Last month, I found out that they were replacing my *one and only* soda with a new flavor: Coca-Cola Zero Sugar. My initial reaction was to recall each and every lyric of Michelle Branch’s “Goodbye to You.” I was sad. But it also made sense for the following reasons:
-Despite being called “Coke Zero,” people still think it contains sugar. For example, Neil once told me we should stop buying Coke Zero because it is “filled with sugar.”
-Coke Zero has been marketed mostly to men. Case in point: in the “Share a Coke” campaign, the cans often instructed you to share a Coke Zero with your bro. Ideally this new formula would be equally ready to share with your sis.
-Artificial sweeteners have come a long way. Maybe they would use *trendy* and health guru-approved sweeteners like erythritol or stevia.
The change came faster than I had imagined. When I went to Las Vegas, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar was the only option at Walgreens. It was *happening.*
I figured it was time to embrace this new formula, and do a proper taste test comparison.
A couple notes before I begin:
-Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is a long name, but it falls in iambic pentameter, just like a Taylor Swift song. You could definitely use that name as some kind of transcendental meditation chant.
-The artificial sweetener in CCZS is still aspartame. Will Coke ever get on that wellness wagon and use erythritol like my BFF 4 lyfe Halo Top?
Coca-Cola Zero Sugar: Tasting Notes
-It tastes a lot like real Coke. It has a cloying sweetness that makes the sides of your tongue itch a bit, just like the American delicacy high-fructose corn syrup.
-The sweetness brings out more nuances of the Coke flavor. It is rich and spicy, which is why I’ve always liked Coke better than Pepsi.
-The upside is that it doesn’t leave that fuzzy sugar aftertaste in your mouth, like Coke.
They’ve really nailed it here.
Coke Zero: Tasting Notes
Compared to Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, Coke Zero tastes:
-More rubbery and artificial
-More one-note. The spiciness is harder to detect.
-Still a million times better than Diet Coke
I will say, I like the confidence of the Coke Zero can better than the bubble of red on the Coca-Cola Zero Sugar can. It feels like the new formula is alluding to its similarity to Coke, but if that’s the goal, why not make it even more red? Maybe it’s a transitionary thing, and they have to capture current Coke Zero shoppers and Coca-Cola shoppers in one look and feel. Or maybe FDA regulations mandate that a full sugar soda and a zero sugar soda have easily detectable differences on-shelf. Based on my own time spent working with brands, it’s probably both, but mostly the latter.
Either way, I’m more attracted to the Coke Zero can. Its black color feels confident in the often grayed-out diet soda category. Plus, in branding, black is the color of luxury.
The Bourbon Test
As a LaCroix-loving healthyish person who tries to keep my consumption of artificial sweeteners in check, I mostly only drink soda when drinking alcohol. Because of this, it was important to test the new soda’s capacity as a mixer with whiskey. Jim Beam is cheap enough to drink with soda but decent enough to put in an old fashioned, so that’s what I used here.Unfortunately, I felt more conflicted here. Coca-Cola Zero Sugar truly tastes better than Coke Zero. But it doesn’t work as well as a mixer. Why? Coke Zero’s rubberiness actually compliments the rubberiness of whiskey. Plus, its lack of sweetness is fixed by the spicy sweetness of a bourbon like Jim Beam. (It also goes very well with Old Overholt, a great rye whiskey that only uses one vowel sound.) Coca-Cola Zero Sugar has such a strong flavor that it actually becomes hard to taste the bourbon. Younger people who have a sweeter-leaning palate will find this just fine. In a way, it tastes more like a whiskey Coke. But I prefer Coke Zero with booze.
Neil wanted to do his own test, and he agreed with me for the most part.
His main comments were that Coca-Cola Zero Sugar truly tastes like Coke, and is superior. But Coke Zero with whiskey has a “caramel” aftertaste, whereas he couldn’t detect the whiskey flavor at all in his Coca-Cola Zero Sugar cocktail.
For the most part, we’re looking forward to becoming a Coca-Cola Zero Sugar household. But before we can move into the future, I have to pour one out for my friend Coke Zero. Here’s to the memories. (Cue “I Will Remember You” by Sarah McLachlan.) It’s been real.