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No Drinking, No Problem: Non-traditional, Zero-proof Beverages

Updated: Jan 25

Our culinary columnist gives some love to a different kind of drink, but remembers to include at least one mocktail.

Phophesy milk tea by Elixir Tea Bar. Photo courtesy of Elixier Tea Bar

While zero-proof cocktails gained traction in the last few years, beverages that are neither alcoholic nor found on bar menus (think teas and juices) get little recognition and are the overlooked drinks of any restaurant menu – that is unless the storefront specializes in them. Primarily on the sweeter side, this collection is for those craving a treat on the way home or perhaps to enjoy with their next meal.


A selection of pennywort drinks from Má Juicy. From left, mung bean, ube/taro, durian, coconut milk and milk foam. Photo courtesy of Connie Bang-Co Aboubakare

Pennywort at Má Juicy

Westminster and Garden Grove

My good friend Connie Bang-Co Aboubakare introduced me to an earthy, green juice known as rau má or pennywort. At Má Juicy, its benefits include memory-enhancing qualities, liver detoxing and collagen production to brighten skin. Pennywort has a bitter taste when ordered plain, but becomes more palpable to sip when combined with handmade toppings such as coconut pudding, pandan jelly and mungbean swirl. It also possesses an unusual cooling sensation beyond being an icy drink. 


Cirenity MarTeani by Elixir Tea Bar. Photo courtesy of Elixir Tea Bar

Every Milk Tea at Elixir Tea Bar

Costa Mesa

Cire Hensman’s creative milk tea bar is not your typical boba joint. Elixir’s relocated home off Newport Boulevard is mostly hidden in an upstairs portion of a popular strip mall. This boba speakeasy is quite literally one of the most magical places in the county. My favorite sip of the moment is called Prophecy – a black tea latte with cardamom and boba plus magical crystals, occasionally “garnished” with a wand.

With lines during prime hours it’s often best to arrive either very early or an hour before closing. Do you do cosplay? If so, there’s often a discount for sporting your finest ensemble. This bar is definitely geared towards an imaginative clientele … or at least the young-at-heart. 


The coffee smoothie from Jan's Health Bar. Photo courtesy of Jan's Health Bar

Coffee Smoothie at Jan’s Health Bar

Irvine, Huntington Beach (2), Costa Mesa, Corona del Mar, Laguna Beach, Corona del Mar

Six types of mushrooms (reishi, king trumpet, shiitake, lion’s mane, turkey tail, and cordyceps) are the magic in this uber-healthy concoction at Jan’s. These super fungi contain vitamins, antioxidants and adaptogens (substances that help manage stress) when blended with Common Room Roasters cold brew, almond butter, dates, raw honey and other ingredients that result in a natural energy boost. Along with being nutrient-dense, Jan’s Health Bar’s coffee smoothie is also vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, non-GMO, keto-friendly, and free from fillers and artificial ingredients. Talk about clean drinking! It also quells my sweets craving without drinking my calories away.


The Manaao Thai iced tea, left, and regular Thai iced tea at Manaao Thai Comfort Food. Photo courtesy of Manaao Thai

Manaao Thai Iced Tea at Manaao Thai Comfort Food

Tustin

At first glance, there’s a traditional Thai iced tea and an iced green tea riff on Manaao Thai Comfort Food’s menu. However look more closely and you’ll also spot a signature Manaao Thai iced tea. Made dairy-free and incorporating lime juice, it sounded like an unusual combination, but I went with the flow and ordered it with my dinner. Owner and Chef Kanate Ungkasrithongkul knew it belonged on the menu long before I sipped the tart treat. 

According to Ungkasrithongkul, in Thailand, there are two kinds of Thai Teas. “The one that got popular in the U.S. is the one traditionally topped with condensed milk and whole milk,” he said. “We use half-and-half as an alternative and it is actually better in my opinion so that’s what we use.”  Manaao received a lot of feedback from customers who can’t have milk but love Thai tea, so Ungkasrithongkul went out and tested non-milk alternatives. “Oat milk won as it doesn’t change the taste of the tea.” Ungkasrithongkul said.

He also mentioned another popular tea version in Thailand, where it’s hot pretty much all year ‘round – Thai tea with lime. It’s both refreshing and a healthier option that goes well with Thai food, often served with crushed ice in a plastic bag; yes, a plastic bag with a rubber band securing it to add later so the beverage doesn’t dilute too quickly. “This version is what Thai people in Thailand think of when they are craving Thai tea,” Ungkasrithongkul said.


A lineup of kombucha flavors from Popp's Booch. Photo courtesy of Popp's Booch

Blackberry Sage Kombucha at Popp’s Booch

Mission Viejo

Justin Popplewell patiently answers the same question asked again and again at his booth during an outdoor holiday festival: What is kombucha? He shares that it’s a fermented tea and is his favorite way to improve gut health. Popp’s Booch’s mantra, “From culture, comes community,” stems from the diversity of all who meet Popplewell and his family as well as inspiring a healthy lifestyle.

Founded in 2021, this family-owned business produces high-quality, gut-friendly booch. “As a hobby, we are constantly finding new fermented foods from cultures all over the world,” Popplewell said. With a storefront in Kaleidoscope’s Union Market food hall, Popp’s Booch is working on expanding its offerings. Catch some kombucha there or at the Sunday Tustin farmers market. I preferred the sweet and borderline savory components of the blueberry sage flavor.


The smoked negroni at Khan Saab Desi Craft Kitchen in Fullerton. Photo courtesy of Khan Saab

The Bar Program at Khan Saab Desi Craft Kitchen

Fullerton

I’m sure some readers were expecting a list of bars that include zero-proof options. But I find a focused, zero-proof program within a Michelin-recognized brick-and-mortar a bit more intriguing. Khan Saab takes great pride in serving only non-alcoholic beverages across the board. And being on the edge of downtown Fullerton’s weekend nightlife (which is all about bar hopping) yet still thriving shows respected longevity. 

My Smoked Negroni unveiled tableside provided all the drama needed to replace any boozy components, incorporating rose syrup, bitters and Seedlip (a spiritless spirit). My guest enjoyed her Dirty Sprite infused with mint and salt. If you have an appetite, I highly suggest staying for a kabob (or two, like the smoked salmon or tandoori chicken) to pair with your beverage.


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