For the uninitiated, choosing a Chinese drink from a Chinese convenience store can be like a game of Russian roulette. Admittedly, the stakes are slightly lower, but the disappointment of taking a gulp of iced tea when you think you've bought a coke cannot be overstated.
Choosing the right soft drink to quench your particular thirst can be difficult in China when most only have a Chinese names and come with misleading labels. To help you distinguish between the good, the bad and the ugly Chinese drinks, we've compiled a list of some of our favourites.
What is it exactly? Soy milk, duh.
How to say in Chinese: Wéi Tā Nǎi (维他奶)
Many expats in China grew up drinking cows’ milk every day. As kids, we were forced by our parents to drink the stuff because “It’s good for your bones.” Old habits die hard, even in China, but picking up a bottle of cold fresh milk from your standard China convenience store just isn’t a thing. At best you’ll get a warm bag of long life. Don’t fret though, there is an alternative.
Soy milk may not be quite the same, but its close enough to act as a decent substitute for dairy milk, and over time you may even acquire a preference for the sweeter taste. Soy milk can be found everywhere in China, whether in the form of freshly made pots from hole-in-the-wall restaurants or chilled cartons in big supermarkets. If you’re looking for a reliable brand to call your own, Vitasoy is in abundance.
Ye Shu Pai Ye Zhi
What is it exactly? For those of us not pure enough for coconut water
How to say in Chinese: Yē Shù Paí Yē Zhī (椰树牌椰汁)
Sometimes we’re too busy complaining about what we can’t get in China that we don’t stop to appreciate what we can get here that we wouldn’t normally find back home. One such example is coconut milk juice, coconut water’s sweeter, creamier cousin.
While trendy coconut water abounds in the West, you’re unlikely to find much coconut milk juice in a 7-Eleven or Wal-Mart. In China, however, most convenience stores carry this little black can of deliciousness. While it’s certainly not as healthy as coconut water, it can serve as a welcome solution to those afternoon tummy rumbles.
What is it exactly? China’s answer to Gatorade
How to say in Chinese: Mài Dòng (脉动)
Whether you’ve just finished being thrashed by your local friend at badminton or finally mustered up the courage to join the ayis dancing in the park, they’ll be times when you’ll find yourself in a desperate search of a well earned energy drink in China. There’s certainly a wide range available, but the issue is knowing which will likely do your body more harm than good. When in doubt, pick up a bottle of Mai Dong.
The different flavors may take time to reveal themselves. Your first few sips of Mai Dong may have you wondering if it’s just water and if there’s really any difference between the peach and apple flavors. Over time, however, you’ll no doubt develop a palate for the sports drink and find yourself becoming a Mai Dong connoisseur.
Mai Dong also has the advantage of not tasting like you're drinking one big unhealthy cocktail of chemicals, like with Powerade or Gatorade.
What is it exactly? An innocent looking fruit drink with a sour twist
How to say in Chinese: Shuí Róng C100 (水溶C100)
When you’re looking for a fruit drink in a Chinese convenience store, you could do a lot worse than C100. It’s not going to cost you an arm and a leg like the freshly squeezed juices at trendy salad bars, and it’s not going to completely rot your teeth like some of the big bottle brands in the supermarket.
Handily, the C100 labels are in English and have clear pictures of the fruits in question, just to be sure. All the flavors have a slight sour kick at the end, which quickly gets drinkers hooked. If you're thinking of giving it a go, try the lemon flavor first!
Jia Duo Bao
What is it exactly? Iced Tea masquerading as Coca-Cola
How to say in Chinese: Jiā Duō Bǎo (加多宝)
You could be forgiven for mistaking Jia Duo Bao as some Chinese version of Coca-Coca. The can is the same size and has a similar red color scheme with Chinese characters in the place of the iconic Coke logo. If you were to make this mistake and buy a can to guzzle on a hangover, the surprise and disappointment of finding out you’ve purchased iced tea could be overwhelming. In any other situation, however, you’d probably quite like it.
Jia Duo Bao is very popular with local Chinese people, so you may find yourself offered it in a work meeting or when visiting a friend’s house. So save yourself the social awkwardness of pulling a face and start teaching your brain now that this is a delicious canned ice tea drink and not what it appears.
Red Bull (China style)
What is it exactly? Chinese Red Bull gives you wings…and who knows what else
How to say in Chinese: Hóng Niú (红牛)
Red Bull is pretty lethal in any country, but there’s something about the Red Bull produced in China that’s particularly unnerving. It comes with a stronger chemical taste and a more intense effect. Those little golden cans may look less potent than the tall silver and blue ones in the West, but underestimate Chinese Red Bull at your own peril.
Drinking Chinese Red Bull is the soft drinks equivalent of making a deal with the Devil. You know what you'll gain from drinking it, but you’re also fully aware of the impact it will have on your body. Yet sometimes, when you are working overtime at the office or battling a hangover while teaching kids, it’s a deal that has to be made.
Do you have any other favourite Chinese soft drinks? Add them in the comments section below.
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Keywords: Chinese drinks Chinese convenience store
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