Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Coke with green tea? In Japan? Say it ain’t so!
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Coke with green tea? In Japan? Say it ain’t so!

Coca Cola just introduced Coke with Green Tea in Japan.Consumer culture in Japan is where you’ll see the collision of Asian and American tastes. More than in the U.S., Japan is where East mashes West. You can get shrimp Filet-o-Fish sandwiches at McDonald’s, or pizza with seaweed or squid, and spaghetti with salty plum sauce.

So I supposes I shouldn’t be dismayed at the new Coca-Cola flavor, Green Tea Coke. After all, here in the states there seems to be a growiing market for almost anything with green tea added, from soap and shampoos to Lipton Ice Tea and Starbucks’ Matcha Latte.

But Coke with green tea?

I’m not much of a Coke fan (Pepsi’s the choice if I have a cola at all), so I don’t care that much about the purity of the soft drink. But it seems heresy to put green tea into the syrupy sweetness. Can you even taste the subtle bitterness?

This fits right in with conversations I’ve had recently with (non-Asian) co-workers about Lipton’s green tea flavored ice tea. I pointed out that Asians don’t sweeten their tea.

I know several non-Asians who put sugar in their green tea in Japanese restaurants and jasmine tea at Chinese restaurants. I tsk-tsk and tut-tut and let it go. At a recent outing at a Chinese restaurant, though, the elderly woman who owns the tiny eatery with her husband flat-out told our friend “No sugar – no sugar in Chinese tea,” and that was that.

I don’t know any Asians who sweeten their tea.

However, I’ll admit that Japanese do as much weird stuff to American food ( as proven above) as Americans do to Japanese food. But for years, I was appalled at the sight of a California roll.

Japanese sushi never had rice rolled on the outside of nori (seaweed). The first time my mom saw such a thing, her jaw dropped and her eyes opened wide in shock and dismay: “Hehhhhh? Nandesuka?” (Essentially, “WTF?”)

Of course, these days because California rolls are American, they’re very popular in Japan, as they are everywhere. I still don’t eat ’em if don’t have to. Rice on the outside… avocado in a sushi… it just don’t seem right.

But c’est la vie. Such is the evolution of culture and the mish-mashing of style in the new global age.

I’ll get over Coca Cola’s green tea fad. Maybe even before Coke gets over the fad. If I ever get to taste a bottle in Japan, or if they start to import it here, I’ll give it a shot. I do like the Starbucks matcha latte (soy), after all.

But honestly, I’d rather have a soda that tastes like green tea (even sweetened) over a Coke that has green tea in it that I can’t taste.

For me, green tea has to be the real thing.

LATE BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: It turns out that Pepsi is countering by adding what the Associated Press is calling “Japanese Basil” to its cola. But it’s actually Shiso, a leafy herb that looks like basil but tastes more like a sour, salty pickled plum with a minty hint. Pepsi Shiso launches later this month.

Now, I gotta say, I’d rather taste a cola with shiso flavoring than one with green tea. I think shiso would enhance the flavor of a Pepsi.