Tasters warm to new drink Comparison: A panel sits down to take a swig of several diet colas -- served at room temperature to draw out the flavor. Which one do you think they say is the best-tasting?

October 17, 1998|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,SUN STAFF

Here's the thing about hype: you get in this business, you've heard it all. And you believe about one-eighth of it. Every flack who gets through to you is pushing the greatest product ever made since they floated the ark. So in the healthy spirit of skepticism, The Sun convened a four-member panel for a blind )) taste test of Pepsi One and four other diet colas.

Was the taste of new Pepsi One truly fresh and distinctive, as the suits at Pepsi corporate headquarters insist?

The results of our test were astonishing.

Well, maybe not astonishing. But they were interesting.

Sort of.

First, let's meet the esteemed panel:

Glenda Sanders, 37, of Cockeysville, co-owner of an architectural firm.

Steve O'Brien, 41, of Timonium, a paint contractor.

Frank Maher, 37, of Cockeysville, a financial manager for Commercial Credit.

Your humble reporter.

The affinity for diet drinks in general varied throughout the panel.

Sanders is an avid drinker of Diet Coke -- "cold and in the can." She's been drinking diet sodas since her college days, when the only diet soda in the vending machine in her dorm was, ugh, Tab.

This reporter also drinks Diet Coke, switching over from regular Coke about 10 years ago when he stepped on a scale in his bathroom and nearly drove it through the floor into the basement.

O'Brien and Maher do not normally drink diet colas, with O'Brien being the most strident of the two.

"I can't stand the aftertaste," he explained, adding that his soft drink of choice is Classic Coke, and implying it should be the choice for any true American.

Maher says he'll drink a diet cola only under extremely limited circumstances: "If I'm very thirsty and it's the last thing in the refrigerator."

He did not add: "And if I'd just finished a 20-mile forced march through the desert." But it was understood, nonetheless.

Besides Pepsi One, the colas used in the taste test were: Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Safeway Select Diet Cola and Diet Rite Cola (which, it turned out, most of the panelists assumed was no longer on the market and could be found only on a lone pallet in a dusty warehouse in Del Rio, Texas).

The colas were served at room temperature, in an effort to enhance the, um, bouquet.

The "blindness" of the test was ensured by the highly scientific method of cutting out strips of green construction paper and covering up the can labels.

Each panelist was instructed to sip from each of the five cans in front of her or him. Then each panelist was asked to grade the colas on a curve from "Favorite" to "Wouldn't Buy It if You Twisted My Arm."

As is standard procedure in this type of research, potato chips and pretzels were provided to cleanse the palate.

The results:

Two of the four panelists, Sanders and Maher, chose Pepsi One as their favorite of the five.

"Wow!" said Sanders when the can labels were revealed. "It didn't taste like a diet soda."

"It was very sweet," said Maher. Then, in a remark certain to make Pepsi officials clutch their chests, he added: "It tasted like a real Coke."

O'Brien chose Diet Rite Cola, the Cheez Whiz of diet sodas, as his favorite. Pepsi One was his second choice.

"I could still taste a bite [of something artificial] in both of them," he said, making a face. Then he grabbed a handful of chips, seemingly eager to erase the taste from his mouth.

Your humble reporter, as discerning and loyal a consumer as there is, chose Diet Coke as his favorite. He rated Diet Pepsi second and Pepsi One well down the list, in fourth place, only one notch higher than Diet Rite Cola.

After the blind taste test concluded, each panelist tried Pepsi One served over ice, to see if chilling the drink made any difference.

It did -- only not in the way Pepsi officials would like.

"Now it tastes more like a diet drink," said Maher.

"It fizzed," said O'Brien, using the technical term for the carbonation process, "but it still tastes flat."

"I don't like it," said Sanders, who said she'd stick with her Diet Cokes.

Then the three of them went home, leaving your humble reporter to clean up, as usual.

Pub Date: 10/17/98

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