Soda: it’s a staple of the American diet, but by no means an America-only drink. This week, JASGP takes a look at some of the varieties of soda available in Japanese convenience stores.
One of the first things that many Americans notice when they visit Japan is the difference in beverages commonly available. Convenience stores and restaurants in the US, rarely have many drinks that aren’t sweetened other than water, coffee, or in some places, “unsweet” tea. In Japan, on the other hand, you find that the beverage selection is generally split 50/50 between sweetened and unsweetened. There is a huge variety of different tea brands and styles, ranging from green, black, white, herbal, and so on. There are usually some semi-sweetened drinks as well, but there are only a few staple sodas and energy drinks.
Maybe this is a result of the availability of unsweetened drinks, or maybe vice versa, but you rarely see people drinking soda in Japan, unless they are at McDonalds or another fast food place. Tea and water are almost universally preferred over sweet, fizzy drinks. As a result, Japanese beverage companies have to work extra hard to come up with new and enticing drinks every summer, hoping to steal a chunk of the market from the tea giants. Over the past few years, I’ve had the mixed pleasure of tasting a number of unique Japanese sodas.
Anyone who has been to Japan is probably familiar with this. Melon cream soda is a long-time staple of Japanese convenience stores, and despite it being a Japan-only treat, it always has a spot on the shelf next to the Coke, Pepsi, coffee, and energy drinks. Most stores will stock this before they stock any other non-colas as well, making it more common than Sprite/7-Up, Dr. Pepper, and other staple sodas in the US. (Don’t even think about trying to find a root beer or a birch beer.) Melon cream is one Japanese variant soda that really needs to cross over into the mainstream US market. I can’t believe it hasn’t done so already. For now, you can get imported melon soda at a few places, like Maido! In Narberth.
One of the best Japanese sodas I’ve ever had was Pepsi Shiso. Shiso(sometimes called “the beefsteak plant” in English) is a Japanese herb that is quite common in cooking, used as a garnish and sometimes as a topping. If you’ve ever ordered sashimi and eaten the green leaf that comes as a garnish on the side, you’ve eaten shiso. It has a slight minty flavor, but not overpowering. It tastes great, cleans the palette, and by no means sounds like it should make a good soda. But for whatever reason, Pepsi hit on something brilliant when they made Pepsi Shiso. I found myself wishing the following year that it were still around instead of just being a one-summer fling. As a further confirmation, my family, who visited me in Japan while Pepsi Shiso was on the shelves, all gave it the thumbs-up.
Yet another green drink, Shizuoka Cola — the green tea flavored soda — is a local specialty found all over Shizuoka prefecture. Shizuoka is famous for its green tea, and you can find every kind of green tea-based produced imaginable, so it’s no surprise they would come up with a soda well. It’s not a bad drink, and tastes surprisingly similar to green tea. However after a few sips of this I found myself wanting an actual bottle of tea instead of a sweet, bubbly, tea-flavored soda. Really good green tea has a distinctive bitterness that is lost when it is filled with this much sugar. For those of you looking to try this one, Shizuoka Cola is a year-round item, rather than a seasonal one-shot, so there’s no worry about it going away any time soon. You can find it in just about any convenience store in Shizuoka.
I think melon soda and Pepsi Shiso would make great crossovers to the United States; Shizuoka Cola not so much… What do you think? Have you ever had one of these? Let us know in the comments, and check back tomorrow for part 2!