25 Popular South Korean Beverages

South Korean beverages range from traditional alcoholic soju to diverse non-alcoholic teas, offering a vibrant scene of country cuisine.

Lastest Updated April 19, 2024
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Basic Information

South Korean Drinks: Basic Overview

Common Ingredients

Rice, barley, corn, ginseng, fruits, milk

Common Preparing Methods

Brewing, fermenting, distilling, steeping

Key Taste

Sweet, sour, bitter, natural, complex

Drinking Etiquette

Often served in social settings with specific pouring and receiving rituals. Traditional teas are sipped slowly to enjoy the flavor and aroma.

Culinary Festivals

New Year (Seollal) and other festivals (like Korean Harvest Festival, Chuseok.

Influence and Fusion

Features a blend of traditional Korean heritage with modern and international influences.
Origin and Region

South Korean Drinks: Origin and Region

Cuisine

South Korea

Culinary Region

East Asia
South Korea Map
Ingredients and Preparation

Types of South Korean Drinks

  • Alcoholic

    South Korean alcoholic beverages reflect the country’s agricultural heritage.

    They predominantly use ingredients like rice, barley, and local fruits to make these drinks.

    Many of them are associated with social customs, celebrations, and daily life.

  • Non-Alcoholic

    The non-alcoholic beverages in South Korea are diverse in types, such as teas, grain-based drinks, juices, etc.

    Many kinds of tea are known for their health benefits, drawing on centuries-old wisdom about the medicinal properties of natural ingredients.

South Korean beverages are distinguishing themselves as a core element of the nation’s cultural and culinary heritage.

Known for its long-standing love affair with alcohol, South Korea offers a ton of delicious, flavorful, and aromatic alcoholic drinks. Unlike the fancy grape wines of Westerns, the Koreans make their wines from rice and local fruits – the signature ingredients of Asian cuisine.

With a profound history rooted in alcohol consumption during festive and social gatherings, Korean drinks range from enchantingly aromatic alcoholic selections to soothing and diverse non-alcoholic options, such as tea, milk, coffee, etc.

I will give you an overview of the traditional drinking culture in South Korea and the global popularity of local beverages. Next, take a look at the 25 popular drink options South Koreans enjoy.

Moreover, you can also learn more about the drink culture of this country and its tea art. Now, what are you waiting for? Let’s start this amazing journey!

Remember the following rules if you wish to know the age-old drinking customs observed in South Korea.

Legal Drinking Age

South Koreans are permitted to buy alcohol legally starting January 1 of the year they turn 19.

Respect and Hierarchy

Respect for elders and people of higher social status is an important part of South Korean drinking culture. A common way to show respect is to pour or receive a drink from an elder or a superior with both hands.

In addition, people often turn their heads away slightly as a sign of respect before taking a sip.

Pouring Your Own Drink

It’s generally considered improper to pour your own drink in South Korea. Instead, custom dictates that you should pour drinks for others and wait for someone else to offer to refill your glass.

Anju

Anjur refers to South Korean side dishes typically served alongside alcoholic beverages. Ranging from simple snacks to more elaborate dishes, these small bites are an integral part of the local drinking experience.

Hoesik

In the business context, after-work drinking sessions, known as hoesik, are common. This kind of social gathering is considered important for team bonding and building work relationships.

Drinking Games and Songs

Social drinking in South Korea often involves various games and traditional songs, which serve to break the ice, enhance bonding, and liven up the atmosphere.

Refusing Drinks

While South Korea has a strong drinking culture that doesn’t traditionally appreciate the refusal of drinks, it’s becoming more acceptable to decline politely, especially for health or personal reasons.

Read on to discover how well-known South Korean beverages are worldwide. The answer may surprise you!

Several South Korean beverages, especially traditional spirits, various teas, and coffee-based beverages, have a large fan base in many countries, especially the US and East Asian nations.

Primary factors that help South Korean drinks achieve such popularity include the global spread of South Korean culture (known as Hallyu or the Korean Wave) and South Korean convenience stores and café chains.

In the next section, I will show you the tools that help you explore South Korean beverages more easily.

25 Popular South Korean Beverages with Filters

To comprehend the beauty of South Korean beverages, take a look at the 25 options in my guide. Use interactive filters to navigate this section more easily in terms of popularity, ingredients, tastes, and preparation methods.

There are additional filters based on traditional, national, exotic, fusion, and street beverage labels for ease of reference.

  • The most popular South Korean beverages are widely enjoyed across the country and the region; some even enjoy international popularity.
  • These beverages are available in various settings, from cafes to homes and social events.
  • Soju is the national beverage of South Korea, representing the essence of the country’s culture and traditions.
  • This beverage serves as a symbol of hospitality and a reminder of South Korea’s heritage.
  • This beverage is deeply ingrained in the country’s history and social fabric.
  • Traditional South Korean beverages have great historical significance.
  • They have been passed down through generations.
  • These beverages showcase the diversity and richness of South Korea’s regional and culinary heritage.
  • South Korean street beverages are integral to the country’s lively street food scene.
  • These beverages are perfect for drinking on the go or pairing with South Korean street eats.
  • They capture the dynamic atmosphere of South Korea’s markets and busy streets.
  • Exotic South Korean beverages are unique to the country and are difficult to find in other countries.
  • These beverages utilize ingredients that are unfamiliar to people from other regions.
  • They symbolize the uniqueness of South Korean drinks.
  • Dalgona coffee is the most well-known fusion beverage in South Korea.
  • This beverage blends South Korean flavors with a modern and innovative touch.
  • This beverage greatly contributes to the richness of South Korea’s drink scene.
Soju

Soju

  • Alcoholic
  • National
  • Traditional

Soju is Korea’s national liquor. This inexpensive, distilled drink comes in gleaming green bottles, and it is available in nearly every dining and drinking occasion in Korea.

Soju is made from fermented rice, although it can also be made from wheat, barley, sweet potatoes, or tapioca.

This best-selling spirit is generally low in alcohol and has a mild, slightly sweet flavor similar to watered-down vodka. There are also numerous cocktails that include soju.

It is thought to have first arisen when the Mongols taught the Koreans how to manufacture alcohol in the 13th century. Today, Chamisul and Chum Churum are the two major soju brands that dominate the Seoul market.

Makgeolli Korean

Makgeolli

  • Alcoholic
  • Traditional

Known as the oldest alcohol in Korea, Makgeolli (or Takju or farmer’s drinks), is truly a must-try when visiting this country.

Locals make the mixture from rice, fermenting it using nuruk (a Korean fermentation starter) to produce a carbonated mixture. In South Korea, Makgeolli usually comes in a metal kettle for serving and is often consumed in a bowl.

It doesn’t have a clear and crisp appearance like soju and other modern liquors. Instead, it has a milky white tint and a mildly sweet taste.

People often order this alcoholic drink while enjoying a plate of pajeon – one of the most famous street foods in Korea.

Bokbunja Ju

Bokbunja-Ju

  • Alcoholic
  • Exotic
  • Traditional

Bokbunja-ju in Korea is made from bokbunja berries, which are fermented in water. Some variations may come with rice or reishi extract for extra flavors. This native berry gives the wine a signature blood-red color and sweet berry flavor.

With an alcohol content ranging between 15% and 19%, Bokbunja-ju has a medium alcoholic drink. This wine is often served chilled and pairs nicely with meat, seafood, and any other traditional Korean delights.

Bokbunja berry is also known for its health benefits. Research has shown that this drink is high in vitamin C, vitamin A, and antioxidants.

Baekse Ju

Baekse-Ju

  • Alcoholic
  • Traditional

Baekse-ju is a Korean fermented glutinous rice drink. This herbaceous yellow wine is prepared with rice and various roots and herbs; the most notable one is ginseng. Other aromatics, such as wolfberry, ginger, cinnamon, and licorice, will vary depending on the brand.

Baekse-Ju was initially released in 1992 under the name Jibong’yuseol. This fancy rice wine is much pricier than soju and beer due to the use of ginseng.

This rice wine usually has a mellow flavor accompanied by a touch of ginseng.

Sikhye Korean

Sikhye

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Traditional

Sikhye is a non-alcoholic sweet drink made with rice, barley malt powder, sugar, and pine nuts. The subtly sweet taste of sikhye can definitely mesmerize you on the first try.

This dessert drink is usually drunk at Korean festivals, such as New Year’s Day (Seollal) and the Korean Harvest Festival. Locals often drink it after a full meal at a restaurant or after hitting the saunas.

Sikhye is usually known by other names like Dansul or Gamju, often sold in ready-made cans, glass jars, or plastic bottles. At the bottom of most canned Sikhye, there is always a remnant of cooked rice.

Sujeonggwa Ginger

Sujeonggwa

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Traditional

Sujeonggwa is a Korean non-alcoholic beverage, often served as a dessert or a palate cleanser. The primary ingredients are dried persimmons, cinnamon, and ginger, which are brewed together to create a rich infusion.

It is a cold, sweet beverage with a reddish-brown color and mildly spicy taste. The locals usually serve sujeonggwa cold with pine nuts on top or pair it with kkultara, a Korean dragon beard candy.

Sujeonggwa is especially popular during Korean festivities and holidays, such as the Lunar New Year and Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving).

Homemade Misutgaru

Misugaru

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Traditional

Misugaru, or misu, is a popular multi-grain drink in Korea that blends together 7 to 10 different types of grains, which can be either roasted or steamed.

It’s an ideal beverage to enjoy during the summer months. Commonly, Koreans consume it as a breakfast or snack option.

Misugaru is a term that refers to the powdered form, while Misu denotes the liquid version of the drink. To prepare the drink, the powder is mixed with water or milk, and sweeteners such as sugar or condensed milk can be added for extra flavor.

Dalgona Coffee

Dalgona Coffee

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Fusion
  • Street Beverages

Dalgona coffee is a frothy whipped coffee served with milk. You can make this coffee yourself by whipping equal parts of instant coffee, sugar, and hot water until it has a caramel-like color and a frothy texture. The drink usually has a taste similar to honeycomb toffee.

Although many people believe Dalgona coffee has been a mainstay in Korean cuisine for a long time, this is simply not true.

This drink was first created in Macau in 1997. It only started to gain worldwide fame around January 2020 on TikTok and YouTube amid the Coronavirus pandemic.

Maekju Beer

Maekju

  • Alcoholic
  • Street Beverages
  • Traditional

Maekju is a word for Korean beer. This alcoholic beverage was first brought to Korea by Europeans in the early 20th century.

Korean beer is known for its light and crisp flavor profile, making it a preferred accompaniment to various Korean dishes. It’s a staple in the country’s drinking culture, often enjoyed in restaurants, bars, or households.

Popular domestic brands like Cass, Hite, and OB. Additionally, the craft beer scene in big cities like Seoul is expanding, providing local and international craft brews.

Somaek

Somaek

  • Alcoholic
  • Street Beverages
  • Traditional

Somaek is a popular alcoholic beverage in South Korea, featuring a blend of soju and maekju (beer).

Typically, the ratio of soju to beer varies according to personal preference, but a common mix is one part soju to two or three parts beer.

The taste is a balanced blend of the two beverages—less potent than straight soju and more dynamic than beer alone.

The name “somaek” itself is a combination of “soju” and “maekju.” It’s a common choice in social settings or shared dining contexts.

Omija Cha

Omija-cha

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Exotic
  • Traditional

Omija berry or magnolia berry is called “five-flavor berry” in Korean since it is said to have five flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and spicy. Because omija-cha contains this unique fruit, it has a vibrant red color.

The locals love to enjoy this delicious tea with some honey. In some cases, they will flavor it with mung beans or flowers to make a variety of punches.

This tea is ideal for when you start to feel a cold or the flu coming on since it has various therapeutic characteristics that help prevent colds.

Yulmu-cha

Yulmu-cha

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Traditional

Yulmu-cha, also known as Job’s Tears Tea, is a traditional Korean tea made from the grains of Job’s Tears, a type of cereal plant.

The tea has a mild, slightly nutty, and mildly sweet flavor with a creamy texture. Yulmu-cha is enjoyed both hot and cold and is a comforting choice, especially during colder months.

Bori Cha

Bori-Cha

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Traditional

Bori-cha, or Korean barley tea, has a characteristic toasty, nutty flavor. This Asian recipe usually calls for roasted barley seed. You can enjoy this caffeine-free drink in either hot or cold seasons.

There are several brands of barley tea available all around this country, some may come in a tea bag.

Bottled barley tea is typically offered in supermarkets, convenience shops, and vending machines. During the winter, hot bori-cha will be sold in heat-resistant PET bottles.

Insam-cha

Insam-cha

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Traditional

Insam-cha, aka Korean ginseng tea, is a traditional herbal tea made from ginseng, a root famed for its numerous health benefits.

The tea has a slightly bitter and earthy taste, often sweetened with honey or jujube.

Consumed for its energizing properties and potential to boost the immune system, insam-cha is particularly popular during colder months or as a revitalizing tonic.

Maesil Cha

Maesil-cha

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Traditional

Don’t miss out on maesil-cha, a famous plum tea of Koreans.

Each Korean household has a different way of preparing maesil-cha, but most people will ferment the plums to turn them into thick syrup. Then, they will mix this maesil syrup with hot water to make a sweet, relaxing tea.

Maesil will never go bad in its syrup form. But if you ferment the plums for too long, they will eventually become alcoholic, resulting in maesil-ju.

Gukhwa Cha

Gukhwa-cha

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Traditional

Gukhwa-cha, known as Korean chrysanthemum tea, is a fragrant herbal tea made from dried chrysanthemum flowers. It has a delicate floral aroma and a light taste.

To make this drink, locals will dry white and yellow chrysanthemum blooms, steep them in honey for 1 month and brew them as tea.

Since chrysanthemum flowers are so beautiful, chrysanthemum tea is also visually stunning. Plus, these blooms give the tea a delicate floral flavor that you can hardly resist. Often enjoyed hot, Gukhwa-cha is a popular choice for its calming properties.

Yuja Cha

Yuja-cha

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Exotic
  • Traditional

Yuja-cha, also known as yuzu tea, is a popular Korean citrus tea made from the yuzu fruit. It was a China-originated fruit and was transported to South Korea during the Tang dynasty.

This tea is super easy to make at home. All you have to do is mix yuzu marmalade, which includes the fruit’s peel, juice, and zest, with hot water. This tea is recognized for its tangy flavor.

The beverage has long been advertised as a cure-all for colds, flu, and sore throats, ideal for winter months.

Oksusu-cha

Oksusu-cha

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Traditional

Oksusu-cha, a Korean corn tea, is made from corn kernels, corn silk, or a combination of both. Typically, locals will roast the grains before infusing the flavor in a heated water pot.

It has a slightly sweet and nutty flavor. This tea is naturally caffeine-free, making it a popular beverage choice at any time of the day.

Oksusu-cha is enjoyed both hot and cold, providing a comforting warmth during winter months and a refreshing drink in the summer.

For those seeking a convenient option, commercial corn tea can be found in yellow plastic bottles.

Maesil Jus

Maesil-Ju

  • Alcoholic
  • Exotic
  • Traditional

Maesil-ju is a popular Korean plum liquor made using ripe, firm yellow plums, known locally as hwangmae.

The production process involves steeping dried plums with soju for over 100 days in a clean container, followed by the addition of sugar for sweetness.

The beverage is typically allowed to mature for an additional three to six months to enhance its flavor.

Hwachae Korean

Hwachae

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Traditional

Hwachae is a generic name for non-alcoholic fruit punches. There are more than 30 variations of this fruity drink.

Still, they all use honeyed water or honeyed magnolia berry juice as a base and various fruits or edible flowers as toppings.

Among them, subak hwachae (made with watermelon) is the most popular version. Hwachae is particularly popular during spring and summer for its cooling and hydrating properties.

Banana Flavored Milk

Banana Flavored Milk

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Street Beverages
  • Traditional

Banana flavored milk is an iconic beverage in South Korea. It has a creamy taste with a banana hint.

Nowadays, approximately one million bottles are sold every day in South Korea, attracting many tourists because of the cute short bottle design. There are different brands producing this beverage, with the Binggrae brand being one of the most famous choices.

This drink has always been a national favorite since its introduction in 1974 when bananas were still considered a luxury item.

Sea Snacks

Aloe Vera Juice

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Exotic
  • Traditional

Aloe vera juice is a favored beverage in South Korea, which is made from the gel of the aloe vera plant. Its taste is mildly sweet, and it has a slightly viscous texture.

Typically packaged in green plastic bottles, this beverage is loved due to its refreshing and hydrating characteristics.

Milki Yogurt Soda

Milkis

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Street Beverages
  • Traditional

Milkis, also known as milk and yogurt soda, is one of the most well-known South Korean non-alcoholic soft drinks.

This fizzy soft drink contains carbonated water, milk, and sugar. It also comes in a wide selection of fruity flavors, including melon, mango, peach, banana, orange, apple, and strawberry.

This iconic refreshment is sold at nearly every eclectic grocery store or convenience store in the country. The most iconic manufacturer of Milkis has to be Lotte Chilsung.

It made its first appearance in 1989, but it managed to maintain its popularity until this very day.

Lemon Lime Soft Drink

Chilsung Cider

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Street Beverages
  • Traditional

Chilsung Cider is a popular carbonated soft drink with a clear, sparkling appearance in South Korea. Its taste is crisp and refreshing.

As one of South Korea’s most beloved sodas, it offers a sweet, lemon-lime flavor that makes it a favored choice for quenching thirst.

Not only is Chilsung Cider the perfect refreshment during the hot summer days, but it is also a necessary base for many delectable cocktails.

Chilsung Cider has been a staple in the Korean market since its introduction in 1950, maintaining a loyal consumer base with its iconic, bubbly zest.

Bacchus Drink

Bacchus

  • Non-Alcoholic
  • Traditional

Bacchus is a well-known energy drink in South Korea. Water, corn syrup, and sugar make up the majority of the drink, but the secret ingredient here is taurine (a conditional amino acid that can affect mental and athletic performance).

It comes in a small, convenient bottle that you can find at almost any convenience store.

Bacchus was first advertised as a hangover cure in 1963 by Dong-A, a pharmaceutical business. Today, it’s a well-known energy booster, especially for students and working professionals seeking a quick source of improving alertness and stamina.

What Is the Drink Culture in Korea?

There are four things to note about Korean drinking culture.

  • Historical Significance: Korea’s drinking culture is rich in history, often intertwined with holidays, New Year celebrations, and social gatherings.
  • Seasonal Connection: Alcohol consumption in Korea is closely linked to the aesthetic of changing seasons and traditional farming activities, enhancing the cultural experience.
  • Takju Tradition: Rice wine is commonly enjoyed with a light breakfast (Saecham) and traditional Korean music (Nongak), reflecting the depth of Korean tradition.
  • Soju and Spirits: Soju is consumed during the Korean New Year to ward off evil spirits.

How Is The Art of Korean Tea?

Steeped in history and tradition, the art of Korean tea is a captivating journey into the rich culture of Korea. Here are four main characteristics of these teas.

  • Cultural Essence: Korean tea is not just a beverage but a journey into Korea’s rich culture, emphasizing connection with nature, meditation, and life balance.
  • Green Tea Varieties: Korean green teas (like sejak, junjak, and daejak) offer delicate flavors and intensities.
  • Herbal Tea Benefits: Korean herbal teas made from a variety of herbs, roots, fruits, and flowers, blend delightful tastes with a variety of health benefits.
  • Brewing Mastery: The art of brewing Korean tea involves a meticulous balance of water quality, precise tea-to-water ratios, steeping time, and temperature control.

Now that you have reached the end, please like and share it with your friends. And if you have any more questions about Korean cuisine culture or Korean refreshments, I’d be more than happy to answer them all!

Jamie Scott

Jamie Scott

Editor in Chief, Senior Content Writer

Expertise

Home Cooking, Meal Planning, Recipe Development, Baking and Pastry, Food Editor, Cooking-video Maker, Western Food Evaluation Expert

Education

Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts

  • Program: Bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts
  • Focus: Gained foundational knowledge in French and European culinary techniques. Participated in workshops and hands-on training sessions under the guidance of seasoned chefs.

Local Community College, New York, NY

  • Program: Associate’s Degree in Nutrition
  • Focus: Acquired basic understanding of nutrition principles, dietary needs, and the importance of balanced diets in daily life.

Jamie Scott is a skilled culinary expert and content creator specializing in Western cuisine. With over 15 years in the culinary field and formal training from Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, Jamie deeply understands how to blend nutrition with delicious flavors. His passion for cooking matches his commitment to making healthy eating accessible and enjoyable.

On Fifteen.net, Jamie brings a fresh perspective to classic dishes and beverages, offering readers insightful recipes, cooking tips, and a fresh view on meal planning that emphasizes taste, health, and simplicity.

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