South China | A short guide to UNESCO-listed Herbal Tea

Herbal tea is healthy drink made exclusively of Chinese medicine herbs and does not contain any tea leaves (camelia sinensis). The most popular version of Chinese herbal tea is the ‘Wanglaoji’ (王老吉), which changed its name to Jiaduobao (家多宝). It is industrially made, very sweet and is sold in tin cans in stores and restaurants across China.

While traveling in southern China, specially in Guangdong province, Macau and Hong Kong, you may stumble upon little tea store that sell authentic herbal tea which can be purchased cold (凉茶), hot (热茶) or in a jello form (膏). Although some tea houses have a few tables inside, herbal tea is usually drunk on the spot or on the go.

Herbal tea was listed as UNESCO world intangible cultural heritage in 2006 and have medicinal properties. Chinese herbal tea is an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine.

A herbal tea store in Guangzhou

A herbal tea store in Guangzhou

Herbal tea in a nutshell

Again, herbal tea is not made of tea leaves. Rather, it is a mixture or concoction of medicinal herbs. There are many different kinds of herbal teas and each one has different medicinal properties and positive effects on your health.

They can, for example, alleviate flu symptoms, bring back the balance between yin and yang in your body, calm the heat, relieve the moist in your body, detoxify your lungs from pollution.

Herbal Tea, Hong Kong

A short guide to herbal tea

Herbal tea stores are easy to spot and most of them have a “menu” of all the different herbal tea they sell which describes the different health benefits each of them have.

Unfortunately, for the curious travelers who do not speak Chinese, there are written in Chinese only, and this is why I am writing this post.

I created this short guide where I include a short lexicon about the different health benefits (功效), so that you can make an informed choice next time you visit Hong-Kong, Macau or Guangzhou.

Herbal Tea, Hong Kong

About this herbal tea guide

I have been to several herbal tea stores and they all have different kinds of teas. My goal is more to focus on the lexicon of the health benefits (功效) that will allow you to recognize characters and choose a tea that may be helpful to you.
I did not translate the name of the teas, but gave a transliteration in Jyutping, which is the standard romanization system for Cantonese, a language spoken only in southern China’s Guangdong province, Hong Kong and Macau.

Note that if you see the character 膏 it means it is the jello form.
This guide does not constitute medical advice.

葛菜水 (got coi seoi)
清熱 : calm the heat of the body
祛濕 : relieve body moist
潤咽喉肝腎 : smoothen the throat (咽喉), the liver (肝) and kidney (腎)
煙酒過多 : to prescribed after smoking and drinking too much alcohol

百花蛇舌草 (baak faa se sit cou)
清熱 : calm the heat of the body
解毒 : detoxify
抗癌 : prevent cancer
防腫瘤 : protect against tumors

廿四味 (jaa sap mei)
清熱氣 : calm the heat of the body
清心火 : calm heart burn (caused by a predominance of Yang energy in the body)

感冒茶 (gam mou caa)
清熱氣 : calm the heat of the body
除感冒 : protect again flu and alleviate the symptoms of cold

竹蔗茅根马蹄甘筍汁 (zuk ze maau gan maa tai gam seon zap)
滋潤 : hydrate
解渴 : quench thirst
潤燥 : moisten the respiratory system

野蜜花旗参 (je mat faa kei sam)
補氣 : repair the qi
提神 : stimulate the mind
潤脾 : moisten the spleen
益肺 : benefit the lung

蜂蜜银菊露 (fung mat ngan guk lou)
清肝 : clean the liver
明目 : enhance vision

紫背天葵 (zi bui tin kwai)
清熱 : calm body heat
解渴 : quench thirst
止咳 : stop cough
化痰 : dissipate phlegm
散瘀 : fortify blood circulation
消腫 : reduce swelling

古方秘制笭膏 (gu fong bei zai gwai lim gou)
清熱 : calm body heat
排毒 : detoxify
美顏 : embellish hair
護膚 : protect the skin

火麻仁(zi bui tin kwai)
滋潤腸胃 : enhance digestive system

Taste and price

Herbal Tea, Hong Kong

I have tasted several; some are sweet, some are bitter and salty, or just bitter. It has very strong and distinctive smell and flavor.

Each tea has a set of price. A cup on the go (served in a ceramic bowl) is the cheapest; some people buy small or medium sized bottles to drink home. In most places you have the choice between hot (jit) or cold (dung).

The jello version is more expensive, usually served hot in a ceramic bowl. Seat down in the back of the shop to enjoy it.


There are 8 comments

  1. Vivian

    i just came back from hk. I can really guarantee those herbal tea have tremendous help to boost my health. They reduced my inflammation and really boost my immunity system. I keep coming back to them every single day. Try once and endure it even its bitter and you know the difference it made to your health. I have rheumatoid arthritis. Now i am back in Australia and hoping i can get the ingredients or recipe from chinese shop here to help me live my life back. My biggest problem is i can’t see my drink on the list. anyone knows what herbal tea name for the bone health ?

    1. Gaetan

      Hi! Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of that specific tea. Did you take a picture of the name of the tea in Chinese? That would be very helpful? I’m sure you can go to the Chinese shop and ask … they might know. Good luck!

  2. La Potosina

    I would love to travel to Hong Kong just to try this tea ritual but for the time being, I wonder if you know of any places or where I can find similar teas in the United States

    1. Gaetan

      Well, your best shot to sample herbal tea would be the nearest Chinatown. Herbal tea (凉茶) can be found only in southern China, specially Guangdong province, Hong Kong and Macau. So, you have to find Cantonese-speaking people and ask them where you can find some.
      Good luck and good herbal tea sampling!

    1. Gaetan

      When you qi is weak and when you have a deficiency of yin energy, herbal tea is here to fix it.
      Drinking a glass of herbal tea while visiting has definitely become part of the Hong Kong experience for me. Just do not drink them all at once 🙂

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