[Writer's Choice] Foreigner’s Experience: Favorite Korean Drinks
BanSeok Shin, July 25, 2019, 2:27 p.m.
Summer is finally here and with it comes the oppressive heat that beats us down and makes us feel tired and worn out despite hardly doing anything. As a result, we often look for cool and refreshing drinks to refresh and keep us hydrated. During the three hot, humid and muggy summers that I spent in Korea I often found myself seeking out and being introduced to popular Korean drinks that did just that – and now I’m sharing my favorite ones with you!
This is likely a drink that you’ve seen before as it comes from cultures around the world and has become more popular in recent decades. It is also quite popular in Korea and can come in a variety of flavors as well!
The drink is primarily a combination of water, sugars, aloe juice and pulp. If you’re like me and you grew up hating having pulp in your orange juice, I recommend still giving aloe juice a try. Unlike the stringy little juice packets that make up orange juice pulp, aloe pulp is more chunks of aloe with more of a crunchiness to them depending on the brand. The drink is refreshing and can even be good for you due to the health benefits of aloe.
Tip: I also find freezing it or just making it really cold to enhance its refreshing taste!
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2. Corn/Corn Silk Tea
I’m not sure about the variants of this kind of tea but generally this is tea made buy boiling kernels of corn or corn silk (the long fibers you see sticking out of ears of corn). Usually when I drink this tea sugar (which I love in my teas) is not added – and I’m pretty content with that. The reason for this is that, for me at least, corn tea tastes like the plain corn flakes used in breakfast cereals. It’s like eating liquid cereal – a taste I quite enjoy.
Tip: You can either by tea packets or you can purchase premade bottles of the teas at Korean and other Asian markets.
3. Barley Tea
Similar to corn silk tea, barley tea also has a plain cereal-like taste to it but more watered down. This might be because it is made by boiling roasted barley. In many Korean restaurants, barley tea is served in place of water and is often referred to as water in Korean dinning.
Tip: If you ever go to a Korean restaurant and order ‘water’ and get a cold, light-brownish water-like liquid – it’s probably barley tea….but ask just in case it’s something else.
4. Mixed Grain Smoothie
If you’re looking for a grain-based drink with more substance to it than take a look at mixed grain smoothies. This drink may not necessarily have the same refreshing and hydrating qualities as some other summer time drinks, but it makes up for it in nutritional value and taste! As you can guess by the name, mixed grain (misugaru) smoothies are composed of a variety of grains, that are ground into powder and often mixed with sugar, mlik, or condensed milk to form a tasty and nutritious smoothie.
Tip: You can buy bags of the power at Korean stores so you can make it (hot or cold) at home, but don’t expect there to be any sugar, diary, or any other products outside of the grain powder, inside the bag.
5. Yuja/Citron Tea
You may have heard of or even tried the homemade cold remedy of drinking hot/warm tea made with lemon juice and honey. Yuja/Citron tea takes that remedy to the next level. Either yuja or citron fruits are mixed with sugar or honey and turned into a marmalade which is then put in hot water making a sweet and healthy tea that is great for colds, coughs, and sore throats. The drink has a pleasant citrus taste and can even be served cold and it comes with the pieces of fruit as well.
It can be found in Korean and other Asian stores in glass jars, looking like yellow jars of jam with pieces of fruit inside.
Tip: Not sure if Koreans do this, but you can also try using the marmalade as a spread on bread, even combining it with cream cheese. I found it to be very delicious.
6. Green Tea Anything
Yes, I’m aware that green tea is popular all around the world, but it’s on this list because South Korea not only produces green tea, but also has created many uses for it. From green tea-based drinks to drinks infused with green tea (for example a green tea mixed grain smoothie) there are a variety of green tea drinks to enjoy during the summer and plenty of motivation to get them due to the health benefits of the plant!
7. Soy Milk/Black Soy Bean Milk
Like with green tea, Koreans are also really good at making products with soy beans! Soy beans are known for their nutritional value and health benefits and can be quite tasty as well if prepared right. Personally, I’m a fan of the soy bean milks that come in those rectangular juice boxes that kids drink out of. These drinks provide a sweet, flavorful serving of protein and other nutrients. If you want a more flavor-packed version of this then try black soy bean drinks!
Tip: It’s a bean product, and as bean products usually due, they make you gassy and such - so be careful how much of this drink you consume.
8. Fruit Vinegar Drinks (Hongjo & Sempio)
Some people in the older generations like to talk about the health benefits of adding vinegar or apple cider vinegar to your diet, and while they may have a point, the fact is that it can be difficult to get over the taste and kick of vinegar. Korean fruit vinegar drinks help to solve that problem. Companies like Hongjo and Sempio sell concentrated sweetened fruit vinegar, that come in a variety of flavors like blueberry, mixed berry, and pomegranate (three of the most popular) that can be diluted with water to make a refreshing drink.
You might be concerned a bit after reading the word “sweetened”, but some of these brands hardly use sugar – which is great for those concerned about their health. Furthermore, vinegar is believed to help with weight control/loss along with other health benefits. I find the blend of fruit vinegar and water to be a great substitute for sweet drinks and a nice way to hydrate!
Tip: While the bad taste of vinegar may be gone it’s kick is certainly still there – especially the more concentrated it is, but it is also easy to make it too watered down, so try to find out what water to fruit vinegar ratio works best for you.
9. Yogurt Drinks
I love Korean yogurt drinks! They served as a nice comfort food during my time living in Korea and also helped me with digestion! When I think of Korean yogurt drinks, I think of two kinds of drinks – the first being the probiotics, and the second being just for pleasure.
Probiotics – there are various yogurt drinks that specialize in having bacteria that promote a healthy digestive system. For example, the well-known Japanese brand, Yakult, comes to mind. These drinks usually come in small, semi-hourglass shaped bottles and have a strong yogurt flavor. Some drinks places will sure yogurt-based drinks made with this kind of yogurt.
Just for Pleasure – while some pleasure yogurt drinks do have probiotics in them, that is not their primary purpose. Their purpose is first and foremost to please your taste-buds, and as a result usually come in a variety of flavors and in larger containers like half-pint milk cartons. Flavors can range from strawberry, banana, apple, berries, and of course plain.
Both kinds of yogurts can be found in Korean grocery and convenience stores with probiotics more common at grocery stories and pleasure yogurts at convenience stores. I bought plenty of these at convenience stores by my apartment!
This is a specialized product made by Korean conglomerate Lotte. It is a soft drink that also includes milk – a very unique concept. I find the combination of soda and milk to actually be quite refreshing and satisfying. I personally prefer the original flavor to the others. You can find this at Korean stores and maybe at other Asian stores.
Tip: Since it does have diary, be careful how much you drink.
11. Banana/Fruit milks
This is arguably one of the most beloved Korean drinks by foreigners, including myself. It’s a very popular drink among Korean children, but that doesn’t stop adults from enjoying it too! Not only is it sweet and refreshing, but it reminds many people of their childhood, and the taste is addictive! When I was in Korea with my other foreigner friends, whenever banana milk was on the menu it was a highlight of the day.
Banana milk isn’t the only other great milk flavor out there! Like with pleasure yogurt, there were a variety of milks out there as well! I absolutely love strawberry flavored milk and the abundance of strawberry and banana milks in convenience stores made dealing with homesickness and sudden cravings a whole lot easier.
Tip: Putting your milk in the freezer, up to the point of making it a slushy is amazing.
12. Cinnamon Punch
If you’re looking for a little more kick to your refreshing drink, then take a look at Korean cinnamon punch! The drink is made with cinnamon and ginger, as well as honey or brown sugar. It is served chilled and may also be garnished with a few pine nuts. If you don’t mind the spicy kick of cinnamon and ginger, they you’ll find cinnamon punch to be a delicious dessert drink. I personally think it tastes like the liquid version of the brand Big Red cinnamon chewing gum.
Tip: Depending on the recipe there may also be dried persimmons or jujube’s used in the drink as well.
13. Sikhye (Sweet Rice Punch)
This is probably the king of Korean summer drinks. Chances are that if you’ve watched plenty Korean variety shows or have ever been to a Korean jimjilbang (sauna/bathhouse) then you’ve at least heard of sikhye. Pronounced “shik-hye” is a traditional Korean dessert drink made from rice. Not to be confused with Korean rice wine, ‘makgeolli’, sikhye is a non-alcoholic drink typically made with rice, barley malt powder, sugar (optional), and water.
This sweet drink is absolutely refreshing and usually includes grains of cooked rice at the bottom of the drink. Served in restaurants as a dessert, sikhye is also commercially sold in can or bottles at grocery stores and is a favorite for people to drink while spending time at a jimjilbang! Many foreigners are also big fans of the drink!
Tip: Some stores sell sikhye in frozen bottles so that it can be consumed later at a more chilled (and thus more refreshing) temperature. Also, if you don’t like the rice at the bottom then try to filter it out before drinking or try finding it pre-filtered.
The drinks on this list are my favorite Korean drinks and the ones I remembered drinking the most. There were definitely more drinks that I tried, some of which I liked more that some of those mentioned on this list, but unfortunately don’t remember what they are anymore. Also, I don't drink alcohol so that's why there isn't any on my list. That being said, Korea is full of unique and delicious drinks that definitely should be tried. I recommend that you not only try the drinks on this list, but also go out and try to find some on your own. There is so much to explore when it comes to Korean beverages!