What to drink in India
One of the sweetest and safest beverages you can get is tender coconut water. You can almost always find it in any beach, roadside or other tourist destinations in the south. In summer (Mar-Jul), you can get fresh sugarcane juice in many places and even a lot of fresh fruit juice varieties. Cane juice is also sold by some good company stores such as ‘Canola’. ‘Kabbu’ is another cane juice chain which is found exclusively in the state of Karnataka. Be careful as fresh juice may contain many germs besides unhygienic ice. Some of the better juice shops and restaurants may serve juices topped up with ice cubes made from bottled water, but it is wiser to ask for your juice “without ice”. The juice vendors do not always clean their equipment properly and do not wash the fruits either.
India is famous for its Alphonso variety of mangoes, generally regarded as the King of Mangoes among connoisseurs. So do try the Alphonso mango-flavored beverage Maaza (bottled by Coca-Cola) or Slice (bottled by PepsiCo), both of which contain about 15% Alphonso mango pulp. Both of these brands will sure provide some needed refreshment during India’s scorching hot summer.
As for bottled water, make sure that the cap’s seal has not been broken, otherwise, it is a telltale sign of tampering or that unscrupulous vendors reuse old bottles and fill them with tap water, which is generally unsafe for foreign tourists to drink without prior boiling. Bottled water brands like Aquafina (by PepsiCo) and Kinley (by Coca-Cola) are widely available. Local brands like Bisleri are also acceptable and perfectly safe. Tastes may vary due to the individual brands’ mineral contents. Avoid most locally sold soft drinks and soda’s, they are known to have strong dyes and chemicals and can lead to nausea, diarrhea, and headache.
Everywhere you can get tea (chai in most North Indian languages) of one variety or another. Most common is the “railway tea” type: cheap, sweet and uniquely refreshing once you get the taste for it. It’s made by brewing up tea leaves, milk, and sugar altogether in a pot and keeping it hot until it’s all sold. Masala chai will also have spices added to the mix, such as cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and black pepper. For some people, that takes some getting used to.
While Masala chai is popular in Northern and Central India, it must be noted that people in Eastern India (West Bengal and Assam) generally consume tea without spices, the English way. This is also the part of India where most tea is grown.
In South India (except Kerala), coffee (especially sweet “filter coffee”) replaces tea as a standard beverage.
The legal drinking/purchasing age varies from state to state and Union Territory to Union Territory. It varies between 18 to 25 years of age. In some districts of Maharashtra, the age limit is 30. Alcohol is illegal in Bihar, Gujarat, Lakshadweep, Manipur and Nagaland.
Favorite Indian tipples include beer, notably the ubiquitous Kingfisher (a decent lager), and rum, particularly Old Monk. Prices vary by state, especially for hard liquor.
Indian wines, long a bit of a joke, have improved remarkably in recent years and there’s a booming wine industry in the hills of Maharashtra. The good stuff is not particularly cheap and selections are mostly limited to white wines, but look out for labels by Chateau Indage or ‘Sula.
Illegal moonshine, called tharra when made from sugar cane and toddy when made from coconuts, is widely available in some states. It’s cheap and strong, but very dangerous as quality control is nonexistent and best avoided entirely. In the former Portuguese colony of Goa you can obtain an extremely pungent liquor called fenny or feni, typically made from cashew fruits or coconuts.
The sale of alcohol is illegal on certain days of the year known as Dry Days, which are federally recognized holidays. These days include Republic day (Jan 26), Independence Day (Aug 15), and Gandhi Jayanti (Oct 2).