Can the new brands of organic, natural and Fairtrade colas compete with Coke and Pepsi? Our panel of children and adults put them to the test
Coca-Cola was included in the blind taste test and scored 9/10 across the board
News that Coca-Cola is to follow Pepsi in removing a controversial ingredient – brominated vegetable oil – from some of its soft drinks couldn’t come at a better time for three new colas that have just hit the UK market. These indie upstarts join a rapidly growing pack of pop purveyors in Britain that hope we prefer their artisan products. But can they stand up to the might of the mega-brands in a taste test, or are they just glorified rola-colas? We gathered a panel of three children and four adults to slurp some fizz and find out.
Launched at the London Coffee festival in April, this New Zealand product sources organic kola nuts from farmers in the village of Boma in Sierra Leone. The community directly benefits from the proceeds – hence the name. This cola was a definite hit with our tasting panel. It had the right colour, fizzed well and was definitely as drinkable as Coke or Pepsi, but with a distinct flavour of its own. “At the end it has a cherry flavour,” said Sam. “It’s nice and fruity,” agreed his sister Annie. “It’s got a caramel taste that’s almost burnt, but good,” added their mum. It was big thumbs up all round.
Where to buy it: Karma Cola is sold in cafes in Brighton, Lewes, Winchester, Lymington and London; check karmacola.co.uk
From the heart of London’s hipsterland comes a very un-Coke-like cola. Dalston Cola is the creation of Duncan O’Brien and Steve Wilson, who follow a 100-year-old recipe – think how Coke might have tasted when it was made with kola nuts. Then again, there may be a reason they ditched the old chemist’s-style drink, as opinion was most sharply divided on the Hackney handbrew. With the most distinctive flavours of all the colas we tried, Some thought they could taste burnt dates, mango, aniseed and even mouldy cheese. “It’s like Christmas pudding. I can taste fruit and cinnamon, and I like it,” said one taster. “It tastes a bit like Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls, but not as sweet,” said another. “It might be good as a mixer,” offered Annie’s mum, but since it wasn’t even midday, we stepped back from the idea of adding whisky to find out.
Where to buy it: Available from cafes and bars in Dalston, east London, and selected independents around the country.
The word Ubuntu means “humanity or fellow feeling”, and sums up the story of this cola quite neatly. It was the first in the UK to get a Fairtrade Mark in 2007 and is made with Fairtrade sugar cane from Malawi. Though its packaging led to comparisons with supermarkets’ own brands, the general consensus was that of all the colas tasted, this had a flavour most similar to Coca-Cola. There was some dissent in the ranks: 12-year-old Isaac said: “It’s not fizzy, and I don’t think it tasted of a lot,” whereas his brother Sam thought “it’s fizzy and it tastes really cool”.
Where to buy it: Ubuntu Cola is available on university campuses across the UK. UK shops, including Waitrose, and universities around the country; ubuntu-trading.com.
Fritz Kola got a strong instant response from Annie, our youngest tester at the age of eight: “That’s disgusting! It’s sour!” The creators will be disappointed. Invented in 2002 by two German students from Hamburg, they aimed to improve on existing soft drinks by using all natural ingredients. Fritz Kola is made from kola nuts and uses lemon juice instead of citric acid. It lacked fizz for the adults, too. “It’s not sweet enough for me,” commented one. The aftertaste had an antiseptic quality. “I’d maybe have a bath in it …”
Where to buy it: Fritz-Kola is sold in Brewdog bars across the country, as well as some German pubs and independent coffee shops.
Another German cola; this and its big brother Cola Rebell Sweet Chilli launched in the UK at the beginning of May. With its hit of chilli, Cola Rebell is aimed squarely at an adult market, which might explain the response of our youngest cola sommelier, who saw fit “just to warn you: it’s horrible”. Not everyone felt the same. It has a good fizz and the adults liked the ginger taste. “It’s not desperately unacceptable,” was the more measured response of an older panellists.
You might think Fentimans would already have the alternative cola market sewn up with its traditional “olde sweet shoppe” styling. But its botanically brewed version of cola, with floral accents, doesn’t really compare with the standard cola taste. “The flavour is a bit fruity and flowery, but in a good way,” said 10-year-old Sam. A couple of the adults tried to put their finger on the floral flavour, picking up tones of elderflower, burdock and even honey. “The sweetness is natural, not false,” concluded one woman. “That’s why we think it’s got a wildflower in it.” Not something you’d ever hear someone say about Pepsi, is it?
Where to buy it: Fentimans is stocked in shops and cafes all over the country; visit fentimans.com for full listings.
Read the feature as it originally appeared in the Guardian