Calpis! My beloved beverage from Japan has indeed got an unfortunate moniker and I’m ever mindful of using its safer, Western name of Calpico to avoid nasty sideway glares in public. Even my son admonishes me for asking him (albeit in Japanese) if he’d like a glass of Calpis and I get a stern reminder that he most certainly would not like to consume urine of bovine. Otherwise, he loves Calpis very much.
So what is Calpis? The can will tell you that it is a fermented milk drink which sounds far worse than it tastes. You’ll have to trust me on this. If you have ever tried Yakult (you know, those mini bottles full of the venerable Shirota strain of good bacteria?) then you will like Calpis. Calpis has a more complex taste however, which is probably closer to yoghurt than Yakult. It was first invented as a concentrated syrup that didn’t require refrigeration (handy given fridges weren’t a 48-months interest free option back in 1919) and when prepared, gave the good folk of pre-war Japan a good dose of calcium in one delicious hit. Not being a huge dairy nation, Calpis was no doubt hailed as a palatable godsend to get the collective bones of Japan strong and healthy.
Calpis is usually sold in little milk cartons and like Pocky, comes in various different flavours with seasonal or regional special editions setting hearts aflutter (I am partial to grape Calpis personally). Ready-to-drink Calpis in a can, both avec fizz (Soda) and sans fizz (Water), is a vending machine darling throughout Japan and the syrup itself is a popular topping for shaved ice cups (kakigori) during the summer festival season. For those who’d like a little more horse power in their bevvies, you can use Calpis as a mixer. Paired with everybody’s good friend shochu, Calpis Sour is an izakaya bar favourite. Someone even found it in bottle form at a Taipei convenience store! Gotta love unregulated sale of alcohol overseas…
I’m pretty sure Calpis is generally considered a warmer weather thirst quencher, but undeterred by Japan’s customary obedience of not crossing seasonal lines, Calpis Co. gives you a winter option in the form of Hot Calpis (now try saying that in public!). I can’t say I was remotely tempted by it. Even in a snow snowdrift I’d have sooner used the heated can as a hand warmer than drink its content. Just doesn’t seem right and I hesitate to guess that it’s not Calpis Co’s biggest earner.
Happily we’re coming into summer here in Aussieland so I’ll be sure to stock up some cartons of plain and grape Calpis to serve with soda water and ice. Might even try a Calpis Mojito. Watch this space!