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Blind Soda Taste Test: Can Any Cola Crush Coke?

Cola is the quintessential carbonated drink. It’s the flavor that comes to mind when you say the words “soda” or “pop” (depending on where you live) — like pepperoni to “pizza” or chocolate chip to “cookies.” Featuring a crisp and refreshing combination of vanilla, cinnamon, citrus, and nutmeg notes with a caffeine kick and a subtle bite, when done right cola can be super addicting. (Note: the actual kola nut is rarely used in the states, though it’s not fully banned, like the “root” from root beer).

If cola is your soda flavor of choice, you most definitely have a favorite. And, to be real, that favorite is probably informed by what you grew up on. It’s a drink that just seems to lend itself to sense memory and a cursory check of food twitter shows that people rarely break their allegiances once they’re formed. I’m the exception. I grew up on RC Cola — the most common alternative to Pepsi and Coca-Cola — but somewhere along the lines I shifted and Coke is my current go-to. There’s just something about its sharp bite that I find almost problematically addicting.

It’s so bad that when I hear “We have Pepsi” after I’ve ordered my Coke, I usually just opt for water. Which, to be honest, worried both me and my editor. Could I even be a fair judge when my Coke love calibrated my cola palate? In order to get an honest answer, we decided I’d rank every cola I could find in a blind taste test.

The Lineup

For our blind taste test we rounded 17 different colas, including all of the big grocery store brands, a few artisan selections, and every iteration of plain-flavored Coca-Cola on the market. Here is our class:

  • Afri Cola
  • Boylan Cane Cola
  • Coca-Cola
  • Coca Cola Zero
  • Colombiana La Nuestra
  • Diet Coke
  • Fentiman’s Curiosity Cola
  • Inca Kola
  • Jarritos Mexican Cola
  • Mexican Coca-Cola
  • Moxie
  • Olipop Vintage Cola
  • Pepsi
  • Royal Crown Cola
  • Sprecher Puma Kola
  • Shasta Cola
  • Virgil’s Zero Sugar Cola

PART I: The Tasting

Taste 1:

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Highly botanic with a strong and powerful bite. This is definitely one of the artisan brands, herbaceous notes dominate this cola, with strong hits of nutmeg and citrus oils. A really strong start.

Taste 2:

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

After the herbaceous journey of Taste 1, this one comes across as flat and boring. It’s scentless and it doesn’t have that characteristic bite that cola has, it’s much smoother and has an off-putting quality to it. I know all soda is sugar water, but this one makes that a little too obvious.

Taste 3:

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Intense sugary top notes with almost no fizz. It’s also very light in color, which makes it a little less appetizing — like soda made watery from melted ice. This one sticks to the teeth in this really off-putting way, I’m guessing this is one of the diet varieties.

Taste 4:

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

A dark rich color with a highly herbal scent. It has a candy-like sweetness, like one of those gummy colas but it takes a left turn and ends in a very interesting bitter, almost leathery, aftertaste. I like this one a lot, it’s not going to replace Coca-Cola for me but it’s definitely something worth revisiting.

Taste 5:

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Hints of cinnamon and vanilla over a citrus oil body with a sharp bite on the backend. I know this flavor well, if this isn’t Coca-Cola Classic, it’s one of the Coke iterations.

Taste 6:

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

A bit of a giveaway here, I know this is Inca Kola because it’s the only cola with a gold color. Well, gold is what they say, it’s more like I-just-ate-a-b-vitamin-and-now-my-pee-is-fluorescent yellow. This stuff is called cola but.. is it? It sort of has a bubblegum flavor to it with a tropical banana quality.

Not a fan. Also, it doesn’t feel like it belongs here.

Taste 7:

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Sweet initial taste with a nice bitter bite on the backend. Hints of vanilla and cinnamon dominate the flavor and the body provides a nice fizz. My guess is Pepsi.

From my notes: “This feels the closest to Coca-Cola but I can tell it’s not.”

Taste 8:

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

This one is really strange. It’s highly sweet on the palate but the flavors disappear quickly. It has a soft and… round quality to it. Not bad but it leaves you wanting.

Taste 9:

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Highly gassy with a citrus rind and cinnamon flavor. This one is definitely made with cane sugar, it sticks to your teeth in a way where you can actually feel the decay happening in real-time. Maybe that’s just because I’m nine sodas in, but this one tastes like it will make your dentist hate you.

It’s good but doesn’t have enough of a bite for me.

Taste 10:

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

By far the best, cinnamon, vanilla, and citrus mingle in perfect balance and unlike the other tastes, this one has a strong burn from the second it hits your tongue all the way to the aftertaste.

From my notes: “This must be Coca-Cola Classic because it just tastes right to me.”

Taste 11:

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

A rush of sugar, this one is the sweetest I’ve tasted so far. Unfortunately, those characteristic cola notes have a hard time cutting through all the sweetness, and it’s not nearly fizzy enough to provide an adequate bite.

It’s not bad, but it’s far from my favorite.

Taste 12:

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Awful. Wince-inducingly bad. This is truly foul, aside from having absolutely no fizz whatsoever, it has this really bitter herbal flavor and a dirty-tasting blunt aftertaste. Is there sugar in this thing?

Taste 13:

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Very herbal with notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and a bitter citrus bite. It’s a bit too sweet on the backend, which muddles the bite, but otherwise very good. Top five for sure.

Taste 14:

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

This one tastes strangely familiar. It has a well-balanced flavor but isn’t nearly fizzy enough. Maybe this one is Pepsi, I’ve definitely had it before.

Taste 15:

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

What the fuck is this? It has an almost rust color to it and the same bubblegum smell to it as Inca Cola. Is there another strain of colas that I had no idea about? What’s with all this tropical cola?

That said, this one isn’t nearly as off-putting as Inca Cola. It’s more balanced with a subtler bubblegum flavor and hints of vanilla.

Taste 16:

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

This is definitely one of the more artisan brands but… I don’t like it. It has no bite and instead leaves you with a dirty bitter flavor that lingers between sips. You can sort of taste how it’s cola, but it goes a little too hard on those citrus peel notes.

Taste 17:

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Very sweet, but in a noticeably different way than the other tastings. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but I can say with confidence that this isn’t high fructose syrup or cane sugar sweetened. This is an almost floral quality to the sweetness which is joined by notes of vanilla. It’s got a great flavor, but it’s not really my thing.

PART II: The Ranking

17. Olipop Vintage Cola (Taste 12)

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Price: $2.49

The fact that this cola dubs itself a “Sparkling Tonic” should be the first red flag, followed by the “supports digestive health” claim on the can. This is some sort of health cola with only two grams of sugar. I get it, it’s marketed toward people who love soda but know that drinking it is bad for their health, in other words, adults. But… just drink club soda if that’s the case. This is a waste of two grams of sugar.

The Bottom Line:

A healthy cola with a truly awful taste.

16. Inca Kola (Taste 6)

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Price:. $11.98 (Cans, buy at a Mexican market for half the price)

I’m sure this soda has its fans but if you’re all about the flavors of cola, don’t let your curiosity get the best of you. This isn’t cola, at least not how you know it. If you do however want bubblegum and banana-flavored soda, give this a try.

The Bottom Line:

It’s not really cola.

15. Afri Cola (Taste 16)

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Price: $3.25

Afri Cola is a German-based soda brand that was first introduced in the 1930s. The drink was pretty successful in its home country but was soon surpassed by Coca-Cola and Pepsi in the 1980s. It’s easy to see why, this has all the same flavor notes we’ve come to expect from cola but in a much different ratio.

The Bottom Line:

The cola flavors you love in a different ratio. Leans heavily on those citrus oil notes.

14. Virgil’s — Zero Sugar Cola (Taste 2)

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Price: $5.29 (6-Pack)

At some point in the last few years, Virgil’s ditched their cola formula and now only sells this sugar-free version. The zero sugar version is sweetened with a proprietary blend of stevia, monk fruit, and erythritol. From what I remember, this tastes pretty much identical to the sugar version, which is to say, unremarkable.

The Bottom Line:

If you’re staying away from sugar this gets the job done, but it lacks that satisfying bite.

13. Colombiana La Nuestra (Taste 15)

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Price:: $16.99 (Buy for much cheaper at your local Mexican market)

Colombiana La Nuestra showed me that there is another strain of colas from south of the border that favor tropical notes over the darker citrus oil and cinnamon-tinged colas that we know here in the states. I think the flavor is distinctively different enough to deserve its own separate flavor, but hey, it’s called cola, so we’re ranking it.

Colombiana La Nuestra hails from Colombia and has an interesting rust color I’ve never seen in another soda.

The Bottom Line:

The best tropical cola your money can buy. Not as sickly sweet as Inca Kola.

12. Shasta Cola (Taste 11)

Cola Blind
Shasta

Price: $26.25 (Pack of 24)

Shasta Cola is the budget buy, it’s cheaper than Pepsi, Coke, and RC Cola, and sometimes comes in rare triple liter bottles. It has all the right cola notes in a pretty good balance, but because it’s not fizzy enough and a bit too sweet — so we have to rank it twelfth.

The Bottom Line:

Not fizzy enough and way too sweet, but it delivers on that cola bite.

11. Pepsi (Taste 3)

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Price: $2.89

I thought a couple of different tastings might’ve been Pepsi and I was wrong on both occasions. It’s hard to believe Pepsi is as popular as it is when it tastes this mediocre. It tastes flat with no bite with an emphasis on vanilla notes and a sickly sweet aftertaste. It’s cola, but it tastes like it’s missing something.

The Bottom Line:

Pepsi comes across as flat Coke with a weak bite. Still, I’m surprised it fell this low. Could I have bought a bad batch? Pepsi heads: Is it better canned?

10. Coca-Cola Zero (Taste 14)

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Price: $6.28 (12 Pack)

I was surprised by Coca-Cola Zero. Until this tasting I had never tried it before, it has the flavor of Coca-Cola Classic but doesn’t provide the same bite. I’m just not sure why this and Diet Coke exist.

The Bottom Line:

Coca-Cola Classic without the bite. Which might be a deal-breaker for you.

9. Sprecher Puma Kola (Taste 17)

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Price: $1.99

Hailing from a brewery in Wisconsin, Sprecher Puma Kola is sweetened with honey, which explains those floral notes I was picking up in the blind taste. I like this one a lot, it’s complex and distinct, but the floral quality is a bit distracting from the bite, which is what I come to cola for.

The Bottom Line:

An interesting alternative to the big brands but there are more interesting-tasting artisan brands out there.

8. Diet Coke (Taste 8)

Price: $10.18 (24 Pack)

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

I’ve spent so much of my life bad-mouthing Diet Coke, but I have e to admit that when tasted blind I didn’t even notice it was sugar-free. I think when you drink a whole can of this stuff it comes off as chemical tasting but in small bursts it came across as a true cola.

The Bottom Line:

A passable substitute for the real thing.

7. Royal Crown Cola (Taste 7)

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Price: $24.99 (15-Pack)

In the blind taste test, I knew that I had tasted this one before, but I falsely assumed it was Pepsi. I rarely have RC Cola, when I do I’m usually visiting my mom who still swears by the stuff. It’s great, fizzy, sweet, but lacking a bit of bite.

The brand was first introduced in 1905 as a budget version of Coca-Cola. It’s lasted this long so they must be doing something right.

The Bottom Line:

If Coca-Cola is sold out, grab RC over Pepsi every time.

6. Moxie (Taste 4)

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Price: $39.97 (24 Pack)

Is Moxie even cola? I’m not entirely sure. Moxie was first introduced in 1884 and like most early American sodas came with dubious health claims attached. Moxie was marketed as a “nerve food” that promised to strengthen the nervous system, geared specifically towards athletes. Its flavor comes from the gentian root, which is the root of a flower. I guess this makes it more in line with a root beer than cola, but in flavor, it leans much closer to a cola.

The Bottom Line:

It’s probably not a cola, but it has that same bite that we can’t get enough of.

5. Jarritos Mexican Cola (Taste 9)

Blind Soda
Amazon

Price: $1.25

Of all the flavors Jarritos makes, Mexican Cola is the brand’s weakest. Having said that, it’s still very good. What it lacks in bite it makes up for in gassy fizziness. This one is cane sugar-sweetened and highly addictive, but it’s a little hard to drink this and not wish you were sipping on a more traditional Jarritos flavor like Mandarin.

The Bottom Line:

Delicious and a great tasting but cheap alternative to the big brands. But if you’re going Jarritos, go with one of the brand’s other flavors over this.

4. Boylan Cane Cola (Taste 13)

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Price: $38.25 (12 Pack)

Boylan Bottle Co claims this Cane Cola is made from orange, lemon, and lime oils, I’m not really tasting any of the lemon and lime, but this definitely has a zesty quality to it with a nice herbal journey of flavors. I like it a lot, it tastes like an artisan version of Coca-Cola, but it’s missing a strong bite. And that holds it back.

The Bottom Line:

Flavorful and complex but lacking bite.

3. Coca-Cola Classic (Taste 5)

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Price: $5.89 (12 Pack)

In truth, it’s a toss-up between Coca-Cola Classic and our next entry for second and third place — I’m only putting this one third for variety’s sake. Coca-Cola Classic is, well classic, but it came across as a bit unremarkable in the blind. It was still a clear and easy favorite, but I couldn’t help but feel slightly unsatisfied like it wasn’t… Coke enough.

This will all make more sense when we get to my number one choice.

The Bottom Line:

It’s the GOAT, but a better version exists. Consider this tied for second.

2. Fentiman’s Curiosity Cola (Taste 1)

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Price: $19.30 (4 Pack)

The reason I gave Fentiman’s the second-place spot over Coca-Cola Classic is because I think this brand deserves to be on the radar of every person who rides hard for team Coke. This has an equivalent bite but leans heavier on the cinnamon notes, giving this a distinctively different flavor that really could be your new favorite. The ingredients list shows that the drink is sweetened with beet sugar and pear concentrate, with some ginger root extract thrown in there which helps to give it an herbaceous quality that Coke just doesn’t have.

This is the “discovery” of the blind test for me. A brand I’ll certainly go back to.

The Bottom Line:

Highly herbal with that sharp bite that Coke fans love. It’s the best artisan cola I’ve ever had. By a mile.

1. Mexican Coca-Cola (Taste 10)

Cola Blind
Dane Rivera

Price: $34.50 (12 Pack)

If you thought Mexican Coca-Cola was just Coca-Cola Classic in a taller bottle with “Hecho en Mexico” printed on the side, you couldn’t be more wrong. This features the same recipe as Coca-Cola Classic with one key difference — it’s made with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. This puts it more along the lines of the Coca-Cola people knew and loved before the disastrous launch of New Coke in the ’80s. When Coca-Cola finally killed New Coke and brought Coca-Cola back under the name “Coca-Cola Classic” they tweaked the OG formula with the high fructose corn syrup flavored version because it was cheaper to produce.

That cane sugar makes all the difference, it imparts an earthy and floral sweetness to the already familiar blend of cinnamon, citrus oil, and vanilla and supplies a more intense bite that hits the moment it touches your palate.

The Bottom Line:

This just tastes more like Coca-Cola than what Coca-Cola Classic tastes like. It’s Coca-Cola in its most pure form. Blissfully bite-y and a clear winner.

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