Meet the New Coke Zero, (Pretty Much the) Same as the Old Coke Zero

The new Coke Zero, in a can, next to the old Coke Zero, also in a can

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.

Krissy, with the three different types of Coke.
John Scalzi

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.

— JS

37 Comments on “Meet the New Coke Zero, (Pretty Much the) Same as the Old Coke Zero”

  1. In the US, I drank a lot of caffeine free regular Coke. We moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland, not long before lockdown commenced. I could find regular, diet, and Coke Zero all over the damn place, but no caffeine free Coke (although they did have CF Diet). I was at Tesco one day (major UK supermarket chain), and noticed Zero Sugar Zero Caffeine Coke. I bought a 10 pack of the cans (apparently they don’t really do 12 packs on this side of the Atlantic) to try it out.

    I personally don’t notice a significant difference in flavor profile between the regular CF Coke I drank in the US, and the regular Coke (with actual sugar, not HFCS) I drink on this side of the Atlantic. However, I’ve only been able to find the Zero Sugar Zero Caffeine at one specific Tesco store–which will permanently close in about two weeks.


    In the US, I didn’t like either Diet Coke, or Coke Zero, at all, so for my palate, the Zero Sugar Zero Caffeine Coke is a big step up. To each their own.


  2. For a really meaningful difference in the flavor profile, you need to drink the Coke you get in less developed nations such as Sri Lanka. When I was stationed there, I remembered distinctly being told that the sugar content was from sugar cane and it made it really sweet. It was syrupy on the tongue as well.

  3. My favorite diet soda was “Dr. Pepper 10”. It got harder and harder to find it. When I’d visit my brother, I’d buy it (he also liked it). It tasted much better than “Diet Dr. Pepper”. But now it appears to be all the way gone, but there is a “Dr. Pepper Zero”. It tastes better than “Diet Dr. Pepper”, but not as good as “Dr. Pepper 10”.

    “Dr. Pepper” 10 had 10 calories.

  4. Thanks for this taste-test, John. Now I am going to be curious what “a little more floral” means. I won’t know until I can taste the new formula myself.

    To Howard’s comment above, the Dr. Pepper ‘Zero Sugar’ formulations are good. I think the country is still having supply chain problems with all the variations as it’s very hit-or-miss by me where you can get them (Maryland, for the record.)

  5. Much the same as my reaction. Slightly different, but not different enough to worry me.

  6. I was told new zero did, in fact, escape into the wild in old cans for a few weeks, at least in some markets.

    I am in a position to get fairly reliable info about such things, though I did not personally put the soda in the cans or instruct someone to do so.

    I don’t think I have consumed any new zero in old cans.

  7. Floral was my view on the U.K. new variant. Too much so for me, and I’ll,stick with Pepsi Max from now.

  8. It’s likely just me, but all artificial sweeteners leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

    Also, cilantro doesn’t taste like soap to me.

    Are they related? Does Athena need a PhD thing to investigate? Enquiring minds want her double blind taste test!

  9. Gotta admit, I agree with Jim…. I can always tell the difference between diet sodas and regular sodas. Bitter with a cloyingly sweet overlay; and I am three times as thirsty as before I started to sip. I’ve noticed this when I’ve inadvertently poured from the wrong bottle, or if someone has served me the fake stuff without asking what I want. (Cilantro doesn’t taste like soap to me, either…) Oh, and stevia doesn’t even taste sweet to me – tastes rather like what I’d imagine old dirty gym socks might taste like!

  10. Regular sugared coke should always be called regular corn syrup coke in this country.

  11. My in-country medical director always had us drink the coke because it was a lot safer to drink than the water there. And it went great with arrack, the palm heart based sort of vodka that was the national hard drink.

  12. Two comments:

    Diet sodas have a definite shelf life and long term hoarding is not a good idea if you want something drinkable


    You have some generously sized shot glasses!

  13. @rochrist — Not always. Kosher for Passover Coke (sold in the early spring) uses sugar instead of corn syrup.

  14. Good to know that it’ll be less variation than one gets traveling around the country (it’s surprising how much difference the local water makes to the flavor of sodas.)

    Myself, I can’t necessarily distinguish Coke Zero and regular Coke by taste, but I know pretty quickly from the sugar rush if I accidentally get a regular.

  15. Meet the New Coke Zero
    Same as the Old Coke Zero*

    *for all intents and purposes

  16. Trying my first can now. My impression is that they made the flavor more like Diet Coke which was my fear all along. I’ve been a Coke Zero fan from the beginning because it was always more like regular Coke- I know there are many die-hards, but I don’t like Diet Coke’s distinctive flavor. I go through about 60 Coke Zero cans a month and I’m going to have to reevaluate now.

  17. As somebody who dislikes most artificial sweeteners, especially acesulfame k (also stevia), I think putting the new product in a red can is evil. Otherwise, maybe I’ll try it sometime, but I expect not to care for it.

    I probably drink regular Coke 1-2 times a month.

  18. My favorite Coke remains: Diet Pepsi. But in restaurants I will continue to drink plain old Diet Coke if that is what is available. The last time I drank a real Coke was…can’t remember, but several decades.

    “More floral”? Pass.

  19. I call Coke Zero “my crack in a can” – I have to limit myself to two cans per day because I’m old and shouldn’t be drinking this stuff.

  20. I stopped drinking coke zero because I felt like it had too much bite. At first I felt like I could live with it in place of regular coke, but over time I just got sick of it. I can only get the new coke zero in 24 packs at the moment and I don’t think I’ll regret it. New coke zero is so much closer to the classic flavor I’ll probably drink 6 cans a day. Now if they could just make it caffeine free.

  21. Regular Coke with regular sugar (not HFCS) is generally available year-round, imported from Mexico. My local Costco has been out of stock a couple times over the last few months, presumably due to COVID-19 disrupting supply chains. It’s a bit under $1/bottle when bought by the case, as opposed to around $2/bottle at a convenient store. It’s the classic light-green glass 12oz bottle, though of course it’s now labeled as 355ml.

    I’ve also sampled the Mexican Fanta, and have seen Sprite and Squirt on offer.

  22. The damn stuff still has aspartame in it, so I still can’t drink it. Oh, well, back to the iced tea for me . . .

  23. You keep talking about how unhealthy for your kidneys the amount of Coke Zero you drink … Do they not have Caffeine-Free Coke Zero near you? I live in a huge city, but in assuring my surgeon that I hadn’t eaten today, “even any Coke Zero”, I found out that he hadn’t heard of it, either! You should have seen his eyes light up, lol. With the weather in Phoenix we have to stay hydrated, so I limit my regular Coke Zero to my “wake up” drink, then Caffeine-Free CZ, green tea & brown “regular” tea for the rest of the day (my tea is CF too, lol).

    I’d offer to mail you some, but obviously you know how to shop online. XD

  24. As a Type 1 Diabetic for pretty much my whole life, I can see this causing me some issues when I go out to eat and they don’t have my regular fix of Diet Coke!

  25. I switched to Come Zero from Diet Coke years ago because of this blog (Damn you, Scalzi!). I noticed the change in packaging of the more recent versions but did not know they had changed the formula. Personally for me the tasteless a bitter chemical note which is what put me off Diet Coke before, though not quite as bad. I will try Diet Coke and might have to switch back . . .

  26. Just to be clear I am a different Kevin from the other one. Also “tasteless” should be “taste is”

  27. I just want Vanilla Coke Zero back. Why it’s been discontinued, I don’t know.

  28. Just a sec here. I thought that Coke Zero had no sugar AND no caffeine. Am I wrong?

  29. When can we expect to see the new Coke Zero on shelves? Also , why the decision to change the old Coke Zero to taste more like original Coke? If I wanted original Coke I would drink original Coke. I really liked the old Coke Zero and have been drinking it since it first was introduced.

  30. I find it kind of shocking that one would find it difficult to distinguish between regular soda and any “no/low sugar” version. I rarely drink soda of any kind, but can instantly taste if there is “sweetener” (some sugar substitute) being used, as they all have very distinctive tastes (and aftertastes).

    Does regular US Coke have some sort of artificial sweetener added to make it taste more like sugarfree?

  31. Eridani:

    Nope, just no sugar. Although there is caffeine-free Coke Zero as well (it’s a separate product)

    Eileen Donovan:

    It’s not discontinued, I have some in my fridge. During the aluminum shortage of 2020, Coca-Cola cut back on flavor variants to focus on core brands. This is being fixed.

    Donna Deeter:

    As I noted in a previous entry, I suspect Coca-Cola plans to position Coke Zero as just plain “Coke” in the future, when taxes on sugar go up.

%d bloggers like this: