"Yeah, that’s a good one, you like it?“ The boy nods and pushes the lever at the height of his forehead to fill another plastic cup with Simba Guarana, a gloriously sweet concoction from Paraguay, while his father goes on to experiment with a mix of Peruvian Inca Cola and Delaware Punch from Honduras. In the Tasting Zone of Coca Cola World in Atlanta, visitors can sample around 40 different Coca Cola products from all around the world. Utterly lacking practice in soft drink drinking, we decide to take it slowly and to return for several rounds of tasting. For a starter we have an inch of Fanta Kolita, a strawberry-flavoured Fanta from Costa Rica, before we take in the exhibits in the Welcome Zone.
The first display includes not only dozens of red neon signs flashing the Coca Cola logo in Arabic or Devanagari script, but also the 1972 hip-hugging beach trousers with Coca Cola logo that “everybody wanted back then,” as we learn. The Norman Rockwell painting of “the barefoot boy” is exhibited in a special showcase. One of a series of advertisement pictures, the painting is worth 2 Million Dollars. Beyond the Welcome Zone we are ushered into a movie titled “Happiness Factory” that sparkles with special effects without increasing our knowledge about Coca Cola – or anything else for that matter.
Back in the Tasting Zone, an employee pushing a small cleaning machine works his way over the sticky floor into the corner where a 5 meter high red Coca Cola bottle dominates a rotunda. Here we sample some of the classic Coca Cola varieties as well as more exotic Cola flavours, like Vanilla Coke and Diet Cherry Coke.
The soft drink Coca Cola was born 1886 in Atlanta, when the pharmacist John S. Pembroke invented a formula for a new type of sparkling lemonade. His bookkeeping assistant came up with the catchy name and the characteristic logo. With an unusual taste and a genial marketing strategy, Coca Cola soon became one of the hits in the numerous soda-fountains of the time. A glass of Coca Cola then cost 5 cent, and the company was able to stick to that price even when the drink was sold in bottles – until the 1950s. Around 1920, the survey found that one out of nine Americans had tasted Coca Cola. World War II catapulted the beverage around the world: The company launched a selfless campaign that guaranteed every GI an ice-cold bottle of Coke in a radius of 5 minutes – whatever the cost. Consequently, Coca Cola plants popped up around the world, with 64 new ones opening in Europe alone.
After the history exhibit our stomachs are steady enough to dare another round of tasting. “Uh, Bon Aqua tastes awful,” a plump German in a flowery dress complains. “I like all Coca Cola products, but their mineral water is a disgrace.” We are in the European section of the Tasting Zone. Here we find the only lemonade we really like: Beverly, a bitter lemon drink only sold in Italy. Before we return to the Exhibit Zone we sample a quick sip of Fanta Magic, a purple grape Fanta from Estland.
On the ground floor of the building, a complete bottling line has been set up. Through large glass windows we see the empty bottles rattling around like on a merry-go-round. In 1915 the company held a contest for a unique bottle that could be found without looking – e.g. in an ice-box full of different drinks. Winner was the Root Glass company from Indiana, which designed the characteristic contour bottle that is today known all over the world.
In the bottling plant, the bottles are first rinsed with a disinfectant and then filled with the brown soft drink. All these plants worldwide are run as franchise ventures, and Coca Cola only provides the Coca Cola syrup, to which water and carbonic acid is added locally. The base ingredient, the syrup, is mixed according to the same secret formula at several highly secret places in the U.S. In 1985, the company tried to introduce an improved recipe, but had to switch back to the old mixture after 74 days, due to worldwide protests of Coca Cola drinkers.
"I can’t taste anything anymore!” a balding pensioner in shorts groans, pushing the lever for Vegitabeta, a Vegetable-Soy drink from Japan. We still have a whole continent to discover: With Bibo Kiwi Mango and Bibo Candy Coconut from South Africa und Stoney Tangawizi from Tanzania, Africa is the undisputed climax of our World of Coca Cola tasting experience. We forgo the free Coca Cola souvenir bottle that every visitor gets, because we are on a stop-over and won’t be allowed to take any liquids on the plane to Europe – and to be honest we feel that we had our fill of Coca Cola for the next few years.