Serious Eats: Drinks
Soda: Coco Rico, Puerto Rican Coconut Soda
Plenty of foodstuffs taste great in their natural form, but translate terribly to "flavors." (Banana-flavored Runts or Now and Laters couldn't taste less like bananas, right?) So does the notion of a coconut-flavored soda sound particularly appealing?
John's never liked coconut in any sweet form: candy, cookies, what have you. Carey's a fan, but not particularly of coconut-flavored things (do coconut Jelly Belly beans make anyone else shudder?). But a college friend from Puerto Rico loved the soda Coco Rico to death, largely for reasons of nostalgia; "It's very widespread in the sense that you can find pretty much anywhere in Puerto Rico; supermarkets, drug stores, bakeries, cafeterias, everywhere." So when we saw it in New York, we had to give it a try.
See, here's the thing about coconut: in its natural form, coconut water is actually quite mild. And that's the flavor reflected in Coco Rico. It's mellow to the point where you're not sure what you're drinking. On first sip, when the soda's chilled, it's just a crisp sweetness, not dissimilar to Sprite. But then that fades and... what's that aftertaste? You have to think "coconut" to get it. As it warms up, you get the sort of glossy coconut sensation a bit more. When you drink it ice-cold, though? It seems hardly flavored at all.
The thing is, given how sweet and intensely flavored most sodas are, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's actually refreshing in a way that most super-sweet sodas aren't, mild enough that you want to keep drinking it for the pure cold, carbonated sensation. (It's definitely a lesson in how many hidden calories and sugars are in a soda, though; it may just taste like lightly sweetened water, but it's nearly as caloric as a Coke.)
Was this really it, though? We wondered what we were missing. Coco Rico was pleasant enough, but it was hard to see how it could inspire particular passion. But our buddy Carlos liked it for just that reason:
I don't drink soda anymore, but I still like Coco Rico. Partly because the flavor isn't that strong. It's pretty much just carbonated water with a bit of a sweet coconut-like aftertaste. If you take out the carbonation and some of the sweetness, it's just like drinking coconut water straight from the coconut. Or maybe that's just what I told myself when I moved to New Jersey and there weren't coconuts lying around everywhere anymore?
Though we may not have nostalgia to credit, we're pretty on board with Coco Rico, too. Most sodas may have strong, distinctive flavors; but in a way, the mellower ones can be just as compelling.