Beyond Red Bull: Energy from the Far East
Written by Bwog Staff
Need a finals boost? Be adventurous. Bwog freelancer Armin Rosen explores your options.
If 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.
Ssang 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.
Bacchus-D: 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.
Black 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.