I’m not a huge soda drinker. I lean more toward unsweetened seltzer. On the somewhat rare occasion that I do drink a soda, Coke Zero Sugar (formerly just called Coke Zero) is my beverage of choice — even though I live in New York, near Pepsi headquarters.
I prefer Coke Zero Sugar to Diet Coke. The difference between them is that Diet Coke contains citric acid, whereas Coke Zero Sugar does not, and instead contains Potassium Citrate and Acesulfame Potassium. It also has less aspartame. At any rate, to me, Coke Zero Sugar tastes more like a non-diet Coke but without that sugary coating that’s left on your teeth after drinking a regular Coke.
When I do treat myself to soda, I want it to be just right. If I get a fountain soda somewhere, I’m disappointed if the soda is flat, or the syrup-to-water ratio is incorrect, or there’s too much ice or not enough ice, or if the soda just tastes off in some way. I feel like every soda I’ve ever ordered in a diner, for some reason, has been a bad one — too flat, too syrupy, and with a funny aftertaste. As disappointments go, of course, a not-great soda is minor – but if I’ve paid for a bubbly beverage, I think it should be properly calibrated. I’m not one to complain in a restaurant, though, and I’ll drink my less-than-ideal Coke (and that’s another thing — Coke Zero Sugar isn’t always the easiest Coke to find on a restaurant menu) in disappointment rather than send it back or grumble to my server.
When I get a soda where all the parts have aligned — the ice, the flavor, the carbonation — it’s practically sublime. In my opinion, the Holy Grail of fountain soda dispensers is the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine. The Freestyle’s been around since 2009, and every time I encounter one, I’m delighted. Plus, they usually have Coke Zero Sugar in regular flavor as well as cherry, cherry-vanilla, lemon, lime, orange, raspberry, and vanilla. My favorite Coca-Cola Zero Sugar flavors from the Freestyle, aside from the regular flavor, are the cherry and cherry-vanilla ones. I like the lemon and lime ones okay, but I prefer an actual slice of real lemon in a Coke Zero Sugar (now that is heaven). The vanilla Coke is pretty good, too. I don’t think I’ve even bothered to try the orange or raspberry flavors.
While on a road trip with my family recently, I saw a billboard advertising Orange Vanilla Coke, the first new Coca-Cola flavor in 12 years. I remarked to my husband that I’d have to try it, and he told me he’d already done so at work; he is fortunate enough to have a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine in his office. It’s for the best that I don’t have daily, unfettered access to one of those. If I worked in his office, I would get no work done. I would probably end up just sticking my face directly under the spout of the machine, getting really hopped up on caffeine, then stuffing my face with the abundance of free snacks they have, and eventually wind up using the bathroom 48 times in a row. I would probably get fired within the first week.
“How is it?” I asked him about the Orange Vanilla Coke, somewhat skeptical of the orange-vanilla flavor combination.
“Not bad,” he replied. “A little like an orange soda, or maybe a Creamsicle.”
We then discussed the ideal conditions under which one drinks a Coke. It is this: It’s a hot day, and you’ve just returned from the beach. Your feet are sandy, and you get back to the house where you’re staying, and someone hands you an ice-cold Coke.
On our way back we stopped to get gas and use the restrooms. The rest stop — which happened to be in Georgia, home to Coca-Cola’s headquarters — had an excellent beverage selection, including Orange Vanilla Coke Zero Sugar. I grabbed myself a 20-ounce bottle to try later (I was not about to fill up on 20 ounces of liquid containing caffeine, a known diuretic, while traveling a long distance in a car).
When we got home, I cracked open my Orange Vanilla Coke Zero Sugar and gave it a try. My first impression was that the acidic tang one would associate with citrus fruit and the sweetness one would associate with vanilla somewhat canceled each other out, rather than complemented each other. I didn’t think it was going to become my favorite new Coke Zero Sugar flavor. Maybe it’s just the newness of the orange-vanilla flavor combination, and over time my taste buds will adjust and I’ll come to like it more. I will say that the more I drank it, the better I liked it, but it wasn’t as good as the orange-vanilla flavor one gets from a Creamsicle or the burst of straight-up orange flavor in an orange soda. Of the something-vanilla combos, I still think I prefer cherry-vanilla.
According to the fine folks at Coca-Cola, Orange Vanilla Coke is “a new twist on delicious.” Maybe I’ll develop a Proustian memory of drinking the Orange Vanilla Coke where I associate it with a road trip, a pleasant vacation, and a return to my nice, cozy home.