My wife is a Diet Coke fanatic, so I took her with me to test out the new Diet Coke Cherry Slurpee at 7-Eleven.
'cola' on Serious Eats
Bitter and aromatic Fernet enhances the spice inherent in Coca Cola.
Not long ago, Betony got in an order of fresh kola nuts, which, to be exact, isn't a nut at all; it's a podded fruit borne of the kola tree, an evergreen plant found in the tropics of Africa. Kola nuts have long been prized thanks to their natural caffeine content, and the earliest cola-style soft drinks included kola nut as a main ingredient.
Rather than go head to head with the marketing machines of the big boys, the Parle group sold Thums Up to Coca-Cola in 1990. The labels of the two colas might seem similar, but Coca-Cola Classic and Thums Up do actually have quite distinct flavor profiles.
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.
Boiled Coke with ginger and lemon started off as a popular cold remedy in Hong Kong, but now it's a popular anytime drink that's found at pretty much all Hong Kong diners. As a first-time, not sick drinker, I found it surprisingly pleasant. The cold and fizzy are gone, but you're left with sweet, spicy, a little tart, a smidge medicinal—all things that would feel restorative on a cold day or in a stream of warmth going down a sore throat.
Cherry cola is amazing. Cherry Coke, on the other hand, is a disgusting tease. For a split second there's some cherry flavor, but then it's replaced by a chemical finish that reminds you that no cherries were harmed while making that beverage. I've done some experimenting with adding cherry syrup to store-bought cola, which was good. But making my own cola and cherrying it up was even better.
A cola is a cola is a cola, most of the time. The "cola" flavor—sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, acid, a little citrus—is so deeply impressed on the American palate that we hardly recognize it for its parts anymore. Last week in Tennessee, though, I tried a soda that broadened my sense of what a cola can be.
It's funny how, when a product is widespread enough, it seems to taste only like itself. Kraft Mac 'n Cheese, for instance? The orange goo isn't particularly cheeselike; it just tastes like blue-box mac. Coca-Cola doesn't really show the distinct spicy, citric, vanillla notes that cola originally had. So what about something a little closer to the original intent? That's how Q Kola, the makers of Q Tonic, are marketing their new soda.