The new Coke Zero Sugar (henceforth referred to as “Coke Zero”) has arrived at the Scalzi Compound, in its “Hey Look We’re Just Like Regular Coke” red can and new flavor profile. Well, naturally I was curious as to how the taste would differ from the old Coke Zero, and also, how it compares to full-sugared Coke, so I did what you would expect me to: I lined up all three and did a taste test.
First, I got shot glasses out and poured each type of similarly-chilled Coke into them. Then I asked Krissy to give me her impressions of the Coke shots. She closed her eyes while I poured and wasn’t aware of which order I gave them to her (which was, for the record, old Coke Zero, regular Coke, new Coke Zero). Also, she’s not a regular drinker of either regular Coke or Coke Zero — she prefers Diet Coke when she drinks Coke — so she’s useful as a kind of control group here.
Her reaction to them all: meh, they all pretty much taste the same. Before she knew which was which she pegged regular Coke as more sugary than old Coke Zero, and she noted she could taste a slight difference between the new Coke Zero and the other two. Otherwise, the three were close enough in flavor that she wouldn’t necessarily know which was which. Which is probably good news for Coca-Cola; the whole point of the new formulation is to get Coke Zero to be just more like “Coke,” whatever that particular flavor profile is.
It was my turn after that, I went out of the room while Krissy poured out the three shots and arranged them so I wouldn’t know which is which. Unlike Krissy, and almost certainly because I drink an ill-advised amount of the stuff, I was immediately able to differentiate between the three versions, and correctly guessed which was which. Regular Coke feels and tastes syrupy to me, relative to the zero sugar versions, and the new Coke Zero tastes less sharp and more floral to me than the old Coke Zero. I agree with Krissy that regular Coke and old Coke Zero taste more similar to each other than new Coke Zero tastes like regular Coke.
That said, the new Coke Zero tastes similar enough to both other iterations of Coke that, for me, there’s nothing really to complain about. I like the flavor of the new Coke Zero perfectly well — I think at first blush I slightly prefer the old Coke Zero formulation, but the preference is not so pronounced that I feel the need to rush out and horde cases of it to delay the inevitable switchover in my own home. When the old stock runs out I’ll be fine with the new stuff. Memory and the written record suggest I felt similarly the last time Coca-Cola fiddled with Coke Zero’s flavor profile; the fiddling was largely unnecessary from my point of view but not injurious to whether I would continue to drink the stuff.
Let me put it this way: If Coca-Cola had simply slipped the new flavor profile into the old cans, it’s entirely possible I wouldn’t have noticed it. I can taste the difference between the new and the old, but then again I was actively trying to. The new taste is what I would describe as “well within the variation you would find between individual batches.” Which is fine by me and I think will be fine by most people, and works well enough for the company. The is not a “New Coke” situation. Coca-Cola learned from that well enough.
In summation, the new Coke Zero is perfectly good and I’ll likely keep drinking ill-advised amounts of the stuff. Or, at least, if I stop drinking ill-advised amounts of the stuff, it won’t be because of the taste, it’ll be because I should probably, you know, just drink more water. I can get that out of the tap. Sorry, Dasani.