Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
How Coca-Cola won the war (damninteresting.com)
101 points by Ardit20 on July 10, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 82 comments

The following is from a blog that no longer exists, except in my Google Reader archive. Its author worked in a flavor factory that produced Coke:

"I’ll explain why Pepsi sucks so bad, yet somehow manages to win taste tests. If you take Coke and Pepsi side by side in a blind test, Pepsi will win. This is because the bad taste of Pepsi cumulates from several sips (it is an aftertaste effect). So even though I hate Pepsi, I can take a sip or two and enjoy it. After half a can, I’m grossed out. Coke on the other hand tastes good no matter how much you drink, because its aftertaste is the same as its, uh… during taste. Thus, Coke is also better for mixing (who likes rum and Pepsi? Anyone?) because its taste is a constant. People who are expert tasters can tell Pepsi is garbage from sip one. But mortals like you and I fall for the trick, allowing Pepsi to claim that it wins taste tests."

Not to me. I hate the taste of coke - it tastes like acid to me. I like pepsi much better. (And I'm not talking about just a few sips.)

I've never noticed any particular aftertaste from Coke or Pepsi, but I have noticed that with Pepsi I get that 'sickly-sweet' taste after about half a can, which I don't get with Coke.

Also exists in the Internet Archive.

The previous paragraph mentioned the flavoring of cassia, and the following mentioned how sugar holds the flavor.


I have read before that the reason that Pepsi wins is because it is sweeter and when asked to compare two drinks people have no way to base the choice on apart from sweetness.

Thus they choose pepsi.

Outside of contrived taste tests though, people actually prefer the taste of coca-cola but can't quantify why.

I think few people actually know how to taste food or drink. I'm not sure I'm one of them, since I'm having to teach myself. You have to make sure the smell of the food strongly makes it into your nose, which tends to happen only weakly by itself. The best technique I've got so far involves taking a bit, inhaling a lungfull slowly through my mouth passing through the food as much as possible, then slowly exhaling through my nose while returning to chewing, which works great except for the bit where you are "eating with your mouth open" (though it isn't gaping and nobody seems to have noticed, I still feel wrong). Pedestrian foods become good and great foods become stellar this way.

Do this and almost anybody could probably tell Coke and Pepsi apart. Just take a swig from each without inhaling it, though, and you'll just get the tongue, which isn't very discriminatory at all, and you just get "sweet" and "bubbly".

Do this and you'll also understand why Coke is preferable. Pepsi is guy on a viola, Coke is a string quartet. Both are frankly pretty limited in the grand scale of things, but Coke is at least complete.

Not sure if that applies to Pepsi Max, which is awesome.

Remember Crystal Pepsi?

Remember Pepsi Blue?

Pepsi seems very dry to me – which works for wine but not exactly for sugar water. That dryness is very hard to notice if you only take a sip.

Coke has a horrible aftertaste IMHO. I can't drink much of it at all. Pepsi is far sweeter. Pepsi Max is the best though.

Taste is hilariously subjective. Pepsi Max tastes, to me, how cat piss smells. That said, Diet Coke is even worse.. perhaps I'm overly sensitive to artificial sweeteners in some way.

> Coke has a horrible aftertaste IMHO.

True, but these tests were done when they still used sugar.

This is a fantastic analogy for culture and media!

This doesn't explain why Coke tastes much, much better in Europe: when I'm traveling I always enjoy Coke. But when I'm back to US I tend to avoid soft drinks entirely - they all taste like gasoline here.

I lived in Texas for a while and I remember people were always looking for Mexican Coke: some gas stations would stock it. It was significantly more expensive, about $2 per bottle, and indeed, it had the taste of the real thing.

Could this dramatic degradation in quality be explained by HFCS alone?

There's also much more awareness about flavors on the continent than in the US. The greater relative persistence of traditional food processing methods in Europe and the greater preponderance of industrialized food production in the US mean that industrial food manufacturers can simply get away with more in the US. The population here has been more conditioned to accept it.

I find that much the same is true with sensitivity to micro-pulse within rhythm. A large portion of the North American public hasn't a clue such a thing exists. Heck, a lot of North Americans don't understand how to clap in time on the downbeat! (Unfortunately, you can also find the same cluelessnes in Europe pretty easily as well. The counterpart cluefulness is much easier to find there, though.)

This is also why all cheese in the US tastes to Europeans like plastic. It's extremely surprising that people actually buy cheese in the US, and they seem to have it with everything as well :/

To anyone who has tasted real cheese, it's just bizarre.

The other oddity is chocolate. In the US it seems to come universally without any milk or sugar added. Hersheys is bitter. Even the "Cadburys" (made under license) is quite hard to eat, and not anything like real chocolate.

And agreed. HFCS tastes pretty gross compared to the same drink with real sugar.

Where do you guys shop in the US? If you explore stores beyond 7/11, you'll see that there is plenty of "normal food" in the US.

Some people choose to eat artificially-produced cheese substitute, but despite the ads you see on TV, not everyone does.

The same goes for coffee and beer, mentioned in comments below. I always buy coffee within a day or two of roasting, and even if I buy it at the grocery store, it's still within two weeks. Sure, you can buy old coffee and save money, but you don't have to. (As for pre-ground coffee, many people value the convenience of not having to buy a $200 coffee grinder and grind their own coffee over having the best coffee possible. In America, you get to decide!)

Finally, we have a lot of good beer over here. In Chicago we have Two Brothers and Goose Island (who sometimes produce a good beer; Green Line Pale Ale -- tasty), and New Belgium and Dogfish Head are good American beers that are widely distributed throughout the country.

I think you Europeans need to watch a little less TV before you judge.

As an American who has spent significant time in Europe, I'll agree with you that it's quite possible to get good food in the US. However, the average quality of what the average person eats is indubitably lower and includes more processed crap.

I do think that things are changing for the better, however. On my most recent trip back home, I went to a supermarket that had large areas dedicated to speciality/high quality/non-cheezit-whiz stuff, something that you wouldn't have seen 20 years ago.

Some people choose to eat artificially-produced cheese substitute, but despite the ads you see on TV, not everyone does.

I never said that all American whatever was industrial artificial crap. However, there is a lot of it here, with less of the good stuff (and cultural awareness of it) as a counteracting force. Good beer is a revival, as are lots of other foodie things in the US.

And the coffee grinder I started with only cost $11.

I think you hit it on the head. In the US, the standards are lower and you are much more surrounded by poor options. My experience is that people in the US simply care more about price and convenience than about quality in many areas. That said, if you know your way around, you can find plenty of good food.

>> "Some people choose to eat artificially-produced cheese substitute,"

It's the same in restaurants, burger joints, etc etc.

I've only been over to the bay area, but I know what I taste :) OTOH, Things that are better there include Pizza, Burgers, Shakes, Smoothies, etc

It does seem absolutely impossible to find good chocolate, bacon, etc.

Yes, soda, cheese, chocolate... I noticed all these things too, but I figured it was just "different" around here, just a matter of taste. I have the same problems with some other foods and drinks as well... what they call "chocolate milk" here (in the US) is a joke, same for mayonnaise and even coffee. (I realize that neither the US nor European countries are native producers of coffee, but somehow something seems to go wrong during the importing and processing.)

Coffee. You're not supposed to use roast that's more than 2 weeks old. The beans in the bags on the grocery store shelves is way older than that. And ground coffee? You're not supposed to let ground coffee sit around for more than an hour. No wonder office coffee in the US all tastes bitter, sour, and stale. The grounds in those little foil packets have usually been sitting around for several months!

The entire time I've spent in Italy -- not one espresso with any trace of bitterness. Every cup of coffee was excellent to my taste.

  The entire time I've spent in Italy -- not one espresso with any 
  trace of bitterness. Every cup of coffee was excellent to my taste."
Italian espresso is good because of consistent dosing. If you go in a coffee bar in Italy, chances are they don't have a grinder in house. They're using vacuum-sealed pre-ground coffee, and dosing very exactly before making espresso.

The industrial grinders they use to pre grind all of that espresso you were drinking give extremely consistent grinds, and the packaging lets it sit on shelves for months at a time. It's not even particularly high-quality coffee.

Don't take my word for it though:

  In Italy, espresso is a mass consumption item, mostly made from 
  coffees of the same low quality as is found in supermarkets 
  everywhere. Since the aromas of such coffees are not all that 
  great, staling is of little consequence, while keeping doses 
  precise and yields high is of great consequence, since one 
  needs to extract every iota of caramel to make the shots 
  palatable. So the ground coffee sits in dosers going stale, 
  but is precisely dosed, 6.5 grams into single baskets, 13 
  into doubles.

This makes a lot of sense. My home coffee has gotten better as I've gotten more consistent with my procedure. (Fill the same kettle to the exact same point. Take it off when the whistle is just audible, move it to a cold burner, set the timer for 2 minutes...etc...)

What this also means is that I should be able to buy the same packets and have access to Italian espresso.

This also makes bad American office coffee even more exasperating. Why is it that US office coffee is so often sour and trashy tasting? Why is it that Italians can do it, but Americans fail? I suspect it's because the former population doesn't care so much.

So true. That's at least one of the reasons we load up coffee with sugar & cream in North America. In Italy I never felt like adding anything to the espresso.

But Americanos from Starbucks in Canada taste like a cup of mud, without a flavour shot or something else to mask the real taste.

> To anyone who has tasted real cheese, it's just bizarre.

And even in Europe, "real" cheese isn't real anymore. Back in the day, cheese usually had those big holes in it, - they were caused by pro biotic bacteria, while the cheese was aging. However, due to these holes, the transportation of cheese became less efficient, the sizes became unpredictable and therefore the cheeses became harder to stack. So, nowadays, most big producers of cheese perform a heating process to kill all bacteria, getting rid of one of the few things that were actually healthy of cheese.


In the UK, perhaps. When I go to the cheese counter here (in Finland), nearly all cheeses have the holes in them.

"Back in the day"?

Most of the local cheeses you can get here (Austria) have holes in them.

> Back in the day, cheese usually had those big holes in it

Uh that depends on the cheese, a camembert or a maroilles with "big holes" in it is not normal.

Surely not here: http://www.cheesesupply.com/images/jarlsberg.jpg

(a top selling cheese in norway)

Most American cheese is pretty nasty. Wisconsin has some good stuff, though you've gotta try a handful of bad ones to find them :) I've worked with a few travelers / Europeans, and while WI may not have a taste for the softer, riper cheeses, what's there is apparently pretty competitive.

My sister moved to Illinois, and has been (extremely successfully) converting her neighbors away from whatever those orange blocks are they sell there. She brings back 20+ lbs of cheese whenever she visits. She's also managed to educate a couple in cheese curds: squeaky, not fried.

Beer as well. Even the stuff imported from Europe, they say that it doesn't ship well and that's why it doesn't taste as good, but I think that's bullshit.

In today's world, the process to ship mass amount of goods across the Atlantic only takes a few days--a week max. That is not nearly enough time for the taste of the beer to degrade. I think that the European beermakers purposely make exported beer taste more watered-down to play to American tastes--which happen to be the likes of Bud Light. I don't understand America's obsession with light beer.

Not only light beer, but icy cold beer! Some bars here even take it as a point of pride that their brew is chilled down into the low 30's Fahrenheit range and furthermore served in a mug that's been kept in a freezer! You can't even taste a beverage under those conditions. Many claim that beer tastes better that way. The truth is that many cheap American brews start to get skunky once they warm up enough. Yet lots of my fellow countrymen want it that way and disdain anything different.

Oh please. This attitude is at least 20 years out of date. The US has a number of excellent, world class cheeses which are becoming more and more accessible every day. I can now walk into my local safeway and be confronted with an entire display case full of artisinal, high quality cheese.

True, certain things like raw milk cheese are unavailable but it's certainly not true that US cheeses universally taste like plastic.

I can only say that of the cheese I've eaten in restaurants, Frys, Safeway, etc it's been universally horrible.

Yes, perhaps if you go to a niche speciality cheese corner shop, you can find good cheese in the US. But that's not much use.

Try the cheese counter at Whole Foods. YMMV. Some of the people there care about cheese, some are just there for a paycheck. I recommend the Humbolt Fog.

Sure you can get good cheese, but it's not predominant. Same as getting a good bread in UK. I guess that was the point.

Challenge: try to find a bakery in Ireland.

I thought that brown bread I got at just about every Irish B&B was great! Then again, I'm from the US.

At first, I thought you were talking about our obsession with dark chocolates. Then, I realized you were talking about candy bars. They used to taste much better, sadly, and I think the slow changes in the recipes have people remembering the brand and how it used to taste rather than how it currently tastes.

I think it was my first trip to Europe (Paris) that revolutionized my attitude toward food. It wasn't so much going there that was the issue as much as it was coming back and re-tasting the standard American diet. I was already starting to buy higher-end products, but it was a revelation to taste it after being away for two weeks.

Maybe you're just buying crap?

There's lots of good cheese easily available. Say what you will about my neighboring state of Wisconsin, but you can find plenty of the non-industrial variety there.

And chocolate? Hershey's is your standard??? No wonder. Hershey's is crap!!! I thought everyone knew that but just ate it cause it's cheap.

Basically, if you limit your eating to mass produced, industrialized foods, crap's what you get, with few exceptions. It's like judging all American beer by pointing to Miller Lite!

>> "And chocolate? Hershey's is your standard??? No wonder"

All the times I have visited the US, I have not been able to find any chocolate sold in convenience stores, supermarkets etc that doesn't taste like crap. The best I've found is a muskateer bar which is vaguely bearable. It's similar to the cheapest chocolate you can buy in the UK.

Perhaps if you go to a specific boutique chocolatier you can find some nice chocolate. But in the UK, you can just pop into any newsagent corner shop and get some good chocolate.

> This is also why all cheese in the US tastes to Europeans like plastic.

Come to Wisconsin, we have real cheese (if buy the local stuff). :)

There's also much more awareness about flavors on the continent than in the US.

Somebody needs to write a book on how food is now essentially a method of values signaling which has some ancillary nutritional effects.

Maybe it could be the next Michael Pollan book?


"Heck, a lot of North Americans don't understand how to clap in time on the downbeat! (Unfortunately, you can also find the same cluelessnes in Europe pretty easily as well."

This should be written more about. I always find it annoying people clap on the downbeat here in Sweden, or even more annoying - on every single beat like it's some sort of march. Interesting subject!

In some music, you clap on the downbeat. In some music, you clap on the upbeat. In some music, people clap on both the upbeat and downbeat and in different patterns, taking different roles in a division of labor to produce complex accompanying rhythms.

A part of the trick is to know how one should clap for a given style of music.

I wish Coke would bring the European formulation of Orange Fanta to the US. Much lighter, cleaner, tastes great, and isn't this dense syrupy mess that we get with Fanta or Sunkist here.

I think euroFanta also has juice in it like Orangina. Probably explains why it's just cheaper to use HFCS here.

Interestingly, Coca-Cola consumption in the US and Canada has gone down in the last decade, I wonder how much of that can be attributed to the use of HFCS.


None can be attributed in Canada... it still uses sugar here.

I think the HFCS is a big factor.

Mountain Dew recently ran a limited-time version of their drink made with normal sugar instead of HFCS. It was, at least to my taste buds, much better than the normal HFCS version. I hate the normal version of Mountain Dew, but that "real sugar" version was amazing.

It wasn't the best thing I ever had, especially because it was new and unfamiliar, but it was quite enjoyable and very very noticeably different.

I loved MD Throwback too. It tasted a lot "cleaner" to me, not as syrupy.

Yup. Not everyone realizes how much flavor the various sweeteners add to a drink, aside from sweetness. That's one of the reasons it's so hard to develop a decent artificial sweetener - there are lots of "sweet" chemicals, but not many have a good flavor.

Stock up on Kosher Coke during Passover, made with real sugar.

I stockpiled Heritage DP for this reason expecting them to pull it back off the market. Was up to twenty 12 packs at one point. Eventually ran through them all, thankfully it can still be found in stores.

Either than or the water - Coke has been running campaigns that it is still their original 100 year old recipe (in Europe) so I highly doubt they have changed it, just to piss of the US ('cept the sugar thing) ,

I'd certainly love to try the oldest version of the formula that doesn't use 'spent' coca leaves.

sugar versus corn syrup

It's interesting, in southern Africa, Coke tastes different still. The best explanation I can come up with is that they use cane sugar rather than sugar from beet.

My absolute favorite coke vs. pepsi taste test story is near the end of this blog post (search for "About 10 years ago I did a year long part-time course in quality assurance"): http://davesmechanicalpencils.blogspot.com/2006/11/pentel-ai...

I don't know what's better... the Coke vs Pepsi story in the article, or the fact that this entire website is dedicated to mechanical pencils.

I used to prefer Pepsi when I was younger, and whenever I did the Pepsi challenges I could always taste the difference. I remember some of my friends couldn't distinguish them so it clearly depends on the person.

Pepsi is a bit sweeter. Or was, I don't drink soft drinks very often these days.

Coca-Cola outsells Pepsi in most parts of the U.S., notable exceptions being central Appalachia, North Dakota, and Utah. In the city of Buffalo, New York, Pepsi outsells Coca-Cola by a two-to-one margin.

Overall, Coca-Cola continues to outsell Pepsi in almost all areas of the world. However, exceptions include India; Saudi Arabia; Pakistan, the Dominican Republic; Guatemala the Canadian provinces of Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island; and Northern Ontario

Here's an interesting tidbit of canadian culture.

As mentioned above in Quebec Pepsi outsells Coke by quite a bit. This is how the "peppers" nickname for Quebecers came to be. Or at least that how the legend goes.

Well, of course. There's a Pepsi bottling plant in Buffalo. I'm sure Coke outsells Pepsi by an obscene margin in Atlanta.

It does. Also as far as the Georgia Tech campus goes you won't find a Pepsi vending machine anywhere. Even the on-campus Pizza Hut sells Coke.

My understanding is that it's common for college campuses to sign exclusive contracts with one vendor or another.

In the future, could you please remove the #more-... anchor from the links? They jump you into the middle of the article, which is somewhat annoying.

Yeah sorry realised that after I posted when I tested the link but unfortunately you can not edit links apparently.

It's an interesting read from a marketing point of view, but as for our health, coke (oversweetened dilluted acid), chips (carcinogenic fried potato dough with monosodium glutamate) and sweet chocolate are the most unhealthy things one can inflict upon oneself. I have never understood some of my friends, gulping litres of coke everyday, basically drinking nothing else.

I for myself prefer tap water (capital city, central Europe).

I've always preferred the taste of Coke out of a can to any other cola. Pepsi is too sweet, and it has a slightly different aftertaste; Coke on the otherhand, tastes pretty consistent throughout, making it an excellent choice as a mixer. I don't know how people can like Coke out of a glass bottle though... it has always tasted too flat for me.

Anyone ever notice how Subway (chain restaurant) always has a different tasting Coke than what you're used to? I could never figure out why they consistently screw up the mix.

Coke always tastes better out of a glass bottle than a can, as well.

Is this really true? If so, why would it be? Ive had friends say that, but Ive only had Coke from glass that was from Mexico/Europe and hence had real sugar, which is obviously better for a completely different reason.

This is true for most things. There is a reason specific wines have specific glasses, as does beer and whisky.

Taste is overwhelmingly defendant on smell, so drinking it out of a bottle where your nose is not in much contact with the aroma, and drinking it out of a glass where your nose is almost next to the drink, are two entirely different sensation.

For example budweiser in a bottle/can, is very bad; almost gasoline-y like bud light, natty ice. Out of a proper glass though its much smoother and lighter tasting, not bad at all.

No. That is a matter of taste. A friend of mine prefers it out of the can.

In my stats class in school, I volunteered for the coke vs. pepsi blind taste test. I had to guess which was which, and I was right 9/10 trials. Teacher was a bit shocked at that, calling me an outlier.

Pepsi is sweeter. It tastes better for one mouthful, but Coke wins in the market because most people find an entire can of Pepsi too sweet.

'Although the foods were identical aside from their wrappings, the children said they preferred the taste of the McDonald’s-branded burgers, carrots, and apple juice in the vast majority of tests.'


Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact