Korean summers in a word: thirsty.
I'm not much of a soft drink person, and tend to avoid sugary convenience store drinks. Still, when the temperature has climbed to the point where stepping out my door is akin to opening an oven door, I need refreshment. Like, every 5 minutes.
Korean marts have zillions of drinks, ranging from the familiar (Coca Cola) to the odd (black bean tea, which I didn't have the balls to sample in this experiment). I've culled a selection of uniquely Korean drinks for a taste-test. Thirsty? Read on. Also, don't laugh at the wallpaper by my desk.
It looks like some kind of iced tea, which I always love. Ingredients include oolong tea, ginseng, and something that translated on Babelfish as "tangerine mouth."
The Look: Overbrewed green tea
The Smell: Sourdough bread
The Taste: Earthy and wheaty, like the mildest beer ever brewed. It's not at all sweet and definitely tastes healthy, like a homeopathic elixir from an oriental medicine clinic. For all I know, it could be curative. I imagine it would be good served hot, like barley tea.
Surprise!: This was the first drink I sampled after sweating my way home from the convenience store. It is thirst quenching, I'll give it that.
The Verdict: Probably an acquired taste. Still, I wouldn't pass it up on a hot day.
The Look: Pale green and cloudy.
The Smell: Very sweet! Like Sprite.
The Taste: Sugary and a bit grassy. It's slippery going down, with the pieces of aloe floating around. I'm sure the sugar kick comes in handy if you're sweaty and dehydrated. I couldn't find a brand that was 100% juice, and I wonder how different a pure juice would be.
Surprise!: I thought the gobs of aloe would be squishy like tapioca in bubble tea. They're crisp and sweet like bits of apple. Thumbs up!
The Verdict: Yes yes yes. I'm sure it's jacked with more sugar than juice, but it's darn tasty.
I've had a version of this traditional sweet rice drink before in my school cafeteria. It was aggressively sweet then, but hey, cafeteria food isn't exactly a hallmark of cuisine, right? Round two.
The Look: Murky puddle.
The Smell: It's a malty, molasses smell, like dark beer.
The Taste: Still cloying at first, but the aftertaste is pretty nice, like toasted rice. That sounds weird, considering the drink is ice cold, but I don't mind it.
Surprise!: There's a good tablespoon's worth of rice floating around at the bottom, which amps up the nutrition I guess. In the name of science, I sampled a spoonful. Don't. Eat. The. Rice. It's like wet newspaper. Just swallow them in a glug if you want the energy.
The Verdict: I bet it would hit the spot on a hike when you want some calories to keep you going. For everyday? Meh.
I've never seen anyone buy or drink Milkis, but the can is pretty cute. There have been great marriages before between dairy and fizz, right? Root beer floats? American Yoo-hoo? Bring it on.
The Look: Milk. Right down to the bubbles at the top of the glass.
The Smell: Soft-serve vanilla ice cream.
The Taste: Like a root beer float without the root beer. Like cream soda with a stronger vanilla taste.
Surprise!: I hear it tastes great paired with soju (Korean rice alcohol). That's my Friday night sorted.
The Verdict: Capital-R refreshing. Really sweet (notice the theme here?) but definitely tasty.
For more Korean snacks, read the first installment, Korean Snacks, Vol I: Vegetable Donuts