And Now, The Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For: My Review of Coke Zero Sugar

I’m well-known for being an aficionado of Coke Zero — so much so that I was once given my own weight in the beverage by a science fiction convention —  so when Coca-Cola announced it was taking the drink off the market in place of a new, reformulated drink called “Coke Zero Sugar” it was generally thought that my reaction would be to rend garments and howl about apocalyptic seals being broken. I didn’t do any of these, but of course I was curious as to what the new stuff was like.

Well, as it happens, Coca-Cola was kind enough to ship me a couple of bottles of the stuff so I could try it out before it generally hits the market where I live. I tried it two different ways: First Coke Zero Sugar by itself, and then in a sip-by-sip comparison with regular (and soon to be departed) Coke Zero.

When I tried it by itself: I couldn’t really perceive much of a difference between it and my sense memory of Coke Zero with the first couple of swallows. It tasted enough like Coke Zero that my immediate concern (“oh god it’s gonna suck and I will have to wander the desert forever because that will be my life now”) was immediately dismissed. I’m gonna survive the switchover, folks.

After a couple more swallows it seemed to me there were two noticeable differences: It’s not as immediately acidic, and it seems a bit less carbonated. I suspect both of these possibly contribute to the “more like standard Coca-Cola” taste that the company suggests this has over regular Coke Zero. It’s a mouthfeel thing, simulating what you would get with sugar in the liquid; anyone who drinks no-sugar soda and then drinks one with sugar notes the latter feels a little syrupy. Coke Zero Sugar feels a little more like fully leaded Coke than Coke Zero.

This mouthfeel and “less acidic, less carbonated” thing was definitely more noticeable when I was alternating drinks between the two. As a Coke Zero drinker I’m used to the zingier attack of the standard stuff, and would say that overall Coke Zero Sugar is basically a slightly muted version, zing-wise, of the previous iteration.

But, as noted, when I tasted the Coke Zero Sugar in isolation I was not really finding too much difference between the two, and when I did figure out the difference, I didn’t find it objectionable or disappointing. It’s good! It’s fine! I like it! And I suspect that as the old stuff is phased out and the new stuff comes in, I’ll make the switch and continue happily with my life. The only note I would make to myself is a practical one: Coke Zero Sugar should be drunk ice cold because it seems like it goes flatter quicker, which I suspect is down to the apparent less carbonation.

(Oh, one other difference — the aftertaste. How is it different? I can’t really quantify it except to say it is. It’s not bad. It’s just there, like it is with most drinks with artificial sweeteners.)

Coca-Cola wants to suggest that Coke Zero Sugar’s taste is improved, but I think that’s a subjective judgment. I think of it as being a little different, but not so much so that I need to worry about it. Coca-Cola also says it’s more in line with standard Coke’s flavor profile, which it might be, but in my opinion Coke Zero was close enough on this score that this is a case of “why go for the A+ when you’re already getting the A.” I suspect that it’s really down to Coke wanting to accentuate the “no sugar” aspect and needing to fiddle with the formula slightly to justify the repackaging and overall marketing budget. And if that’s somewhere near the case, well, I guess, okay? Mysterious are the ways of large corporations.

But overall: Hey, Coke Zero Sugar is pretty good. I’d say it’s Coke Zero with a subtle nose job: Different, maybe better depending on your personal taste, still largely recognizable for what it is. Which works for me.

43 thoughts on “And Now, The Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For: My Review of Coke Zero Sugar

  1. Glad to hear the neutral review. I quit drinking Coke a long time ago, but still buy Coke Life now and again. If I can get close to the “real Coke experience” with CZS then I’ll give it a shot.

  2. I found it to taste like flat coke. I guess part of the less carbonated part. But then I never liked Coke Zero. Regular Coke for life!

  3. As long as it doesn’t have the weird slimy mouthfeel of regular HFCS-laden Coca-Cola, I’m fine with it.

  4. Well, since regular Coke’s flavor profile went to hell the second they stopped using cane sugar, I’m not thrilled with any claims that this is mimicking it.

  5. As you are the one person on earth who’s a bigger fan of Coke Zero than I, I’m glad the company shipped you some to review. It’s no a fear that consumed my days, lol, but if it sucked, I’d have been sad about it.

    I will miss the “zing”, though. I *liked* the extra carbonation. But then, I never drink anything not at “ice cold” temp. I even asked my mom to put ice in my milk as a kid. As an adult, though, I can just not drink milk, ’cause it’s gross.

  6. As I sit here drinking my Coke Zero, I’m glad to hear that the replacement is acceptable.

    I hope it also comes in cylindrical can shaped cans. The bottle shaped cans are too cute.

  7. I drink Coke without anything taken away from it. I might need to be on a diet, but Coke is refreshing with the sugar in it. I don’t like the diet Cokes.

  8. For what it’s worth, I’ve recently returned (to the US) from both London and Toronto, where Coke Zero Sugar is the zero-calorie Coke option. I suspect the move to Coke Zero Sugar in the US is one part marketing (emphasizing the lack of sugar for folks who really didn’t know that Coke Zero had no sugar) and one part cost reduction (cheaper to manufacture, package and ship one less product worldwide).

    And, like you, I couldn’t really taste a difference (I didn’t have a Coke Zero handy to do the side-by-side test that you did, though…)

    Also, it’s awesome that they sent you some just because you mentioned it on your blog. Come to think of it – what do you think of the new Ferrari? (You’ll thank me later…)

  9. I’m holding out for Coke √-1. It’ll be Impossibly good!

    I think you mean, “Imaginarily Good!”
    Or maybe, “So Good It’s Unreal!”

  10. I don’t think CocaCola products get shipped worldwide. If you drink a Coke in Europe, it was probably made in Europe.

    My first trip to Europe was in 1991. I immediately noticed something different about the cokes there. It wasn’t the taste; my buds just aren’t that refined. It was the can. Where a US can is 12 oz., the Euro cans were 333 ml. Just a little less, but noticeable. In east Berlin, I noticed a slight increase. Those cans were 340ml. And the product was bottled in South Africa! I guessed it was a supplier relationship left over from the Soviet days.

    Anyway, I prefer sugared Coke (or Dr. Pepper). In my mind, I associate a lifetime of diet soda with the glioblastoma that killed my mom. Mostly, I drink milk, juice, or water. My sister (and housemate) drinks Coke Zero. She’ll be happy if the taste of the new stuff is similar.

  11. Regular Coke in the UK goes flat mighty fast due to less carbonation there than here in the US. True for Dr. Pepper over there as well. (Just got back from a 21 day tour of the UK.) I avoid all the diet iterations due to their greater health risks, so I had no idea that Coke Zero was more carbonated. Learn something everyday–often right here on this blog!

  12. I’ve recently been drinking Coke Zero Cherry and love it. So much so I can’t have it in the house or I’ll drink that instead of water.

  13. Only here could I get a Coke sqrt(-1) Impossibly / Imaginarily Good and.a Coke Absolute Zero reference.
    Which leads me to wonder, if you combine Coke Absolute Zero and Coke Sqrt(-1), do you get the power needed for the Alcubierre-White Warp Drive? And if so, what’s the combination required?
    I like Cherry Coke, regular Coke, and Dr. Pepper. — I used to drink Diet Coke, but thankfully stopped.
    I remember Tab from back when I was a kid. Whew. So glad I don’t have to drink ~that~ anymore.
    No real opinion about Coke Zero Sugar, sorry.

  14. As a fellow Coke Zero fan, I generally agree with Sir Scalzi. The taste was a little different but the transition was smooth and easy. In a week or three, I won’t really notice the difference.

  15. Hmm.. I can barely remember when the last time I had a coke was, but I do remember the real sugar Mexican coke is far superior than the corn syrup American coke.

  16. Is that going to be the real container, or is it a promotional thing? I seem to remember a pic from somewhere that showed a slim can like Red Bull uses.

  17. I’m waiting for some guar/agar/polyXelene combination, or a pact with Mephisto, to give me something much closer to the feel of dissolved sugar

  18. I was stationed in the California desert when the Abominable New Coke was shipped and i drove from little scrub town to little scrub town haunting gas stations and little markets buying all the real Coke i could find. I intended to pour it into an above ground pool and swim and splash in it like Scrooge McDuck. i’m a diet coke guy now so I don’t care about Zero except that the acidic bite is one of the things i like so lesser would be worser for me.

  19. Frankly I think we get used to whatever we drink. It’s the only way to explain the Tab afficianadoes still out there.

  20. I am glad a real Coke Zero fan tried it. The less carbonation deal sounds terrible. Sounds like something a Pepsi drinker would like. That is The number one thing I hear when I ask people why they drink Pepsi.

    I have not drank a regular coke in years. When I am served one by accident, I send it back right away. I don’t think Coke should worry about trying to duplicate the original, especially in times of HFCS. Coke Zero tastes Great!

    I guess I have to ask if Coke Zero is phased out and I don’t like Coke Zero sugar, will Coke Zero Cherry still be there? Or am I off to Diet Dr Pepper and a darker wardrobe that will hide prune juice stains?

  21. I’ve seen Coke products in the bottle-cans before. They’re not super common but they do exist on store shelves.

    Also, I suspect that the decreases in carbonation and acidity are related. Carbonation lowers pH.

  22. Mexican Coke (the fizzy kind) is readily available in “Latin” markets and many gourmet and farmer’s markets.

    We just bought some new-Coke-Zero but haven’t tried it yet.

  23. So, “cola” flavor is traditionally a combination of vanilla, cinnamon, and citrus, and soda makers have juggled the proportions for years, usually on the citrus side. To my taste buds, this concoction boosts the vanilla a bit and reduces the cinnamon, along with the lessor carbonation that gives it a flatter taste. I’m not particularly excited about it, but it’s still someone’s idea of a cola and it tastes better than any competition i’m aware of, so it’ll get my business. I do miss the cinnamon, though.

  24. I was born and raised in Atlanta. My earliest exposure to Coke was via the white-top-and-red vending machines from the mid-1950s in the downtown. Every one had a rack to one side where citizens could place their green glass empties when they’d finished drinking their six to eight ounces of Coke they’d spent one whole dime for. Coke from that period had a distinct flavor and texture which none match today. Normally, here in the states, I order unsweetened tea and poison it with sweetener to my peculiar taste. The only place I drink Coke Zero in any quantity is in Japan, which seems to have embraced it to the exclusion of Diet Coke.

  25. Huh. That syrupy quality is one of the things I now don’t like about sugared soda.

    Well, it sounds all right. If I don’t like it, I’ll just drink less soda, which will be a good thing in the long run.

  26. I think the taste is fine (I love my Coke Zero), but the name has gotten many, MANY of my friends to say to me, “Why would you want Coke Zero with sugar? Isn’t that just Coke?

    It’s a terrible name, is what I’m saying.

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