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Coke. The Real Thing?


Kate has been harping at me to write something about my epic endeavor to analyze and criticize Coca-Cola around the world. I find it amusing to compare each countries Coke (and of course I do mean “Classic” coke not the stuff they tried to fob off on us a few years back). I mentioned my passing association with this scientific study, of which I am the only participant, to a fellow cruiser and he was baffled. He was an American or Canadian, I can’t recall, but he was unaware that Coke is actually produced and bottled,  under license of course, in a variety of different countries around the world.

I probably should write to my cousin Jeremy who works for Coca-Cola in the Southwest US. He could have easily got me the background data I need for this study, being that it is scientific and all, but it is more fun to try to figure this stuff out on your own. So far I have sampled Coke Classic in five separate countries including the USA and its territories. Each one is different.

Let me also specify here that I am speaking about Coke in cans as distinguished from Coke in refundable, refillable bottles. In at least two places we found that Coke in cans was imported while Coke in bottles was produced and bottled locally. In the case of Independent Samoa, for example, Coke in cans is imported from New Zealand where it is bottled, but Coke in refundable bottles are filled at the Vailima Brewery (Vialima being the locally brewed beer which is quite good and is made with the assistance of a brewmeister from Holland). The Vailima Bottled Coke was undrinkable to my taste and bore little resemblance to any Coke Classic found in cans I have tried.

Now I might stop here and just get it on the record that I am now a confirmed Coke addict. I drink it over ice usually with Rum of a Caribbean pedigree, of which we carry copious amounts on board. Our boy Jonah is now in the habit of pointing at a glass with coke in it and asking “Does this have rum in it?”. The thing is we almost always tell him YES because we don’t want him drinking the crap. Unfortunately he has figured out that when it is in the can it really does not have rum in it so any coke left in a can is practically fair game as far as he is concerned. Hence we decant it usually into a suitable unbreakable plastic cup. We drink a lot of coke, for good or bad. Its one of our few luxuries aboard, along with the ice that enables the entire thing to exist. Sometimes we switch to Rum Punch and give the coke a rest, but it still is our tried and true old reliable.

This interest in Coke around the world all began in Mexico last year. When we left San Diego, as we have done each time we leave any place with a supermarket, we stocked up on everything we could think of, including cases of Coke. We even converted our second shower into a storage room so we could stack cases of coke in it (ok, we also store fruit juices, beer, UHT milk cartons and paper products in that storage locker now). It all started when I bought the first Coca-Cola Classic in Mexico. It was different. The very fact that it could be different fascinated me. I am easily fascinated. The weird thing was I could not decide if I liked it. But instead, I knew I had no choice as when we left Mexico for the South Pacific the lord knew there would be cases of Coke stacked in the aft shower and they were going to have to be purchased in Mexico.

I soon because quite adapted to the Mexico Coke and didn’t think of it for months. One day while re-arranging some food lockers we chanced upon 2 sixes of US Coke, from San Diego. After properly chilling the cans to app. 41degrees (Fahrenheit) an impromptu taste test was begun. I have to say that on that day I concluded the Mexican Coke was inferior, but acceptable. We polished off the last US cokes soon after and stocked up on Mexican Coke to last 2 months.

In French Polynesia our first meeting with the local Coke took place in Makemo in the Tuomotus. A quick inspection of the can showed it was produced and bottled in Papeete, Tahiti, as are all other Coca-Cola products sold in French Polynesia. I found the flavor mild and weak. I dug up an old Mexican Coke (which we were now running short on) and ran the taste test again! If only I had saved one US coke and had a three way. By the way, it strikes me now that the reader may find that I am some kind of a kook carrying on like this about soda pop. Far be it from me to stake any claim to sanity on this issue.

Well, in time I became used to the Tahiti Cokes and found them quite serviceable. I occasionally came up with a hidden Mexican Coke and reveled in the difference of it, concluding now that I prefer the Mexican coke to the French but not to the US version. It was then my world was shaken when I arrived in PagoPago, American Samoa. Being an American territory, and a welfare state, every ounce of food practically is shipped into this island from the USA. And which Cokes do you think hey sell? American Cokes of course. Produced, apparently, in Atlanta, GA.

My first taste of it from a vending machine just after arriving was appalling. I gawked on it. Practically spit it out. It was foul tasting. The main offender seems to be the caramel flavorings which totally overpowers everything else. Where the Mexican Coke is a bit oversweet, as the Mexican taste must indicate is their preference, and the French is a more light product but still with the distinctive taste of a Coke, the American product seems syrupy and cloying by comparison.

I find now, being forced to consume the US product again having exhausted our supply of Tahiti Coke, I am getting used to it again. I have determined certain guidelines for drinking it which I try to apply. Don’t drink the US cokes neat. They need Ice to keep the temp down or the caramel flavor overpowers. Perhaps a little watering down from melting ice is helpful in this case. The French cokes are great from the can when cold enough (no Coke tastes good warm, though we try to feed it to Jonah when he is seasick). Any Coke mixed with Rum over ice is better then warm beer I have learned most of all. Nothing beats an ice cold Rum and Coke in the cockpit at sundown and the clink of the ice in the plastic glass melding with the slapping of the water on the hull.

Now, we are in Wallis. A French territory almost 1500 miles from Tahiti. Just short of the International Date Line and administered from New Caledonia another 1000 miles to the West, Wallis is a single island in the sea where French bread is spoken. Of course, I was spellbound entering the Supermarche the first day I went to the town. I made straight for the soft drink cases and opened the door to grab a Coke. You could not have surpassed my reaction if I had read the product had been bottled in Beijing, China! It may have been the Arabic writing which first clued me in, I saw it from the window before even opening the case. But I never would have guessed that Wallis is supplied with product from the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Casablanca, Morocco. Africa that is.

 Why is this? Who can say. It is beyond the scope of this study to evaluate this question. Though a good bit of curiosity exists among the study group’s Executive Committee to stretch the investigation into the motivations and goals of the Coca-Cola company in allowing (or encouraging?) regional differences in Coke Classis. A new study may be piggybacked upon this one to help determine the answer to that question.

I must say that my first impressions are not positive. Though I am sure it will make a fine accompaniment for Rum and Coke, the Moroccan Coke seems weak and Pepsiish to me, perhaps the deepest criticism one can have in this field. For now the researchers will be content with examining the true nature of the difference between Moroccan Coke and American Coke. We may even have a few Tahiti Cokes lying about somewhere!