Regardless of whether you're focused on saving money or saving your health, the beverage section of your local convenience store is packed with pitfalls. Sodas loaded with high-fructose corn syrup sit a few feet away from pricey energy drinks and coffees loaded with fat. The cheap drinks are bad for you, the healthier drinks are expensive, and you don't have much chance of finding something exciting or new.
Luckily, there's another option. Asian markets offer a wide selection of teas, sodas and juices that will challenge your taste buds without hurting your wallet. And, if you're in the mood for something new, but aren't feeling too adventurous, never fear: I've included a list of a few of my favorites. One warning, though: I bought all of these items in stores in New York City, which means that I probably paid a lot more than in your neighborhood convenience store or Asian grocery.
Savings Adventure: In Search of Amazing Asian Sodas and Drinks
When it comes to sweet, rich, bottled coffee, it's hard to beat Starbucks. Then again, at 200 calories and 3 grams of fat per bottle, Starbucks' Frappuccino is hardly a healthy drink. For 34 percent less, my local Asian market offered several other canned coffees, including Pokka and Sangaria. While not quite as tasty as the Frappuccino, Pokka has just over half the calories and one-sixth the fat. And, for those who are really serious about cutting back on the bad stuff, Ucc's unsweetened black coffee has all the caffeine but none of the calories or fat.
Given that Red Bull is a copy of Krating Daeng, a Thai energy drink, it isn't a surprise that Asian markets often offer an impressive selection of caffeine-packed sodas. What is surprising, however, is how much better many of them taste -- and how much cheaper they are. In an office taste test, the staff of DailyFinance universally preferred the flavor of Roaring Lion, an energy drink that's almost exactly like Red Bull, but has a lighter, more citrusy flavor and costs 26 percent less. Yunker, a Japanese energy soda was even better: Packed with herbs, B vitamins and Coenzyme Q10, it had a mild, almost lychee-like taste -- for about the same price as Red Bull.
In recent months, coconut juice has really come into its own. Little surprise: With twice the potassium and half the calories of a banana, a bottle of Zico is a healthier alternative to soda or fruit juice. Unfortunately, the flavor leaves something to be desired -- it tends to be a bit watery and slightly stale-tasting. On the bright side, Asian markets generally offer a wide array of other, more flavorful options. In an office taste test, most of DailyFinance's writers preferred the Taste Nirvana brand. Unlike Zico, it's not reconstituted, and its flavor was a lot fresher and more vibrant. And, as an added benefit, it's 16 percent cheaper than Zico.
From Arizona to Snapple, Lipton to HonesTea, convenience stores are packed with iced tea options. But the amazing array available in the local 7-Eleven pales beside the choices in many Asian markets. Everybody's got green tea and chai, but where else will you find rose petal and bergamot flavored black tea or Jasmine flavored green tea? If you really want to expand your horizons (without spending a lot of money), Asian markets should be high on your list.
While it's great to get lower prices on some of your favorite drinks, the real joy of Asian markets lie in their incredible selection of weird stuff. You may not fall in love with basil seed drink or grass jelly drink or melon cream soda, but if you're looking for something a little different, they definitely fill the bill. And, at a dollar or two per bottle, these little adventures in other cultures are a real bargain.