While Korean food gets all the attention, Korean drinks are some of the best in the World. From our favorite soju to delicious teas, there are tons of must-try drinks in Korea. In this post, we share 13 of our favorite Korean drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
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Must Try Tasty Korean Beverages
Korea (South) is one of our favorite places to travel to for food and drink. The eating culture in Korea is one where food and drink go hand in hand. Having made a few trips to Seoul, we’ve experienced a wide range of Korean drinks including soju, Korean fruit wines, and Korean soft drinks.
In this guide, we share just some of the many popular Korean drinks. Know that not everyone drinks alcohol, we’ve included a few Korean teas, which are perfect when visiting in Winter like we have. For those who do drink alcohol, we talk about soju, Korean beer, and Korean fruit wines.
When possible, I’ve included some pricing on drinks in Korea. Our last trip to Korea was back in 2020. I would imagine that prices have changed. But at least you’ll have some sense of the cost to go drinking in Korea.
Makgeolli is a traditional Korean alcoholic beverage that dates back thousands of years. It is a rice wine that Koreans would home-brew. The drink is brewed using rice and nuruk (a fermentation starter used for a faster brewing process.)
Even with the fast brew, makgeolli still takes 7-10 days to make. Makgeolli flavor is slightly sweet, with a sour and bitter aftertaste. Often it is found to be somewhat fruity or floral depending on where and how it has been made. The consistency is quite chalky, and it has a milky color. Trying pairing makgeolli with Kimchi and Korean BBQ.
Cheongju is another form of rice wine drink. In this case, Cheongju is clear that instead of being milky in appearance. It is found all over Korea but is quite a popular South Korean drink. Cheongju is a Korean drink often brewed during the winter months, specifically between November and March.
It is made by leaving steamed rice, fermentation starter, and water for around 16-25 days at between 57-61 degrees Fahrenheit. After the process, the wine is then filtered, and what is left is a clear liquid—the finished wine. The end product is crisp and slightly sweet and drinks well on its own but is also great for cooking with including in many Korean side dishes.
Baekse-Ju is a Korean herbal drink, pronounced: “Bek-Se-Ju,”. It’s another Korean rice wine made using a fermenting process. Still, the difference is that it is made with the addition of eleven different herbs, including ginseng.
The myth behind this drink is that if you drink it, it can make you live for 100 years due to the combination of herbs. It is often served in an old-fashioned bottle and doesn’t carry exciting branding, and because of its history, and health benefits, it isn’t exactly the most popular drink for people on a night out. But it’s a must-try when in Korea.
Despite the multitude of ingredients, this Korean drink is relatively smooth and mellow in flavor. It pairs perfectly with spicy Korean dishes.
Honju is a traditional Korean drink made from Jicho roots, which is quite rare and not found in many other Korean beverages. It is bright red in color, making it an attractive choice when you see it on display.
Hongju is only made in one part of Korea called South Jeolla, a province on Jindo Island. The drink dates back over a thousand years. It was once served to the Kings of the Joseon Dynasty as a prize gift. It is very smooth and mild in flavor while being extremely fragrant.
Ah, soju. Easily our favorite Korean drink. There’s just something indescribable about soju. Many people say soju is simply Korean sake. And while there might be some truth to that, soju isn’t sake and vice versa.
Of all the drinks in this guide, soju is likely the one you’re almost familiar with. The popularity of soju has increased with the popularity of Korean food in the United States and elsewhere. Afternoon, Korean food and soju are perfectly matched, complimenting each other not overpowering each other.
Soju is a completely clear spirit drink with low alcohol content. Much like sake, soju is made using rice. Other styles of soju use grains or sometimes potatoes.
Soju is a “short drink” or shot. It’s a Korean tradition, to never pour your own soju. Rather, you serve your friends or family and allow them to do the same for you. And when drinking soju, never face others at the table. Simply turn to the side and drink. It takes a bit getting used to at first but it’s one of my favorite drinking customs.
Korean Fruit Wines – Podoju, Maesil-Ju, Bokbunja-ju
There is a huge variety when it comes to Korean fruit wine. They can all range widely when it comes to flavor and alcohol content. While not a huge fruit wine drinker, it was a lot of fun tasting the different types. Here’s a look at three different types of Korean fruit wines.
Bokbunja-Ju, made with black raspberries, is usually around 15% to 19%. It’s beautifully sweet and deep in color. Almost syrup-like.
Podoju, which is traditionally made using grapes, and other fruits. Sometimes cherries or pomegranates. This rice wine has an alcohol content of around 21%, and it is often used for medicinal purposes due to its health benefits.
Another popular Korean fruit wine is maesil-Ju, made using ripe plums. It is usually around 20% in alcohol content.
These South Korean drinks are a great addition to having alongside Korean desserts and sweets or on their own.
Korean Beer – Hite, Cass, Gangseo
What can I say about Korean beer that hasn’t already been said? In Korea, you have several choices when it comes to beer. Choices range from the massed produced beers such as Hite, Cass (my favorite Korean beer), and Gangseo to the growing Korean craft beer scene.
While Koreans have the reputation for working hard, they also enjoy drinking Korean beer. South Korea ranks in the top 30 of countries for beer consumption. Having made a few trips to Korea and seeing Koreans enjoying themselves, this comes as no surprise.
As I mentioned early, Hite, Cass, and Gangseo are the most popular beers in Korea. These beers are sold in bottles, cans, and on draft just like in the US. During our last trip to Seoul in 2020, we paid more attention to the price of beer in Korea.
A 16 oz beer such as Hite or Cass costs on average between $2.50 and $4.00. A pitcher of either beer is between $6 and $10. Since it’s been over three years since our last drink, I’m not sure if the price of drinking in Korea has changed much.
If you do travel to Seoul or other parts of Korea, be prepared to see people drinking both beer and soju at the same time. We’ve been out to dinner with Korean friends where both beer and soju were ordered. We drank beer at our own pace while the soju was reserved for toasting.
Banana Mat Uyu – Korean Banana Milk
Banana Mat Uyu is a Korean soft drink made with 80% milk. It is a popular drink with children as well as people of all ages across Korea. Banana Mat Uyu carries a bit of nostalgia for older Koreans.
In the 1970s, Banana Mat Uyu was invented to deal with increasing problems with malnutrition across Korea. Like most childhood food and drink, Banana Mat Uyu is still a favorite for Koreans of certain ages. In a way, Banana Mat Uyu reminds us of a yogurt drink you can have for breakfast or an afternoon snack.
Omija Tea is a Korean tea drink that is a nice blend of sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, and salty. The tea is made from dry magnolia berries and honey. In all our tea-drinking experiences, we’ve never had tea made from dry magnolia berries.
Similar in color to jujube, magnolia berries are a gorgeous red color. Native to Korea, the magnolia berries are often referred to as “Five-Flavor-Fruits” because of the sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, and salty flavors they produce.
You’ll find Omija Tea served hot or cold. It’s also used as the main ingredient in Korean magnolia punch.
If you drink too much soju or Korean beer during your trip, much like we have, look for Dawn 808. One of the popular Korean soft drinks, Dawn 808 is considered by many Koreans to be the best hangover cure ever. By no means are we endorsing overdrinking or that Dawn 808 will cure your hangover. We are just passing on what’s been told to us.
Dawn 808 is reported to be the first patented hangover drink in the world. It got its name because that’s how many attempts it took to get the formula just right.
Dawn 808’s flavor isn’t for everyone, including myself. It’s very herbal. Of all the Korean herbal drinks we’ve tried, I’m not really a fan of Dawn 808. But it’s not that taste but rather the results, no more hangover, why people drink Dawn 808.
Daechu Tea – Dried Jujube Tea
Daechu Tea is a Korean drink made from dried jujubes. If you are not familiar with Jujube, it’s a berry-like fruit that has medicinal properties.
Often called Chinese dates, Jujubes are used to treat coughs and other ailments. The berries themselves are a dark red that produces a rusty brown color when boiled. While the color might be appealing, Daechu Tea has a lovely sweet, berry flavor.
Oksusu-cha – Korean Corn Tea
Oksusu-cha is a traditional Korean drink found in almost every home in Korea. Not the most inviting-sounding Korean drink, Oksusu-cha does take some getting used to. Enjoyed either warm or cold, Oksusu-cha has a slightly nutty flavor.
Amber and I have only been to Korea in the winter so our experience is with warm Oksusu-cha. I found the taste pleasant compared to other more bitter teas. Hopefully, we can get back to Korea soon to take a cold version of Oksusu-cha.
Another trendy Korean drink is Sikhye. Made using barely, sikhye is a popular Korean drink enjoyed by locals around the annual Harvest Festival and New Year’s. Sikhye is a simple beverage made using only malted barley flour, sugar, water, and cooked rice.
The use of rice in sikhye leaves an unusual texture in your mouth. It’s a texture worth getting used to as the drink itself is quite nice. If you enjoy sweet drinks, then you’ll enjoy sikhye. You’ll find sikhye all over Korea, including a canned version in vending machines.
Where To Find Traditional Korean Drinks
Our travels to Korea have been limited to Seoul, the capital of Korea. With that in mind, there is no shortage of places to find any or all the traditional Korean drinks in our guide. After all, Seoul is one of the most modern cities in the world.
For alcoholic Korean drinks like soju, Korean beer, and Korean fruit wine, you’ll find these in bars and restaurants all across Seoul. Drinking alcohol with a meal is a popular activity in Korea.
If you are looking for Korean craft beer in Seoul, there are easily dozens of Korean craft beer bars spread around the city. You’ll also find alcoholic drinks in supermarkets and convenience stores.
For non-alcoholic Korean drinks like tea, Seoul has tons of great teahouses you can visit. These teahouses offer a wide range of traditional Korean teas.
They are a great place to escape the noise and commotion of Seoul. Much like neighboring Japan, you’ll find tons of vending machines in Korea selling everything from coffee and tea to energy drinks and sodas.
FAQs – 13 Traditional Korean Drinks
The most popular soda in Korea is Chilsung Cider. A lemon-flavored carbonated soda, Chilsung beats out global brands Coca-Cola and Pepsi as the most popular soda in Korea. Other popular sodas in Korea include Sprite, Cheon Yeon Soda Pop, and narrangd Soda Pop.
The legal drinking age in Korea is 19. You can’t buy or consume alcohol in Korea under the age of 19.