Joys of Modern Life: 19. Coke by Kate Mulvey

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The Independent Culture
I'M A coke addict. No, wait! Before you throw down the newspaper in moral disgust, I mean of the cola variety. If I don't get my 330ml dose of stomach-rot every day, I am like a desperate smoker who has run out of cigarettes and is scrabbling around the ashtray for a few of yesterday's dog ends, or the alcoholic who pours with trembling hands his first glass of Voddy.

I first became a Coke junkie on a trip to the US. Sitting in one of those Fifties-style diners, somewhere in the Midwest, I was brought a portion of eggs, over easy, and the coldest and most refreshing bottle of Coke I have ever tasted.

Not that Coke tastes any different in this country; it's just that we don't know how to serve it. When you ask for a Coke in a British pub, our middle-of-the-road manner gets the better of us. My teeth start to clench from the moment the barman takes the lukewarm bottle from behind the counter and attempts to serve it "chilled" with a few tiny ice cubes and a piece of yesterday's lemon.

Warm coke is anathema to the connoisseur, and just because Ruf and the rest of the cast of EastEnders walk around the Queen Vic with room-temperature G&Ts (have you ever seen an ice cube in Walford?), it doesn't mean the rest of us want tepid refreshment.

In order to gain the ultimate drinking sensation, Coke must be drunk at near freezing temperature, even if it is minus 20 degrees outside. Simply place the can in the freezer for a few minutes, until it is almost too cold to touch, chill the glass and then pour the Coke over a piece of slightly squeezed lemon - this gives it a wonderful citrus zing. If you've got the timing right, the surface will turn to little globules of ice. Perfect: you can now lie back and enjoy the ice-tingling sensation of sweetened paradise.

Sometimes, as I am drinking my liquid drug, I wonder what it is about Coke that has captured my imagination. Am I just a victim of clever ad campaigns that reinforce in our unconscious mind the idea that Coke is synonymous with fun? Or is its indefinable medicinal flavour (it was invented by a pharmacist in 1886) genuinely a taste phenomenon? Back in 1985, the Coca-Cola Company announced a new-tasting Coke to the American public. It failed miserably, and the original formula was promptly restored to the shelves.

A year ago, I tried to kick my habit and turned to concoctions with names such as Sprite and Fanta. But somehow, the insipid fruitiness of oranges and limes was a non-event.

After two months of ploughing through drinks with smug names such as Aqua Libra (free water) and their New-Agey ingredients of silver birch and guarana, I was back to my fix of "the real thing".

While I may accept Pepsi if Coke is unavailable, the rest of the wannabe colas, are like drinking Babycham (or Baby-sham) instead of a glass of Dom Perignon.

As for that syrupy stuff they serve from the gun, this is diluted NHS medicine masquerading as a soft drink, even if it is made by the Coca- Cola Company.

Once, in a vain attempt at a "sexy, summer body", I tried switching to Diet Coke. One calorie may be one step closer to a flatter, firmer stomach, but it still tastes like carbonated petrol. So if you don't mind, I'm going to put my can of full-fat Coke in the freezer - and wait.