Beyond Red Bull: Energy from the Far East

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Need a finals boost? Be adventurous. Bwog freelancer Armin Rosen explores your options.

jghgIf having to wake up at 8:30 in the morning four days a week for the past three months has taught me anything, it’s that getting through college is going to require some serious drug abuse. And if this fairly commonsensical realization has taught me anything, it’s that drugs are freakin’ expensive: a can of Red Bull is a marauding $3.00, while a decent-sized tablet of Adderall sinks me $8-10. Speed, despite its alleged efficacy, is more expensive than both and, it appears, extremely dangerous. Bummer.

I needed options, and found them across the street. With an inventory that boasts everything from beef tripe to squid jerky, M2M is the best place for crazy culinary shit this side of JasMart, and the array of Asian boosters is encouraging. Here’s a quick guide to help you navigate.

jhkSsang Hwa Drink:
At $.99, the medicinal-looking Ssang Hwa comes off as a bargain. Its label tags it a “refreshing drink,” but a choking whiff of the liquid within proves this to be bullshit. Those depraved individuals who find refreshment in vegemite, wheatgrass shots, Georgi or any combination thereof have reason to rejoice. Those with an overactive gag reflex do not–the unpleasant visceral churn of the Ssang Hwa will have you on the floor in no time. Tasting vaguely like olive juice spiked with Red Bull, and counts such ominously-named plants as Rhemmania root among its active ingredients. And I still fell asleep in the middle of Asian Humanities.

Seeking answers, I showed the bottle to preeminent East Asia scholar William Theodore de Bary, C’41, who identified the bottle’s characters as the Koreanization of the names and numerals on the label. However, he said his knowledge of Korea focused on Confucianism and Buddhism, and that he was unfamiliar with “the more ridiculous aspects of the culture.” I then turned to Gun Yung Lee, a student in the American Language Program, who immediately recognized Ssang Hwa as a renowned herbal remedy used to fight fatigue or mild illness. Apparently Ssang Hwa is about popular as Coca Cola–those especially weak in body or spirit will drink between three and five Ssang Hwa-hot water mixtures in a single day.

Bottom line:
Frat pledges, if you’re ever forced to drink this stuff, it’s hazing, plain and simple. Also the “refreshing drink” tag vindicates the cultural relativists out there.

It boasts 200mgs of Taurine and a “positive energy boost,” but if previous experiences with $.99 Korean energy drinks have taught me anything, it’s that labels are deceptive. No unpleasant surprises here though, and after a few sips I find myself willing to forgive its slight aftertaste of rotten eggs so long as that “extra boost” ends up coming through.

Though it tastes vaguely like Red Bull, Bacchus D isn’t carbonated, and lacks the drink’s satisfying bite. But it also isn’t $3.00 a pop, and only has 10 grams of sugar. This lack of sugar is the crucial difference between Asian energy drinks and their European and American counterparts–while Red Bull launches its users onto sugar/caffeine/taurine high, herb-based Asian drinks like Bacchus have less of an edge to them. Which isn’t to say they aren’t effective–one bottle of Bacchus helped get me through a particularly trying night of studying. But I wouldn’t trust it to get me through an exam or a term paper.

The Bottom line: It works, and it’s $.99. The fact that it’s apparently loaded with multi-vitamins doesn’t hurt either.

kjhkBlack Horse:
Call me a xenophobe, but I’m typically skeptical of any bottle whose lone words of English are a URL for a website that’s entirely in Chinese. Nonetheless, this discount mystery beverage is the hidden gem of the M2M energy drink section–like Bacchus, it tastes of flat Redbull, but is cheaper ($1.49), more refreshing, and comes in just as stylish a package. Does it work?

Yes. The stuff is damned effective, and also produces none of the jittery anxiety of American or European brands. A student in the Starr East Asian library tells me that that’s kind of the point–Yun Zhang, a Chinese-born graduate student at Baruch College, complains that American energy drinks are too strong for her tastes, and are not as healthy as Black Horse (which is apparently what the large Chinese character on the front of the bottle means). She says the drink contains natural ingredients well known in China for their health benefits, and that a drink like this one would be consumed both for the extra boost and for its salutory side-effects–which makes it something of a combination of Red Bull and Odwalla, only half the price of each.

Bottom Line: Not as clutch as its American competitors, but worth a try.

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  1. nice  

    armin, this is the best and most useful shit you've written all year. A+ for the de bary reference.

  2. I love  


  3. agreed  

    this is the most useful stuff on Bwog I've ever read. Looks like I'm going to M2M tonight.

  4. hey  

    where do you get your adderall.. seriously.. hook me up!

  5. wow  

    Armin, you have re-established my faith in you. Good job, and thank you.

  6. w00t  

    best bwog post in a long time. yayyy for catering to students. and i love de bary

  7. this is  

    great writing. really funny stuff.

  8. Black Horse  

    are you sure one of those healthy Chinese ingredients isn't in fact a Black Horse?

  9. stw  

    i tried some bacchus-d a few weeks ago and the shit put me to sleep! and it tastes terrible, sincerely terrible.

    watch out for that.

  10. dude!  

    you didn't mention that black horse is supposed to be administered orally..
    i don't think i'll be able to sit down for a while

  11. BWOG!  


  12. overthetop  

    Armin, a little over the top on the language? its just a drink review... maybe you had a bit too much of that ssang hwa...

  13. HOOAH!  

    is the best energy drink. it's American made, and supports the troops, so there's no downside, unless you disagree with me.

  14. red bull  

    is not actually $3 bucks a can. Get a four pack at Duane Reade and the price goes down to about $2.

  15. ahhhhh  

    marry me, bwog

  16. Ron  

    Armin, I just bought some of that Black Horse stuff. It tastes like that syruppy crap you drink when you're sick as a child.

  17. CML  

    nyce article g-unit.

  18. Mark C

    good review, I'm from NZ and just downed a bottle of Black Horse, then thought about googling it to see if there was any info in english. it tasted good (but syruppy) compared with red bull and is only a third of the price here too :)

  19. will

    Bacchus-D was created by a Korean pharm. company in the 1960's and is still popular today among Koreans. When I first tried Red bull a few years back, I immediately thought of Bacchus-D without the carbornation.

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