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Liquid highs in Hong Kong
A comparison of traditional and new-fangled energy drinks, to help us work hard and play harder
Hong Kong's long waking hours are fueled by more than a strong cup of local tea these days. Coffee houses and energy drinks have flooded its busy streets and supermarket shelves, providing global ways to get through the long day, and night. Three local experts in fields related to beverage zing have their say.
Dixon Ip, founder of Xen Coffee, which specializes in siphon coffee, notes that the longer water interacts with coffee grounds, the more caffeine is released.
"Different brewing techniques result in different amounts of caffeine," says Ip. "We will start cold brewing iced coffee in September; this takes between four and 24 hours of slow dripping, depending on the quantity we make -- it will have high caffeine levels."
The two most naturally strong beans he serves are Guatemalan Rainforest and Hawaiian Kona. "Strong caffeine content can kill insects that try to eat the plant," he explains. "It destroys their nervous system." That's enough for us to think twice about that second cup.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) prescribes Chinese or Korean ginseng root, which "has no relation to caffeine," says Professor Lin Zhi Xiu, of the School of Chinese Medicine at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. "It is not a stimulant; it regulates body actions and helps boost the qi [innate energy].
"When drinking it there is not immediate effect. After a few days, stamina will improve."
Hong Kong office workers often drink cups of the sliced root, steeped in boiled water, believing it can perk them up on tired or hungover days. "If you are feeling lethargic it can help," says Lin.
From a TCM perspective, neither ginseng nor large amounts of caffeine should be consumed for a long period of time. "You need to consider the adverse effects," notes Lin. "If people have insomnia or hyper tension, they need to consult a TCM doctor first."
And body metabolism gets used to such stimulants, so effects can dissipate, he adds. When asked if other ingredients could be prescribed, he says: "Huang qi [astragalus root] may be used to improve immune function and energy and stamina. It should be decocted in hot water for 15 minutes, as a drink; 15 grams per day is usually prescribed for an adult."
The natural path
Anita Cheung, founder of Integrative-Living wellness consultancy, advocates young coconut. "The water in it is very close to natural electrolytes, the mineral balance is exactly what we can use for our cells to open for nourishment and hydration," she says. "The minerals give energy instantly. The American army used it instead of saline solutions for drips [when stationed in the Asia Pacific].
“Caffeine mimics stress response; your body thinks it needs to run for its life. It’s like borrowing from a bank at a high interest. If you take a lot, you are going to have to pay back even more.”
As a coffee substitute, she recommends crushed raw cacao beans and dandelion root with almond or soya milk, which tastes somewhat like coffee. “The beans give energy,” she recommends.
So, while the manufactured energy drinks do give energy, perhaps it is not without physical repercussions. Coffee, tea, ginseng and cacao beans remain alternatives. Everyone, of course, has a different reaction to all of these. Here are some of the trendy drinks on Hong Kong's supermarket shelves right now:
Glaceau Vitamin Water -- Energy
This bright yellow still “smart water” brings on a perceivable boost. It contains multi B vitamins and guarana -- the south American plant whose beans contain twice the amount of caffeine as coffee. This large (500ml) American drink keeps the mind sharp; it’s flavor is tropical citrus and is quite subtle.
Newest kid (or should that be new kit) on the block, and by far the most palatable of the current crop of energy drinks, from the United Kingdom. Once past its overtly risqué name, note that the drink / party mixer is made from all natural ingredients, to escape the possible jitters associated with chemical caffeine. Grape and lychee fruitiness makes downing its sizable caffeine content all too easy-going. Energy boost is fast.
HK$48 at bars; not at retailers at the time of writing.
Once the only energy drink on the shelf, the thin sparkling, slightly bitter-edged Lucozade original flavor has little boost by today’s standards. Glucose and caffeine quantities are mild.
HK$7.70; Park n Shop.
Synomymous with nightclub drinks, as a spirits mixer that prolongs partying ability, it’s 51 per cent Thai owned; 49 per cent Austrian -- HQ is in Austria. More recent associations with Formula 1 Grand Prix and extreme sports are in keeping with its effects sans alcohol. With a medicinal bitter-sweet edge, the energizing effect of its caffeine, glucose, sucrose and food acid taurine is swift.
HK$13.90; Park n Shop.
Shark Energy Drink
Like Red Bull, Shark has Thai origins, since 1965; it’s now U.S.-owned. A bit lighter and fruitier than some energy drinks, it still has the typical citric edge and while it proclaims natural caffeine is used, the build up of energy and its falling off feels pretty much the same as several others. Effective.
Thick, syrupy carbonated drink with a slow energizing effect from sugar and caffeine content, but more noticeable than Lucozade Energy. Scotland’s national soft drink is packed with 32 ingredients and believed by some to cure hangovers.
Proclamations on the side of the very large (500ml) can: “…helps give you the stamina, focus and drive you need when you need it … no half measures”, brings trepidation to this guarana-laced drink. High in caffeine (160mg; a moderate size cup of coffee has 75mg), effects are swift. Made in the United Kingdom, it also contains sugar, taurine and citric acid. Unpleasantly long teeth-gnashing effects.
Launched in 1997 in Finland, alongside very high caffeine levels, guarana, taurine, B vitamins and sucrose (white sugar for a fast energy buzz), it contains maltodextrine -- a carbohydrate that stimulates a slower-lasting energy within the body. It’s another burn and crash drink, really. Fruity flavor is less intense than some.
Morinaga Weider In Jelly -- Energy
A rare non-caffeinated supermarket energy drink, this Japanese concoction is loaded with the B vitamins that promote energy, and A, C, D and E for good measure. Set in a white grape jelly, drinkable through the pouch's built-in straw, the drink feels like it’s doing you some good, but a hardly detectable energizing effect.
Arizona Green Tea with Ginseng and Honey
Strangely, only a U.S. company has the pre-prepared combo of green tea and ginseng. Honey too, adds up to a more potent energizer than might be imagined. The 476 milliliter bottle is the equivalent of two drinks’ worth. A bit sweeter than it could be, due to additional corn syrup.
Charaku Kyo Ubucha
Of the several bottles of Japanese green tea available, this unsweetened one contains an unspecified amount of vitamin C. Its uplifting effect is noticeable and tails off subtly. At 500 ml its caffeine kick is the same as a moderate strength cup of coffee.
The Engergy Booster
This fresh blend at Green Cottage on Lamma Island (26 Main Street, Yung Shue Wan, +852 2982 6934) mixes banana smoothie with almond, walnut, alfa alfa sprouts, wheatgerm, brewers’ yeast and apple juice. Tastes great and contains plenty of protein, vitamins, and minerals but energizing effects, even in the larger size, seem negligible.
HK$28, regular; HK$38, large.