My Favourite Korean Drinks – Alcoholic and Non-alcoholic

This post was inspired – like many of mine – by an article I read recently. CNNGO published an article last October about 20 Delicious Korean Drinks and I, of course, had to write my own list. Here’s my favourite 10 Korean drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic): 

1. Bokbunja ju (복분자주) – This is a wine made from Korean black raspberries and is absolutely my favourite drink ever! It works perfectly well as a nice drink to sip on a summer’s evening or to enjoy with a meal. It is sweet though, so it won’t be for everyone. Luckily it’s available in some Korean restaurants in Toronto as it’s no longer available at the LCBO (our liquor store). For an added bonus, drink it in a small traditional Korean wine/drink glass.

2. Baekseju (백세주) – The literal translation of this alcohol is “one hundred year wine” and it’s thought that drinking it will help you live to 100 years. 🙂 Whether or not that’s true, it is a delicious rice wine that’s infused with different herbs and it does go well with Korean BBQ, especially my favourite daeji galbi (돼지갈비). It’s available at the LCBO and at many Korean restaurants in Toronto. 🙂

3. Chilsung Cider (칠성 사이다) – I love Sprite, it’s pretty much always been my pop (or soda for my American readers) of choice. Chilsung cider – or just cider for short – quickly became my Sprite replacement in Korea. The taste is similar, if a little less lemon-limey. I’ve never looked for it in Canada (as I can drink Sprite here) but I suspect it’s probably available in Korean grocery stores.

4. Citron tea (유자 차) – This became my go-to drink whenever I felt the slightest bit sick – especially if my throat hurt! You can order it in tea houses in Korea or buy a jar of it – yes, I said a jar – in grocery stores. It’s basically lemon in honey and to make the tea, you add a large spoonful (about a tablespoon) to a cup of hot water. Very soothing! It is available in Korean grocery stores in Toronto.

5. Iseul cha (이슬 차) – I feel in love with this tea after trying a sample in Insadong – a traditional/tourist neighbourhood in Seoul. It’s called dew tea, mountain dew tea, or hydrangea tea in English – although dew tea was the most common name I heard. How much did I like it? After the sample, I bought two containers of this loose-leaf flower tea (which is actually made from the leaf, not the flower of the hydrangea). It’s so naturally light and sweet that I love it both hot and cold – plus, you don’t need a lot to make a pot. I’m not sure if it’s available in Toronto yet but as I’m out of it, I’ve started looking.

6. Sujeonggwa (수정과) – This sweet cinnamon and persimmon drink is the perfect after-dinner dessert. Dessert – as we know it in Canada (or other Western countries) – isn’t common in Korea. But drinks like sujeonggwa (or sikhye, 식혜, a sweet rice drink) are commonly served in nicer or traditional restaurants in Korea after your meal. I prefer sujeonggwa but both are nice – and available in Korean supermarkets and convenience stores (in cans) in Toronto.

7. Denmark Drinking Yogurt in Strawberry (드링킹 요구르트 딸기) – Okay, so we have drinkable yogurt in Canada but in Korea it comes in 250ml and 500ml sizes which rocks. If you’re running late in the morning and don’t have time to grab breakfast – something that’s normal for me as I hate mornings – a 500ml carton of strawberry drinking yogurt will tide you over until lunch. It’s also a good after-workout fuel as it’s easy for your body to digest. I haven’t seen any in Toronto but then, I haven’t really looked either.

8. Aloe Vera Juice (sorry, couldn’t find the Korean name) – My family always used the aloe plant on minor burns but I’d never drank it until I moved to Korea. It’s delicious! Try the regular or pomegranate one (I love pomegranate anything). I’m sure it’s supposed to have health benefits but I drink it because it’s yummy. It is readily available in Canada, and not just in Korean grocery stores.

9. Vita 500 (비타 500) or Bacchus (바카스) – Both are pretty much interchangeable in my mind as both work well for a quick pick-me-up – perfect for the morning after a long night dancing in Hongdae or a mid-afternoon drink. Bacchus is also supposed to be a hangover cure but as I generally drank Vita 500, I can’t comment on that. I can tell you that both are considered a health drink as co-workers brought me a case of Vita 500 during my hospital stay in Seoul. Vita 500 is available in Korean grocery stores in Toronto (I haven’t looked for Bacchus).

10. Yogurt Soju (요구르트 소주) – Okay, this is really a cocktail rather than a solo drink but I think it deserves space here. Basically, it’s soju, plain drinking yogurt and cider/Sprite mixed together. And while it may not sound that appealing – I remember questioning it when I was first introduced to it in a bar in Ulsan, Korea – it’s actually quite yummy and easy to drink. Beware though, like all soju drinks, it will catch up with you if you drink too many! Some Korean restaurants and bars in Toronto serve it – by the pitcher, just like in Korea – so round up some friends and head over to Koreatown and try it! Or you could mix up a batch of your own.

Honourable Mention: Cheongju (청주) – Friends introduced me to this alcohol, which is similar to soju but with a lighter taste (and less alcohol content if I remember correctly), when I stopped drinking soju. I prefer it to soju but will still pick Bokbunja-ju or Bekseju first. Unfortunately, it’s not currently available at the LCBO but I have seen it in at least one Korean bar in Toronto. 

So now you know what Korean drinks I like. What are your favourite Korean drinks? Don’t be shy, leave a comment 🙂

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm on the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival. Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher.

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