New Coke Zero Review: Does It Taste Like Regular Coca-Cola?

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Coca-Cola is back at it again, changing the formula of a well-loved soft drink. Here's our no-holds-barred review.

I’m a veteran of the Cola Wars. I was a senior in high school when New Coke came out in April 1985. My high school didn’t even have a kitchen in the cafeteria, just vending machines, because it was the 1980s and that’s how it was.

Even though social media was still decades away, angry Coke drinkers managed to make such a huge a fuss about the change that by July 1985, the company announced that the old formula was returning. The New Coke debacle went down in history. I know this only too well. I’ve co-written two books on the tastes and trends of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? and The Totally Sweet ’90s. So when I heard Coca-Cola was changing its popular Coke Zero Sugar recipe, I had to check it out.

What We Think of the New Coke Zero

This latest reformulation is supposed to create a diet soda that tastes like regular Coca-Cola. And there’s a new look, too. The cans now are red with black lettering, not black with a red circle. (Here’s why Coca-Cola’s logo is red in the first place.) This reformulation is already on shelves in Europe and Latin America, and you’ll be able to get it in the States very soon.

But enough history, it’s time to get to new Coke Zero review! Coca-Cola sent me two bottles of the new Coca‑Cola Zero Sugar to sample. Here’s what I thought.

First Impression

Does the new version taste better to me? No.

Does it taste more like regular Coke to me? Also no.

To me, the old Coke Zero has a smoother taste than the new version. I would never say old Coke Zero tastes like a full-sugar soft drink, but it’s an acceptable alternative. The new formula has an unfamiliar spiciness to it that I didn’t love, though. It didn’t make me think of full-sugar Coke, just of a different diet soda.

My husband, also a Coke Zero drinker, was blunt. “It tastes like they put cloves in it,” he said. “It’s got more flavor than the old one, it’s just the wrong flavor.”

The Testing Method

I chilled the new Coke Zero and sampled them along with a bottle of the previous formula Coke Zero that I had in my fridge. We also poured cups of regular full-sugar Coke, and of Diet Coke, and tried them alongside old and new Coke Zero in a blind taste test. Only full-sugar Coke stood out as smooth and sweet, which makes sense.

All three of the diet sodas have a bit of a chemical tang to them when consumed solo. Maybe that’s inevitable. But the new Coke Zero Sugar had an almost sour taste. I cleansed my palate, washed my mouth, even brushed my teeth and rinsed well, then tried the drink again. Same results.

Final Thoughts

“I’d never ask for more of this drink,” I told my husband. Would I complain if it was served with a burger, or popcorn at the movies? I mean, probably not. Maybe different diet sodas shouldn’t be consumed back-to-back, because focusing so intently on the differences led to none of them tasting great.

My husband delivered the final blow. “I know why you don’t like it,” he said, armed with decades of knowing my soda preferences. “It kinda tastes like Diet Pepsi.”

When Can I Buy New Coke Zero?

Want to perform your own taste test? The new Coca-Cola Zero Sugar recipe should be widely available in the U.S. and Canada in August, as well as in other markets in September.

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Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is a journalist and pop-culture junkie, and the co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?" and "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's hosted podcasts, won national headline awards, edited travel books and covered television, movies, travel and books for NBC News Digital, as well as tech and pop culture news for CNET.com, food news for The Daily Meal, and business news for Inc. and Money Talks News. She is a weblog pioneer who began blogging in 1999. Her specialties include generational analysis and retro and pop-culture news.