Let’s just jump right into this….
The backstory: A few weeks ago, the topic, “the Top 5 most awful drinks in China” went viral because the company, Laoshan Baihua Shecao Beverage recently began exporting their drinks to Africa. Most amusingly, Chinese netizens began to freak out, declaring among other things “our relationship with Liberia is now ruined.” Laoshan’s mineral water is frequently regarded as the most terrible drink in all of China. It’s made with hedyotis diffusa, a traditional Chinese medicine said to be good for hangovers due it its “cooling” effects. Side effect: This ingredient also leads people to conclude that it tastes like "sweat" and like "straw mat soaked in water".
The story gained momentum and then an article published on guancha.cn elucidated four more terrible drinks available to us all in China.
And then people started selling all five of them as a package deal on Taobao as the "five worst drinks in China" because that’s pretty funny.
And then that’s where we come in.
And now, presenting, a taste test of the five worst drinks in China.
Oh, the things I could have done with my life…
1. HeySong Sarsaparilla Drink
HeySong Sarsaparilla comes to us from Taiwan as the saccharine stand-out in the line of soda libations offered to the world from the HeySong soda empire, founded on the island in way back in 1925. The company, “HeSung”, created when Taiwan was still under Japanese rule, is currently known for their lines of sodas, iced teas, and even scotch whiskey. Their “Sarsaparilla”, however, remains the most popular choice of “sarsi” drink on the island, and has remained so ever since it hit the market in 1950.
A distant cousin of root beer in the sarsaparilla family tree, a“sarsi” drink is essentially root beer with two middle fingers pointed at the sky and a metric fuck-ton of sugar substitute, “saccharin” dumped into it. Mmmm.
I don’t know about you guys, but when I’m lookin’ for a nice piss-warm can of sarsaparilla, I get it from a cardboard box in the mail from some random taobao shop out of Hangzhou and the brand, time and time again, has to be HeySong.
Say it with me, Saaaaaarsaparillla.
I’m greeted with a cool satisfying **HISSS** when I crack the can open — down home in cottage country, we call that the “soundtrack of the summer, buddy” — and already the room is engulfed in the sticky sweet smell of warm ginger and smilax regeli plant. Ooo, my favorite.
Tastes like… It tastes like really, really syrupy-sweet root beer, essentially. It’s like flat, unfrozen root beer-base Slurpee syrup with at least a pound of cane sugar dumped into it. Boy, you can really taste the 1950s in this, I swear. Gee willikers. It tastes like hanging out in front of a five and dime shop in some hot dust bowl Arizona suburb, playing hopscotch and marbles with the neighborhood kids after spending the morning doing farm chores for your folks.
You’ve got to steal these moments of wistful Americana when you can because you never know when Leonid friggin’ Brezhnev is going to up and wipe freedom from the face of God’s earth with a volley of Russian nuclear warheads.
Is it the Worst Ever?
I dunno. I feel like one of The Little Rascals drinking this. This was made in 1950. That’s the year Apartheid started in South Africa. That’s the year the Korean War begun. Notable births in 1950: Julius “Dr. J” Irving. Tom Petty. Manny Trillio. Jay Leno. Tony Wilson. This is like cutting edge soda technology circa the onset of the Cold War and thus deployed specifically to rot your teeth out of your face, give you a splitting headache, and double you right over with stomach pains.
I give this five jailed Nelson Mandelas out of a possible 10.
2. Laoshan Oldenlandia Mineral Water
Laoshan Oldenlandia Mineral Water comes to us from the Qingdao Laoshan Mineral Water Co. and is a mineral water beverage that claims to have sourced its liquid base from Mount Lao in Qingdao (Laoshan). My friends, the mountain is culturally significant due to its long affiliation with Taoism and is often regarded as one of the "cradles of Taoism”.
Huh! Interesting, Morgan! So interesting!
Laoshan Oldenlandia Mineral Water is made with oldenlandia diffusa, also called snake-needle grass or bai hua she she cao, a herbal property that features in several Traditional Chinese Medicines. It’s often deployed for its supposed cancer fighting agents, however…
“Not enough evidence exists to confirm its benefit for treating cancer or any other condition.“ (Source)
Evidently, oldenlandia diffusa can be collected and categorized in that rather large sub-classification of Traditional Chinese medicine, “Stuff That Tastes Like Powdered Horse Shit Sadness and Does Sweet Fuck-All Good for You”.
Laoshan Oldenlandia Mineral Water has its own Facebook fan page, which is, as you can imagine, just about the most exciting place on the internet. The latest post is from October 6, 2015:
“In this hazy weather, drinking Oldenlandia water could aid in cooling your body !”
In various parts around China, Laoshan Mineral Water is seen as a cheaper alternative to the first name in French mineral water, Perrier, which is what… five times the price, not to mention completely bereft of the (Non) Magical Healing Properties of the Oldenlandia herb.
On the other hand, Laoshan Mineral Water tastes like a sweaty fistful of used matchsticks and stale water park water, so tomato / tomato.
Is It the Worst Ever?
I really like the name “Oldenlandia” because it makes me think of some Harry Potter-Narnia kinda shit and that puts me in a happy place, mentally. I “liked” the non-official Facebook page because I feel like I’m going to make friendships and connections there for life.
I can’t really recommend Laoshan Oldenlandia Mineral Water in good faith, though, because it tastes like old chlorine, salty child’s piss, and burnt wood. Alas. Just that one thing.
3. Dongfang Shuye (东方树叶) “Oriental Leaves” Oolong Tea
The most inscrutable bottle on this list is from the artsy Dongfang Shuye line of sugarless tea drinks, also from our friends, the Nongfu Springs company. You’ve probably seen these around town. Each bottle is hand-painted in the park by 90-year-old Taoist sages and individually blessed for prosperity and auspiciousness. Traditionally, since the Tang Dynasty, they’ve been enjoyed once a month under the light of a new moon, and believed to bolster inner harmony and serenity…
…or I don’t know what I’m talking about, but this is some ephemeral and creative-ass looking tea. They have four different flavors: Oolong tea, Jasmine tea, Black tea, and Green tea all served in beautiful bottles. Some depict East India Company trading ships ferrying the tea across oceans, some ancient temples, some just a simply butterfly landing on a flower.
Today's variation of choice: the oolong tea one. Couldn’t find any English language material on the web about this variety, but I sent the company description through google translate and this is what it churned out:
“AD 1267, the Japanese monk to Nampo Shao Jingshan Temple Xiufo learning tea, after carrying steaming green tea east, Japan Matcha thus originated. You give her a promise, she would break the shackles of winter. She Gan willing to stand aloof attitude of biting freezing cold early spring at the forefront, just to collect for you that little bit of sunshine. She suffered tearing pains she endured brazier of suffering, her fragile body wash and frivolous. She spent the spring filled your empty cup, but fears over the cup but not control your heart.”
Welp. It’s pretty bare bones. It’s very much like some unsweetened oolong tea. It’s like tea you get for free at the local corner restaurant when you don’t even ask for it. It’s slightly musty. It’s thin and… plant-tasting. It’s the spirit of the tea fields. It’s not the worst thing in the world. It’s kinda like when you go camping and you’ve got a cup of water that you’ve left out overnight but you drink it the next morning anyways. So it’s like water plus natural condensation plus morning dew plus maybe moose jizz.
Is It the Worst Thing Ever?
Nah, there are worst things out there. Poverty. War. Inequality. Batman Vs. Superman. I kind of like this, actually. It’s humble and ancient, belying a hidden power and dynamism. Kinda like Steven Seagal.
I bet he’s into this.
4. Wahaha Kvass Unique Liquid Bread Future Cola
Well, why don’t I just step aside here and let them tell you themselves. From the horse’s mouth:
“Future Cola is a carbonated drink catered to the taste of Chinese people with a high CO2 content and no preservatives. With its unique Chinese style characteristics, Future Cola has become a symbol of Chinese people's happy lives.We adopt the modern biotechnology and use the lactic acid bacteria group specifically in longevity village in the former Soviet Caucasus district with pure malt fermentation, to produce the unique kvass wort fermented drink, rich in protein, amino acids, vitamins, reducing sugars, organic acids and other Follow your feelings and enjoy the temptation of romance and passion!”
Coming to us from Zhejiang Province-based beverage giant Wahaha, Unique Liquid Bread Future Cola Kvass is the Chinese answer to the Eastern European drink kvass made from fermented bread. Kvass is often marketed as a healthier alternative to Coke and Pepsi; it has less sugar in it and is full of Vitamin B.
It’s also had the FUN and GOOD TIMES fermented right the hell out of it, straight-up Russia-stye.
Fun kvass fact: In Tolstoy's War and Peace, French soldiers drink kvass in Moscow, referring to it as "pig's lemonade”.
Wahaha’s Chinese brand of kvass is made with fermented fungus instead of rye bread because Chinese people are like, “sure, we can make this stuff grosser, challenge accepted.”
Kinda excited for this one. As a man of the world, I relish experiencing new things and enjoy sharing my positive reaction to them in blog format. The bottle looks like something out of 1001 Arabian Nights. I bet if I cracked this open on a Delta flight, I’d get swarmed by 20 undercover US Air Marshals in like 5 seconds.
Opening it up and… oh MAN, that’s gross. Oh JESUS. Uggh. This is like… it’s like. Liquefied cotton candy and about 3000 years of religious persecution. I can taste the fungus. I can taste the fungus. It’s so, so, so sweet too. It’s so sweet. It’s like stale beer, bread, and cotton candy fermented in someone’s ass cheeks on a 20-hour bus ride to rural Turkmenistan.
Is it the Worst Ever?
So, with the other guy, they gave him 5,000rmb to go have dinner on the Bund and eat at the world’s most celebrated restaurant from the world’s most acclaimed chef.
I get a box of five poisonous All Days drinks in the mail.
Serious, Robuchon could’ve rammed the foie gras directly up my ass and I’d have declared it a friggin' TRIUMPH.
5. Scream Energy Drink Herbal Flavor
Oh, I’ve seen these before. Never seen this flavor, though. What is this? Like hot orange? It looks angry. It looks pissed. “Herbal Flavor” — oh, you know this is going to be good. “Herbal flavor” — what the hell is that.
Anyway, Scream is like the fifth-string energy drink you get when you’re hungover as FARK at the store and they don’t have Gatorade, Power Ade, Pocari Sweat, that lime one in the bright blue bottle, Lipton’s Ice Tea, any of the Fire Ice Coffee brands, water, or just a good ole honest punch in he face administered by the Kedi Mart ayi. If none of those are options, Scream it is.
It’s a real last place finisher; it’s Samwise Gamgee in a plastic bottle.
Scream is from the Nongfu Springs bottled water company — they of the distinctive red and white water bottles — famous a few years ago for supposedly including arsenic and feces in their water product as like… I don’t know, a fun little prize for their consumers. They were cleared of that though, so we won’t hold them to it. No hard feelings.
Nongfu Springs: Our company is probably not trying to comically poison all of China like we were run by The Riddler or whatever.
Shocker. It’s not very good. It’s not very good at all. It’s somewhat not very delicious. Staggering. It’s like ginseng and warm grapefruit and it’s super depressing. I just don’t want to hang out with this anymore.
It’s got a nice squeeze nozzle too which is probably really useful for the minions of Satan in hell, where this is no doubt sprayed into people’s eyes as a form of eternal torture.
Is It the Worst Ever?
It’s the worst on this list, for sure. It wins and we all lose. This energy drink doesn't even give me the energy to commit suicide. It’s just miserable. It’s way worse than the sweat water and the Russian No Fun Bread Cola. I really don’t want to go on. This drink makes me sad. And queazy.
And I might barf.
Fun times. Let's do this again sometime, alright.
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