The Summer of 1996 was a good time for me. The Sony Playstation and the X Games were still novelties, Beck's Odelay was on the boom box, Beavis and Butthead were about to Do America, and Pepsi test-released a coffee/cola hybrid called Pepsi Kona in my region. Granted, I wasn't an avid coffee drinker back then, but any kind of new soda was an exciting prospect to me. The double dose of caffeine promised to be a nightmare for parents and a thrill for kids not seen since the introduction of Jolt.
Now what did it taste like? Obviously it's been a very long time, but I remember it tasting basically as described; like a Pepsi with coffee flavoring. Coffee can be a very overwhelming flavor, and perhaps it eclipsed the cola flavor a bit. At that point in my life, I'd only had black coffee served hot, so I remember thinking it odd that you would drink a coffee flavored beverage cold. And bubbly.
Let's fast forward to 2006. I read a press release about Coca-Cola releasing their own coffee/cola hybrid called Coca-Cola BlāK. My band happened to be touring in France at the time and I got to try it (mid-calorie, kinda bleh), but upon returning to the states I hit eBay and ordered two cans of Pepsi Kona to fulfill my budding soda collection.
I was a little curious about what might happen to a can of soda with a "best by" date of June 30th, 1997. I got on the phone with Pepsi spokesperson Gina Anderson recently, who said, "We love when our fans collect our vintage cans, but think they belong on your mantle and not in your stomach. When a product is well beyond its freshness date—16 years in this case—its ingredients and flavorings will have broken down and you won't experience the high-quality taste that PepsiCo's products deliver." That sounds like a good challenge, right?
The can was not in perfect shape, and because I wanted to see the color, I tried to pour it into a clear glass. (Would I find any mold in the liquid? Doubtful, but just in case...) The first moment of comedy came as I tried to pop the top and it simply snapped off due to rust. Using a can opener, I finally extracted the liquid and though I was disappointed but not surprised that there was zero carbonation, the color looked pretty good to me.
I was expecting the worst from the aroma, but the coffee smell was still there! In terms of actual taste though, it seems that the coffee flavor had worn down over the years. I could just barely get a hint of it. The cola part of the flavor profile was actually pretty strong, and you could have easily fooled me and told me that this was a only a few day old flat cola and I wouldn't have known the difference. There were some strange particles floating around in the glass, but they didn't seem particularly harmful, and after a few more sips I felt like I was getting a little more of the coffee flavor.
In the end, I guess I got about what I expected from this experiment. But the larger question remains: why aren't we seeing more in the coffee/cola hybrid category? Clearly both Pepsi and Coca-Cola thought it was deserving of at minor roll-out. I feel like there's a niche in the energy drink hybrid market where this idea could work, and I would welcome it. I'd also welcome more commercials like this:
Would you try a 17 year old can of soda?
About the Author: Sam Hughes has toured the world with his band, making sure to try every local or novelty beverage along the way. Read some current and archived thoughts at @samhughesreview and thisiswhatidrink.blogspot.com