If you happened to watch a little thing known as March Madness, a/k/a the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament, you really couldn't help but be aware of the launch of Orange Vanilla Coke, as the TV ads were utterly relentless. I happen to be a double alumna of the school currently holding the National Championship title, so suffice it to say, I watched the entire tournament, and was forced to ingest the increasingly stupid ad campaign along with everybody else. For the record, I do not believe in rewarding companies for this sort of behavior. And yet, I suspected it was only a matter of time before the siren song of tasting Orange Vanilla Coke would prove irresistible, because it simply sounded so wrong.
Before I launch into this, however, let me add one important caveat. As we all know, the orange vanilla flavor combination has perhaps its most famous incarnation in the Creamsicle. And frankly, I can't stand those things, or any of their progeny (I'm looking at you, Orange Julius). To me, the combination of vanilla and orange is inherently disgusting. Did you ever see the movie Heathers? There is a moment when Winona Ryder's character suggests mixing milk and orange juice, and giving it to Heather to drink, in order to make her sick. And that’s what Creamsicles make me think of, mixing milk (okay, cream, whatever) and orange juice. And now… adding Coke to the mix. How could that be a good idea?
With great concern, therefore, I commenced the experiment. When you sniff the neck of the opened bottle, you are hit, unsurprisingly, with the strong aroma of orange-flavored cough syrup. The first note in that bouquet is a certain sweetness, but then this is quickly followed by a wallop that is distinctly bitter and sharp, medicinal. This does not bode well.
I take a sip, and allow it to rest briefly on my tongue. And it is, shockingly… not bad. (?!!?)
For some reason, I expected to be able to distinguish the three flavors – a sickeningly cloying vanilla, an overly tangy lollipop-orange, and the usual dry sweetness of Coke. But somehow those flavors were far less distinct than I had anticipated. What I experienced instead was a surprisingly floral blended flavor that bloomed slowly, sending me back for a second sip, and then a third. Don’t get me wrong, the flavor was certainly artificial, but the overall impression made me think of chewing on an orange blossom, or perhaps taking a spritz of orange-blossom perfume to the tongue.
The lingering aftertaste was throat-coating (as Coke always is), but it actually increased in perfume-like, if chemical, complexity as I continued to drink. I didn't even mind it. For me, the only bad part of the experience was the initial fraction of a second when taking a new sip, because that’s when the offensive aroma assaults the nose. Pull your head away from the bottle quickly, however, and the experience on the palate is far more... well... palatable.
As a counterpoint to my opinion, however, I should note that my husband – who likes Creamsicles, and who has a far higher tolerance for fake orange flavors than I do – could not stand this beverage. He took one swig, said “NOPE,” and wanted to pour the rest down the drain. He agreed with me that it was not as orange-forward as one would have expected, but his problem was with the vanilla element. While I did not detect a distinct fake-vanilla presence in the sweetness, he did. He pointed out that he also hates regular Vanilla Coke, which he finds metallic. I too hate regular Vanilla Coke, but for me, that is because of the one-note, headache-inducing sweetness. For that reason, I actually find Orange Vanilla Coke less offensive, because the addition of the orange element gives it a dimension that regular Vanilla Coke lacks.
Look, I’m not saying I’m going to buy it again. But I drank the whole bottle, and that is saying something. I’ve even forgiven them for those damn tournament commercials.