respectfully. Whilst most people are aware that chopsticks must be placed to the side of the bowl, not in the bowl, when taking a break from eating, there are many more rules relating to their use. TripSavvy explains the main don’ts in Chinese chopstick etiquette:

“Remember, even though chopsticks are fun for people who didn’t grow up using them daily, they are eating utensils! Would you spin, tap, play drums, bang together, or point at something with your fork and knife at home? Doing any of these things will brand you as an uncivilized amateur. Do not use your chopsticks to point at food or for gesturing in the air while talking. This is an easy mistake to absentmindedly make while complimenting a particular dish. Do not leave your chopsticks pointing directly at someone across the table. Angle them slightly. Do not click your chopsticks together to make a noise, use them as drumsticks, or to move anything other than food.”

Want more handy Chinese dining etiquette advice ahead of your trip? Read this essential guide for further information.

Russian dolls

Let’s dispel a few myths and misunderstandings about Russia, and perhaps confirm a few others too. If only such matters were like flicking a switch, then life would be so much simpler – but arguably not so interesting. There’s problem with the resolute “on” or “off” approach to such matters: that reality is often complicated and there’s usually some skewed kernel of truth at the centre of a long-held stereotype or misplaced presumption. Alternately, perhaps there was a truth that is no more, but it became so iconic that it simply stuck.

I’m a Brit and I don’t know anyone who goes to work in a bowler hat, suited, with an umbrella and a copy of The Times. However this describes an archetypal look that was once common (with variations) to certain middle class male office workers (usually bankers) in the City of London financial district from the 1930s – 1960s. By the 1980s this style had largely disappeared -and it only described a sub-percentile proportion of the working population in any case. However it  became so iconic that it is still instantly recognisable today. Expect similar leftovers and hanger-ons when dealing with Russian “myths” or indeed: legends: Ushanka hats with red Soviet stars, for example.

Those are not “Babushka Dolls”

Those concentric dolls so typically associated with Russia are not “Babushka” – meaning “Grandmother” or “old woman” dolls. Instead, they are called variously: Matryoshka, Matroschka, Matrushka, Matreshka – or variations thereof, in an attempt to Anglicise their original Russian title.

The term has its origins in “mat” -Russian for “mother” combined with “Matrona” (meaning ‘matron’), and also a popular Russian name at the time of the doll’s inception in the late 19th Century. Finally the “ka” at the end of the name denotes a diminutive form, commonly used to refer affectionately to the subject as a “little” (whatever). So, literally a “Matrioshka” is a “little matron”. Incidentally I’ve also heard that the idea was adapted from a nesting Japanese figurine of the sage Fukurama – but that’s another story.

“They” are not Communists

Having asked my tour guide what she thought of the Bolsheviks, I received the reply: “I hate them!”. Others talk of needed reform prior to 1990, or remark on their chosen separation between themselves and those in power during the final Communist years. I still have not spoken with any Russian who considers himself a Communist, though arguably a true Russian Communist may not seek to speak with a westerner in any case.

Russia officially abandoned Communism nearly 30 years ago, with Yeltsin making the Communist Party (as was) illegal in 1991 after the infamous coup attempt against the new government in August of that year. Today Russia runs under a system that we could perhaps describe as democracy/capitalism light; embracing a high degree of movement towards western values but still retaining certain elements and parallels with the previous bureaucracy; -old baggage by any other name.

The process still smacks of transition, or of falling between two stools. Perhaps if Russia hadn’t been burnt by it’s adoption of western values then things may now be different. However, in 1993 a new Communist party was formed: the CPRF. This remains the largest opposition party in Russia today, gaining roughly 40% of the vote. Naturally this indicates that a lot of Communists supporters still remain. Sure enough there are a contingent of people, usually older, who simply want the relative security of “the old days” back again, but the future isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

“The Russians want…”

This may also manifest as “Russia wants…”, the Russian’s are…” etc. In fact any I’m referring to any semi-informed statement that attempts to turn a massive diverse nation and its government into a single, homogenised entity. First and foremost, the people are not the government and the government are not the people just like your country. As far as politics are concerned; yes there will always be party supporters who have “drunk the Kool-aid”, but there are millions more who have not.

I have even heard comments from a Russian, stating that “we” (the people) keep away from the politicians (and politics) simply because they don’t trust them (it). The political classes are often considered to be rampantly corrupt and interested in personal acquisition above all other considerations, especially the lives of the population.

Russia does not only contain towering, white Slavs. There are still over 40 “recognised” ethnic tribes in SIberia; with darker skin and distinctive Asiatic features – although the number of individuals within them can be perilously low.

There are also former members of various ex-Soviet satellite states that have migrated to the motherland; thereby adding more to cultural diversity. The uniform “Russia” that supposedly wants X.Y or Z on the world stage, are members of the incumbent russian government who individually may have little resonance with the people in the streets outside (except those diehard followers of course).

Next post

Hong Kong night market

As a leading provider of Trans-Siberian rail journeys, we’ve been responsible for taking travellers to some of the most fascinating destinations on the planet. As well as helping you explore Russia, Mongolia, China and Vietnam, our trips to Hong Kong deliver sights, sounds and experiences that you won’t forget in a hurry. There are many reasons why we love Hong Kong. From its stunning skyline and intriguing culture to its vibrancy and international flair, there’s much to admire. Its markets also provide a captivating insight into local life on this stunning island.

Visiting a market is a must when travelling to Hong Kong, but with so many markets to choose from finding the right one to top off your experience isn’t easy. Discover the best Hong Kong markets and make the itinerary of your upcoming Trans-Siberian trip extra special and truly authentic.

Temple Street Night Market

At its most active after 8pm, Temple Street Night Market is a must visit and a foodie’s paradise. One of the best places to eat in Hong Kong, here you’ll get to sample some of the most authentic cuisine around. It’s not just foodies that will be left completely satisfied (and not to mention full) after this market experience. As well as being an open kitchen, the market is home to Canton singing houses, fortune tellers and herbalists.

Ladies Market

Don’t be dissuaded from visiting this market if you’re a man. The Ladies Market is open to both ladies and gentlemen, and is in fact the city’s most famous street market. Sporting the typical hustle and bustle of any Asian market, the Ladies Market on Tung Choi Street sells clothes as well as trinkets. It’s also home to the city’s ‘knock-offs’ as Culture Trip describes:

“Yes, designer fakes are openly sold here – mostly handbags and wallets. Of course, the selling of counterfeits is illegal in Hong Kong, and the market has been subject to raids in the past. As a result, many vendors of fake goods won’t openly display their wares, but put out catalogs and only fetch what you’re interested in – you may even be asked to go a back room to check out the goods… Be sure to haggle! Unfortunately, foreigners are bound to be quoted outrageous prices compared to locals. Don’t be afraid to ask for 25% or even 50% off the original asking price and haggle up from there.”

Cat Street

If antiques and collectables are more your thing, then you just have to head to Cat Street. With vendors selling jade, coins and old Chinese memorabilia, Cat Street is the perfect place to pick up a unique present or something interesting to decorate your own mantelpiece. The market is conveniently situated next to Hollywood Road, a location known as the home of some of the greatest Chinese collectables and antiques on the planet.

Flower Market

Looking for an Instagram-worthy spot to snap some pics for your profile? Hong Kong is full of picturesque settings, but the Flower Market in Prince Edward has to be the prettiest. It’s the largest market of its kind in the city. Its range of exotic plants and flowers attracts huge crowds of visitors and locals, especially as the Lunar New Year approaches and people shop for luck-bringing blooms. Enjoy the colours and aroma of this beautiful street market, even if you don’t end up buying anything.

smile

Following last week’s language fragments, yes: we can safely conclude that you really should learn some Russian to get the most out of your trip. Locals will appreciate that you have taken the effort to converse with them in their native tongue. Here are a couple more fragments that keep cropping up, and some of the advice that is given in response.

The smile thing. It’s another old chestnut that still keeps coming up. Perhaps this is a good sign; anyone that’s looked into Russian life and culture, even superficially, will know that they do smile, but the convention is markedly different. Therefore, continued enquiries into the subject must logically mean that there are new people who are taking an interest. Therefore, great!

Here in the west, the smile is a disposable commodity that, frankly, often means very little – such is it’s ubiquity. We throw smiles and platitudes around with abandon, ask, “How are you?”, with little interest in actually contemplating the answer. Interaction is often ritualised procedure, acts devoid of much meaning – or “superficiality” by any other name. It’s something that those from the east find disillusioning about our culture at best and irritating at worst.

The crucial difference is that in Russia, a smile means more – think of it as a small gift or token perhaps. It has value and means more than in our disposable culture. Therefore, the Russian smile is reserved for encounters that have more significance than a, “Have a nice day!” – handed out with all the sincerity of an automated announcement. Yes, you may find a Russian smile out on the street but it won’t be without appropriate “provocation” or reason, and certainly not to random, unconnected strangers. Once you have transcended the stranger barrier and have been accepted, then, welcome to a whole new world of Russian smiles, naturally (although they still don’t indulge quite as much as we do).

As Olga Khazan states on The Atlantic’s site:-

“…grinning without cause is not a skill Russians possess or feel compelled to cultivate. There’s even a Russian proverb that translates, roughly, to laughing for no reason is a sign of stupidity.”

So, If you do take your western superficiality abroad, and walk around St.Petersburg beaming at everyone, then you’ll look:

A.) Like a tourist (and perhaps attract the wrong kind of attention).

B.) Very suspicious (and perhaps attract the wrong kind of attention).

I’d certainly be very wary of displaying this overtly western behaviour when out in the provinces and/or away from tourist-town.

So, stay safe, stay smart: don’t smile! (without a ‘good’ reason).

The laugh thing. Whilst on the subject of dubious displays of levity, let’s talk about laughter. Russian’s don’t laugh, right? Having made a few Russian connections, I can safely say that Russians do laugh, dare I say ‘a lot’, and they really mean it too. Again, the circumstances are extremely relevant. Out on the street in the cold light of day, you are unlikely to see many explosions of hilarity. It’s very similar in principle to the ‘rules’ governing wayward smiles, if you transgress. Additionally, you may also look ‘vulgar’, as loud, boorish behaviour is considered impolite, and uncultured.

However, I find that I often have “quite a hoot” with my Russian and Ukrainian chums, especially as -by chance- we share a slightly darker sense of humour, and that (fortunately) is a “thing” -in Russian circles, particularly.

Smile carefully, beware of unnecessary laughter.

Previous post

Chinese tea

Drinking tea is a tradition embedded in Chinese culture. As one of the oldest beverages on the planet, Chinese tea has had centuries to evolve. The long history behind Chinese tea means there’s a brilliant backstory and heritage to explore, and a vast selection of tea varieties to try.

Although there are four basic types of Chinese tea – black, green, oolong, and white – at last count there were more than 2,000 specialist varieties of Chinese tea. A figure that means you’re certain to be drinking a lot of tea on your upcoming trip to China. To ensure you don’t get overwhelmed by the many types of Chinese tea available, we’ve devised a handy list of the most popular Chinese tea varieties to try so you can sample the best of the best.

Longjing

Known as ‘Dragon Well Tea’, this popular Chinese green tea is perfect for those with a sweet tooth and a gentle palette. An essential part of Hangzhou culture in particular, Longjing tea isn’t the cheapest or the easiest to access, eager tea drinkers have to wait up to 10 hours for its preparation.

Unlike many Chinese tea varieties, Longjing tea leaves can be eaten afterwards. Known as the ‘tea of emperors’, Longjing also has a fascinating history to explore, as The Right Tea explains:

“This green tea is indeed a world full of elegance, benefits and history, starting with its name. This Chinese tea is also known as Dragon Well tea, and there is more than one legend to explain this mysterious name. According to one version, in ancient times, people believed that a dragon lived in the village well, controlling the rainfall. They would actually visit the well and pray for rain. Another legend says that the name Longjing is both the name of a water spring and the name of a temple, where monks planted tea trees.”

Tieguanyin

Looking for something fruitier? Then Tieguanyin, or “Iron Goddess”, tea is the right choice for you. This oolong tea variety is produced and consumed in Anxi County in the Fujian province, and demonstrates the raw quality that Chinese tea is known for. As with any good Chinese tea, Tieguanyin is hours in the making, undergoing eight processes in total (namely plucking, sun withering, cooling, tossing, withering, fixation, rolling, and drying) before it’s served.

Keemun

Another fruity tea choice, Keemun tea may have the shortest history on our most popular list. It was first produced some 137 years ago but it was an innovative step forward for Anhui, the eastern Chinese region it originates from. Before its production, the region only had green tea – with this fruity, flowery, dried plum black tea now the exception to this rule.

Lu’an Melon Seed

We’re staying in Anhui for the next variety. Native to Lu’an City, Lu’an Melon Seed offers a bitterness and sweetness that’s favoured by many. The tea’s name comes from the shape of the tea leaves, which resemble a melon seed thanks to their flat and oval nature. Lu’an Melon Seed isn’t just tasty, it’s thought to have health benefits too. This variety is actually used by locals to prevent sunstroke.

Whatever type of Chinese tea takes your fancy, enjoying the experience of drinking your tea in an authentic Chinese tea house is a must. Read our guide to visiting a Chinese tea house before you go.