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Savouring the moment, one sip at a time

9 mins. read

Published in the Sunday Indian Express Magazine - Eye on 30 June, 2024

Each drink on this list tells a story of its culture, history, tradition, and people

If you are to think of some of the most iconic beverages in India, what comes to your mind? Masala Chai, Lassi, Filter Coffee, Thandai, Aam Panna... All of these offer a feast to our senses, and I honestly think one of most delightful ways to experience a new culture is through its iconic beverages. So today, I want to talk about my favourite picks for iconic beverages from different cultures outside India, each with their own unique story and flavour.

Japan - Matcha Tea

In Japan, the art of tea drinking is a deeply revered tradition, and matcha tea holds a special place in this cultural tapestry. Matcha is finely ground green tea powder, known for its vibrant colour and rich flavour. The Japanese tea ceremony, something Heta and I experienced on our trip to Japan last year, is a ritualistic preparation and presentation of matcha, reflecting harmony, respect, purity, and tranquillity. Participating in a tea ceremony offers a serene and immersive experience into Japanese culture, where every movement is deliberate, and the tea itself is a bridge between the past and present.

Thailand - Thai Iced Tea

This drink is a personal favourite of my brother, Raaj. Walk through the bustling streets of Bangkok, and you’ll likely encounter vendors serving Thai iced tea, a vibrant orange drink that’s as refreshing as it is visually striking. Made from strongly brewed black tea, Thai iced tea is sweetened with sugar and condensed milk, and often flavoured with star anise, tamarind, and other spices. Served over ice, this sweet and creamy beverage is perfect for cooling down in Thailand’s tropical climate.

Italy - Espresso

In Italy, coffee is not just a drink; it’s a way of life. My rule of ‘no coffee past 4 pm’ was out of the window when I was travelling through the country. The Italians take their coffee seriously, enjoying it standing at a bar, quickly, and often several times a day. Espresso bars are social hubs, where locals gather to exchange news and enjoy a moment of respite. The rich, intense flavour of a well-made espresso is a testament to Italy’s dedication to coffee craftsmanship.

Morocco - Mint Tea

Moroccan mint tea, or ‘atay’, is a symbol of hospitality and friendship. Served throughout the day, this sweet, refreshing tea is made by steeping green tea with fresh mint leaves and generously sweetening it with sugar. The preparation and pouring of mint tea is an art form, with tea often poured from a height to create a frothy top. Sharing a glass of mint tea in a Moroccan home or cafe is a warm, welcoming experience that embodies the country’s spirit of generosity.

Ethiopia - Coffee

Ethiopia is often regarded as the birthplace of coffee, and its coffee culture is deeply rooted in tradition. The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is a time-honoured ritual that involves roasting, grinding, and brewing coffee beans in a jebena (a traditional clay pot). The ceremony is a communal experience, signifying respect and friendship. Ethiopian coffee is known for its rich, complex flavours, and participating in a coffee ceremony is something that should be on your list of things to do here.

South Africa - Rooibos Tea

Rooibos tea, native to South Africa, is a caffeine-free herbal tea made from the leaves of the 'Aspalathus linearis' plant. Known for its earthy, slightly sweet flavour, rooibos is enjoyed both hot and iced. It’s also celebrated for its health benefits, including high levels of antioxidants. Rooibos tea has become a staple in South African households and similar to Turmeric Latte, is slowly gaining popularity worldwide as a flavourful and healthy drink of choice.

Mexico - Tequila

Tequila, Mexico’s iconic spirit is my personal favourite. Not many know that Tequila is made from the blue agave plant primarily in the region surrounding the city of Tequila. The production of tequila is an intricate process, from harvesting the agave to distilling and aging the spirit. Exploring a tequila distillery offers insight into this craft and a taste of Mexico’s vibrant culture.

Brazil - Caipirinha

Caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail, is a refreshing blend of cachaa (a sugarcane spirit), lime, sugar, and ice. This simple yet delicious drink is a staple at Brazilian gatherings, from beachside bars to festive celebrations. The caipirinha’s balance of sweet, sour, and strong flavours captures the essence of Brazil’s lively and diverse culture. With the Copa America football tournament on, try this today, google the recipe and learn to make a caipirinha, which would be a fun way to bring a piece of Brazil into your home.

Australia - Flat White

The flat white, a velvety coffee drink, has become a symbol of Australian coffee culture. Made with a shot of espresso and steamed milk, the flat white is known for its smooth texture and balanced flavour. Australian cafes have perfected the art of coffee making, and enjoying a flat white in a bustling cafe offers a taste of Australia’s vibrant coffee scene.

New Zealand - Sauvignon Blanc

New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc is celebrated worldwide for its crisp, refreshing taste and aromatic qualities. The Marlborough region, in particular, is known for producing some of the finest examples of this wine. Visiting a vineyard in New Zealand offers an opportunity to taste this exceptional wine and learn about the country’s innovative winemaking techniques.

Jamaica - Rum Punch

Jamaican rum punch is a vibrant, fruity cocktail that combines the island’s famous rum with tropical fruit juices and a hint of nutmeg. This sweet, potent drink is a staple at Jamaican parties and beach bars, offering a taste of the island’s lively spirit.

Hawaii - Mai Tai

The Mai Tai, a tropical cocktail, is a favourite in Hawaii. Made with rum, lime juice, orgeat syrup, and orange liqueur, this refreshing drink embodies the spirit of the islands. Sipping a Mai Tai on a Hawaiian beach is the perfect way to unwind and enjoy the island vibe.

Argentina - Mate

Mate, a traditional South American drink, is especially popular in Argentina. It also happens to be the drink of choice of footballing legend Lionel Messi. Made from the dried leaves of the yerba mate plant, this caffeinated beverage is often sipped from a hollowed-out gourd using a metal straw called a bombilla. Mate has a unique, earthy flavour and is a social drink, commonly shared among friends.

Spain - Sangria

Most of us already know of this one, but I still wanted to add it to the list. Sangria, a fruity wine punch, is a staple of Spanish summer gatherings. Made with red wine, chopped fruit, and a splash of brandy or orange juice, sangria is both refreshing and flavourful. It’s a social drink, perfect for enjoying with friends on a warm evening.

China - Baijiu

Baijiu, a traditional Chinese spirit, is the world’s most consumed liquor, and yes many of us have never even heard of it. Made from grains such as sorghum, rice, and wheat, baijiu has a strong, distinctive flavour and is often enjoyed during Chinese celebrations and banquets. Its high alcohol content and unique taste make it a memorable part of the Chinese drinking culture.

Vietnam - Egg Coffee

On my 15-day trip across Vietnam, this was one drink I had every single day! Egg coffee, or ‘c ph trng’, is a unique Vietnamese drink made with egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk, and robusta coffee. This creamy, sweet beverage originated in Hanoi and offers a delightful blend of rich flavours. It’s a must-try for coffee-lovers visiting Vietnam.

All in all, I would like to leave you with this. We often think of food being a defining factor of a destination or place. But let me also tell you that a drink can equally be the identity of a place or culture. Each drink tells a story of its culture, history, and people, offering a unique taste of tradition and innovation. So, as you plan your travels across the world, be sure to take a moment to savour these beverages and the rich heritage they represent. Which drink will you try on your next global adventure? I would love to know, so write to me at Until next time, keep Celebrating Life!

June 29, 2024


Neil Patil
Neil Patil

Founder & Director, Veena World

More Blogs by Neil Patil

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