Saturday, September 13, 2008

Coconut Island Ice Milk Tea

The hard part was removing the damn label.

(Before I get rolling on this, I'd like to say that I learned about this beverage from Dateline Osaka's review of it. I'm not trying to rip her off, but just trying to mark my impression of this product for my own future reference, because, well, I really liked it.)

After reading Dateline Osaka's write-up, I actively sought this drink because it's coconut-flavored and I enjoy a good coconut confection or beverage. Strangely, I found this drink rather elusive. You'd think that it'd be the sort of thing that'd be easy to track down in convenience store's or supermarket's with large refrigerated drink sections, but it was not to be had in my local 7-11, Inageya supermarket, or QQ convenience store. The fact that it was so hard to find just goes to show that various manufacturers probably have to fight pretty hard for shelf space in small stores.

I finally located a bottle in the unrefrigerated section of Peacock supermarket. It cost ¥153 which makes it pretty expensive for something which is only 350 ml. You'll note that the bottle has a curvy shape that allows the bottle to have the same height and footprint as a standard 500 ml (like 16 oz. in the U.S.), but with a lot less product. For reference, most beverages which are sold in 500 ml. sizes and retail for about ¥150 and a pint-size carton of Lipton milk tea (which is also 500 ml.) can be had for about ¥100-¥130. Of course, specialty beverages are a bit more expensive and this is clearly going to be a limited edition drink which will likely be around for the summer then vanish forever (or at least until next year).

The first thing I did upon unscrewing the cap was to give it a good sniff to see if it smelled of coconut. It didn't. It pretty much smelled like tea. To be fair, I had just consumed a Japanese herbal cough drop and it's possible that my sense of smell had been affected. A much later sniff seemed to reveal coconut scent layered with the tea. My first taste felt incredibly sweet, but this smoothed out as I drank more of it. It's pleasantly and noticeably, but not overwhelmingly, coconutty. There's a good balance of milk and tea flavor, but I think that the tea taste is subdued because of the high amount of milk and sugar.

The ingredients list betray just how much sugar is in it. The first ingredient is milk and the second is sugar (the third is "milk sugar", likely lactose, and the fourth is tea). So, by volume, the sugar is pretty prominant. I think that the pre-made iced tea and coffee beverages in Japan tend to get a somewhat rich and thick look from the sugar. They are far less watery and thin than the standard tea you get when you buy a bottle of "straight" tea (unsweetened) in Japan. The strange thing is that I didn't read "coconut" in the ingredients list, though there was a generic "flavoring" ingredient. It may have been referred to in some string of characters I couldn't read, but coconut is usually written in katakana (as the phonetic equivalnet of co-co-naa-tsu or, in Japanese, ココナッツ) and is easy to find and understand.

If you drink the entire bottle, it's 122 calories. That puts it almost as high as a 12 oz. can of Coke (which is equivalent in size to this bottle of tea) as it weighs in at 155 calories. The tea probably carries a better nutritional impact though since it at least brings a lot of milk along with it whereas the Coke is pretty much sugar, oils, flavoring and carbonation. Of course, I don't drink (regular) Coke since I really don't like to consume beverages with sugar in them.

Despite my aversion to sugary beverages, I'd definitely go for one of these Coconut Island Milk Teas again if they're around in another month or so. It's refreshing and very satisfying, but a little too easy to just knock back all at once, so I wouldn't want to indulge too often. It took a bit of self-control to stop at drinking only half the bottle. I wish they made these types of drinks in two varieties, one with sugar and one with Sucralose, but the Japanese don't go in for sugar-free foods or drinks much because of the chemicals.

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