Clear Drinks: Japan’s Latest Drinking Craze!

It’s summer in Japan! And with daily high temperatures not likely to dip below 30C until the end of September, the buzzword of the season is 水分補給 (Suibunhokyu), “Rehydration”. And what’s this year’s big trend in the world of quenching your thirst? Clear drinks!

Yep, this year is all about taking your favorite non-alcoholic beverages and taking the opacity right out of them, so you can pour them into a glass and fool others into thinking it’s nothing but water, but it in fact has all the flavor of the original - oh, and it usually contains no sugar and calories, either, thus pulling in the health-conscious crowd who would normally steer clear of such drinks.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, allow me to test some of the new clear drinks on the Japanese market for you. Transparent journalism at its best!

Coca-Cola Clear

そらみみ on Wikimedia Commons

This is the big one. Taking arguably the most recognizable drink brand in the world and making a new version of it to chase a trend must have taken some guts in the boardroom, like someone who wants to remake Bohemian Rhapsody into dubstep. But they did it, so the question is: is it any good?

The Verdict:

Actually pretty good! Despite having no sugar or calories, it still packs that sweet and fizzy punch that Coca-cola is famous for. But while good, it doesn’t taste much like classic Coca-cola; in fact, it’s more similar to the lemon-twist version. People who swear by The Real Thing may not like it, but for the casual taster they may prefer it as a healthier option.

Clear Latte

If you’re a coffee drinker in Japan, you either swear by or swear at bottled coffee. It’s certainly a cheaper and more straightforward option than queuing at a Starbucks, but there’s no doubting that flavor and quality are sacrificed as a result.

And now here comes along a clear version of bottled coffee - a latte, to be specific - with the bold claim of not only being sugar and calorie free but also caffeine free. Yes, you heard that right. This can only end badly, surely?

The Verdict:

Odd. While there is certainly a coffee flavor, that’s all it is: a flavor. It tastes lightweight, like coffee-tinged mouthwash, and the effect doesn’t last beyond your tastebuds. It’s not terrible, and I can see it as being a good substitute for people trying to wean themselves off of their caffeine fix, but it’s no substitute.

Calpis Water Plus

Ah, Calpis. One of the first soft drinks I fell in love with in Japan - and no, it’s not because of the accidentally hilarious name. The original drink, “Calpis Water”, is this sweet yet acidic soft drink that looks like, nothing like water, then. So how about this version, which really does look like water? How does it hold up to the taste test?

The Verdict:

Almost identical! Incredibly, that distinctive flavor has been successfully replicated into the clear version, albeit slightly less creamy and sweet, but definitely still Calpis. The downside? This one cannot claim to be sugar free or calorie free. Shame. Oh, and that Japanese text on the front of the bottle? That translates as “Lactic Acid Bacteria”. Those folks at Calpis really like their strange names, don’t they?

In conclusion, while it’s hard to tell if these drinks are permanent additions to the already vast drinks roster in Japan or limited editions, the idea of clear, healthy alternatives to soft drinks is an attractive one. So when you’re in Japan and you see one of these on sale, grabbed them before they’re cleared away!

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