The Global Times Chinese drink challenge

Every country has its own distinct beverages, many that only appeal to local palates, and China certainly has its fair share. According to sales volume statistics on Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao, the best-selling local drinks include Wang Laoji herbal tea, Coconut Palm brand natural coconut juice, Hot-Kid milk and sour plum juice. While the flavors of these beverages are enjoyed by Chinese customers, how do foreigners here react to them? The Global Times recently invited four Shanghai expats to a taste test to rate these Chinese drinks according to their own diverse palates.
Every country has its own distinct beverages, many that only appeal to local palates, and China certainly has its fair share. Photos: CFP
Wang Laoji herbal teaThis brand of herbal tea has been the top-selling herbal tea drink in the Chinese mainland market for over a decade.It is particularly popular when locals eat hotpot or spicy foods, as they tend to believe the tea’s medicinal herbal ingredients can help relieve the heat inside their body.When our foreign participants saw the beverage’s package, many were confused and couldn’t connect it to any kind of drink.American Jay Thornhill said the packaging looked more like a warning; he perceived it to be gasoline or some kind of flammable liquid.”It has so much writing, and it is red and yellow. It just screams ‘keep away from matches and small children,'” Thornhill joked.Ginger Werner from the US said she doesn’t understand any Chinese characters and thus is not likely to ever buy it.Likewise, Indian Kumar Gaurav said that even though the package coloring is quite eye-catching, he wouldn’t know what it is.After they tasted the herbal tea, however, most said the flavor was good albeit too sweet. “It tastes like herbal tea, which should be healthy. But something that sweet is not that healthy. If I want to lose some weight, I won’t buy it because it has a lot of sugar inside,” Catherine Valley from Russia said.When the four participants were asked to rate the drink from 1 to 10, the average score was 6 points. Werner said the drink could be an 8 “with some ice.”Coconut Palm brand natural coconut juiceThis brand of coconut juice is one of the most well-known and best-selling beverages in the Chinese mainland market.Notably, it has also been honored as a “State banquet” beverage, meaning high government functionaries have endorsed this brand.The package immediately grabbed the participants’ eyeballs. All agreed it has too many Chinese characters and pictures on it.Thornhill commented that it looks like a street sign; Valley felt it resembled a newspaper. “Packages in America usually look simpler and have less writing on it,” Werner added.Nonetheless, the participants enjoyed drinking this coconut juice and gave it very high scores.Gaurav said people in India drink coconut milk quite often and the flavor of this Chinese beverage reminded him of his home country.”I don’t think I can drink too much of it, though, because it’s a bit too sweet. But for a quick sip, it is really tasty,” Thornhill said.Valley complained that the drink seemed watered-down compared to pure coconut water. “I wish it could be more concentrated and give me more of a coconutty flavor,” she said.Werner, who only gave the coconut juice 4 points, said she drinks it with spicy foods but not any other occasion.Wahaha calcium milk beverageThis flavored milk is particularly popular among Chinese children. But how did our adult foreigners react to it?Both Thornhill and Werner felt it was way too sweet.”Does this milk really come from a cow? It doesn’t taste like milk; more like candies,” they both commented, adding that the sheer amount of sugar in it is unhealthy for small children.Thus, they only rated it between a 2 and 3. Valley gave the milk a 4 despite its artificiality.”In the aftertaste, I can sense something not belonging to milk or yogurt, maybe some aromatic stuff,” she noticed. “I feel it is not healthy and I wouldn’t ever give it to children.”But Gaurav rated the milk a 5, saying the flavor is similar to Chinese yogurt, which would appeal to local children but probably not Western kids.Hot-Kid milkHot-Kid milk is also a hot seller among Chinese children.In terms of its package, all the participants said it is “cute” and were generally “satisfied” with its flavor.”This one tastes more natural and less artificial. It tastes more like real milk,” Thornhill said.Notably, Thornhill, Werner and Gaurav gave the milk an 8; Valley rated the milk a 9. “I didn’t give it 10, though, because it is still not that healthy. Every sweet beverage is not healthy. We need to control the sugar intake in our blood,” she recommended.Sour plum juiceSour plum juice is an ancient Chinese beverage and still extremely popular during hot summer months. But most of our foreign participants were unable to deal with its flavor.”The sour flavor is too concentrated for me and I wouldn’t buy it,” Gaurav said, adding that most Indian drinks are sweet; this was the first time he’d ever tried a sour beverage.Thornhill and Werner gave the drink only a 5.5, because they felt the aftertaste was weird. “It is not sourly, but more like dirt and sugar and fruit mixed together,” Thornhill said. “It is not awful; it just leaves weird earthy things in your mouth.”In contrast, Valley liked the strong sour flavor and gave it a startling 10. She explained that Russia has similar tasting sour fruit juices.Chrysanthemum teaNone of our taste testers had ever before seen chrysanthemum tea drinks in their home countries, so it was each of their first time to try it.Gaurav was confused “why people drink flowers.” Werner added that some people had told her this particular tea is healthy, but she had never actually tried it.In terms of scoring, Werner and Thornhill were quite down on this drink, giving it a mere 3 because they felt the flavor resembled a chemical.”I felt like I was drinking perfume,” Werner whined. Likewise, Thornhill felt his whole mouth was filled with a “chrysanthemum smell” after he swallowed.As for Gaurav, he rated the drink a 5, saying he would consume it if it were free but he would never actually spend his own money on it.In contrast, Valley gave it a 7, simply because she thinks chrysanthemums are good for one’s health.ConclusionAll our participants pointed out that Chinese beverage packaging caters only to local consumers, which makes it difficult for foreigners in China to recognize and figure out what they are drinking.They suggested that beverage producers in China ought to put more pictures and less words on their packaging to help all consumers immediately know what it is.It is also noteworthy that people from different countries have different preferences for types of flavors: our Russian prefers sour, not sweet, yet our Indian enjoys sweet. Our two Americans prefer more natural flavors and can’t stand anything artificial.
Catherine Valley (left) and Kumar Gaurav
Ginger Werner (left) and Jay Thornhill Photos: Global Times

Suggested Reading