Coca-Cola and Absinthe (separately)

Sepulchritude Forum: The Absinthe Forum Archives Thru July 2001: Topics Archived Thru Nov 2000:Coca-Cola and Absinthe (separately)
By Don_walsh on Thursday, November 23, 2000 - 06:28 pm: Edit

Whoops! Ecgonine is now a controlled substance (per DEA) and so it is safe to say that Merck yanks this out of the coca extract as well, and it probably was out of Coca Cola at same time as cocaine itself...1903?

That's what I get for relying on memory from sometime in the 70s.

Note that Merck also handled/handles the caffeine extraction from kola nuts for Coca Cola. A cozy relationship, that!

By Don_walsh on Thursday, November 23, 2000 - 04:48 pm: Edit

Fascinating. I can shed a little further light on the coca extract.

Merck (the pharm company) processes the coca extract and removes the cocaine. The cocaine removed from the extract intended for Coca Cola (Atlanta) is (as far as I know) the source of 100% of the pharmaceutical cocaine hydrochloride in the US -- still used in dentistry etc.

What is left behind are probably the ecgonine alkaloids, that like cocaine are tropine alkaloids related to things like atropine and scopalomine.

Total synthesis of cocaine is possible but highly complex. Coca also grows in Indonesia but the 'wrong' stereoisomers predominate in its alkaloid content and so Peru's favorite industry is safe from Indonesian competition.

(For all I know Merck may also remove the ecgonines from the coca extract bound for Atlanta and process these into cocaine for medical use. That is practical and I haven't looked into this for several decades...)

By Sir_winston on Thursday, November 23, 2000 - 02:42 pm: Edit

Wow, thanks for all that information! Very interesting. I myself remember reeling in revulsion the first time the New Coke reached my tongue. Yuck.

Remember the clear cola fad of a few years ago? I think it was Pepsi who started that one, and then other brands followed. Then, POOF! Clear colas disappeared. Which is just as well, since they all had this odd taste I could never quite place.......

By Perruche_verte on Thursday, November 23, 2000 - 11:38 am: Edit

This is the original Coca-Cola recipe, as published by Mark Pendergrast in his excellent book _For God, Country and Coca-Cola_ (Basic Books, 2000; ISBN 0-465-05468-4). It appears in Dr. John Pemberton's original formula book, and may not have been intended for release to Pendergrast while he was researching in Company archives. However, The Coca-Cola Company has not sued him. They are the only ones who would really be in a position to confirm or deny that it's the original formula, and of course they have not done so. Quite likely they don't care, since at this point Coca-Cola is much more (or much less, depending on how you look at it) than a drink formula.

Punctuation and spelling are as quoted by Pendergrast.

Citrate Caffein 1 oz.
Ext. Vanilla 1 oz.
Flavoring 2 oz.
F.E. Coco 4 oz.
Citric Acid 3 oz.
Lime Juice 1 Qt.
Sugar 30 lbs.
Water 2 Gal.
Caramel sufficient

Mix Caffeine Acid and Lime Juice in 1 Qt. Boiling water add vanilla and flavoring when cool.


Oil Orange 80
Oil Lemon 120
Oil Nutmeg 40
Oil Cinnamon 40
Oil Coriander 20
Oil Neroli 40
Alcohol 1 Qt.
Let stand 24 hrs.

Neroli oil comes from "a type of orange flower", according to Pendergrast. "F.E. Coco" is fluid extract of coca leaf. Dr. Pemberton's "citrate caffein" was made by Merck in Darmstadt, Germany, where it was extracted from kola nuts.

Coca-Cola boss Asa Candler (1862-1929), who first made the product a success, repeatedly denied under oath that Coca-Cola ever contained any cocaine, period, despite his name having appeared on a 1901 pamphlet, "What is It? Coca-Cola - What it Is" which admitted a small amount of cocaine. Apparently The Company will stonewall you to this day if you ask them about it. (Does this remind anyone of the thujone controversy?)

Also, the formula has been changed a few times over the years, meeting with some consumer dissatisfaction every time. Most famously, the cocaine was removed in 1903. Saccharin was added at some point (no one is sure when) and used along with sugar until 1906, after the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act. In 1917, the caffeine content was reduced and the ratio of coca and kola nut extract changed. And of course, the great leap from sugar to corn syrup came in 1980, which has led to a niche market for Coke imported from Mexico, which still has sugar. I am told there is kosher Coke available which also does. Then there was the whole "New Coke" debacle, which apparently was part of a scheme for Coca-Cola to buy out its regional bottling franchises, which soaked up a lot of its profits.

There are many interesting connections here to absinthe, though absinthe is unfortunately not mentioned in Pendergrast's book. Coca-Cola appeared while absinthe was still popular, and became part of the Prohibitionist reaction to absinthe and alcohol. Coca-Cola (and indeed cocaine itself) was marketed as a "temperance" product, a healthy natural stimulant that didn't destroy the body like alcohol. Eventually word of cocaine's negative effects got out, and Coca-Cola itself was nearly destroyed over the issue of its cocaine and caffeine content.

It is interesting to me that the formula has evolved so substantially over time. It makes me wonder about absinthe content, and whether that too was not entirely static, even in the best brands. Just reading the Buyer's Guide and people's comments here tells me that several Spanish brands have changed within a few years. Deva, Segarra and (less so) Herring have all apparently become more complex and interesting, and now Deva has introduced something new at 70%, perhaps with more herbal content. What next?

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