Turtle jelly, or 龟/龜苓膏 (guīlínggāo), is considered one of many types of 凉茶 (liángchá), or Chinese herbal teas. It’s not good. The end.
Ah, no, I won’t do that to you.
The preparation of the tea is centuries old.; It was thought that making a powder of a “golden coin” turtle plastron (bottom part of the shell; nowadays if they are used at all, shells from not-so endangered but soon to be endangered turtles are used) and combining it with various herbs de jour would benefit one’s skin and gradually lead towards a healthier complexion, as well as being the same kind of panacea as every other facet of Chinese medicine. Though, since its main focus is skin care, considering the typically ominous skies in many mainland cities, business should be booming.
I tried a glass on a whim while in Kaiping, China. I happened to wander by many an herbal tea shop, taking a whiff of things that were never welcoming when I decided to dive right into the unpleasantly bitter water bed that is guilinggao. And talk about bitter! You see, my usual refrain when speaking with a drink vendor is 不加糖 (bùjiātáng), or “don’t add sugar/no added sugar.” Apparently, you’re supposed to add something sweet to it, obviously to counteract its bitterness. Yes, well which of the other thousands of healing properties does that also negate?
As stated above, if you’re interested in trying it and you’re near a Chinatown, you might have a good chance. Turtles may not even be listed in the ingredients, but do you believe everything you read (excluding this blog, of course)?