Calpis (カルピス) is a non-carbonated, milk-based Japanese soda. It is a sweet and refreshing drink with a slight tanginess to it and is enjoyed all throughout Japan. In 1904, the founder of the Calpis Company, Kaiun Mishima, visited Mongolia and witnessed people drinking cultured milk, made by fermenting milk with lactobacilli (a friendly bacteria also used in the making of yogurt, beer, cocoa, pickles and many other widely enjoyed foods). Mishima was surprised by how invigorated he felt after drinking the cultured milk, which had many health benefits including improving digestion and helping to regulate metabolism. When Mishima returned to Japan, he dedicated himself to studying the process of making the cultured milk drink so he could create a tasty and healthy drink to introduce in Japan. His result was Calpis, which was the first lactic acid drink popularized in Japan.
Calpis’ flavor is light and slightly milky, with a hint of an acidic aftertaste, similar to the taste of yogurt. Calpis has a flavor similar to that of Yakult, a daily pro-biotic drink first bottled in 1931. Calpis is, however, sweeter than Yakult and more accessible as an everyday type of drink.
Calpis was launched on July 7, 1919, on the day of Tanabata (七夕), the Japanese Star Festival. The original packaging for Calpis concentrate made a reference to the original festival at which it debuted; it was wrapped with blue paper that was dotted with white stars to resemble the Milky Way, known in Japanese as Amanogawa (天の川), or River of Heaven. Another festival known for serving Calpis is the Hinamatsuri (雛祭り), also known as “Girl’s Day” or “Doll Festival.” During the Hinamatsuri, the Calpis Company has a program called the “Calpis Hinamatsuri Gift Program,” where the company provides children with Calpis to drink in place of the traditional “white sake toast” that contains alcohol.
There are many different ways to buy Calpis drinks. Calpis is sold concentrated and ready-to-drink. Calpis concentrate is, as the name suggests, a liquid concentrate of Calpis so it can be made at home to anyone’s taste. Calpis concentrate can also be used in making many different cocktails and desserts, and can even be used as a light, delicious syrup to pour over shaved ice on hot summer days! There is a collection of different recipes for drinks (non-alcoholic and alcoholic) and Calpis-based desserts that can be found on the Calpis official webpage: http://www.calpico.com/recipes/index.html.
Ready-to-drink Calpis is pre-mixed with filtered water and can be drunk straight out of the bottle. Ready-to-drink Calpis comes in many different flavors including: lychee, white peach, strawberry and mango. Calpis is also sold carbonated as “Calpis Soda.” Sold in a bottle, it can often be seen lining fridges in convenience stores in Japan. Another variation, almost as commonly seen in convenience store fridges throughout Japan, is a simple cocktail of Chuhai and Calpis soda. These are recognizable from the Calpis soda by the kanji for “sake” (酒) on its can.
These days, Calpis Company goes far beyond just selling drinks; you can also buy Calpis candy and ice cream. Calpis has a wide range of Calpis-flavored candies, from hard candy to taffy! Calpis Ice Bars are a milky, Calpis-flavored Popsicle bar that can be refreshing and filling on hot summer days.
Asahi carries both the ready-to-drink Calpis and Calpis concentrate all year around. You can find an array of Calpis flavors in 500mL bottles and larger 1.5L bottles to share with friends.
Written by: Samantha Gill
Japanese Calpis Commercial: