Coca-Cola Energy is a curious attempt by Coke to leverage its brand into the energy drink market, pitching the world on a drink that is all Coke, but also an energy drink that somehow exists in the same sphere as Red Bull and Monster. It seems designed for folks who love Coke but don’t much care for the existing energy drinks on the market. Imagine a drink that tastes like Coke, but that also ups the zip like energy drinks do. While this sounds like the product of some MBA trying to leverage brand equity, maybe it’s actually better than that, something that respects the Coca-Cola brand heritage while also somehow adding more oomph. There’s always a first time for the MBAs to get it right, no?
It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time Coca-Cola has tried to shoehorn its flagship brand into the energy drink category. Remember Coke Blak? It was a strange Coke-coffee hybrid that was available for a short time before being vanishing from the Earth, with lingering traces still preserved via Wikipedia. While it was fine, I wasn’t surprised when it failed to connect with the marketplace. It was a strange product, it was hard to find, and it wasn’t sure what it wanted to me. Was it an energy drink? Was it a coffee drink, like a bottled Starbucks Frappuccino? Coke didn’t know, the public didn’t know, and it died a relatively quick death.
So what about this new Coca-Cola Energy? Does it taste like Coke? Does it taste like an energy drink? What’s the deal, exactly?
What’s it taste like?
Even well chilled, it tastes pharmaceutical. It has a bitter, metallic taste combined with a viciously sweet base that, because of the energy-drink ingredient additions, tastes less like Coke and more like a discount house-brand cola. There’s maybe a bit of pineapple, coconut or pina colada in there, but not in a good way. You don’t want to stop and savour it; the only thing you’ll want to do is pound it back and hope the energy part kicks in.
The issue here is that Coke is trying to sell it as an energy drink that tastes like Coca-Cola, which would be fine if it were true. What it does is sets expectations too high, then promptly shoots them down on the very first sip.
I know the taste of Red Bull is polarizing, but at least the only thing to compare it to is Red Bull. It can’t taste unfaithful to real Red Bull because Red Bull tastes like Red Bull, not another drink. I don’t want to get overly philosophical, but if you say a giant rock looks like a hippo, you’re going to compare it to a hippo to determine if, yes, it does actually look like a hippo. If you say a giant rock looks like a rock, then your point of reference is completely different.
Does it taste good? No. Does it taste like Coca-Cola? Not really. So, failure all around.
Who likes numbers?
Because this is clearly the product of cynical number crunchers, let us speak their language, shall we?
Size: 310 mL
Caffeine: 99 mg
Guarana Extract: 3.4 mg
Size: 250 mL
Caffeine: 80 mg
Guarana Extract: None listed
Taurine: 1,000 mg
Size: 355 mL
Caffeine: 34 mg
Starbucks Drip Coffee – Medium Roast
12 oz (tall, 355 mL): 235 mg caffeine
16 oz (grande, 473 mL): 310 mg caffeine
So, really, if it’s a buzz you’re after, a cup of Starbucks drip coffee is what you actually want.
Price: Around $2-3 for a can, depending on where you pick it up.
Value for Money: Mixed. If it’s a kick of energy you want, you’ll get more caffeine from a tall Starbucks drip coffee for around what you’ll pay for a can of Coca-Cola Energy. If it’s Coca-Cola flavour and refreshment you’re after, you’ll pay less for a can of good old fashioned Coke.
Availability: Reasonably widespread. Check convenience stores. I’ve only seen these in singles, not in grocery-store-friendly multi-packs.
Nutrition: A whole lot of empty calories. More than a can of Red Bull, but less than a can of regular Coca-Cola.
Verdict: It isn’t faithful to the Coca-Cola taste, which is the only unique thing about it. I expect it to die a quick death by obscurity.