Friday, June 18, 2004

Just for the modernity of it

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About a week ago, my dental hygienist, Ruth, did her usual splendid job cleaning my teeth. She handles a mallet and chisel with a surgeon's grace, and she's seen farther down my gullet than anyone I've ever met. I always skip from her office with a sparklingly tidy mouth, but guilty that I ate too many sugary sweets.

So how did I repay Ruth's latest kindness? After my cleaning, I immediately bought a bottle of Coca-Cola's new cavity-causing taste sensation, Coke C2.

For people who haven't tried it yet, Coke C2 is the latest product in the Coke line (pardon the pun). It has half the calories and half the sugar of regular Coke, but all of the goopy, caffeinated integrity we've come to expect from the Coca-Cola Co. Coke C2 is for people who want to cut calories but find Diet Coke's lingering Windex aftertaste unsatisfying.

The official Coke C2 Web site, www.cokec2.com, has much higher expectations for the beverage:

"It's not about what you can't have," a cryptic message on the site reads. "It's about getting what you want. And having what you need."

You can't fault Coke for setting the bar too low. It's nice to know that there is indeed a formula for complete physical, spiritual and emotional fulfillment, and that now it's available with only 12 grams of carbs.

Another page describes the meaning of the name C2. All along, I thought it was just a catchy moniker. Not so:

"Ultimately, it is a reflection of Coke C2's sense of modernity and optimism together with the authenticity and realness of Coca-Cola." Sounds delicious!

Elsewhere on the Web site, another helpful message informs visitors that they are now liberated from soft drink slavery, that Coke C2 has loosed the shackles of soda tyranny from humanity's collective ankles:

"Coca-Cola C2 gives you something special--the freedom to drink what you want." That is, assuming what you want is Coca-Cola C2.

All this talk of freedom and getting what you want is undercut by the soda's advertising campaign on the Web site, which uses the Rolling Stones song "You Can't Always Get What You Want." But Coke is desperately trying to convince people that, with C2, you can always get what you want. No word yet on whether Coca-Cola is seeking to remove an apostrophe and T from the song digitally.

Researching Coke's history got me thinking back to when I was but a wee slip of a lad, in 1985. Reagan was president, pop group Duran Duran was giving my sister nearly fatal heart palpitations, and Coca-Cola was tinkering with its ages-old formula.

Coca-Cola had long since removed the small bit of cocaine in the formula that gave the soda its name. Since cocaine was so popular in the 1980s (see also: "Miami Vice"), the company figured they should put the cocaine back in--sort of give that idea a whirl. And thus the infamous flop called New Coke was born.

I don't know if that's true, but I'm sure it's cooler than the real reason.

Any-hoo, I remember as a kid seeing New Coke on shelves at the old Almac's grocery store on President Avenue for about 40 seconds before somebody had the good sense to build a bonfire and heave all the bottles onto it. People hated New Coke, from its too-sweet taste to the smug way it just called itself "New Coke," sidling up to lifelong Coke drinkers like it was their new best buddy. Coca-Cola quickly abandoned New Coke and gave us Coca-Cola Classic.

In fact, Coke has a whole page on its Web site where Coke fans can share horror stories of how bad New Coke was. Here is one very deranged person's story:

"When Coca-Cola decided to change the formula to New Coke and not offer 'classic Coke' anymore, I purchased enough Coca-Cola from the store to be able to have at least two cans of Coke a day for three years. (That's all I could afford or I would have bought more.) Thank goodness you brought it back." And then, in a development that frankly frosts me to the bone: "I still have some old Coke left in my Coca-Cola room."

So not only did this guy once buy 2,190 cans of Coke; as of press time, he still owns 19-year-old soda pop. Even more frighteningly, he has a "Coca-Cola room."

Long story short, I recently bought a bottle of Coke C2, so I could test it. I wanted to see if Coca-Cola was in the midst of another New Coke disaster.

Besides being nothing less than self-described rapture in a bottle, it ain't half-bad. I could definitely taste the modernity and optimism.

It's a little thinner and less syrupy than regular Coke, but they don't really taste that different.

In fact, I gave 10 people in the Herald News newsroom a blind taste test with a cup of C2 and a cup of regular Coke, to see if they could tell the difference. Seven out of 10 flunked the test.

People were split, however, on which one tasted better. "They both taste like crap" was a popular answer. Some liked C2. Other people preferred the old Coke, and began hoarding it immediately.

Me, I prefer Coke C2. I like the lighter taste, and Ruth likes that it has less sugar.

There's one final test I have yet to see through. On the Coke Web site, I found recipes. Incredibly, someone sent in a recipe for beef brisket made with tomato sauce, carrots, ginger, and a 2-liter bottle of Coke. You bake the brisket with the soda as a kind of ... um, how to put this ... gravy.

"Place in a 350-degree oven for 3 1/2 to 4 hours," the recipe states, "occasionally spooning sauce over the meat. If necessary, add a little more Coca-Cola or water to keep the meat covered."

I haven't discovered if this recipe works with Coke C2, or if the lack of sugar doesn't flavor the meat as well. If it works, it should put a modern, optimistic spin on brisket, but with the authenticity and realness of Coke, giving people the kind of brisket they want and the freedom to have the kind of brisket they need.

Or something.

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