June 18, 2004

Update: C2 Review

This just in... I was taking my afternoon constitutional (a reasonably insane proposition given the weather) and as I was wandering toward Farragut Square I heard music. Putting my old journalistic training to work, I went to investigate.

About my journalistic training: I was on the staff of my high-school paper all four years. And if I learned anything during my stint there, I learned how to locate free stuff. In my term on the paper, I probably cadged more free stuff than anyone in the history of high-school journalism. I was clearly born for a life of expense accounts and press junkets. However, it was eventually pointed out to me that journalism also involved interviewing people and meeting deadlines, and that was where I parted company with my potential future career.

At any rate, my journalistic training had taught me that music in the vicinity probably meant a public concert, and odds are that free stuff was involved. So I made a beeline for the Square, and my instincts had not failed me: there was indeed a concert going on, and Coke was handing out free samples of its new low-carb cola, C2.

Now, I regard the low-carb craze the same way I regard Pet Rocks: the fad of the moment, sure to pass. It's stupidity, as far as I'm concerned. It may be medically sound if you do it the right way, but it's so easy and tempting to do it the wrong way, which strikes me as an open invitation to a heart attack or three. So I think "low-carb soda" is just the latest manifestation of this absurdity. However, I did not allow this to interfere with my hard-wired journalist's instinct to snag a free sample, which I drank on the way back to the office. And in a touching display of devotion to you, The Reader, I have interrupted my afternoon of pretending to work in order to share my impressions.

C2 advertises itself as having "half the carbs, same great taste." Now, the carbs in soda come from sugar, so what Coke did is to replace half the sugar, more or less, with artificial sweeteners. According to the ingredient list on the can, the sweeteners in question are aspartame (aka NutraSweet) and sucralose (aka Splenda). It's sort of a hybrid of diet and regular soda.

Now, some of the frowny-face worrywart types have previously complained about both of these sweeteners, little cavils like the potential for swollen kidneys and liver, migraines, brain cancer, death and so on. But I don't really care about that. What I care about is the dreaded Diet Soda Aftertaste. Veteran diet-soda haters know what I'm talking about: you take a sip of the diet soda, and for a second it tastes the same as the regular, and then you get that Aftertaste. I don't know how to describe it; it's a somewhat bitter chemical taste that is not found in nature. I'm going to trust that you know what I mean. Various friends and loved ones, concerned about my blobbish appearance, have occasionally lobbied me to switch to diet soda, but the Aftertaste has always caused me to resist. For me, the key question is: Can C2 combat the dread Aftertaste problem?

As soon as I'd secured my freebie, I popped the top and took a swallow. It tasted like regular Coke, with a smooth edge, easy going down. (It also seemed to be less carbonated than regular Coke.) I took another swallow, and did not have the slightest desire to spit it all over the ground. Thus we'd passed the first diet-soda hurdle. So far, so good.

Now, in past moments of desperate thirst when I'd managed to choke down an entire diet soda, I'd observed that the Aftertaste had a cumulative effect; the more I drank, the worse it was. So I took to my C2 somewhat ruminatively, swishing it around the mouth the way you might with a fine wine, waiting for the Aftertaste to show up. About halfway through the can, I did get those first familiar stirrings. By the time I'd finished the can, though, it was still well below the danger threshold. I was able to finish without gagging, wincing or winging the can into the nearest garbage pail. So it was perfectly drinkable.

And since I finished, I've had about half an hour to observe the after-effects. The Aftertaste tinge faded fairly quickly (with regular diet sodas, it had been known to last the better part of an afternoon). And I didn't have that lingering sourness in my mouth that sometimes comes on after too many Cokes. Perhaps my opinion would change after another six of them, but with just the one can, it was fine.

My conclusion? Not bad. I'm not certain I'd buy it for myself, and I certainly wouldn't pay more for it than for regular Coke, but I wouldn't refuse it if I was offered some at a friend's house. I like its smoothness. (Of course, you're also talking to a guy who thinks Vanilla Coke is swell, so adjust your opinion of my opinion accordingly.)

And just in case my recounting of my journalistic "career" has convinced you that I'll take anything that's free, I should point out that I do have some standards. A few years back I was in Baltimore, wallking around the Inner Harbor before an Orioles game. Some promotional types were passing out free cans of Tab Clear, which was the new thing then (when clear colas became, bizarrely, all the rage for a bit). Now, it was a scroching summer day, and I was desperate for a drink, so I regarded this sampling opportunity as a gift from divine Providence. I grabbed a can, raised a toast, took a drink... and nearly heaved into the harbor. What crap! I was thirsty enough that I choked down perhaps four or five swallows, and chucked the rest into the garbage. I passed about five other Tab Clear giveaway points that afternoon, and I refused them all. I do have limits.

At any rate, my obligation to my public is fulfilled. Back to "work." See you Monday!

Posted by Fred at June 18, 2004 06:24 PM
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