Japanese Tea Taste Test [Can you say Sokenbicha?]

Fooducate blog reader and tea lover Julia recently received a sample pack of a new Japanese tea brand called Sokenbicha (“SO-can-BEE-cha”). It comes in 5 flavors (based on a holistic 5 elements theory – earth,wind, wood, water, and metal):

  • Revive, a crisp Oolong tea blend infused with pomegranate and raspberry notes, black tea and rose hips
  • Defend, a mild Oolong tea blend with guava leaves and ginseng
  • Purify, an aromatic green tea blend with chamomile and aloe
  • Shape, a bold barley tea blend with peach flower notes, pu’er and green teas
  • Skin, a full-bodied barley tea blend with cinnamon and ginger

OK, so that was the marketing lingo. Below is Julia’s assessment:

  • Shape flavor is smells good, but when I drink it I don’t think it has that much flavor except for a plastic-y aftertaste. I’m surprised this is on the “full bodied” end of the scale. It is very mild overall.
  • Purify flavor tastes a lot more like tea to me. I’m surprised because it’s not supposed to be as “full-bodied” as Shape. I really like how it smells.
  • Skin tasted really good. I really liked the cinnamon flavor, and the ginger, too.
  • Defend is the one I like the most so far. It has a milder flavor than “Skin” but still has the strong tea taste that I really like.
  • Revive was my favorite flavor of all the teas. I like oolong and rosehip tea quite a bit, and this combined them well. It was very aromatic and had a good balance of the tea taste with unique flavor.

Let’s see how these teas fare nutritionally…

What you need to know:

Tea is great when consumed without added sugars. Brewing it at home is the cheapest way to enjoy tea, but for many people buying bottled tea is the more convenient solution. Unfortunately, many bottled teas are full of sugars and colorings.

The Sokenbicha line is unsweetened. It has zero calories and nothing artificial. Not bad considering the parent company is Coca Cola…

Here is the ingredient list for the Revive flavor:

Water, Brewed Tea and Botanical Extracts (Oolong Tea Leaves, Black Tea Leaves, Rose Petals, Rose Hips, and Ginseng), Natural Flavors, Citric Acid.

Water – check!

Tea and extracts – check!

No sugar – check!!!

But why the added “natural flavors”? Why the added Citric Acid?

These 2 ingredients would not be used in a home brew, after all.

Natural flavors added to the mix means that the great taste Julia was enjoying does not come completely from the tea and extracts but from some additional flavorings that are a Sokenbicha trade secret. But why, if the listed ingredients are of high quality as boasted in the marketing information, would natural flavoring need to be added?

Citric acid is a natural preservative that adds an acidic, or sour, taste to beverages. It is found naturally in citrus fruits. Why is it used in a tea? Most likely to increase shelf life.

OK – so a home brew might  be the best, but if you’re going to choose bottled teas, Sokenbicha seems to be a good choice. No calories, no artificial sweeteners, five flavors to choose from, and a very good story.

What to do at the supermarket:

If you want to save money, buy tea leaves or bags for brewing. But if you like the convenience of bottled tea, choose a non-sweetened version. You’ll get used to the taste after a few bottles.

Disclosure: Ah, the perks of food blogging… Sokenbicha contacted us and offered to send  us samples. We had them sent to a volunteer tester. We did not pay for the samples. We were not paid to post this blog nor were we instructed in any which way regarding its content. In fact, we forewarned the manufacturer  that we are skeptical and scathing of most  products sent our way.

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  • Sabrina

    What’s funny about this is that in Japan, you can buy unsweetened green tea from vending machines on every block in major cities. Finding sweetened tea is actually pretty hard.

  • Julia

    The tester here… while I enjoyed the product, I think the marketing “story,” as you put it, is somewhat excessive for some bottled, unsweetened tea and the strange name might not help the product catch on.

  • http://foodtrainers.blogspot.com Lauren Slayton

    I don’t need for my tea to be “wise” or “refreshingly wise” I just need it to be tea. Is that too much to ask? Oh wait, I’m asking Coca Cola, nevermind.

  • elisabeth

    Another thing that wouldn’t happen at home — I wouldn’t be making/keeping my tea in plastic of any kind. Adding a little honey or sugar to tea doesn’t strike me as a terrible sin; sugar does heighten the flavor of many foods and considering that tea replaces highly sweetened drinks (including naturally sweet fruit juices) means that adding a little sugar or honey still means I’ve reduced overall sugar consumption considerably. Finally, although you note that making tea at home is less expensive, you don’t note the really major price difference between home-made and pre-made store bought tea. It’s a much larger difference than for many other items.

  • http://www.hellopa.wordpress.com Lauren

    I’m being sent some to review as well, I am a little bit more excited after reading your review. I love good tea, but I’m skeptical how good bottled tea will be.

  • Hiroko

    I’ve lived in Japan for 18 years until 7 years ago. Sokenbicha (爽健美茶) has been around as one of the popular teas as long as I can remember. But there is (or “was” at least) only one Sokenbicha, no five different kinds. There was no fancy flavors with different aroma. I personally believe these five different flavors are specifically to target American consumers who tend not to drink unsweeted tea with no flavor. So technically they are not authentic Japanese tea…

  • Pat Goldberg

    I am trying to find out how to find this tea. Sokenbicha tea. Whole Foods seems not to be stocking it anymoew

  • Jr

    This tea does not freeze.  What on earth is in this beverage that makes it an ANTI- FREEZE?!  This was an accidental discovery, as I was given a number of bottles by a friend and didn’t have storage space in my fridge, so I put them in the freezer.  There is a strong chemically sweetness in it and i am very skeptical of the “natural flavors” added.  With my wishful-thinking optimisim, I hope that some of the ingredients NOT listed on the label are baking soda (which would make it less likely to freeze), trace amounts of alcohol (again, making it less apt to freeze), and stevia (for the very sweet aftertaste).  However, since Coca-Cola has a reputation for adding CANCER-causing ingredients to their beverages, I doubt the harmless herb stevia is what they’re using.  Shame on you Coca-Cola, and have the decency to your customers to list ALL your ingredients.  

  • Eyedunno

    I was initially really happy to see this, as Soukenbicha was one of my favorite bottled teas in Japan. But as Hiroko said, there was (I was last in Japan in ’08) only one Soukenbicha in Japan, though they now apparently have one alternative product, Soukenbicha Kurosae.  Also, looking on its website, the ingredients list is quite different from most of the ridiculous U.S. versions. I’m honestly kind of irritated by the “exotic” alternative medicine approach the U.S. marketing is taking. But at least they have the endorsement of Nihondo, who… oh wait, had nothing whatsoever to do with the Japanese recipe.

    The original Japanese recipe is: Job’s tears, unpolished rice, green tea, barley, Pu-erh tea, dokudani (Houttuynia cordata), senna tea, chicory, sprouted brown rice, evening primrose, corn (no joke!), loquat leaf, eucommia tea, barley leaf, ashitaba (Angelica keiskei).

    So looking at the ingredients lists on the U.S. site, I suppose “Shape” comes the closest, and maybe I’ll try some, but I’m not holding my breath for the familiar taste. You can probably get the legit Japanese version at most Japanese markets, but expect to pay an arm and a leg for it (not that the U.S. version is cheap either – they’re counting on the P.T. Barnum effect, which is powerful on “health food” consumers).