Japan is a paradise when it comes to consumer choice, and this extends to everything from the rainbow assortment of candy-colored cell phones available to the numerous beverage options sold year-round. Non-alcoholic drinks such as tea and soda come in a wide variety of flavors and types in Japan, including limited seasonal flavors sold for only a few weeks. They’re sold in convenience stores, called “combini”, as well as the vending machines that serve both hot and cold drinks, which dot street corners in even the most rural areas - and can even be found at the top of Mount Fuji. Here are some non-alcoholic drinks you’ll want to try on your next trip to Japan.
A Bevy of Beverages: What to Drink in Japan
Amazake is a traditional Japanese beverage of sweet fermented rice. Amazake is either completely non-alcoholic, or the alcohol content is so low that even children can drink it. Amazake has been enjoyed in Japan since the Edo era, and was often used to relieve summer fatigue due to its nutritional content. While the drink fell out of popularity after that, in modern times it has seen a resurgence as a “superfood”, and is also still enjoyed during holidays like New Year’s and the Girl’s Day festival Hinamatsuri.
Mugicha is a tea-like drink made from water infused with roasted barley grains. The drink has a smooth, nutty flavor without any of the bitterness of tea leaves, and is also caffeine free. Mugicha is often enjoyed served cold during the summertime as a preventative for heat exhaustion, but is also enjoyed hot during the wintertime. Look for it in both the hot and cold sections of vending machines.
Genmaicha is a very popular drink in Japan, comprising green tea leaves mixed with roasted browned rice. The addition of rice gives the tea a less bitter, more rounded, earthy and toasty flavor. Some people believe genmaicha originated in Kyoto, while others think it came to Japan via Korea, which has a history of drinking roasted rice beverages. Genmaicha can be made or mixed with different grades of green tea, including houjicha (roasted green tea) and matcha.
Canned coffee was first invented in Japan and led to the introduction of hot and cold vending machines. Today, the canned coffee industry is massive with the major beverage brands competing against each other. Canned coffee varieties include everything from black coffee to café au lait and sweetened and unsweetened coffee
Royal Milk Tea
Royal milk tea in Japan, known as milk tea, is different from the milk tea found in other parts of Asia. This is mainly due to the preparation. While milk tea is typically made by steeping tea leaves in hot water, then removing the leaves and adding milk or cream to the hot tea, Japanese royal milk tea is made by boiling the milk and tea together. Sugar or simple syrup is typically added for a sweeter drink.
In the past few years, alcohol-free beers have taken off for those who want to enjoy the flavor and social aspects of drinking beer without any of the side effects, such as high calories or alcohol flush. They are also excluded from the liquor taxes that apply to beer, making them a more cost-effective drink.
Flavored Soymilk Drinks
Soy drinks are a beverage enjoyed by many people in Japan, due to soybeans being a major crop, as well as the prevalence of lactose intolerance among Asians. Soy milk can be used in cooking as well as for drinking, and there are over 50 different flavors available including cocoa, strawberry, and banana as well as more Japanese flavors like black sesame, ume plum, sakura (cherry blossom), and matcha green tea.
Aloe drinks are made with the juice and pulp of the aloe vera plant. Aloe has many health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. When applied externally, aloe vera relieves burns and prevents infection. It’s also been found to be an effective treatment for peptic ulcers. As many tasty aloe vera drinks contain a lot of sugar, you’ll want to look for the sugar-free variety for the greatest health benefits.
Melon soda is one of the most popular soft drinks in Japan. In addition to vending machines and combini, it’s a regular staple of the drink bars found in Japanese family restaurants. Melon soda has a bright green color and goes great together with ice cream in melon soda floats.
Yogurt is highly popular in Japan for its many health benefits, particularly the probiotics that improve digestion and boost the immune system. Fermented milk drinks have been popular in Japan going back to the 1930s and today there are a number of yogurt-flavored soft drinks available on the market. While these soft drinks are thinner in texture, “nomu yogurt”, or “drinkable yogurt”, beverages take it step further by using live yogurt cultures in a thicker drink with a texture similar to a smoothie.
The Vast Array of Drinks in Japan Will Keep You Hydrated & Nourished
Whether or not you’re a fan of alcoholic beverages, there are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks to try in Japan, from novelty canned coffees to traditional amazake. And rest assured you’ll never be far from the next vending machine or combini! Kanpai!