Mexican Coke Hits the County: A Blind Taste Test

Oh, what a kerfuffle about this imported Mexican Coca-Cola, which is currently available around the county, including at Costco, where I happened to buy mine. (I justify this purchase—given my recent rail against food at Costco—by suggesting that Coca-cola is not actually a food. Plus, I was only at the big box store to buy an ottoman-sized pack of t.p. when I saw the treasured case of Mexi-coke hiding among the soft drinks.)

Here’s the difference. Instead of super-cheap/super-ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup—which holds the Ace in Michael Pollan’s deck of Most Wanted toxic foods playing cards—Mexican-made Coca Cola is sweetened with old fashioned, expensive cane sugar. Currently, high fructose corn syrup is making the news for being both deadly for the planet and highly suspicious for your body. Witness this Times article linking the cheap sweetener to rises in obesity and diabetes rates. So, high fructose corn syrup vs. cane sugar, that’s the main difference between the two Cokes.

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The myth of Mexi-coke is spreading—note this Times Style article—with fans claiming that Mexican Coke is far tastier than the American stuff. In fact, there’s a swell of resentment rising among US Coke drinkers who object that a cheaper product is being fobbed off on consumers in the States. The claims are disparaged by mucketty-mucks at Coke, who claim there’s no perceptible flavor difference between the two products.

Huh…we’ll see about that. We arranged a good ‘ol side-by-side, blind taste test.

But first, I concur with the Times Style writer in saying that, in this case, the vessel is important (though my testers drank out of cups). Mexican Coke comes in a pale, sea green glass bottle—the Coke bottle of yesteryear—taller, slimmer and more Betty-Draper-waisted than America’s blunt, plastic version. It’s smaller, too, with the Mexican bottle holding 12 ounces and the analogously-marketed American bottle holding 16.9 ounces. (BTW, there’s 150 calories in the Mexican bottle vs. 200 in the American bottle.)

Holding and viewing the two bottles before tasting, my testers felt that the slim Mexican bottle was more elegant, with a pleasingly nostalgic shape. It evokes a ’fifties drug store culture that we were all clearly too young to have experienced. One tester also noted “I’d feel more confident as an adult ordering Coke if this is the bottle that arrived.” For me, I felt that the Mexican bottle’s thick glass neck was better than plastic at transferring its bracing cold to the lips, and the oddly-balanced height of the bottle almost mimicked a champagne flute. With the bottle’s low, slim waist and much longer neck, the drinker’s hand is held further away from the face, which feels strangely special-event.

For the taste test, my loyal minion-slash-spouse whisked away the bottles and poured the Cokes into identical cups, all carefully marked A or B with the difference known only to him. Primed by the dismissive Coke exec and the Times writer (who did not perceive any taste difference), I was not confident that my test would yield a conclusive result. My three other tasters were regular folks with untrained palates, and no one here was doing the oenophilic Hoover-slurp—though we did munch crackers between sampling A and B.

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To my surprise, the results were unanimous. After sipping back and forth between the cups marked A and B (with some thoughtful cracker-munching), all my testers felt that A had a pronounced and unpleasant after-taste. The words “chemical” and “acidic” came up, and perplexed faces were made. One taster definitively pushed her cup A away, as though it contained something nasty. To my palate, it tasted a bit like ascorbic acid (vitamin C), with a harsher hint of aspirin tablet.

B was another story, with the word “natural” coming up with some frequency. One said of B, “it doesn’t have A’s bad after-taste, and that’s the main reason why I prefer it”, while others opined that B had a more complex flavor with an ineffable spicy/herbal note. To my palate, there was something in B that darkly hinted at root beer or old-fashioned sarsaparilla candies. It was a mysterious sort of flavor, and one that I don’t taste often—it was impossible to pinpoint or find a satisfying flavor analog. I can’t claim that the mysterious spiciness is the flavor of kola nut—never having tasted kola nut on its own—but whatever the flavor is, it was much more pronounced in Coke B.

You guessed it: chemical-tasting Coke A was good ’ole American Coca-Cola, while the deliciously complex Coke B was Mexican Coca Cola. I don’t know about you, but, as an American, I feel bamboozled.

But enough about me. Have you tried Mexican Coke? Let me know where you get it, and what you think—we’d love to hear from you.

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