RMB103.2 and two weeks spent gorging ourselves on empty calories in the form of an entirely underwhelming selection of bottled, boxed, canned—and, in one case, bagged—beverages available at your local corner store. Plain water never tasted so good.
Ningjuli Lemon Power
柠聚力柠檬汁 456 mL, ￥3.80
Package claims: "Natural flavor!"
The retro-style package design led us to believe this drink might be good, or at least healthful. With 12 percent lemon juice, Ningjuli equals the more popular Nongfu Shuirong C100 in juice content, but it ends up tasting like water with a squirt of lemon powder, with stingy sugar content to supplement the flavor.
Final verdict Bad excuse to go to the toilet.
Nongfu Shuirong C100 Lemon Juice
农夫水溶C100柠檬汁 ￥4.40, 445 mL, 170 calories
Package claims: "Provides 100% daily Vitamin C" and "Equivalent to eating 5.5 fresh lemons"
Why any product would want to market itself as equivalent to eating 5.5 fresh lemons is beyond us, but that's beside the point: Shuirong C100 has been sweeping the bottled-drinks market, despite its relatively hefty price tag. From its modern-looking bottle to what's inside, everything is pretty darn decent. Also available in grapefruit.
Final verdict Nice balance between sweet and sour.
Minute Maid Meili Guo Grapefruit Juice
美汁源美丽果 ￥2.80, 450 mL, 202 calories
Minute Maid introduced its allegedly vitamin-C-rich, pulpy juice drinks years ago as an answer to the standard water-with-orange-flavor "juice" that has long dominated the market. Too bad Minute Maid's still suffers from the same chemically, sugary, devoid-of-real-juice taste the competition does so well. On the plus side, the grapefruit beats the orange, hands down.
Final verdict No substitute for a blender and some citrus fruit. ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆
Healthy Master Crystal Grape Juice
Package claims: "Very drinkable fruit"
While the bottle vied for our attention with its claims of containing vitamins B, C, and D, we were distracted by the skanky scholar lady grape, decked out in a graduate's hat, knee-high boots, and a whip. The drink itself was sickly sweet and didn't bear much resemblance to any grapes we know.
Final verdict Not so drinkable: Try frozen.
Gangqiao Mango Juice Drink
港桥芒果汁饮料 ￥2.00, 338 mL
This drink comes in a transparent plastic "soda can," replete with aluminum pull-tab top. Inside is thick, heavy, sweet mango nectar. Tasty, but definitely no thirst-quencher.
Final verdict Bold mango flavor.
Furenyuan Loquat Drink
福仁缘枇杷饮料 ￥4.20, 310 mL
Can claims: "Cool and refreshing"
The can proudly proclaims that it is a product of Sichuan's Renshou County, allegedly China's home of the loquat. With a whopping 30 percent loquat juice, the drink might be "cool and refreshing," but it tastes suspiciously like a certain kiwifruit juice. Strange, given that the fruits bear little resemblance to each other fresh.
Final verdict Indistinct, but nice.
Coconut Palm Mango Pineapple
椰树芒果菠萝二合一饮 ￥2.60, 250 mL
At first glance, we were unimpressed by this plain, black oil-can of a package despite Coconut's Palm reputation at home and abroad. But as soon as we opened it, the scent of pineapple rolled out, and we were transported to an island beach. Dominant pineapple is subdued by sweet mango undertones. Our pick of the lot, we went back and bought more the next day. A great standalone drink, cocktail mixer, smoothie component, you name it.
Final verdict Should come in five-liter bottles.
Tropicana Burst Pomegranate Drink
果缤纷法兰西风情 ￥2.60, 450 mL
While the magenta color appealed to some of us, we were all turned off by its sweetness. On the other hand, it's the only pomegranate juice drink within our reach.
Final verdict Cough syrupy.
Nongfu Fruits Blend 30%
农夫果园30%混合果蔬 ￥3.40, 500 mL, 205 calories
The so-called "fruits" blend is mainly orange and carrot juice, with a splash of apple, pineapple, and kiwifruit thrown in as an afterthought. None of the flavors stand out, but with its slight pulpiness and our general aversion to carrot juice, we were pleasantly surprised. Comes in tomato-grape-strawberry (red) and pineapple-mango-guava (yellow) color schemes as well.
Final verdict Refreshing orange-colored amalgamation.
Huiyuan Total Fruit & Vegetable Nectar 50%
汇源全有50%混合果蔬汁饮料 ￥3.50, 500 mL, 220 calories
Package claims: "Drink five servings of fruit and vegetable every day for the foundation of good health"
With fierce competition from Nongu's Fruits Blend—the two bottles are annoyingly similar in appearance—China's juice champion Huiyuan has resorted to excessive marketing claims and an additional 20 percent juice. Unfortunately, the bland blend of apple, orange, carrot, celery, and spinach, while sounding nutritious, missed a splash of something exotic.
Final verdict Blah flavor.
Nongfu Guoyuan 100% (Orange juice)
农夫果园100%(小橙汁) ￥3.90, 380 mL, approx. 177 calories
Package claims: "No added preservatives"
The only 100-percent bottled orange juice we found is allegedly made with Brazil oranges. Maybe they were last year's supply, because this juice tastes old and bitter—just like the stuff you get on airplanes, in primary-school cafeterias, and in other captivity scenarios. Points for being one of the few actual juices available—pretty much the only reason to drink it.
Final verdict Hospitality juice.
Yili QQ Star Strawberry
伊利QQ星草莓 ￥1.80, 200 mL
This sickly-sweet strawberry-flavored milk drink comes in a small baby-bottle-shaped container endorsed by the perpetually popular Doraemon and contains all sorts of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, protein, vitamins A and D, and taurine—the synthesized substance found in Red Bull that mimics bull's bile, which, QQ Star claims, makes you smarter. Whatever, despite its oft-over-sweetened nature, strawberry milk ranks right up there with chocolate milk.
Final verdict"This would be a good drink for our childhood selves."
Little Foreigner Dinosaur
小洋人恐龙总动员(菠萝) ￥3.90, 200 mL, 70 calories
With its orange dinosaur-head top, this drink is clearly marketed toward little boys. We hope they either dump out the drink so and play with the bottle; never manage to open the pressure-jammed foil top; or enjoy puking, because that's the only thing this orange-and-pineapple-flavored milk drink might be good for.
Final verdict Barfalicious.
Lebaishi Health Speed Car
乐百氏健康快车 ￥1.50, 130 mL, 34 to 62 calories
Vitamin-drink Mizone makers Lebaishi hold a stake in the kiddie market, it turns out. And this tastes like kids' chewable vitamins, complete with the chalky, powdery aftertaste.
Wangzai Apple Milk
旺仔苹果味牛奶 ￥4.00, 245 mL
Package yells: "Look again, look again, and then drink me!"
Looks like: Leftover cereal-bowl milk. Smells like: soda milk. Plus, the big-eyed QQ cartoon boy on the can is creeping us out.
Final verdict Canned milk? Apple milk? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆
Weiwei Soybean Milk Quality Products
维维豆奶 ￥1.80, 250 mL, 105 calories
Package claims: "A natural part of life"
This small boxed drink tastes like a competent soybean milk—until you realize it is literally a soybean-flavored milk that contains actual milk, rendering it pointless for those looking to avoid dairy.
Weiwei Red Bean Milk
维维红豆奶 ￥2.30, 250 mL, 119 calories
Meal in a box. Somewhere between red-bean-soup dessert and what's left over when you drain a can of kidney beans.
Final verdict Semi-yumminess.
Smart Apple Soda
醒目听装苹果饮料 ￥1.90, 330 mL, 43 calories
Standard apple-flavored soda, outstanding on neither the apple nor the soda fronts. On the plus side, it's a mesmerizing acid green color, and it's not as sweet as many sodas.
Final verdict Go for Fanta.
Small Baby Honey-Peach Fluffy-Pearl Fizz
小婴桃水蜜桃弹珠充气 ￥4.50, 250 mL, 51 to 101 calories
Everything about this drink confuses us: The bottle is reminiscent of a baijiu bottle, but the comic strip on the side is clearly aimed at kids. The cap is actually a marble that has to be (irretrievably, much to our disappointment) pushed into the bottle to open it. It poured into our cups looking like an innocuous Sprite or 7-Up. But upon taking a sip, we cried out in unison, "It has chunks!" Somehow the makers of this drink have managed to make these very tangible, very tiny peach chunks invisible to the eye. Mysterious.
Final verdict A peachy riddle wrapped in a fuzzy enigma.
Guangliang Ice Mango
水灵冰果芒果 345 mL, ￥2.70, 98 calories
Package claims: "fresh mood" (English) and "I'm just me" (Chinese)
Another can-bottle hybrid with a hip, young design provides an attractive showcase for this carbonated mango juice. That's where the flattery ends and the flatulence begins. Bloat-a-bunga.
Final verdict Guaranteed to make you fart.
Shijing Distilled Apple Vinegar
世锦木糖醇苹果醋 ￥3.80, 268 mL
A shapely glass with a fancy-lettered label gives this drink an expensive, organic-product vibe. But one sip of the pungently acidic vinegar drink had most of us spewing it right back out, convinced it's meant to be watered down. Apple cider vinegar is said to help with a wide host of women's health issues, but the sugar content in this must outweigh any benefits.
Jinsha Yuandan Bamboo Leaf Drink
金沙源淡竹叶饮料 ￥3.80, 310 mL
This drink, we decided, was the perfect thing to market to unwitting new-age tourists at Jiuzhaigou—unfamiliar but pleasant flavor, panda emblem on the can. "It's what the hippies would drink in America. I can taste the bamboo leaf."
Final verdict Refreshing tourist kitsch.
Plum Garden Corn Juice Drink
李子园玉米汁 ￥4.50, 350 mL
Like cucumber-flavored potato chips, corn juice takes something reasonably healthful and processes it into a packaged snack food. To some of us, it "really smells like a buttered corn cob" while others had less approving opinions ("Tastes like a kinky porn in my mouth"). Some of us "kinda like it"; others declared, "You have a psychological problem if you like that."
Final verdict Liquid sweet corn.
"Fruit Beauty" Beauty Aloe Beverage
果然美人原味芦荟汁 ￥3.90, 500 mL
Bottle claims: "Sanitarian Health Vogue Life Motivity" and "(Less sugar) primary taste"
With its amalgamation of a colonial-style building imprint, a cowboy on a galloping horse, and "U.S.A." written all over, this drink's packaging is clearly trying to send a message. While that message might be "Drink me! I'm from America!" the chunky, dinner-spoiling drink tastes less Western, more plain-old wild west. Despite that, we have to admit, in its own way, it's refreshing.
Final verdict "Nasty with niceness."
Yeniu Coconut Juice
椰牛果肉椰子汁 ￥2.80, 245 mL
Package claims: "No preservatives, no sweeteners, cholesterol-free"
With its coconut chunks, this departs from the nice-but-predictable black-canned Coconut Palm. A winner if you're a fan of coconut milk.
Final verdict Strong coconutty flavor. With chunks.
Wangwang Pouch Drink Grape
旺旺果粒多葡萄味 ￥3.30, 350 mL
A purple foil space bag emblazoned with the iconic QQ baby face pours forth a purple goopy mess second in chunkiness only to the White Dove taxi-driver fruit cup "drink" whose taste is best left unmentioned.
Final verdict The pouch proclaims that you can drink and eat it, but we'd recommend neither.
"I Drip" Coconut Chunks Juice Drink
我滴椰果粒混合水饮 ￥3.20, 350 mL
Maybe this is supposed to be an affordable, children's version of pricey bird's nest, but whatever the White Dove Co. was going for, this looks, smells, and tastes nasty: thick, transparent liquid interspersed with air bubbles and punctuated by coconut chunks that taste of nothingness. Our reviewer's words? "Don't buy it. Don't drink it. Production should be halted. Immediately."
Final verdict Saliva in a cup. With chunks.
White Dove Mixed Drink
白鸽什锦饮料 ￥4.70, 350g
Why this is called a drink is beyond us. While it comes in a very nice glass taxi-driver-style tea cup with measurement markers on the side (rendering it worth the price), it's nothing more than a fruit cup. A bland one, at that.
Final verdict It just plops in.
Our nutritional-information calculations were based on the information provided on the package (usually offered in kilojoules). Many packages did not list nutritional information.