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Sip of summer delight: Korean fruit punch and more

Aug. 12, 2023 - 16:00 By Kim Hae-yeon
A small bowl of "omija hwachae" is served at cafe Spoon, in Jongno, central Seoul. (Kim Hae-yeon/The Korea Herald)

The scorching summer sun easily leaves us feeling drained, and hesitant to venture outside at all.

But during the hot season, the Korean dessert scene undergoes a captivating transformation, with a symphony of fruits boasting sweet and refreshing flavors.

Among an array of delightful summer treats, one particular gem stands out for not only its ability to quickly quench thirst, but also for its simple preparation: hwachae.

Hwachae is a a rejuvenating drink that is prepared by combining an assortment of fruits, flowers and herbs. Variations of hwachae today often feature the addition of carbonated beverages, milk or fruit juices.

The enchanting fruit punch presents a harmonious fusion of flavors that helps us endure the sweltering Korean heat.

The roots of hwachae can be traced back to the Joseon era, when it was enjoyed as a lavish and refreshing drink among royals and the upper class. Despite its noble origins, hwachae is a summer staple that finds a place in the hearts of all Koreans.

The charm of hwachae lies in its assortment of fruits, each carefully chosen to create harmonious flavor blends.

Small bowls of spoon hwachae (left) and omija hwachae are served at cafe Spoon in Jongno, central Seoul. (Kim Hae-yeon/The Korea Herald)

At Seoul's busy Gwanghwamun area, Spoon, a dessert cafe that specializes in fruits and yogurt, allows visitors to savor hwachae quickly and easily in its basic form.

Instead of carbonated drinks, the cafe focuses only on combining fresh fruit juice with fruit and cubed ice.

There are two types of hwachae served at Spoon -- "spoon hwachae," based on a fusion of mandarin and mango juices as the base, and "omija hwachae," based on magnolia berry juice.

Depending on the season, around five different fruits are generously sliced and added.

In the summer season, watermelon, plum, banana and apple contribute their vibrant flavors.

For the "spoon hwachae," orange slices are added, whereas the "omija hwachae" harmonizes with blueberries.

As you take a sip from the hwachae bowl, you will experience a unique burst of fruitiness, unlike that of the familiar fruit juice.

Those seeking to add a personal touch to the hwachae bowl can always add more fruit toppings and herbs like mint or basil. Sparkling water or soda can do the magic of making the hwachae more bubbly and refreshing.

Unconventional ingredients such as cucumber or passion fruit can also be experimented with.

A bowl for a single person sized costs 5,900 won, with the large bowl priced at 16,500 won.

Sliced ripe persimmon with red bean is served at Noshi, nearby Gyeongbokgung Station in Seoul. (Kim Hae-yeon/The Korea Herald)

There is more to Korean refreshments than hwachae.

Noshi, a five-minute stroll from Gyeongbokgung Station's Exit No. 2, is a charming two-story cafe that serves an array of traditional teas and delectable desserts on its ground floor, while the upper level showcases an intriguing collection of brassware pieces.

Opened in 2012, the cafe serves up some 10 different traditional tea and desserts, such as the jujube tea, ginger honey latte, misugaru (a multigrain powder drink) and mulberry tea, also known as odi cha.

"My father-in-law resided in Geochang, South Gyeongsang Province, and dedicated his life to crafting brassware." said Kim Soon-young, owner of Noshi. "The brassware has been used traditionally to serve precious guests, and so we wanted to serve Korean tea and desserts on the brassware to invite patrons in a truly immersive cafe experience."

Grilled jeolpyeon (Korean rice cakes) with ice cream, complemented by black sesame and misugaru dips, at Noshi (Kim Hae-yeon/The Korea Herald)

Some creative Korean dessert items served at Noshi are the sliced ripe persimmon with red bean and the grilled jeolpyeon (Korean rice cakes) with ice cream, complemented by black sesame and misugaru dips.

Iced mulberry tea, or odi-cha, served at Noshi (Kim Hae-yeon/The Korea Herald)

In the summer months, the cafe's highly recommend drink is the iced mulberry tea, crowned with a delicate mint leaf. The tea is not only refreshing, but also offers health benefits with its high amount of dietary fiber.

Iced mulberry tea costs 8,000 won and its dessert companion, the sliced ripe persimmon with red bean, is 7,000 won.

After enjoying the tea and desserts, you can walk up to the second floor to see various brassware of different shapes and sizes. Items can also be bought upon inquiry.