The Cola Flavor: Why Do We Love It So Much

CBD Cola can held beside colorful painted brick wall

Let’s start off with a few fun facts:

  • The Coca-Cola brand is worth more than Pepsi, Starbucks, Red Bull and Budweiser combined.
  • Every year 1.7 billion Coca-Colas are consumed worldwide. That number does not include sales of any of the 3,500 other beverage brands the company owns.
  • If Coca-Cola were a nation it would have the 84th largest economy in the world, bigger than Jordan, Croatia or Panama.
  • Coca-Cola, Diet Coke and Pepsi Cola, in that order, are the three biggest selling soft drink brands in the world (although we're doing our best to close the gap with Sparkling CBD beverages).
  • So how did this happen? How did a soft drink flavor create a corporate empire bigger than some countries? What is behind the human obsession with cola? In some respects, it was a matter of cola beating other potential soft drink flavors to market. But there's more to it than Coke appearing before Sparkling CBD sodas.

    To really tell the tale of cola’s popularity you have to go back to Thursday, May 8, 1886. On that day a Dr. John Stith Pemberton walked into Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, GA and proposed that the soda fountain in said pharmacy (the soda fountain was patented in 1819 and, by 1886, most pharmacies had one) sell a new health tonic he had just created. The owner of the pharmacy sampled the brew and agreed to start selling it. Pemberton called his tonic “Cola”, a name he would eventually expand to “Coca-Cola”.

    About Those Ingredients...

    You can't explain how cola became the dominant soft-drink flavor without discussing the ingredients.

    One of the things that made Coca-Cola such a runaway hit is to be found in the name itself. “Cola” is derived from the fact that the drink got its distinctive brown coloring and much of its taste from the kola nut. Coca, on the other hand, would turn out to be the real clincher when it came to ensuring product loyalty. Because “Coca” refers to the coca leaf. The same coca leaf used to produce cocaine. And indeed, early Coca-Cola contained cocaine (which was legal at the time) as well as caffeine from the kola nuts.

    So, the drink not only packed quite a stimulant whallop, many people wound up developing cocaine addictions which, of course, kept them heading back to the soda fountain to get their fix. The Coca-Cola company was aware of the addiction issue, but were loathe to do anything about it, since cocaine was legal and their cola garnered the type of product loyalty drug dealers write home about.

    Eventually, after 17 years of spreading their addictive tonic across the US and into Europe and Asia, the company caved to government pressure and announced they were removing cocaine from the ingredient list in 1903. (In reality, they continued to add trace amounts right up until 1929).

    In the ensuing years other cola brands, including our own Sparkling CBD Cola, would enter the nascent soft drink market and help spread the popularity of the flavor. Most notable among them was Pepsi-Cola. The man who invented Pepsi was a pharmacist who understood the dangers of selling people cocaine-laced soft drinks. So he did not include cocaine and instead of marketing his cola as a stimulant ala Coke, he marketed it as a curative for dyspepsia (upset stomach), hence the name: Pepsi-Cola.

    Cola Conquers the World

    There is little doubt that the addictive qualities of Coca-Cola had something to do with establishing cola as the dominant soft drink flavor. However, credit also has to go to Atlanta businessman Asa Candler, who convinced Pemberton to sell him his fledgling company in 1887 for a scant $2,300 (about $66,000 in today’s money). Candler saw the potential of the product and put his marketing savvy to work to quickly expand the brand’s footprint.

    Another reasons cola was able to nab the top spot in the global soft drink market had to do with the market itself. In the late 1880s most soft drinks, including Coca-Cola, were sold at soda fountains. In 1894, however, Candler started bottling Coke and selling it in grocery stores and restaurants. For several years Coke had the bottled soft drink market almost to itself. There was no bottled Pepsi or cola CBD drinks next to it on the shelf. By the time other soft drink flavors came online, cola already has a significant head start.

    What About the Cola Flavor?

    There are those who would argue that cola conquered the world solely because of its taste. But what is the taste of cola? If you asked 100 people 100 would likely answer that it tastes like cola. And, they’d be right because it really doesn’t taste like anything else. So how does it achieve its unique flavor?

    Soft drink makers, even those who make CBD drinks, are allowed to keep their labels vague to protect trade secrets. But it is generally agreed that the average cola drink is made from kola nuts, vanilla, a bit of citrus flavor such as lemon or lime, spices such as nutmeg and perhaps small amounts of coriander, ginger and cinnamon. The cola will also include sugar or an artificial sweetener depending on if it's a straight-up cola drink or a diet cola drink.

    While the unique flavor of cola likely has something to do with its success, it’s debatable whether it would have become as popular as it is, even among our CBD beverages, if it hadn’t simply beaten everyone else to market.