We love our Tokyo watering holes, from the tiny nooks of Golden Gai to the more upscale cocktail bars of Ginza, but some days might call for a quiet drink at home instead of a long night out in town. What’s more, given the current status of the global coronavirus pandemic, most people are opting to stay in until the outbreak can be contained.
Making small sacrifices for the greater good isn’t easy, and being shut-in most nights isn’t any fun either, so we’ve concocted a few easy cocktails that you can make at home from ingredients you can easily find at your nearest convenience store. We remain optimistic about the prospects of gathering for hanami (cherry blossom picnics) later in the spring. In the meantime, why not upgrade your cocktail mixing game by experimenting with all the alcohol, fruity juices and unusual beverages 7-Eleven, Lawson, FamilyMart and the like have to offer? You might just come up with your next signature drink.
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Shaken or stirred
50ml shochu, 1 gari gari kun popsicle, club soda
On top of frothy draft beers and crisp sake, Japan also consumes a staggering amount of shochu in the form of lemon sours. The fizzy beverage is a refreshing, fruity accompaniment to just about anything, but there are a few other variations of this izakaya staple you might not have tried yet. The ubiquitous gari gari kun popsicle, a warm weather favourite and one of the most budget-friendly treats at the konbini, also makes for a fantastic shochu mixer. Stick one into a tall glass, add 50ml of shochu, top with club soda, and you’ve got yourself a gari gari kun sour.
30ml shochu, 80ml Calpis
With its milky texture and slight flavour of yoghurt – not to mention its disconcerting name – Calpis is a real love-it-or-hate-it proposition. While Japanese school kids grow up drinking it, visitors are usually unsure what they’re supposed to do with it. Well, wonder no longer; this fortified Calpis cocktail is an adult-appropriate brew. The shochu cuts through the milky mixer, making for a rounded drink that’s pleasingly tart.
200ml kinako (roasted soy bean) milk, 1 tbsp honey, 50ml whisky, ice
The organic soymilk pictured is flavoured with kinako (roasted soybean powder), which adds a rich, nuttiness to the dairy-free beverage. Kinako is said to be high in protein and B vitamins, which would otherwise be good for you, but no one ever drank a cocktail to be healthy. Add 50ml of any whisky you have to a glass and dissolve a tablespoon of honey in it before adding ice and topping off with the kinako soy milk. The result is a caramel coloured, silky dessert cocktail that tastes a bit like cereal milk. Dust some cinnamon or nutmeg over the top if you have any left over from Christmas, but really, it’s delicious as it is.
30ml umeshu, 60ml apple juice, soda water
This sweet and refreshing concoction is the perfect springtime drink. Simply mix the umeshu (Japanese plum wine) and apple juice in a tall glass with ice and top it all off with soda water. The tart finish of the umeshu balances out the sweetness of the juice, and the soda water can be adjusted depending on how strong you like your drinks to taste. Pair it with some cheese and crackers to turn your house-bound hanami (flower viewing) party into a 'picnic in the park', sort of.
30ml vodka, convenience store bubble tea
With the current bubble tea craze, it’s just a matter of time before ‘spiked bubble tea’ shops start popping up in town, no doubt with a price hike for the added booze. Sounds like something up your alley? Lucky for you, there are more than a couple of tapioca filled teas to choose from in the drinks section of your local convenience store. Get ahead of the bandwagon and make your own hype drink by spiking your tapioca with vodka. We recommend starting out with the classic black tea boba before going on to try other types of tapioca tea brews and lattes such as matcha or mocha.
30ml umeshu, 60ml green tea
It might sound like an odd combination, but this quick and easy blend of Japanese plum wine and tea goes back to a time way before the konbini. Back in feudal Japan, chawari – literally ‘mixed tea’ – was a popular tipple for keeping cool during summer. It fell out of favour in the 20th century, but chawari is starting to make a comeback thanks to cocktail bars like The SG Club. Technically, you can make chawari with any mix of tea and spirit, but we love this recipe – the green tea pairs perfectly with the sweetness of umeshu (Japanese plum wine). Plus, you can use an ume or two as a garnish.
30ml gin, 1tbsp lemon juice, ½ tbsp ginger (the kind from a tube), club soda
The Gin-ger is a spicy yet refreshing take on the classic G&T. Instead of sweet and bitter, the flavours here are tart and fresh – the botanics of the gin balance out the acidity from the lemon juice while the ginger adds a surprising kick. A classy drink for warm days, the Gin-ger is for those who like their bevvies hard.
1 part umeshu, 2 parts drinking yoghurt, splash of apple juice, ice
Nomu yoguruto, or drinking yoghurt, is just as popular as an after-school drink as milk or apple juice – and no wonder, it’s delicious. The creamy, slightly tart drink is surprisingly refreshing and is a great way to get in those probiotics. As (drinking) yoghurt pairs well with most fruits, we’ve combined it with the equally popular plum wine, umeshu. The flavours of yoghurt and umeshu might be a bit tart on its own for some, so adding a bit of sweet apple juice will take some of the edge off while also boosting the nostalgia factor to this adult drink.
More of our konbini favourites
A quintessential Japanese snack, the onigiri rice ball is one of our favourite convenience store finds. It's the best cheap fast-food to eat on-the-go
Need a quick bite to eat? Pick up one of these tasty konbini sandwiches to keep your stomach satisfied
Cool down with the best cheap and cheerful frozen treats from the convenience stores: ice cream, popsicles and more
Noodles in an instant – from some of Tokyo’s top ramen restaurants, no less