From Fizzy Yuzu to Milky Tea, These Japanese Drinks Are Full of Surprises
Preparing for a trip to Japan, one soda at a time.
This past October, I hit a milestone birthday approximately 6,218 miles from where I had planned to be: wandering the streets of Tokyo on a full-blown ramen-yakitori-takoyaki bender.
The pandemic may have quashed those plans, but my wanderlust for Japan remains intact. One of my favorite travel activities is surveying convenience stores to figure out the flavors and textures different cultures value most, and I have long dreamed about eating and drinking my way through Japan's many great konbini, or convenience stores. Some time ago, I started keeping a list of Japanese beverages I wanted to try on said trip, but I soon realized there was no reason I couldn't tackle this list from home.
I set about scouring the refrigerator cases of local Asian grocery stores, as well as online importers and retailers like Yummy Bazaar. After a lifetime of consuming beverages flavored with high-fructose corn syrup, generic citrus, and whatever flavor Mountain Dew is supposed to be (green?), I was floored by the intensely fruity, creamy varieties before me.
Among them were a bottle of milky lychee Calpico, shockingly refreshing despite having no carbonation; round, chubby bottles of Tomomasu sodas in flavors like white peach, watermelon, and muskmelon; the aluminum bottle of Mango Creamy Soda by UCC that delivered on the promise of its name; a bottle of pineapple Ramune, where the drop of a marble located in the cap triggers an eruption of bubbles; and minimalist bottles of Kimino soda, puckering with yuzu, plus its gentler cousins, sparkling water flavored with ume or ringo, a Japanese apple variety.
Japan also appears to have no fear of canning dairy, an attitude I wish America would adopt. There's something so satisfying about cracking open a can of bright pink strawberry milk or a Royal Milk Tea. Suntory, one of Japan's greatest beverage companies, introduced canned Japanese coffee to the American market in 2019, and I was charmed by the velvety Boss Cold Café Au Lait, flash-brewed directly over ice.
Still, there are many drinks I wanted to try that aren't yet available stateside. So until I can travel to them, I'll be flooding my brain with serotonin and sugar thanks to a fridge full of Calpico, yuzu soda, and all the canned coffee I can handle.
Royal Milk Tea
It might be from a can, but it hits all the notes of great milk tea: smooth, not too sweet, slight tannic aftertaste.
Sangaria Royal Milk Tea, $18 for 6 at amazon.com
Kimino Yuzu Sparkling Juice
This sweet-but-tart drink gets its pucker from yuzu, a Japanese citrus.
Kimino Drinks Yuzu Sparkling Juice, $24 for 6 at us.kimino.com
It has all the sweetness of a bowl of freshly cut ripe melon, balanced by strong carbonation.
Tomomasu Muskmelon Soda, $2 at yamibuy.com