History of the Search for the Coca-Cola Formula Part 1

About the history of the search for the secret recipe to Coca-Cola which remains a mystery to all but a trusted few.



Coca-Cola is by far the most popular soft drink in the world; at present over 190 million drinks a day are sold, in 135 countries. A product so well known would hardly seem to be the stuff of which mysteries are made, yet since 1886, when the first batch of Coca-Cola was concocted by Atlanta pharmacist John S. Pemberton, the exact ingredients and their proportions have remained a closely guarded secret.

Even though the drink is available worldwide, the syrup from which it is made is blended only in the U.S. It is then shipped to the various bottling plants, where it is mixed with local water. Thus, the recipe remains safely at home, entrusted to fewer than 10 people. For years the secret recipe existed only in the memories of the select few who mixed it. Today it is also on paper in a safe-deposit vault at the Trust Company of Georgia, a bank that controls nearly $70 million worth of Coca-Cola stock. The vault containing the formula can be opened only after a vote by the board of directors.

In 1977 Coca-Cola, Inc., showed how much it would sacrifice in order to protect its secret formula. The drink was selling well in India, especially since the Dalai Lama, exiled there after the Communist takeover of Tibet, was photographed enthusiastically quaffing a Coke. However, the company chose to shut down 22 bottling plants rather than divulge the recipe to the Indian government, which wanted to "Indianize" the beverage business. Presently, Coke is available in India only on the black market.

The Search

It might seem that the Coca-Cola company is a bit overcautious in guarding a recipe that has been so closely imitated. All cola drinks have the same basic ingredients--sugar, water, caffeine, and caramel for coloring--but differ in what the Coke people call "essential oils and flavors." Cola connoisseurs will attest that Pepsi, RC, Shasta, and the rest do not taste like Coke or match the original in other properties. One man, so the story goes, claimed his wife douched with Coca-Cola for years as a method of birth control and became pregnant only after switching to Pepsi.

Although Coke is not recommended as a family-planning aid, it was originally sold as a patent medicine, an elixir said to relieve headaches, sluggishness, indigestion, and hangovers. Its proprietor, Asa G. Candler, made a weekly batch of Coca-Cola in the same copper kettle he used to brew his Botanic Blood Balm. (He made Coke on Saturdays and Balm on weekdays.) At the turn of the century, the drink's refreshing qualities stemmed in part from the inclusion of cocaine derived from coca leaves used in the recipe. The amount of the drug was miniscule, but it was enough to raise a furor when rumors spread that black "dope fiends" high on cocaine were apt to rape and pillage. The New York Tribune thundered against Coca-Cola, and by 1903 the state of Virginia considered banning it altogether. However, the company quietly switched from unprocessed coca leaves to "spent" ones.

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