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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chin Chin Grass Jelly Drink: Honey Flavor

Yesterday was a wonderful day.
There were several things which made it such a wonderful day. The first (and most important) was that it was my thirteenth wedding anniversary. In case it wasn't immediately obvious, I am married to the Kibbitzer-in-Chief. She is the dearest love of my life, and I am passionately devoted to her.
Even though she doesn't like soda.
We had a nice day down in Balboa Park with the rest of the Lab staff, visiting museums and having a nice lunch at the Japanese garden tea pavilion. And yes, even there I had a Weird soda. "Gettin' Cool Melon Soda" was a treat. I have another can here in the Lab, and will review it soon enough. That visit to Balboa Park was the second good thing.
The third good thing happened when we got back. In our absence, the postal service had delivered a couple of packages to the Lab. One was addressed to the Kibbitzer-in-Chief, and contained a single hollow triangular wood and plastic block. That's another story, and if she ever starts her own blog entitled "Weird Customer Service Experiences Review", you'll hear all about it. The other was for me--addressed to the Quaffmaster (well, actually, to the "Guaffmaster", but I'm assuming it was for me). I didn't recognize the name on the return label. However, since it wasn't from the Biotta company, I figured the chances of it being a bomb were pretty small, so I went ahead and opened it.
Inside was--exquisitely packaged--a Weird Soda.
I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to receive this. I experienced a moment of Buddha-like connection to all of existence (I call this "actualizing my Soda-nature", or "achieving Sodatori"). Someone out there not only read the blog, but actually sent me Weird Soda. I (and I am not making this up) almost wept with joy. It was sent by Paint CHiPs, a most noble personage with whom I am acquainted, and whose writing is among my literary role models.
And what a Weird Soda! Allow me to transcribe the front of the can:

Chin Chin
Grass Jelly
Boisson Aux Gelees D'Herbe
Xu'ng Xao Mat Ong
Honey Flavour

Beneath this is a picture of a glass goblet filled with a semi-gelatinous black curdled mass, with a straw sticking out of it. And a golden honeybee hovering nearby.
Let me quote the Lead Assistant Reviewer's impression upon examining the can: "So you're drinking mud?"

This stuff is impressive. The ingredients list includes (in English and French) water, grass jelly (with the species of grass identified by scientific name, Mesona procumbes Hemsl), cane sugar, corn starch, and honey. According to Wikipedia, Mesona procumbens Hemsley is a relative of mint, which is used in Taiwan (where this is made) as a diuretic and as a "grass jelly" (which, according to Wikipedia again: made by boiling the aged and slightly oxidized stalks and leaves of Mesona chinensis[1] (member of the mint family) with potassium carbonate for several hours with a little starch and then cooling the liquid to a jelly-like consistency[2]. This jelly can be cut into cubes or other forms, and then mixed with syrup to produce a drink or dessert thought to have cooling (yin) properties, which makes it typically consumed during hot weather. The jelly itself has a slight bitter taste, a light iodine lavender flavor, and is a translucent black. It can also be mixed with soy milk to produce a milky white liquid with black strands in it.
So I'm gonna get my yin on with the Chin Chin Grass Jelly Drink (Honey Flavour).

But before I do (and keeping in mind that this may be my last chance to do so, given what this stuff looks like), allow me to express my most fervent thanks to the noble Paint CHiPs, who apparently (based on the included note) found this at a sidestreet bakery in Chinatown, in Chicago.

Where and when: purchased July 3rd, 2009 in Chinatown, Chicago, Illinois
Color: extremely dark brown, almost black. Not in chunks, or particularly jellylike.
Scent: Sweet steel-belted radials. It actually does smell a bit like old rubber. Not very strongly scented. Slightly sweet, herbal, grasslike, muddy.
K-i-C: (shrugs) "Smells like alfalfa tea."
JAT: :Eww. Yuck. Yucky, yucky smell."
K-i-C: "It smells like timothy hay. Or the doormat aisle at Cost Plus."
Taste: The honey is strong and on top, and very prominent. There's a pretty complex set of tastes underneath that honey, though. Tastes a bit like chai. After the honey, there's a mild bitterness, with a moderate astringent/sour coming in shortly thereafter. The sweet/bitter and mild spiciness gives it the chai-like flavor. Aftertaste is dominated by the mild astringent, but it's not overwhelmingly sour; there's still a lot of honey in it.
The K-i-C actually likes it. Rather a lot.
As you drink it, and the layer of drink gets thinner, it becomes slightly more transparent. This is bad, because swirls of some sort of jellyish stuff start to become visible.
K-i-C: "It's like the stuff you don't want to think about in the pond."
The K-i-C takes another swig at this point. She is...unhappy with the results.
K-i-C: "Ewww. You stirred it all up. Now it's all boba-ish." (pauses, then, in a plaintive wail:) "My tea is stuck in my teeth. That's not right.")
I can't tell tyou how profoundly disturbing the sights of those half-hidden swirls of darkness are. It brings up serious deep-seated fears. Remember how you were sure there were monsters in your dark bedroom closet, and when you looked out of the corner of your eye, you could almost see them moving at the edge of the door?
Now, as the layers of soda shrink in the glass, the surface begins to show texture, and the fragments of jelly can no longer remain obscured beneath the placid surface. It's like watching madness emerge from the placid exterior of that neighbor who was quiet and always kind of kept to himself.

Seeing these bits of swirling darkness and evidence of jelly emerging as I drink reminds me of something...

...There shone, unnumbered fathoms down,
The towers of a forgotten town;
The tarnished domes and mossy walls;
Weed-tangled spires and empty halls;
Deserted fanes and vaults of dread,
And streets of gold uncoveted.
These I beheld, and saw beside
A horde of shapeless shadows glide;
A noxious horde which to my glance
Seemed moving in a hideous dance
Round slimy sepulchres, that lay
Besides a never-traveled way.
Straight from these tombs a heaving rose
That vexed the waters' dull repose,
While lethal shades of upper space
howled at the moon's sardonic face.
Then sank the lake within its bed,
Sucked down to caverns of the dead,
Till from the reeking, new stript earth
Curled foetid fumes of noisome birth
About the city, nigh uncovered,
The monstrous dancing shadows hovered,
When lo! there opened with sudden stir
The portal of each sepulchre!
No ear may learn, no tongue may tell
What nameless horror then befell.
I see that lake--that moon agrin--
That city and the things within--
Waking, I pray that on the shore
The nightmare lake may sink no more!

from "The Nightmare Lake", by (of course) H.P. Lovecraft

Another swig--and this time little fragments of jelly manage to get into my mouth with the liquid. Unexpectedly. I feel violated. It's not that they taste bad--they have almost no taste at all. It's that they were uninvited. Bleh.

I feel that it is my professional duty to compare this with the other gel-based Weird beverage we have reviewed, the Tsubutsubu Mikan Jelly. The gel in that was ubiquitous throughout the liquid, and gave the whole thing a gloppy texture. This stuff is separate--a black tea-like liquid, at the bottom of which lie distinct fragments of fairly firm jelly-like stuff. That was like quaffing a citrus shoggoth. This is like drinking tea in which a shoggoth has placed its larvae.

So the taste isn't bad. Tea-like, reminscent of sweet chai, herbal. Not really to my taste, but the K-i-C says she likes it a lot. The actual experience of quaffing it, though, is mind-wrenchingly horrible enough to remind me of poetry written by H.P. Lovecraft.

Aftertaste update: The longer it sits in my mouth, the stronger the astringency gets.

Quaff rating: 2.5 for the taste. -3 for the texture. Let's say 1.5 overall.
Cough rating: 1.0 for the taste. 2.5 for the texture. Again, maybe 1.5 overall.


  1. Why does everything remind you of cthulhu?

    I saw this on boing boing and thought of you. Making your own soda (sort of)

  2. Not everything...just certain gelatinous weird sodas. And those folks are welcome to their home-made kombucha. I'll pass, myself.

  3. Actually, come to think of it, kombucha kinda reminds me of the Cthulhu mythos. Specifically, Abhoth, the Source of Uncleanliness.

    Okay, maybe everything does.

  4. Grass Jelly is great stuff. But for non-Asians, it's probably an acquired taste. I think what you need to do is try aome real grass jelly drink. The kind without honey so you can see what it really tastes like. I've had the kind you reviewed, I believe, and while it's good, it's not like the real thing partly because of the honey. You need to get your hands on the kind that comes in a can and is sold in Chinatown, seeing as you probably won't be able to get the really fresh kind sold by street vendors. Also, the jelly part's not meant to be eaten alone. You drank it wrong. You need to drink it so you get a mouthful of liquid and jelly together. Most of the flavor of the grass winds up in the liquid. The Chin Chin brand has more liquid than jelly. Real grass jelly drinks will have an equal proportion or more jelly then liquid. These drinks will give you a better idea of what grass jelly is really like.

  5. "Most of the flavor of the grass winds up in the liquid."

    Actually, scratch this part. If you get the good fresh kind, the jelly will have good flavor.

  6. I drink a lot of this in the summer. It really makes you feel about 5 or 6 degrees cooler. Definitely works, my friends agree, those that will try it. There are many different flavors, lycee is my favorite, also cocoanut. I have also had lime and the ubiquitous brown sugar. Many different brands, I recall a honey flavor, not especially good.

    The best Vietnamese restaurant in NYC's Chinatown makes a shaved ice concoction with several varieties of this, along with red azuki beans,mutant coconut sport (!), sweetened condensed milk, and mint if you want it, also several other flavors. Very popular on a hot summer day, much like a Vietnamese Sundae. Vietnam is about ten degrees above the equator, so they know how to handle heat.

    No smart ass remarks, or I'll tell you about the bird's nest and snow frog ovary soft drink.

    --Sapo Mal

  7. On some of the more exotic Weird sodas, I get comments indicating that I'm consuming it incorrectly. I love those.
    Milena: Thanks for the feedback. I did get some mouthfuls of the jelly and liquid together, although I'm not sure it was a big improvement.
    Anonymous: I can imagine that this could be refreshing, although adding shaved ice to the texture would be even Weirder. And PLEASE tell me about the snow frog ovary drink: that adds a whole new level to Weirdness. I would happily pay for a sample and the shipping! Or do a guest review, I'd love to publish it.

  8. "Snow frog ovary" is hasma/hashima:

    I don't have it often but it tastes pretty meh (it would probably gross you out, though, if you found grass jelly disturbing). Bird's nest (which is actually swallow's saliva) tastes better.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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