By now, the great craft beer wave has so thoroughly crashed upon Houston's shores that you can't go more than a few blocks in any direction before you're greeted by a gas station that also sells growlers or a taqueria that also has its own tap wall. And we aren't complaining—we're going to need all the Sam's Daily Cream Ale and Mosquito's Revenge we can get to make it through another Houston summer.
Today, however, we look beyond the beer, to the beverages that have long been making life bearable in the Bayou City—those cool, creamy cups of cafe sua da and frosty mugs of micheladas without which we simply couldn't make it through the hot, humid months that stretch ahead.
These are the 11 drinks every Houstonian must know.
What it is: Think of aguas frescas, which translates to "fresh waters," as somewhere between fruit juice and tea. Popular in Central American countries—especially Mexico—these light, sweet beverages blend fruit juice with water and sugar and are often found inside large glass jugs. Pick your flavor—options often include cantaloupe, watermelon, guava, mango, pineapple and tamarind, as well as horchata (the creamy, rice-based agua fresca flavored with cinnamon) and jamaica (the ruby-hued agua fresca made by steeping hibiscus leaves)—and watch as the bright liquid is ladled out into a Styrofoam cup to enjoy alongside your tacos or tortas.
Where to get it: Mi Tienda, where the colorful lineup includes everything from tamarindo to sandía, melón to horchata, and can be enjoyed while you browse the aisles of the massive grocery store—or just head straight for the fresh chicharrones and churros.
Please note: A standard size cup of horchata (or jamaica or whatever you get) is enough to make Leslie Knope's head spin—which is to say it's infant-sized—so plan accordingly.
What it is: Also called boba, this Taiwanese tea was invented in the humid subtropical Taichung City in the 1980s (making it ideal for combating Houston's climate too). At its simplest, bubble tea is simply tea shaken with milk or fruit juice, to which tapioca pearls—which look like fat, dark bubbles at the bottom of your glass—are added. Drinking the cold, smooth, caffeinated tea may not be an experience in itself, but sucking up and chewing on the sweet tapioca bubbles as you go is the real allure here; you can find them in a variety of shapes and flavors these days, too.
Where to get it: Teahouse, the first Taiwanese boba tea place to set up shop in Houston. Sixteen years later, the original Teahouse in the Hong Kong City Mall food court still draws a long line on weekends, but there are now six additional locations across the city, from Kingwood to Sugar Land, with a seventh opening soon on Bay Area Boulevard in Clear Lake.
Please note: Despite its signature creamy flavor, boba tea can easily be made dairy-free—and often is anyway, as lactose intolerance is the norm in East Asian countries such as Taiwan.
Cafe Sua Da
What it is: The classic Vietnamese iced coffee, which pairs coarsely-ground dark-roast coffee (often with a chicory flavor profile) with sweetened condensed milk. The two are blended together and poured over a tall glass of ice, resulting in a beverage that's both heavy and light, sweet and bitter, relaxing yet invigorating.
Where to get it: Les Ba'Get, where the slow-drip brewed coffee used in their cafe sua da is of a piece with its 24-hour-slow-cooked pho.
Please note: Two or more of these will make everything start to feel like it's vibrating, including the atoms in your own body and the ground you're walking on.
What it is: The soft drink pride and joy of Texas, created in Waco and still served there today from an authentic soda fountain in the Dr Pepper Museum. Its unique "pepper" flavor—actually a combination of 23 different flavorings—was often attributed to prune juice in earlier years, though that urban legend seems to have died down recently.
Where to get it: Sure, you can drink it in can/bottle form, but we suggest hunting down the elusive Dr Pepper Icee that's only found at a few Valero service stations throughout Houston.
Please note: There is never a period after the "Dr." in Dr Pepper; putting in a period nullifies your Texas driver's license and birth certificate.
What it is: Black tea. Over ice. You wouldn't think this would be such a big deal, but there are still places in the U.S. where no one knows what you're ordering or why. Iced tea is crucial in hot climates, however, giving you some mid-day pep over lunch or serving as an ideal alternative to beers on the patio if you're trying to watch your waistline (the latter applies only to regular, non-sweetened iced tea).
Where to get it: Literally anywhere. As one recent Newstonian commented to us last week: "Iced tea is like water in this town. It's everywhere."
Please note: This is not the South; we provide a choice between sweet and unsweetened tea in Texas, and we'll know where you came from by which one you choose.
What it is: Plain yogurt blended with water, spices such as cardamom and cinnamon and occasionally fruit—à la the mango lassi that's become a must-order at any Indian restaurant where it's served. Not only is the yogurt blend good for you, it soothes the fiery heat of many Desi dishes.
Where to get it: Though rose lassis and mint lassis have been cropping up lately across the Mahatma Gandhi District, we still love the plain-and-simple "salt lassi" at Shri Balaji Bhavan, which has a gentle undercurrent of cumin that plays nicely against the tart yogurt.
Please note: Lassis have a fine, fluffy texture owing to their yogurt base—which means they're easy to suck down all at once before you know what you've done. Go slow.
What it is: Also known as preparados, these Central American beverages differ from smoothies in their base: milk, which is blended with fresh fruit and ice. (Smoothies, by contrast, typically use fruit juice, but licuados always use milk—and sometimes even various nuts, such as almonds.) And unlike aguas frescas, which are made ahead of time, licuados are made to order.
Where to get it: Good ol' Tampico Refresqueria, where you will wait in line along with half of Houston until you finally get to the window, with its small blast of A/C cooling you down as you realize you can't choose between banana, papaya, mango, melon or strawberry. Pick fast; you don't want to incite a riot.
Please note: This is not a smoothie. Stop calling it a smoothie.
What it is: Folks from India to Mexico have been blending mangoes, ice and sugar together as long as there have been blenders to do that in, but the mangonada takes this process one step further, infusing the sweet mango slush with spicy-salty chamoy and chile powder. The whole affair is topped with fresh mango slices and a large straw coated with tamarind paste that, like the chamoy, has been dried and seasoned with chile powder.
Where to get it: Magnolia Ice Cream if you prefer to enjoy your mangonada inside the air-conditioned bodega that borders the grassy playgrounds of Tijerina Elementary School, or Refresqueria El Mango Loko if you don't mind eating it outside—or just grabbing one para llevar.
Please note: This may be an acquired taste.
What it is: Tequila, triple sec/Grand Marnier/Cointreau, lime juice, ice. Salt on the rim of your cocktail glass if you're feeling fancy—blended together if you're feeling like cleaning up a Vitamix.
Where to get it: Pico's Mex-Mex, for reasons illuminated below.
Please note: Dallas may have invented the frozen margarita, but Houston invented the plastic glass-enclosed cocktail shaken at your table.
What it is: Beer combined with lime juice and hot sauce (or Clamato, or any number of other tomato-based condiments), served in a frosty mug with salt and/or chile powder on the rim. Miller and Bud have, of late, introduced their own versions of the michelada (or just chelada, if you leave out the tomato-y stuff) to the market, and while a light-bodied adjunct lager like Miller or Budweiser is actually an ideal beer style for the drink, trust us—you don't want a canned version of a michelada to be your first introduction to the Mexican beverage. Start with the real stuff.
Where to get it: While there are a lot of fancy versions of the michelada popping up around town these days, our favorite is still the classic Connie's iteration, which features a saucy, spicy base so popular, the seafood market now bottles and sells it for customers to take home.
Please note: You may notice a few stray hairs sprouting from your chest after each michelada is downed; sport your new chest carpet with pride.
What it is: A creamy, ruddy red beverage made from a base of strong black tea that's been brewed with spices such as star anise, cinnamon and dried tamarind. Like cafe sua da, it's blended with sweetened condensed milk and poured over ice.
Where to get it: Old-school Thai strongholds such as Vieng Thai, Nidda Thai Cuisine, Asia Market and Thai Jasmine still make the strongest, sweetest versions around. If you're in the mood for something a little different, try the Thai cream soda at Foreign Correspondents for a boozy twist on Thai iced tea.
Please note: You haven't tried to remove a stain until you've tried to remove a Thai iced tea stain from a white blouse; exercise caution.