By Peggy Chapman
Northwest Asian Weekly
The weather is warmer, you have a day to spend in the International District (ID), and you need to stay cool. Who needs air conditioning when you can have a cold drink? Your schedule is covered with some of our favorite cold drink suggestions.
The cold-drink adventure starts with waking up with something other than the standard mug of hot coffee. Take a cold shower, bypass your coffee maker, and opt for an iced Vietnamese coffee. Vietnamese iced coffee is traditionally a dark roast and served equally with sweetened condensed milk and poured over ice. You can try it at Bambu (512 7th Ave. S.), where the Vietnamese iced coffee is one of their most popular sellers.
If you prefer tea, why not try a new blend chilled or over ice? Red Oolong iced tea is the iced tea of choice at Young Tea (609 S. Weller St.). Red Oolong tea is partially fermented (unlike black tea, fully fermented, and green tea which is unfermented). Red Oolong is also known for its health benefits and believed to help if you have high cholesterol levels and inflammatory disorders. Plus, it still has caffeine!
If it’s too early in the morning to get adventurous on your cold-drink journey, you can always grab an iced latte, the most popular cold drink at the Eastern Café (510 Maynard Ave. S.), and it’s a safe standby before you get your feet wet in new cold-drink waters.
No Asian cold drink adventure would be complete without bubble tea on the itinerary. There are as many varieties as there are places to try it. Most bubble tea recipes contain a tea base mixed or shaken with fruit or milk, and special additions are available, usually chewy tapioca balls (boba) or fruit jellies. Variations are endless! A very short list of places you can visit includes Oasis Tea Zone (519 6th Ave S.) and Hard Wok Café (1207 S. Jackson). The Royal Milk Tea is popular at Oasis, and the Black Milk Tea is a big seller at the Hard Wok. If you want to try an underdog tea, opt for the Matcha at Hard Wok.
One of the best things about bubble tea are the add-ons — topping it off. From fruit, jellies, puddings, and even creams, you won’t run out of choices. Not sure what to add on to your tea? Ask for the house boba or lychee jelly. The great thing about bubble tea is that there will always be a new combination to try.
Now you can venture out of bubble tea territory, and add even more layers to your drink by treating yourself to Che Ba Mau (rainbow drink/three color dessert). It’s a colorful and indulgent concoction of red bean, jelly, coconut milk, and crushed ice. You can find it in most Vietnamese delis and banh mi sandwich shops. If you’re in the Little Saigon area, they are already prepared at the Seattle Deli (225 12th Ave. S.).
If you are on a budget and prefer more function than fuss, and prefer it fast and less fancy, there is always the option of running into a store and grabbing a flavored water or juice. The flavor choices are overwhelming (everything from aloe vera to young coconut), and you might be spending more time picking your flavor than actually enjoying your drink. You can find a huge selection at Viet Wah (1032 S. Jackson), the most popular pick is watermelon in cans (bottles available, too). You will have to dig into your wallet and find a dollar and some change.
While you are at the store and in cold-drink-buying mode, you might realize that you want to try something else later. Cross grass jelly and pennywort drink off your cold-drink bucket list and put some cans in your shopping bag to save for tomorrow. Both are excellent over ice, have a refreshing herbal flavor, and have purported health benefits (pennywort can supposedly purify your blood!).
Now it has probably passed high noon, and what was just warm weather has now turned into hot weather — so you might want to try a slushie. It’s iced tea reconstructed, and the ice proportion to tea proportion will certainly cool you off. Oasis has a large selection.
The mango and taro are the most popular. Try the needs-to-be-recognized green mango!
When evening comes, you might be in the mood for an adult beverage. Is it time maybe … for a cold beer? Luckily in the ID, you will most likely be able to try out a new favorite at the restaurant of your choice. But if you are feeling even more festive, how about a Mai Tai?
The classic (and potent) Polynesian-inspired drink is a concoction of rum, liquers, and fruit juices (and usually a paper umbrella). It can add some punch — literally and figuratively — to your evening and is a popular choice at the classic dive bar favorite, Bush Garden (614 Maynard Ave. S.). Watch some karaoke while you’re there and if you’re feeling brave, volunteer your vocal talents (that second Mai Tai might help with that).
If you are not in the mood for fruity drinks and bad renditions of your favorite songs from the high school days, how about sitting down and enjoying a cold sake? The options and variety are endless. Do you want a filtered sake? Unfiltered? Try Opokoyama, the popular seller at the charming little bar at Tsukushinbo (515 S. Main) in Japantown. And if you feel you have a nose for sake and want to learn more about it, head into neighboring Pioneer Square and visit Sake Nomi (76 S. Washington), where you can sample a free sake flight, learn everything you ever wanted to know about sake, and become a cold sake connoisseur in one evening.
Feeling high-end? If you’re in the mood to splurge, treat yourself to a glass of Iichiko on the rocks. Iiichiko is classified as a shochu — one of Japan’s most popular spirits, and similar to a vodka. You can find it at the cute bar at the iconic and ever-popular Maneki (304 6th Ave. S.), but if you find all the tempting food options and the waitlist line too distracting at Maneki, you can opt to just pick up a bottle from Uwajimaya (600 5th Ave. S.). Note that a bottle to share with friends will be around $28 for those watching their cold-drink budget.
What if you’re not interested in the adult drink? There are plenty of options! Consider a cold dessert drink. Bambu has its signature dessert tea, a variation of Che Ba Mau from your afternoon lesson, but less dense. And then there should be high-fives all around for the Asian milkshake variations available at all those bubble tea shops you were able to try out during your hot afternoon.
Good night…and keep it cool.
How to close the chapter on your Asian cold drink experience? You can always reunite with your new favorite from the morning and have another cold Vietnamese coffee. The downside is — it could keep you up all night! Just end the evening with a heavier dose of sweetened condensed milk, and perhaps add some culturally inappropriate whipped cream.
Peggy can be reached at email@example.com.