While not all of these might be traditional, or even native to South Korea, you’re sure to spot these drinks aplenty while there!
Traditional Korean beverages can be roughly classified into alcoholic and nonalcoholic categories.
The presence of alcohol is certainly indicative of Korea’s partiality to it, but there’s plenty of non-alcoholic drinks to be found as well. There are close to 200 types of traditional teas, juices, and grain drinks associated with the latter group, known as eumcheongnyu.
While listing out all of the beverages is a Herculean task for some other day, here’s a list of 10 of the most popular drinks you’ll spot on a trip to South Korea.
The pandemic may have wreaked havoc, but it went a long way in resuscitating the love for the popular Korean street snack. The Dalgona coffee challenge was definitely the better of several lockdown-induced food trends.
Essentially a frothy whipped coffee, the bittersweet foam is served on top of milk. Although it became internationally known as a South Korean beverage, similar versions are common in other Asian countries. The basic version of this coffee is made with equal parts of instant coffee, sugar, and water.
Suggested read: The Dalgona craze has returned, and this time it’s candy
This one’s on the non-alcoholic list too! Sikhye is traditional around South Korea, a sweet drink made with barley malt powder (same powder used to make beer and bread), sugar, rice, and in some cases pine nuts.
The drink is popular enough, and particularly consumed during Korean festive holidays. The Koreans believe that sikhye is good for digestion as it contains dietary fibre and antioxidants, so it’s often served after a meal.
Now this one’s popular almost everywhere isn’t it? Although not created in Korea, bubble tea remains a firm favourite across many Asian countries including here. Originated in Taiwan, this beautiful experiment combining milk tea and tapioca pearls has definitely caused a sensation. The drink more than delivers on both taste and texture fronts, making it a staple for the current generations.
It’s milk. No, it’s yoghurt soda. Well not really, it’s like a mousse and yoghurt. Whatever it may be, Milkis is one of South Korea’s favourite soft drinks. Produced by Lotte Chilsung, a company which released the beverage in 1989, it was initially labelled a milk and yoghurt soda. Some like to describe it as a melting mousse made with frozen yoghourt. It is made with carbonated water, corn syrup, sugar, and milk. Given the delicious array of flavours, the popularity of this beverage is hardly surprising.
Also known as barley tea, Boricha is an infusion made by steeping roasted barley grains in hot or cold water. Technically, barley tea is a tisane, and nowadays, it is often made by using teabags consisting of roasted and ground barley.
The drink has ancient origins and is enjoyed in many Asian countries. When brewed, barley tea has a light brown colour and a savoury profile. It can be sweetened to preference, while the chilled, summer version is often served over ice.
Sake apart, Soju with all of its interesting flavours has gained increasing popularity around the world. Korean soju is distilled from fermented rice, or optionally wheat, barley, sweet potatoes, or tapioca.
While the first varieties were made with rice, the Korean government introduced a ban on using rice in 1965. Soju is a clear spirit that can be enjoyed neat, mixed with fruit juice, yoghurt or even coffee to add a kick to your favourite cocktail.
Korean Rice Drink
You can’t have a complete experience in Korea without some authentic Korean rice wine. Makgeolli, as it’s better known as, has a long legacy in Korea. Following a complex process of fermentation using nuruk, this nutritional drink remains one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in the country. The drink can be sparkling and has a cloudy appearance. More recently, popular additions to the drink include mixing it with banana or yuzu fruit.
This is definitely one of those drinks always best served cold. Korean black raspberry wine or bokbunja-ju has origins rooted as far back as mythology itself. Tales apart, the wine continues to grow in popularity and is still enjoyed today. The bokbunja berry, a type of raspberry, is said to have medicinal properties and a sweet, slightly sour taste, perfect for turning into a decadent wine drink.
Milk once in South Korea automatically tends to take on addictive properties. Whether strawberry, mango, or coffee, there’s something about the preparation that makes it extremely appealing. Korean banana milk is sold in approximately a million bottles of banana every single day! While the drink is essentially what it promises to be, they’ve definitely got the balance of sweet and savoury right here.
A dessert drink, Sujeonggwa is created by boiling spices including ginger, cinnamon, and peppercorns. Instead of sugar, the traditional recipes call for either brown sugar or honey. Dried persimmons may be included too. Adding these to the liquid helps to plumpen them out again and provides an interesting flavour to the drink. It’s also a drink that can be enjoyed both hot and cold, making it an all-year round staple!