As a child, I spent several summers in Korea that were so hot and humid that I remember both hands being occupied, since I was always carrying a buchae (hand fan) in one hand and a handkerchief in the other. Leave it to the Koreans that as a result of those hot, monsoon-strewn summers, they really know how to make a cold, revitalizing drink. Not only that, but they have a whole category of drinks called hwachae, or punch, often made using omija (five flavor berry) punch as a base. It goes without saying that you’re welcome to add a splash or two of soju or vodka to all of these drinks, though a honeyed liqueur or a whiskey could work in some of these, too.
Sidenote: One thing you should know about hwachae is that it’s not strictly a beverage. Like many Korean foods, it’s somewhere in between a beverage and a food. Some versions of hwachae are solid with just a bit of liquid, and some versions even include grains, edible flowers and rice balls known as dduk. But these five are the easiest to make anywhere in the world, I think.
This is my new favorite Korean drink, and the base for many hwachae punches. Though I had heard of it, I had never sampled it alone until a recent trip to Jeju Island, the Hawaii of South Korea. At the Jeju folk village we visited, I fell so in love with its cold, refreshing tartness that I drank three glasses. Made from the berries of the “five-flavor berry” vine, this punch has a beautiful reddish-pink color and proclaims that it is sweet, sour, bitter, salty and spicy. I don’t know about the spicy or salty, but the punch certainly captures sweet, sour and bitter in a way that is surprising and revelatory. The five-flavor berry is so dearly loved in Russia for its supposed immunity and endurance properties that they put it on a postage stamp. You can buy omija tea online or at Korean grocery stores, but if you can’t find it, you can try substituting cherries. Here’s a recipe.
This is my all-time favorite. Cinnamon and ginger are boiled, and then dried whole persimmons are left to soak in the water. Sujeonggwa is sweet because you add sugar and there is fruit, but it’s also spicy because of the ginger and cinnamon. There are few things more refreshing than a cold, spicy cup of sujeonggwa in the summer. You can find dried persimmons at Korean grocery stores in the freezer section (or ask for dried or frozen gam). You can find a recipe here.
Can you think of anything more refreshing than watermelon in the summer? How about a big watermelon full of watermelon balls, watermelon juice, ice and whatever other fruits you have on hand? (Melons, for instance, are a great addition.) Zip in some seltzer and sweetener and fruit juice (or soju) and you’re ready for a summer picnic for one next to your air conditioner and television. Try this recipe.
This punch is a specialty of Jeju Island, where citrus is grown widely across the southern city of Seogwipo. The energy of vitamin C will give you some summertime pep and the pine nuts add a touch of savory protein to your drink.
Koreans aren’t afraid to add a little spice to their drinks, but 24 black peppercorns, you gasp? You bet. Plug those into your Asian pear like it’s a Christmas ham and get cooking. You can add some water to this recipe to make it more liquidy, if you’d like.
Dakota Kim is a food writer, gardener, mushroom hunter and burlesque producer living in Brooklyn. She likes to brew strange Korean medicinal teas and bake vegan desserts. She is currently working on a cookbook featuring burlesque performers called Bombshell Bakers. Tweet her at @dakotakim1.
Subak hwachae (watermelon punch) photo by anokarina CC BY-SA