Asian Flavors Are Seeping Into the Seltzer World
Find calamansi, yuzu, and ume in a seltzer near you.
Seltzer is a bloated market. La Croix came crashing through the doors, followed by the likes of Bubly and Waterloo. The old heads, Perrier, San Pellegrino, and Polar, maintain their classic vibes but have pivoted with flavors and cans, too, in an attempt to keep up with the saturated field. Then there’s the influx of hard seltzer, where the options seem limitless but not entirely compelling.
It’s hard to parse out which seltzers are worth trying, especially when the flavors begin to get repetitive: lime, black cherry, and grapefruit feel like unexciting and inescapable constants. Thankfully, a wave of new seltzers have arrived and they’re bringing bright, Asian flavors with them.
“I had the original idea in mid-2018. At the time, Crazy Rich Asians was the number one film at the box office, Korean pop was hitting a fever pitch, and the influence of Asian food and culture was really starting to make its mark on American culture,” Sandro Roco, the creator and founder of emerging sparkling water brand, Sanzo, relayed. “But when I walked the beverage aisles at both markets like Whole Foods and H-Mart, I didn’t feel there was anything properly capturing this shift in culture.”
So Roco decided to make his own seltzer. Roco, who is a Queens-born Filipino-American, settled on three flavors for his initial launch: lychee, mango, and calamansi. “What ultimately inspired me to pursue Sanzo is that I felt the brand, through an accessible medium like sparkling water, could serve as a bridge among cultures,” he shared. “Just maybe, seeing our beverage on the main shelves of major grocery retailers—not just the ethnic aisle—can help push the conversation around food, drink and culture just a smidge forward.”
The flavors are a revelation; comforting to those of us familiar with them, and enticing for seltzer fans ready to try something new. Thankfully, Roco isn’t the only person capitalizing on the flare of Asian flavors. There’s adaptogen-infused seltzers streaked with the zip of yuzu, hard seltzers that capture the subtlety of dragonfruit, and sparkling waters infused with sweet-and-salty ume.
“Our flavors are built around the purpose of a single adaptogen, with a little bit of herbal medicine in the mix. We're both Filipino-American, and herbal medicine is just part of our daily lives,” Celeste Perez, CEO and co-founder of Droplet, told me. Currently, Droplet has a white peach lemon verbena flavor, a yuzu and ginger flavor, and a creamy passionfruit and cacao flavor, all of which contain adaptogens intended to either calm or invigorate, depending on which can you’re reaching for. The name Droplet is in reference to morning dewdrops which, according to Perez, in Filipino folklore were believed to be the tears of the goddess of health that upon drinking would grant healing powers.
“When we were developing Droplet's flavors, we started with what combos tasted really good, and then pleasantly surprised to find that every ingredient we used had meaning and well studied benefits. We learned from Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, and researched herbal remedies from all over, including Japan, South America, and the Philippines. Adaptogens were the magic of ancient herbalists, and now we know why they worked, even way back when.”
Sure, adaptogen-infused drinks have existed prior to Droplet’s launch and the trend continues to grow, but that doesn’t mean the beverages have always felt particularly appealing. “We're at the beginning of the adaptogen trend right now and we could see that they've really only been used two ways: for mens' high performance or for the New Age woman, who presumably already knew about alternative therapies,” said Perez. “There are millions of us who don't identify with either of these categories—some of us just want a little bit of a health boost without too much granola.”
Both Roco and Perez, among other brands, are leading the charge on a new wave of Asian flavor-inspired seltzers. Whether you’re looking for a bubbly afternoon pick-me-up, a weekend dose of hard seltzer, or something a bit more healing, there are finally alternatives to the usual candy-like flavors of cherry and apple.
Sanzo’s lychee, calamansi, and mango sparkling waters taste as flavored seltzers should: bold, bright, and effervescent. If you’re searching for a flavored seltzer that tastes mostly like water, you’ve come to the wrong place. Made with fruit purees and carbonated water, Sanzo is definitely a vacation for your tastebuds. The calamansi has vibrancy, the lychee is sweet and full-bodied as lychees should be (without the syrupyness of canned versions), and the mango flavor is made with alphonso mango—one of the sweetest varieties of mangoes—so it has that punch of irreplaceable, true mango flavor.
Moshi specializes in yuzu flavored sparkling waters and sodas, some of which are incorporated with other flavors, like red shiso and apple yuzu sparkling water and white peach and yuzu. If you're a fan of all things yuzu like I am, these sparkling waters are a must: the yuzu flavor is zippy and tastes as close to the fresh fruit juice as you can get. Each sparkling water clocks in at 20 calories or less, but I promise you won't miss any added sugar. The red shiso has a welcomed, herbaceous quality while the white peach is fragrant and sweet. I've yet to be disappointed by anything Moshi has produced.
Droplet is not as in your face about their flavors as you might expect, especially considering some of their concoctions include reishi mushrooms, passion fruit, and lemon verbena. Rather than having one dominant flavor that overshadows the whole beverage, each component of their drinks—including the mood-boosting adaptogens—works in tandem to create a layered experience that is mellow, soothing, and fragrant.
Something & Nothing hails from London and though it’s not a brand devoted solely to Asian flavors, they do have a gentle yuzu seltzer that hits all the right notes. Among the yuzu is a floral hibiscus rose flavor (my favorite flavor) and a cucumber version reminiscent of being at a spa. As to why they don’t opt for what has been considered more traditional seltzer flavors, Something & Nothing cites the evolution of people’s palates and felt that “drinks aren’t keeping pace.”
Kimino is a sparkling water and juice brand from Japan that is wholeheartedly dedicated to sourcing the right ingredients for their product and using only what is necessary to craft the perfect Japanese-flavored seltzers. That means that some flavors are seasonal and all are made with water from the Hyogo mountains in the Kansai region of Japan. Choose from a variety of yuzu, ume, mikan (similar to tangerine), or Fuji apple seltzers.
Though it’s zero calories, Genki Forest’s sparkling waters are definitely still flavorful. The Chinese brand features the flavors of white peach, calamansi, and cucumber in their bottled seltzers. Though you can typically find Genki Forest at your local Asian grocer, these sparkling waters are now also available online through Amazon.
Maha’s organic hard seltzers aren’t devoted solely to Asian flavors, but they do have a fun tangerine yuzu flavor that is citrusy and perky. Maha was founded by Meg Gill, the founder and president of Golden Road Brewing, who knows a thing or two about crafting alcoholic beverages. If you’re craving something boozy but aren’t feeling yet another White Claw, opt for Maha.
Nectar Hard Seltzer wants to be the antithesis of White Claw—at least that's what their website says, with a tale inspired by
Avatar: The Last Airbender. The brand even cheekily owns the domain for quittheclaw.com. With flavors like Asian pear, mandarin, lychee, and yuzu, it's safe to say they're nothing like White Claw, save for the fact that they're also slinging alcoholic seltzers. White Claw can never replicate the irresistibly juicy flavor of a lychee seltzer, however.
Lunar is on a mission to bring identity and nostalgic flavors to the forefront of the craft hard seltzer world. The brand, dreamt up in 2019, began with small, hand-crafted seltzers and has blossomed to a fully scaled production. Their core flavors include yuzu, plum, and lychee, but they've also worked with collaborators—like New York City's Di and Di and 886—to formulate a pineapple cake, mango chili, and tamarind rice paddy herb seltzer (which are, unfortunately, only limited edition). If you can find a pack, nab them now.