You can tell we're geeks because we drink way more soda than we should. I've been locked in a death-dance with the fizzy Jezebel for my entire life. My temptress currently wears the mask of Coke Zero - something about its crisp, ascetic cola flavor speaks to my soul. Plus, it's not sticky when you spill it (no sugar, see?).
But one nagging concern keeps me from fully enjoying my soda jags: what if there's something out there that's even better? What keeps coders and copywriters awake in Bogota, Bangkok, and Birmingham? There's a whole world of canned, bottled, and, for all I know, bagged beverages that I've never dared to explore. Will I find a new, exotic love to excite my palate and share my mini-fridge? I assembled the St. Louis Woot crew to help find out...
Country of Origin: Peru, but now owned by Coca-Cola.
Color: radioactive cream.
Texture: fizzier than the typical American soda.
Flavor: like bubble-gum - specifically, the cheap, dusty slabs of pink gum you used to get with a pack of baseball cards - but much, much sweeter.
Notes: somewhere between cream soda and a diabetic coma, Inca Kola's effervescent sugar onslaught has made it the top soft drink in Peru for decades. Maybe it's the altitude.
Would we drink it again?: if you're thirsty in Cuzco, you could do a lot worse.
Foco Dragon Fruit Juice Drink
Country of Origin: Thailand.
Texture: Extra-chunky with bonus seeds.
Flavor: pear-flavored sno-cone syrup with a splash of passion fruit, or something.
Notes: whoa. Look at those chunks of pulp and those black seeds. We're voyaging beyond the known limits of the soft-drink map here. While not technically a soda, we couldn't pass up something with such a cool name. And its mild, fruity flavor really wasn't bad - just, again, so sweet that typing this makes my teeth hurt.
Would we drink it again?: a couple of us say we would. But nobody managed to finish their small glass of the stuff. Talk is cheap.
Country of Origin: originally Cuba; now bottled in Miami with yerba mate imported from South America.
Color: brown like Guinness, complete with a nice frothy head.
Texture: slightly thicker and heavier than the soda I'm used to.
Flavor: complex, suggesting mostly tea, but with notes of cream soda, Red Bull, bubblegum, apple Jolly Ranchers, and generic grape soda.
Notes: served hot, the tea-like yerba mate is even more ubiquitous in Argentina and Uruguay than coffee is in the United States. People of all ages drink it every day, including kids. Yerba mate's stress- relieving, energy-enhancing qualities were just the thing we needed to survive the punishing abuse of tasting all these sodas. Thank you, Materva!
Would we drink it again?: yes, the next time we can't make up our minds between iced tea and Coke.
Foco Pennywort Drink
Country of Origin: Thailand
Color: swamp sludge.
Texture: suspiciously thick.
Flavor: "earthy" would be a nice way to put it, with notes of potatoes, grass clippings, and jalapeño Doritos.
Notes: this is what you order at the Thai restaurant when you want to show all your friends what an intrepid bad-ass you are. "What, you've never had pennywort juice? It's all I drink now."
Would we drink it again?: we wouldn't drink it with YOUR tongue.
DG Kola Champagne
Country of Origin: Jamaica.
Color: bright gold.
Texture: standard for soda.
Flavor: started off nice, bubblegummy and creamy in the champagne-soda style. Then a weird chemical quality kicked in, like antifreeze, or like Inca Kola cut with swimming-pool water. The MC Skat Kat-looking character printed on the label seems blurry, but maybe that's just the fumes getting to us.
Notes: maybe we just got a bad batch. But just to be safe, use in a well-ventilated area.
Would we drink it again?: no, but we might use it to clean our bathroom tile.
Country of Origin: Colombia.
Color: blood orange.
Texture: crisp, light, and very carbonated.
Flavor: predominantly orange, but with the bubblegum/cream aspect common to all champagne sodas. Mericfully, it's much less sweet than the other examples we tasted.
Notes: looks like not everybody in South America has the sweet tooth of a 3-year-old.
Would we drink it again?: happily. The consensus second-favorite of the bunch.
Country of Origin: Great Britain
Color: a deep, beet-juice-like maroon.
Texture: syrupy, low on bubbles.
Flavor: Diet Black Cherry Shasta gone flat.
Notes: their palates deformed by generations of flavorless sausages, the British choke down this cloying blackcurrant-flavored bilge by the tankerload. It's one more reason to thank Paul Revere. According to Wikipedia, Vimto is "the beverage of choice during Ramadan", the time when Muslims are supposed to deny themselves the pleasures of the earthly world. Good choice.
Would we drink it again?: not if King George himself marched his redcoats into our kitchen. Drink good soda or die!
Foco Soursop Juice
Country of Origin: Thailand.
Color: pale pear.
Texture: watery and chunky.
Flavor: OH GOD THE SMELL! Sewage, overripe fruit, Vienna Sausages, and floral notes collide in a nuclear assault on your olfactory system. Hold your nose and you might manage to choke down a surprisingly tolerable sip, but then the aftertaste hits and it's over.
Notes: splash some on like cologne and you'll never have to share an elevator.
Would we drink it again?: we won't even smell it again.
Country of Origin: Jamaica
Color: pale, opaque yellow.
Texture: fizzy to near Alka-Seltzer levels.
Flavor: tart, crisp grapefruit with a certain Froot Loops quality.
Notes: the ringer in the bunch. We knew we could count on the mighty Ting, and we knew its hyperactive bubbles would cleanse our palate after this ordeal.
Would we drink it again?: anytime. The clear favorite of our panel. This Usain Bolt of soft drinks left the others eating dust (literally, in the case of the Pennywort Juice Drink).
By now, a faint nausea had set in. We decided to cultivate it. Inspired by the "Suicide", the time-honored practice of combining all of the sodas at one fountain into one drink, we whipped up the most noxiously suicidal cocktail our collective mind could devise...
Hmmm.... needs more bubblegum, wouldn't you say? Our amateur mixologists would.
Gentlemen, a toast to our phony-baloney jobs!
Down the hatch it goes. And, we hope, stays.
Ugh. I've never had a soda hangover before, much less a multicultural soda hangover. Can we take the rest of the day off?
After the stomach pains passed, we were able to digest the lessons we'd learned on this gut-wrenching journey around the world's soda fountain. Don't drink anything that both (a) comes in a can and (b) has crap floating around in it. If you're drinking foreign soda, brace yourself for intense sweetness that makes Mountain Dew look like Irish stout. And finally, while I failed to find a soda that could replace my usual tipple, this adventure was intriguing enough that I'm looking forward to further exploration. Hip me to your favorite exotic sodas below.