Friday, April 14, 2006

None more BlaK

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Welcome, friends, to another exciting lecture brought to you by the Institute of Bizarre and Revolting Foods! IBARF is my own personal scientific research facility dedicated to the study of awful mass-produced foodstuffs.

Today's exhibit: Coca-Cola BlaK. It's a new drink by Coke that mixes cola with coffee — a perfect candidate for study with IBARF, which has a whole wing of study devoted to junk mixed with other junk to make grosser junk. Like caffeinated beer, and hot dogs with cheese already injected into them like cheddar veins.

Coke BlaK's premise is simple: Can't decide if you want a lot of caffeine or more caffeine than that? Why choose when you can have both?

My first question when I heard about BlaK was, isn't this just a flavor extension?

"Coca-Cola BlaK is not just a flavor extension," reads a helpful press release. Hooray!

"It is a blend of unique Coke refreshment with the true essence of coffee ... and has a coffee-like froth when poured." Either nobody told them that coffee froth comes from the milk, or this stuff has milk in it, too. Eeeesh. Let's move on.

Coca-Cola has something like 6 jillion different varieties — regular, caffeine-free, cherry, cherry vanilla, lime, diet, zero, half — so you may be asking where BlaK fits in. Easy. BlaK is the one that's going to fix your crummy life. Hence the press materials on the Web site:

"Welcome intrigue. Welcome sophistication. Welcome BlaK. Every sip is an experience to enliven your senses and welcome new possibilities." In other words, it's like there's a party in your mouth and only rich, mysterious people are invited.

As for the flavor, the press release calls it a "sophisticated, premium blend" that's "designed to appeal to adult consumers looking for an indulgent and revitalizing alternative to other beverages." Having woken up the other day with a massive headache and a thirst for something indulgent and premium, I picked up a four-pack at Stop & Shop.

The first thing I noticed when I cracked open a BlaK in the IBARF laboratory (my kitchen) was the bouquet. I lifted the bottle to my nostrils and pretty much all I smelled was sophistication. I caught a whiff of intrigue, but it was my wife's oatmeal in the microwave.

BlaK's a bit different poured out of the bottle — then the indulgence really hits the fan. Think of wood-flavored cough syrup folded into a saucepan of weak caramel. Except fizzy. Coca-Cola memorably describes this as "Coke effervescence with coffee essence." It's effervescessence!

BlaK went down more or less like a two-day-old Coke — sort of flat. Then, right on time, the flavor of underbrewed room-temperature coffee rose in my throat.

My wife saw me retching and smacked me on the back between my shoulders. "What the hell did you just drink?" she asked. "Moxie?"

"Worse," I said. I held the glass under her nose. "Coke Bleccch."

As I wiped my tongue on my sleeve, I made a few scientific notes: Invigoration levels, dropping fast. Refreshment factor, 2. Sophistication, too early to tell. Wish I had a piece of dry toast I could swallow in large uncomfortable chunks to scrape the inside of my throat on the way down.

Chugging a Coke BlaK isn't recommended — as I did when I had the second one — unless you can do it in a sophisticated or intriguing way. At a staggering $1.99 per 8-ounce bottle, you really wouldn't want to, anyway. Unless you're made of money, and then congratu-frigging-lations.

BlaK's biggest problem is that chemists at Coke have figured out how to make a drink that tastes sort of like both Coke and coffee without answering why — for Chrissake, why? But if for some reason you're still BlaK-curious, here are some of my other IBARF findings in question-and-answer form:


Q. Jeez! Why is BlaK so bloody expensive?

A. As you know, it's made with "coffee essence" rather than "actual coffee." Getting the essence of a coffee bean is a time-consuming process that involves existential philosophy.

Q. Are there any ads for Coke BlaK, so I can avoid them?

A. Good question! One ad out now perfectly explains the product. Ralph Malph and some other guy are walking toward each other on the sidewalk, and Ralph Malph is so busy drinking his coffee, and the other guy drinking his Coke, that they careen headfirst into the other. Ralph Malph says, "You got Coke effervescence in my coffee essence!" The other guy goes, "You got coffee essence in my Coke effervescence!" They discover their happy accident has created a deliciously intriguing beverage, and they become fast friends who form a sleepy little soda bottling company that markets this drink to adults looking for new forms of stimulation and refreshment. The company becomes a success, and the two open a plant where pairs of guys crash into each other all day to make the stuff.

Q. I have no affiliation with Coke. I'm just curious — are those copycat assholes at Pepsi going to make a coffee soda that tries to be as delicious and cool as BlaK, too? Sincerely, [name withheld], CEO, Coca-Cola North America.

A. Yes! My inside sources tell me Pepsi is working on not just a coffee cola, but a latte version, an Earl Grey tea cola, and a mocha macchiato cola called Pepsiato.

Q. Will Coke stop with BlaK, or will they keep mixing stuff together to see if it tastes lousy?

A. Coke has a whole spectrum of fantabulous new flavors! Coming out later in the year is Coke YelloW, a mixture of Coke effervescence with nacho cheese essence. If that's the stirring success it sounds like, we'll be seeing Coke WhitE: Coke effervescence with garlic essence; Coke PinK: Coke effervescence with pimiento loaf essence; Coke CruncH: Coke effervescence with sea salt essence; and Coke RarE: Coke effervescence with 100 percent Angus beef essence. The company also plans to roll out Coke RedundanT, Coke effervescence mixed with Coke essence. That one sounds pretty nice, although it's still $1.99 for 8 ounces. Go figure.

This column was previously published in The Herald News in slightly edited form, and is reprinted here with permission.

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