“Green teas are usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think about beverages from Japan. However, Japan has put a unique spin on ordinary beers, wines, teas and even milk.
Like their innovative spirit toward technology, the Japanese have developed exotic beverages using many unconventional ingredients.
Japanese drinks will certainly quench the thirst of the most adventurous palate. Enjoy.
Sake is a rice wine and one of Japan’s most well-known alcoholic drinks. In fact, the Japanese language uses the word “sake” to refer to all types of alcoholic drinks. The beverage itself is referred to as “nihonshu” meaning Japanese liquor in English.
It is made of fermented rice that is produced by a brewing process similar to making beer. Two main ingredients are important in making sake — a rice called “shuzō kōtekimai” and water. It can be served warm or cold.
Umeshu is an all-natural Japanese liqueur free of any additives and preservatives. It is made by steeping unripe ume fruit, or Japanese apricot, adding sugar and an alcohol content of 10 – 15 percent. It is often referred to as plum wine.
The alcoholic drink has a sweet, tart taste and an appealing aroma. Umesha is served in Japanese restaurants with tonic water, green tea, carbonated water, on the rocks, or used to make cocktails.
Some brands of umeshu come with the ume fruit still in the bottle. However, it’s not a good idea to eat it.
Shochu is a distilled alcoholic beverage deriving from Kyushu, Japan. It has an earthy taste that comes from white koji mold that is incorporated during the fermentation process.
Typically, shochu is made by distilling barley, sweet potatoes or a short-grained rice called “Japonica.” However, it can also be made from brown sugar, chestnut or buckwheat.
With only a 25 percent alcohol by volume, it is weaker than whiskey, but stronger than sake. There are hundreds of types of shochu and many ways to serve shochu, such as by itself on ice, with hot water, or added to fruit juices or teas.
Awamori is another type of Japanese distilled beverage. It is referred to as an Okinawan version of shochu. What differentiates awamori from shochu is its ingredients. Awamori is made with a long-grain rice called “Indica” from Thailand and a black koji mold from Okinawa, Japan.
The alcohol content can range from 25 to 45 percent. A matured awamori is typically aged for three years and is called “Kusu,” while a great awamori is aged up to 25 years.
Amazake is a traditional Japanese drink made of fermented rice and a low alcohol content. It dates back to the Kofun period (250 – 530 A.D.)
Over the years, there has been many variations of this beverage, including one with no alcohol. Amazake is made with koji mold, which contributes to its natural sweetness.
The Japanese believe that amazake is nutritious. It is consumed as a dessert, smoothie or snack, and used as baby food, a sweetener or salad dressing.
6. Vinegar Drinks
In recent years, the media has brought to the attention of the public the benefits of vinegar. However, the Japanese have been familiar with its benefits for centuries. In fact, they have found a way to incorporate it into their everyday diets by making vinegar drinks.
Vinegar is an acidic liquid with a strong, undeniable taste and smell, which is why the Japanese have created vinegar drinks infused with fruit, sweetened and diluted with water.
Kurosu, or black vinegar is another type of vinegar consumed for its health benefits. It is made from rice and aged for three years. All vinegar drinks can be found in grocery and department stores in Japan.
In Japan, Genmaicha is a non-alcoholic drink made with only Japanese green tea and roasted brown rice. Oftentimes, it is referred to as “popcorn tea” because the grains of rice looks similar to popcorn, and a few rice kernels pop during the roasting process.
It‘s also called the “people’s tea” because many years ago it was only consumed by the poor; the rice served as a filler and the price was lowered. Today, its mild, fresh flavor is enjoyed throughout Japan.
Hoppy is a Japanese beverage that defies the norm. It is a non-alcoholic drink with a beer flavor. Since 1948, the Hoppy Beer Company, Ltd., originally Kokuka Beverage Company, has been producing and distributing the drink in Japan.
If its hard to grasp the concept of a beer-flavored, non-alcoholic beverage, simply mix Hoppy with shochu like some of the Japanese do.
Mugicha is the Japanese word for “roasted barley tea.” In Japan, it is mostly consumed during the hot summer months as a cold, refreshing beverage. It is caffeine-free and calorie-free.
The Japanese used to place the roasted barley seeds in hot water to stew. Since the 1980s, the barley seeds were put into tea bags, which is a form that has been accepted by the Japanese.
Additionally, mugicha is available in vending machines, and some people continue to stew the roasted barley seeds for a stronger flavor.
10. Soba Cha Tea
“Soba” means “buckwheat” in the Japanese language. Soba Cha is a Japanese tea made by boiling roasted buckwheat kernels. It is caffeine-free and has a nutty taste. Soba Cha can be served hot or cold. In Japanese restaurants, soba cha is served as a broth with soba noodles.
Yakult is a pro-biotic beverage made of skimmed milk mixed with a bacterium Lactobacillus casei and fermented. It was developed by Scientist Minoru Shirota in 1935. Yakult is offers a variety of health benefits.
Standard ingredients of Yakult include: skimmed milk powder, sugar, natural flavors, like grape and orange, and live Lactobacillus casei. Today, it is consumed in several other countries, including Australia, Europe, Indonesia, India and Mexico.
12. Matcha Latte
Matcha Latte is made of powdered green tea (matcha) and milk. The fresh, bitter taste of the green tea is mellowed by the milk. Matcha lattes are modern drinks that was first served and Japanese cafes, like Starbucks, but the idea has traveled to the U.S.
Aojiru is the Japanese word meaning “green drink” or “green juice.” The name describes it perfectly since Aojiru is a vegetable drink made from kale.
It was created in 1938 by a Japanese army doctor named Niro Endo. Dr. Endo developed the drink during wartime to supplement his family’s inadequate diet.
While consuming the vegetable drink his son recovered from pneumonia and his wife from nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys). The taste of aojiru is awful and used as a form of punishment for losing contestants on Japanese game shows.
However, the Japanese are working on new formulas that will eliminate some of the bitterness.
14. Sakura Tea
Sakura Tea is an unique beverage or a Japanese infusion. It is made by putting pickled cherry blossoms in boiling water. The cherry blossoms are pickled in plum vinegar and salt, then dried.
The dried cherry blossoms are sealed in tea bag packets. Once the hot water hits the tea bag it releases the scent of the cherry blossoms and a mild salty, flowery flavor. Traditionally, Sakura tea is served at weddings.
15. Kombucha Tea
Kombucha is a Japanese tea that is considered as nutritious. It is made of kelp, or kombu. First, the kombu is brewed, dried, grounded into a powder and mixed with hot water. It has a salty taste. However, it can be flavored with other elements, like shiso leaves.
Japanese Drinking Manners
- Serve others before serving yourself when drinking alcoholic beverages.
- Check your guests’ glasses to ensure they are never empty.
- If you are being served, take a sip if your glass is filled to make room. Hold your glass up
while they are pouring. Then, take another sip before putting your glass down.
- Never start drinking until everyone is served and the glasses are raised for a “kampai,”
- Avoid getting drunk in Japanese fine dining restaurants because it is considered bad