If you’re tired of the same old drink selection in your fridge, you should try exploring Asian beverages this summer.
Many Asian drinks combine the familiar and well-loved elements (such as carbonated water, tea, or coffee as the base) but give them a unique twist that may seem unconventional and exciting to those who’ve yet to try them.
Here are some of the best summer drinks from different Asian countries to try while combating the heat:
Thai Coconut Water
Coconut water - the slightly sweet clear liquid inside green coconuts - is a classic summer drink worldwide, not just Asia. But it is consumed in Asian countries in larger quantities simply because coconuts are a staple everyday product. In the West, coconut water is still considered a treat rather than a staple. Quite a shame because coconut water is as perfect a summer drink as it gets. It does as good a job hydrating your body as plain water and contains a number of electrolytes as a bonus.
That said, what makes coconut water one of the best summer drinks is its palatability. Most people find plain water hard to drink, and unsweetened coconut water serves as a great substitute. Thai coconut water, in particular, is known for its outstanding natural taste. The coconut variety grown in Thailand is called “Nam Hom” and is known for its sweeter natural flavor and intense aroma.
Taiwanese Assam Milk Tea
Taiwan is one of the biggest tea producers in the world, known for high-quality tea cultivars. But when it comes to tea, it’s not the leaves that Taiwan is known for. It’s Bubble tea. The now-classic drink was, indeed, born in Taiwan and grew in popularity from there. While these days it's not uncommon to use all kinds of tea as the base of the drink, Assam black tea is still considered the classic choice.
Assam milk tea is not just an extension of Bubble tea, though the latter is more popular. It’s a popular Taiwanese drink in its own right, with multiple brands even manufacturing instant packs mixed with milk. Iced Assam milk tea is an excellent combination of cooling, hydrating, and sweet, making a great summer drink.
Japanese Sparkling Yuzu Drink
Yuzu is a popular citrus variety in Japan, often used for flavoring drinks the same way oranges and lemon are used in the West. Yuzu is known for its signature “bite,” high acidity, and tart flavor. It’s been compared to a hybrid of lime or lemon and grapefruit or pomelo.
It’s a signature flavor among Japanese drinks since it's rarely (if ever) used to flavor drinks manufactured outside Japan. Common Yuzu-based drinks include Yuja (tea made with Yuzu marmalade), cocktails like Yuzu sour (with Yuzu juice and shochu), and sparkling sodas.
If you’re tired of the same old soda flavors, you should try giving Japanese Yuzu-flavored sparkling drinks a shot.
Korean Aloe Vera Drink
Bottled Aloe Vera juice is a popular drink across Asia, but South Korea is arguably the champion when it comes to consumption. Its natural taste is quite mild and somewhat herbal, with noticeable but not very pronounced bittersweet and zesty (citrusy) undertones. The drink is often sweetened with honey, which means the bitterness is gone, but the zesty, citrusy notes remain.
The drink is popular year-round but is considered a classic summer drink, still. It’s mostly because it's regarded as the best taste-wise when consumed ice cold. It’s also a great thirst-quencher and a great source of hydration, adding to its popularity during the summer heat.
A traditional yogurt-based drink from the Indian subcontinent, lassi is basically an Indian milkshake (and undoubtedly one of the best summer drinks). It’s traditionally made by blending dahl, water, sugar, and spices like cardamom, cinnamon, anise, and sometimes turmeric. Sweet lassis are often additionally flavored with fruits (mango being a prevalent option), though classic recipe contains no fruits, only crushed nuts as decoration.
Another popular lassi variety is salted lassi, a savory drink where the sugar in the recipe is replaced by salt.
Chinese Sour Plum Drink
Suanmeitang, a Chinese sour plum drink, is one of the most popular drinks in the hot summer months across China. The Chinese believe that it's one of the best summer drinks because it doesn’t just quench thirst and hydrate but helps with digestion and appetite, particularly when they get wrecked due to high temperatures.
While it’s called sour plum drink, the overall flavor profile of the drink is rather complex. Suanmeitang is made by boiling smoked plums with rock sugar, sweet osmanthus, licorice root, and Chinese hawthorn. The combination renders a drink that is sour, true, but also pleasantly sweet and even holds somewhat spicy undertones. It’s much more pleasant to drink than the name may indicate, though some do tend to find the flavor overwhelming and water it down a bit.
In any case, it should be on your list of drinks to try this summer if it isn’t already.
Taiwanese Grass Jelly Drink
Green grass jelly is a classic dessert item in East and Southeast Asia and does not taste like grass, contrary to its name. It’s usually made from the plant related to Mint (same family) and tastes similar: slightly herbal, but mostly just refreshing and cooling. These characteristics, unsurprisingly, make it a summer favorite. The jelly on its own is often cut into cubes and paired with fresh fruits, shaved ice, and melted down to turn it into a traditional Taiwanese thick dessert beverage.
This beverage is often additionally sweetened with honey or sugar and can be consumed either warm or cold. Unsurprisingly, in the summertime, the cold variety is much more popular.
If we veer off-topic for a moment, grass jelly cubes are considered one of the most popular additions to Bubble tea, aside from classic boba pearls and coconut jelly. You can combine the Assam milk tea with jelly cubes for an easy homemade Bubble tea.
Ramune Japanese Soda
What is possibly the most original drink on the list, Ramune Japanese soda is one of the most interesting sodas in the world. It's all in packaging: Ramune bottle has a unique shape, called "Codd-neck". The necks of these bottles are sealed inside with a marble, and a special device is used to push the marble inward, when the bottle is opened.
All in all, Ramune Japanese soda is a fun party drink as it comes in a dozen flavors, some of them quite unique and uncommon in sodas manufactured in other countries.
If you're a big soda drinker in summer, you shouldn't pass up on a chance of trying what is quite possibly the most original version of it.
Boza is a popular malted drink from Central and Western Asia. As such, boza is slightly alcoholic, with alcohol content at around 1%.
Boza’s origins, while not certainly known, point to Persia or Turkey, and Turkish boza is likely the most popular version of the drink in the world nowadays. Historically, it was not a summer drink since boza spoils in the heat, but the increasingly available refrigeration option has changed that.
Classic Turkish boza is made with fermented wheat or maize, has a thick consistency and creamy yellowish color.
Boza is also popular in the Balkans, though the grains vary: it can be made with millet or wheat. Still, wheat is a more popular option.
Boza will have a slightly acidic and moderately sweet flavor regardless of the fermented grain used.
Vietnamese Iced Coffee
Coffee culture in Vietnam is on another level: it’s not uncommon to find vendors serving as early as 4 AM and locals sipping on it as late as after 10 PM. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there’s a signature coffee drink in Vietnam that is also considered one of the best summer drinks in the country.
Classic Vietnamese iced coffee is made with Robusta beans, not that it’s a necessity (Robusta is just the most popular coffee variety in Vietnam). Any high-quality dark roast will do. The coffee itself is most commonly made with the drip method, poured over a generous amount of ice cubes, and sweetened with condensed milk (a signature ingredient in the drink).
Iranian Doogh (and Turkish Ayaran)
Doogh and Ayran are basically the same drink. The recipe is simple: combine cold savory yogurt with water to make it thinner and lightly salt it. If the recipe sounds familiar, it’s because it’s similar to the salted lassi we discussed above.
Whether Doogh and Ayran are the same is a debated topic. There are plenty of drinks across Asia made with yogurt, buttermilk, or milk that bear similarities. But they’re generally considered different, unlike these two. But the recipe for Doogh and Ayran is far too similar to ignore, down to the use of spices (salt, black pepper, and dried mint are most common).
One unique aspect of Doogh is that carbonated water is sometimes used to make a fizzy drink instead of plain water. Ayran is traditionally not carbonated, though the version has started gaining popularity in recent years.
Japanese Calpico Drinks
Since we’re on the topic of yogurt drinks, let’s discuss Calpico. Calpico, also known as Calpis, is a Japanese yogurt-flavored drink. Yogurt flavor is a popular peculiarity in Japan, often used for various snacks and beverages (Ramune Japanese soda also comes in yogurt flavor, for example).
But Calpico’s entire beverage line is built around experimenting with yogurt flavors. The original soft drink isn’t carbonated, but with its rising popularity, it didn’t take long for Calpico Japanese soda to hit the shelves.
Calpis even manufactures a Calpico concentrate syrup you can use to flavor cocktails and desserts, or make your version of the drink, mixing the syrup with club soda Italian soda-style.
Another malt drink on the list, Sikhye, is made with barley malt powder, sugar, and rice. It’s one of the most famous traditional non-alcoholic drinks in South Korea, particularly in summertime, and can easily be found at street markets.
It has a moderately sweet flavor due to sugar, but not enough to overpower the characteristic barley malt flavor that’s considered rather refreshing.
Asian Barley Tea
Sikhye isn’t the only drink made with barley popular in Korea. In fact, classic barley tea is prevalent in most East Asian countries. The tea is made with roasted barley infusion and can be consumed either hot or cold, but is most commonly considered a summer drink, with bottled iced barley tea often found in convenience stores in China, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea.
Chinese Honeysuckle Water
Honeysuckle (known as Jinyinhualu in China) is one of the most popular herbs in the country. Honeysuckle water is just that: water infused with honeysuckle. Chinese believe honeysuckle to be a healing herb that’s good at clearing toxins and promoting weight loss. Of course, there’s no proof that honeysuckle-infused water can help you lose weight for the upcoming summer vacation. What it can do is promote increased water intake thanks to pleasant herby and refreshing flavor and help you keep hydrated, which is a good thing for a summer drink in our books.