When it comes to food and drink, I’m not a purist but I have my limits. Yes, definitely mix sparkling yuzu soda with espresso. No, a cronut should not exist. Coffee and Coca-Cola? That’s going too far.
In the US, Coca-Cola recently released some fresh flavors of their signature drink but infused with coffee: Vanilla, Dark Blend, and Caramel. I was able to get my hands on some single cans of Vanilla and Dark Blend for the purposes of this article, and because I am now apparently the resident coffee snack taster at Sprudge, I drank them so you might not have to. But first, some background.
This is not my first experience with the combination of coffee and Coke. A long time ago—a different lifetime and at the beginning of my coffee journey—my best friend and I went to a cafe in Austin and found an intriguing drink on their menu. Called a “Mustachio”, it was described as “chilled glass with cream layered atop Coke and espresso.” When we ordered it, the server was confused; they apparently didn’t realize it was on the menu. We were served a glass of Coke topped with cream and a side of espresso. I recall asking, “What do you do with the shot of espresso?” And they replied, “I don’t know, try taking it before and after then drinking the rest? This is the first time someone ordered it and I had to call the manager.” Espresso as a chaser? Sure, why not.
Once, I spent a long summer in the thrall of Vanilla Coke. I had just turned 21. My birthday was when I learned that an Irish coffee with double-strength brewed coffee was a bad idea. I react poorly to alcohol due to a gene variance; I wasn’t aware of it yet, and so could not push through the initial adverse physical reaction to alcohol like some other friends could. I was determined, then, to conquer my sensitivity to alcohol, and so spent an entire summer drinking Vanilla Cokes alongside a half a shot of vodka in the hopes of increasing my tolerance. It did not work.
Anyway, I tasted these new coffee Coke combos with these experiences in the foreground of my taste memory. Here goes nothing.
The Dark Blend flavor of Coffee + Coke barely tastes like coffee. It has a far more pronounced “coffee” flavor note than my other trial can, the Vanilla. My first sip experience of Dark Blend was strange. I got the kind of coffee flavor that’s reminiscent to me of coffee-flavored hard candy (think Werther’s). But it’s quickly followed by the regular Coke experience of carbonated high fructose corn syrup. The aftertaste was some combination of months-old, dark-roasted, single flavor-noted coffee… and Coke. The coffee flavor note is so singular that I could not have confirmed to you that it’s Brazilian in origin. Pro tip: drinking it out of a wine glass with a giant ice cube makes it a little more palatable.
The Vanilla flavor was far more subtle. I did get a sense of vanilla, but not much coffee, before the whole thing quickly fizzled to a Coke dominant note. Vanilla Coffee Coke is not to be confused with Vanilla Coke, which is much more vanilla-forward. The coffee Coke version is like if you took a vanilla creamsicle, dunked it into Coke, gave it a little stir, and then decided that you should just finish the rest of the popsicle on its own.
After sipping each flavor, my taste buds were coated in sugar, my burps were an unattractive sugar coffee taste, and my stomach hurt.
Apparently, these new Coffee Coke flavor combos came about because people couldn’t decide on their afternoon pick-me-up. “Many people are often torn between reaching for a soft drink or a coffee at 3:00p.m. at work, at school or on the go,” said Brandan Strickland, brand director, Coca-Cola Trademark, via press release. “Now, you don’t need to leave Coca-Cola to get your coffee fix.”
As I type this past 3:00pm, my fingers creaking and twitching from age, I am left wondering who is actually drinking 69 mg of caffeine per a 12-oz can (regular Coke has 34 mg). That caffeine amount is around the same as a cup of coffee with the added bonus of 18 g of sugar. To me this is a very large amount of both caffeine and sugar, but I guess the combined sugar + coffee high is the assumed goal.
If you’re okay with a pop (hey, Midwesterners) that has a mild resemblance to coffee, this is perfect for you. Just remember to take a breath mint afterwards. But if you’re looking for a coffee experience, or a Coke experience, I feel there are better versions of both available, and that’s putting it politely.
Coca-Cola with Coffee can be found in various stores in the US. International drinkers have had some variation on this for a few years though the formulation does vary between regions. Explore the full lineup on Coke’s site.
Jenn Chen (@thejennchen) is an Editor At Large at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Jenn Chen on Sprudge.