It's funny how, when a product is widespread enough, it seems to taste only like itself. Kraft Mac 'n Cheese, for instance? The orange goo isn't particularly cheeselike; it just tastes like blue-box mac. Coca-Cola doesn't really show the distinct spicy, citric, vanillla notes that cola originally had. So what about something a little closer to the original intent? That's how Q Kola, the makers of Q Tonic, are marketing their new soda.
In writing this column, we tend to get most excited about smaller brands, the Sprecher Root Beers of the world: sodas that might not be at every 7-11, might not be available in every state, but offer something special. Still, every once in awhile we get excited about a bigger brand's offering. And we were pleasantly surprised by Sierra Mist Natural Strawberry Kiwi Splash.
The Serious Eats office houses a few Trader Joe's detractors, but we're not ashamed to admit that we're huge TJ's fans. And as with many of their products, the design of these "Vintage" sodas is pretty attractive. Classic flavors, throwback looks, cane sugar to sweeten? It all sounded promising—but then we tasted them.
People across the country (and across the world) pack themselves into Starbucks locations each morning and afternoon with the goal of pumping caffeine into their veins. Others pop into convenience stores, highway rest stops, and drug stores in search of an energy jolt. Caffeine is big business, so it's no surprise to see a player from one arena cross over into another. Starbucks has already put out a number of coffee drinks, but they've now moved into another corner of the caffeine world, releasing a line of energy drinks, much like a Monster or Red Bull.
We're still a little bit obsessed with the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine... even after we tried all 100+ flavors. You know what the real fun is? Creating combinations. Nope, 127 flavors isn't enough for us; we want the mixing to begin. But since trying all 8001 hypothetical two-soda combinations from the Freestyle machine seems daunting even for us, we're just sharing a few of our favorites.
Plenty of foodstuffs taste great in their natural form, but translate terribly to "flavors." (Banana-flavored Runts or Now 'n Laters couldn't taste less like bananas, right?) So does the notion of a coconut-flavored soda sound particularly appealing? We didn't think so, but were pleasantly surprised by Puerto Rican coconut soda Coco Rico
"Au Naturel" can mean many things. It's handy when we want to make "naked" sound more sophisticated than vulgar. And in the world of food, it presumably means something derived from "natural" ingredients. But when it comes down to it, the definition of "natural" is a fuzzy one. Jones Soda just released their new "Au Naturel" line—three sodas sweetened partially with stevia, with 35 calories and much less sugar (7g) than a standard bottle. We've had a number of low-sugar sodas we've liked recently. How would Jones fare?
Something we've always liked about Aranciata and Limonata, the two most well-known sodas from San Pellegrino, are how they're not all that sugary. And their two soda cousins—"Pompelmo" and "Aranciata Rossa"—aren't, either.
There was a time when we drank rum and Cokes; now we prefer Negronis. There was a time when we liked Frappuccinos; today, we drink our macchiati sans sugar. And while there was a time when we might not have appreciated Sanbitter, today it's one of our favorite sodas.
We drink a lot of seltzer at Serious Eats—a lot. Helps hydrate between the short rib sandwiches, the cupcakes, and the wine tastings. But as appreciators of flavor, we're always trying to jazz it up a bit; recently, I've been on a cranberry-bitters-in-the-seltzer kick; others have long been fans of the "little bit of juice, whole lot of bubbly water" route. Which is why I think we all took to DRY Soda so quickly. This Seattle-based company makes not-too-sweet soda that's sweetened with cane sugar, in sophisticated flavors like rhubarb, cucumber, and juniper berry, at around 45-70 calories per bottle.
It being Valentine's Day, we've got candy on the brain (and in the Serious Eats office). And we're both Jelly Belly fans, but had never tried their "Soda Pop Shoppe" flavors. The little beans sport flavors of Orange Crush, Grape Crush, Dr Pepper, A&W Root Beer, A&W Cream Soda, and 7UP. Here's the thing about soda-flavored candy; sodas have very distinct and often very familiar flavors. A 7UP tastes different from a Sprite, especially when you drink a lot of them. Would these jelly beans taste like the soda flavors they advertise?
Espresso Coffee Soda by Manhattan Special may look like a consciously retro hipster beverage—the flapper on the label, significant caffeine content, and cane sugar sweetener help. And it's made in Brooklyn's Williamsburg, natch. But no: this stuff is the real around-for-a-century deal, cranked out in Brooklyn since 1895.
Just about any kid with an empty tall cup and a soda fountain in front of her has probably tried mixing sodas. (All those options in front of you; how could you not?) But in Germany, soda-mixing isn't just for kids; mixing Coke and Fanta (or their equivalents) is so popular that the mix is sold in bottles (Coca-Cola's is called "Mezzo Mix", Pepsi's a "Schwip Schwap"). Are you a soda mixer?
For such an everyday item, soda lends itself to creative gift-giving. Those little metal tabs make such great jewelry! Those century-old companies sell so much schwag! You can even make your own soda these days! What will they think of next.
Pepsi Throwback—the sugared equivalent to a soda generally made with corn syrup in America. John fancies himself a sugar-loving guy, and will always buy a Throwback over a normal Pepsi, or a Mexican Coke over an American one. But how much of these preferences are in his head?
No, not just Mexican Coke; though we like that too. While on a recent trip to Texas, we loved seeing Sidral Mundet, a refreshing apple-flavored cider-like soda, at taco trucks all over the state. But we wouldn't say no to a Jarritos, either. What's your favorite Mexican soda?
If you grew up eating any kind of candy, drinking any kind of soda, or generally consuming any substance advertised on Saturday morning TV, you have some sense of what "red," "yellow," and "blue" taste like. And the soda Mello Yello tastes just like yellow. So why doesn't Big Red taste like red?
The two of us are pretty adaptable people, open to change and compromise. John's gotten Carey to love the Steelers, South Park, and WASPs who play racquet sports. Carey's opened John's heart to kale, New York City, and terrible TV dramas like Revenge. But diet soda? On that one, he's not budging. Could the new Dr Pepper Ten, their aggressively male-targeted diet soda, change his mind?
Have you seen the Coca-Cola "Freestyle" soda fountain yet? It's a pretty remarkable thing. Instead of levers for different sodas, you've got a touchscreen, slick as an iPad, that lets you choose from more than a hundred options. If you're a Serious Eats reader, you probably know what's coming next. We had to try them all.
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