There are an infinite number of reasons to visit Korea – whether it’s the art, the fashion, or the food, there’s truly something for every visitor to make a trip to Korea an amazing experience. What people don’t often talk about, however, are the amazing drinks that are found throughout Korea.
Like Korean meals and Korean snacks, Korean drinks are all insanely interesting and wildly different from one another and from drinks that are popular in most other countries. Whether you’re looking for something warm, something sweet, or something that’ll fill you up, read through our list to satiate your thirst for Korean culture!
Korean Drink #1: Banana Milk (바나나맛 우유)
Banana milk is one of the most popular beverages on this list by far – nearly one million bottles of banana milk are sold per day in South Korea! While it sounds kind of boring in theory (it truly is just banana flavored milk), something about the combination of sweet and savory notes in this Korean drink have ensured it has risen to popularity very quickly.
Initially, banana milk became popular because the government wanted to encourage South Koreans to drink more milk for their health. Pick up a banana milk the next time you see it so that you understand what all of the fuss is about!
Korean Drink #2: Sikhye (식혜)
Sikhye is a traditional Korean rice drink that’s as sweet as it is traditional – so sweet, in fact, that it’s often served as a dessert! This Korean drink contains cooked rice, which gives it an interesting texture as you get to the bottom, and has been served in Korean for centuries as a traditional end to a meal.
Drinking sikhye is such a rite of passage that you can even find it in bottles or cans in most Korean supermarkets! Pick up a can of sikhye (or order it in a restaurant) and treat yourself after your next big meal – you won’t be disappointed!
Korean Drink #3: Coffee Milk (커피 우유)
Oh, coffee milk. Where would we be without you? Coffee milk is pretty straightforward as far as Korean drinks go – literally coffee infused milk. It’s chock full of caffeine and is the perfect drink for when you have a long day ahead of you and need some extra energy. Not to mention, it’s sold in the cool packages in the photo above – how fun is that?
Pick up a couple of packages of coffee milk the next time you have a long week ahead of you (or if you need some extra energy to explore Seoul) – just remember to throw the packages out when you’re done playing with them!
Korean Drink #4: Milkis (밀키스)
The milkis tagline, “new feeling of soda beverage,” is NOT lying — milkis is definitely unlike any drink you’ve ever had up until this point. Milkis is a Korean drink that combines carbonation, milk, and corn syrup, so what you’re left with is a fizzy, sweet drink that’s oddly refreshing at the same time.
Although the classic, unflavored milkis is great on its own, you can also find this Korean drink in a variety of fruit flavors ranging from strawberry to banana to keep things interesting. You can find milkis in eclectic grocery stores around the world, so you don’t even have to wait until your next trip to Korea to try this Korean drink! Be sure to let us know what you think of your first milkis experience in the comments below.
Korean Drink #5: Omija tea (오미자차)
The omija berry is named for its unique blend of flavors (‘omija’ literally translates to five-flavor), so it’s no surprise that tea made from the omija berry is versatile as well. While it can be enjoyed on its own or with honey as a sweetener, omija tea can also be flavored with mung beans or flowers to turn it into a variety of punches.
This tea is perfect for when you feel a cold or the flu coming on – it supposedly has a range of medicinal properties that keep colds at bay. According to traditional Korean medicine, omija tea may even help restore the liver over time! I recommend you try classic omija tea before trying one of its variations so you can get a feel for the unique flavor profile of the omija berry.
Korean Drink #6: Chrysanthemum Tea (국화차)
Yes, you read that correctly! Chrysanthemum tea is a popular (and incredibly beautiful) Korean drink that’s a crowd favorite for good reason. To make this very visually appealing tea, dried flowers are steeped in honey for several months and then brewed with hot water, producing a light and slightly sweet tea full of flower blossoms.
Both delicious and fun to look at, this tea is a huge hit in the cold winter months while colds are running rampant. We’re not sure if there are actual medicinal properties or if drinking something beautiful makes you feel awesome – either way, we’ll take it! Pour yourself a cup of chrysanthemum tea and experience a Korean drink you won’t want to miss.
Korean Drink #7: Bacchus (박카스)
If you need a pick-me-up and coffee milk isn’t cutting it, give Bacchus a try! Bacchus is an energy drink often compared to Red Bull – though its creators originally intended for it to be used as a way to combat hangovers, it’s now marketed as a hardcore energy drink for people who really need a boost. Grab a bottle of Bacchus the next time you’re in a convenience store that sells it – you’ll have a hard time sitting still for the rest of the day, but you certainly won’t complain about being too tired!
Korean Drink #8: Citron Tea (유자차)
Citron Tea has recently made its way onto the menu of several fine dining restaurants in the United States and other Western countries, but South Korea has known about the magic of citron (or yuzu) for years. This tea is made from preserved slices of the yuzu fruit that are sliced thin and kept in honey, which preserves the fruit and lends it a sweet flavor that makes citron tea so special.
To make citron tea, acquire some of this delicious yuzu honey and put a couple of spoonfuls in hot water. Once the honey dissolves, drink up! The next you’re feeling under the weather, make sure you incorporate citron tea into your “get well” routine — citron tea has been considered a cold and flu treatment for centuries.
Korean Drink #9: Green plum tea (매실차)
If you’ve spent time in Korea during the warm summer months, chances are you’re already familiar with the green plums (or maesil) that are fruit of the plum trees that you’ll find throughout Korea and East Asia. The trees bear fruit towards the beginning of summertime, so as soon as you see baskets of these little green plums popping up in markets it’s an indication that it’s time to slip into a summer state of mind!
There are several different methods of making green plum tea, but the most popular is to use fermentation to turn the plums into a thick, sweet maesil syrup. In its syrup form, you can store maesil year round without worrying about whether you have fresh plums on hand.
Make a point to acquire maesil syrup this summer so you can experiment with different drinks — try mixing the syrup with sparkling water to make a sweet, refreshing soda or try mixing the syrup with steaming hot water to make a sweet, calming tea. Both drinks are extremely popular throughout Korea depending on the weather, so you can’t go wrong!
Korean Drink #10: Barley Tea (보리차)
Barley tea is one of the items on this list that can be considered almost mainstream in some other countries — it’s definitely not difficult to find outside of Korea, but its initial popularity centuries ago in Korea, China, and Japan is what has made it a staple for the rest of the world. Barley tea is an incredibly versatile drink.
Whether you’re in the mood for a toasty drink that will warm you from the tips of your toes to the top of your head or a refreshing drink served over ice that will help keep the grueling Korean summer heat at bay, barley tea is the drink for you. Unlike several of the teas on this list that are made from syrups or honeys, barley tea can be prepared with a simple tea bag and some hot water.
As an added bonus, barley tea is uncaffeinated, so you can drink it at all times of the day (and you don’t have to worry about getting too jittery if you’d like to have several cups of it).
The next time you’re looking for a low maintenance drink that is truly great during every season, give barley tea a try and see for yourself why it’s such a staple!
Korean Drink #11: Yulmu (율무차)
Is yulmu a tea? Is it a meal? The debate is ongoing! Yulmu is the perfect beverage for when you need something satisfying to fill you up but you don’t have time to eat an entire meal. Although it’s a tea, there is significant nutrition in yulmu as a result of how the tea is made.
The star of yulmu is a small grain known as “Job’s tears,” which has a long and vibrant history — while it’s great to eat, this grain was also used to make religious jewelry throughout Europe, which is where it coined its unique name.
You’ll likely find this grain ground up with various nuts and seeds throughout your time in Korea. All you need to do is add hot water to this mixture, and within a few minutes you have a warm and filling cereal to slurp down.
Start your day with a steaming cup of yulmu and your body will thank you — thanks to the high protein content, yulmu will keep you going throughout the day when you need energy!
Korean Drink #12: Corn Tea (옥수수차)
Corn tea is a multitasker — not only is it a delicious beverage, but it’s also supposedly a weight loss agent that will get you the chisled jaw that you’re after. Corn tea is made from dried kernels of corn or corn silk, depending on your preference. If you’re in search of a drink that will help aid your weight loss journey, consider adding corn tea to your regimen.
Korean Drink #13: Misugaru (미숫가루)
Are you a fan of frosty protein shakes? If so, misugaru is right up your alley! While there are infinite variations of misugaru (you can mix and match different combinations of nuts and grains depending on what you’re looking for), you can always count on this drink to be refreshing and full of nutrients that will help keep you in tip top shape. Misugaru is easy to find when you’re out and about, but it’s also easy to blend up at home if you have a blender, ice, and a sweetening agent like honey or maple syrup.
Due to its high protein content, misugaru is a great meal replacer. If you’re on the go and don’t have time to sit down and enjoy a meal, give misugaru a try! This shake is especially great if you’re spending the day sightseeing or taking in the sights of Seoul and you need a quick and easy beverage to keep you going.
Korean Drink #14: Dawn 808 (숙취해소음료)
Korea truly has something for everybody, whether you’re interested in checking out the shopping districts, museums, or the beaches this summer. Regardless of your interests, you will more likely than not find yourself indulging in Korean bars before the night is over. While this means you’ll have some great nights to remember, you’ll also probably wake up feeling a little rough a couple of times during your trip.
There’s no shame — hangovers happen to the best of us! However, if you’re not careful, a nasty hangover can take up a whole day, which isn’t something that you want to happen if you’re on vacation. The next time you’re feeling less than awesome after a night out, try a can of Dawn 808.
Dawn 808 is made from a mysterious combination of roots, herbs, and Korean magic (just kidding… or are we?). The taste of this drink isn’t for everybody, as it tastes slightly medicinal. That being said, you’re drinking Dawn 808 for a purpose, so make sure you finish the can and let it work its magic.
Korean Drink #15: Sujeonggwa (수정과)
If you have a sweet tooth, make sure you try sujeonggwa the next time you’re in Korea! Sujeonggwa is equal parts dessert and drink, and it features a delicious mixture of cinnamon, brown sugar, ginger, and persimmon that come together to make a delicious sweet flavor that’s not quite like anything else.
Sujeonggwa tastes like the season Fall in a cup, but it’s served cold so you can also enjoy it very comfortably through the spring and summer.
Korean Drink #16: Green tea (녹차)
Green tea is the ultimate classic Korean beverage, and it’s great for a multitude of different situations. Need a delicious, refreshing iced drink on a summer day? Green tea. What about a warm drink during the cold summer months? Green tea. How about a flavor to infuse a cookie or cake with? Look no further — green tea to the rescue.
Green tea has been around for centuries, and its uses are seemingly infinite. It’s also full of antioxidants, so it’s a popular drink for anyone who is health conscious as well. Korean green tea is made from dried tea leaves rather than powder, and it’s especially great as an ice cream flavor. Keep your eyes peeled for green tea flavored ice cream the next time you’re in Korea — if you find it, you’ll be in for a treat!
Korean Drink #17: McCol (맥콜)
If you’re a fan of classic barley tea, you’re going to fall in love with McCol! McCol initially became popular among health-conscious circles, but quickly found widespread popularity. Something about the combination of carbonation, barley notes, and a unique sweet flavor makes McCol an easy favorite among Koreans. It’s especially great in the warm summer months after you’ve been walking around or doing any activity that’s made you sweat a lot — McCol will cool you off, and the sweetness of the drink will pep you up and get you ready to tackle the rest of your day.
Give McCol a try the next time you see it at a Korean convenience store. It’s extremely popular, so you shouldn’t have a difficult time finding it!
Have you tried all of the Korean drinks on this list? Be sure to tell us all about your favorite in the comments below (or all about your favorite Korean drink if it’s not featured in the article)! We’re always excited to try something new.