Kitchn Love Letters

I Finally Found a Bottle of “the Good Stuff” and It’s a Summer Must-Have

published Jun 21, 2023
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Huge open refrigerator with various choices of beverage in Jaya Grocery store. It is the coolest fresh premium supermarket in Malaysia.
Credit: Shutterstock / TY Lim

Barley tea, also known as boricha in Korean, has been a mainstay during all the summers of my youth. I’d sit on the floor of my grandmother’s living room in Seoul as she brought out a tray of glasses and a reused glass OJ bottle — ice-cold and dripping with condensation — that was filled instead with the brown tea. I’d down my portion so quickly, finally slaking my thirst after an hour trek across town from my other grandmother’s house. 

It’s also always been a secret marker of a really good Korean restaurant for me; if the server casually deposits a carafe of cold barley tea in lieu of plain tap water, my appetite is whetted and my tastebuds are piqued by its slightly savory twinges.

Credit: Irene Yoo

And now? Whenever I travel back to Korea, barley tea is the only thing I reach for in the refrigerated aisles of the convenience store. Not only does it ground my presence back in the motherland, like a little welcoming hug from my (now passed) grandmother, but it also just feels more satisfying and refreshing than a regular bottle of water. My morning ritual every day when abroad is to grab a cold bottle of Woongjin Sky Barley Tea, which I carry around with me all day in my jacket pocket.

After a recent trip to H Mart back home in NYC, I was surprised to see a big 1.5-liter bottle of the good stuff on the shelves. Had that always been there? Why had I never noticed it? I immediately stocked up and schlepped my prized golden tea home.

When I was hosting some friends for dinner later that night, my sister spotted the bottle in my fridge. “Is that boricha? Can I have some?” she inquired. And next thing I knew, that bottle was downed by the whole table — some longtime fans, others new converts. I guess I gotta go get a few more!

Credit: Irene Yoo

What’s So Great About Woongjin Sky Barley Tea?

Barley tea is a little different from your traditional tea bag or loose-leaf tea because it’s brewed from grains rather than leaves. It’s also not caffeinated, so you can drink it in lieu of coffee or green tea.

I often make my own barley tea at home, but it just doesn’t hit in the same way as Woongjin Sky Barley Tea does. Upon closer inspection I discovered that my preferred brand is actually brewed with a mix of roasted barley, corn, brown rice, and chicory, which gives it a little more sweetness and depth of flavor than just barley would.

Credit: Irene Yoo

What’s the Best Way to Serve Woongjin Sky Barley Tea?

You can store and serve Woongjin Sky Barley Tea at room temperature, but it’s best chilled in the refrigerator or served over ice — especially during the summer months. In the winter, you can also warm this tea in a pot or kettle and drink it hot, which will open up the deeper grain notes. 

Barley tea is slightly nutty and sweet in flavor; it’s surprisingly similar to a light coffee (in fact, barley coffee is a thing!). I like to pour barley tea into the dregs of my iced coffee to extend that afternoon pick-me-up. It also has a similar astringency and subtle smokiness to whiskey, so I think Sky Barley Tea would make an excellent base for a highball when mixed with whiskey and a splash of soda water!

Buy: Woongjin Sky Barley Tea, $4.99 for 1.5 liters at H Mart

What grocery staples remind you of a trip abroad? Tell us about it in the comments below.