A Coke is a Coke, and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same, and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it. --Andy Warhol (Patton 1992:23)
Drinkable sign. 1. A sweet-tasting juice substitute with complex flavors and a carbonated "texture" which appeal to millions of consumers throughout the world. 2. A hand-held consumer product with an incredible presence in the media. 3. A refreshing beverage which encodes a vast amount of chemical information, and has a great deal to "say."
Usage: 1. As a nonverbal medium, Coca-Cola "speaks" through aroma, touch, and taste cues. To the palate, e.g., cola communicates with complex flavor moleculesfound in ripe fruit and broiled steak. Bubbly carbonation provides an interesting pseudo-texture to stimulate the tongue (see EXISTENTIAL CRUNCH). In tandem with the sugary taste of sucrose (a crystalline carbohydrate suggesting the fruity sweetness of fructose [for which it stands])--and aggressive advertising--its chemical messages have made Coca-Cola the most recognized brand name on earth. 2. In the modern diet, fresh-fruit drinks (e.g., orange juice) have been largely replaced by sweeter-tasting beverages. In the U.S., e.g., soft drinks outsell fruit juices three-to-one.
RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. The carbohydrate sucrose (C12H22O11) has a calming effect on infants. In concentrated amounts, it stimulates the release of natural opium-like substances (or opioids), which can reduce pain and pacify crying (Blass 1992). 2. The alkaloid caffeine (C8H10N4O2) is a mild stimulant used to releasenorepinephrine in the brain (Restak 1994; see PLEASURE CUE).
Caffeine. 1. "A majority of consumers tested cannot detect the flavor of caffeine in soft drinks, Johns Hopkins University researchers have found, and they believe that manufacturers must be adding caffeine to cola for other reasons" (Anonymous 2000). 2. "'I was struck by soft drink manufacturers' claims that they add caffeine solely as a flavor enhancer,' Dr. Roland R. Griffiths told Reuters Health. 'I think it would be useful for them to acknowledge the mood-altering, physical dependency effects of their drinks'" (Anonymous 2000).
Evolution. A cola's sugary taste reconnects us with our fruit-eating primate past. When Eocene-primate ancestors took to the trees ca. 50 m.y.a., they supplemented a basically insect diet with ripened fruit. Drinking a Coke, we are briefly absorbed in the present moment, i.e., in the animal sense of the now.
Neuro-notes. Coca-Cola's harmony of caramelized sucrose, cola seeds, vanilla and spices, and oils of orange, lemon, and lime--along with a relatively high caffeinelevel--appeals to pleasure areas of the brain. Sweetness, e.g., stimulates taste buds of the tongue tip which convey their signals through the hindbrain's facial nerve (Cranial VII) upward to the forebrain. There the message splits. Part travels to unconscious areas of the limbic system (specifically, to the amygdala and lateral hypothalamus), and part goes to the more conscious cerebral cortex (through thalamic relays to its postcentral gyrus and insula). That we crave sugar instinctively is suggested by babies who are born without a cerebral cortex, and who respond to sweet but reject bitter tastes.
Photo of Coca-Cola products amid freight stored at Sprague Avenue Costco (on December 20, 2009 in Spokane, Washington, USA; picture credit: Doreen K. Givens [copyright 2009])