What to Drink in Asia that Isn’t Starbucks

Our recommendations on how to appreciate the culture and not be caught with another iced latte in your hand. These may be the best drink options all throughout Asia.


In America we often wake up to a nice cup of coffee, but what about everywhere else?

Though Starbucks has flooded the world, many cultures have their own version of coffee. When you’re going on an international trip, diving in and embracing the drink choice of your host culture is essential.

I used to live in Asia. I remember not being able to stomach the salty tea that was served. Over time, I grew to not only just grin and bear it, but actually crave it! By the time we left, I had all our neighborhood restaurants ranked by which served the best cup of tea.

Six Cultures, Their Can’t-Miss Drinks and Where to Get Them

Istanbul, Turkey

Turkish Coffee Drink in Asia

When in Turkey, you have to try Turkish coffee. It’s a small amount of coffee, similar to our espresso, but is brewed unfiltered using finely ground coffee. The flavor is strong, thick, and usually sweet. Be aware: at the bottom of your cup, you’ll find a heap of coffee grounds because of how they make it.

If you’re traveling to Turkey, a must-go-to place to drink Turkish tea is inside the Topkapi Palace Museum. Near the back of the museum, you’ll find a little place to sit down along the Bosphorus Strait and enjoy one of the best views of Istanbul!

Beijing, China

Boba Tea Drink Asia

When you think of China, maybe you think of green tea. Though green tea is popular, there’s a new tea on the block. If you visit China now, you’ll find a new tea crowding the street vendors: Bubble (also called Boba) tea.

Bubble tea actually originated in Taiwan. It usually contains black tea with milk, sugar, and the famous tapioca pearls that sit at the bottom.

One of the best chains across China is CoCo. Stop in and grab a Pearl Milk tea. If you really want to branch out, try ordering it with red beans instead of tapioca pearls!

Delhi, India

Chai Tea Drink Asia

India is known for its chai tea, and for a fair reason—it’s delicious. So delicious that chai tea is now served all around the world, even at most coffee shops. Chai tea is just black tea with milk, sugar, and flavored with rich spices such as black peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and cloves.

Anywhere you go in India you can find a small chai wallah to grab a cup of tea. Sometimes the little places on the side of the street serve up the most authentic and cheap cup you can get. If you happen to be in Delhi and are looking for a nice place to sit down to drink chai with a friend, the Triveni Terrace Café serves up a delicious cup.

Bangkok, Thailand

Thai Tea Drink Asia

Some travelers love Thai tea immediately, but for others, it’s more of an acquired taste. Thai tea is made from a specific type of black tea with sugar and either condensed or evaporated milk added and served iced. Thai tea is easy to spot because of its bright orange color.

If you’re traveling around Thailand, you can find Thai tea anywhere. Sometimes, it’s even served in a small plastic bag with a straw. All across Thailand, one chain that is popular is Cha Tra Mue. Here you can buy a cup of Thai tea and also buy the tea leaves to take home and try and make on your own!

Tokyo, Japan

Matcha Tea Drink Asia

Chances are you’ve probably heard of matcha as it has grown tremendously popular recently. Now it’s served up at your corner coffee shop. Matcha tea finds its roots in Japan, though. It’s made from extremely fine green tea leaves ground up into a powder. The matcha powder is first sifted into a bowl and then blended with hot water using a specific whisk that causes the tea to foam.

If you visit Japan and want to learn how to make matcha the traditional way, you can participate in a tea ceremony. Ippodo Tea is a great café where you can enjoy a cup of matcha and watch it prepared right before you.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Milk Tea Drink Asia

Probably one of the most interesting and fun drinks on this list is Suutei Tsai: Mongolian milk tea. Suutei Tsai is served all throughout the day and is extremely common. This drink can be difficult for western visitors due to the salt added. The taste is so different than what is served in America.

Suutei Tsai is made from a block of black or green tea leaves, milk, water, salt, and sometimes butter. The taste is salty, but also extremely thick, buttery, and savory. Unlike drinking tea from a cup, this is served from a small bowl. For the most authentic experience, I recommend you drink a cup of Suutei Tsai from inside a traditional yurt with a Mongolian family.

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