We have spent lots of time in China and we were annoyed in Beijing to find that tea in restaurants there is like wine in the west--definitely not free or nominally priced. We posted our Beijing, China Restaurant Reviews by ALEDM on the Chow website whining about this practice, saying:
"Unlike Chinese restaurants in most of the world, restaurants in Beijing do not normally bring tea (for free or at a reasonable price). Tea is on the menu in Beijing and a pot is about the same price as a vegetable dish (and can cost much, much more). We were appalled and really hate this custom. We learned that hot water is served free at restaurants and started ordering re shui (hot water), pronounced something like yur swey, unless the menu had what we considered a reasonably priced tea on it."
We got the following comment to our post:
"Having been to a number of restaurants you were at, almost all of them offer free tea, you simply have to request it (免费茶水) and you'll get it. They all have more expensive tea options for those who want it, but its rare that no free tea is offered."
Boy, are we sorry we didn't know that! To read the entire thread on the Chow site, click here.