What's the Difference: Coke vs. Pepsi

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There's no denying that cola aficionados have refined palettes. They can tell a vintage RC Cola just from the nose, and their cellars are stocked full of Shasta, Tab and Pepsi Kona. Needless to say, they weren't born this way. They've spent years cultivating their knowledge base, and getting refills at soda counters. If you're looking to refine your carbonated smarts, though, mental_floss can help. In honor of Coca-Cola being invented today (way back in 1886!), we've decided to clue readers in on the quick tricks of how to spot a Coke from a Pepsi.

Coke vs. Pepsi


The Dilemma:
It happens time after time. You're at a restaurant and you've asked specifically for a Coke when you get handed a Pepsi, or vice versa. You tell the waiter what you requested and he gives you the "what's the difference?" shrug. Perhaps it's time you laid it on him.

Time:
Five minutes should do it.


Supplies:
Just this abundance of knowledge.

People You Can Impress: Everyone sitting in earshot.

The Quick Trick: If you drink them side by side, Pepsi is always the sweeter of the two (which is why people tend to prefer Pepsi in the Pepsi Challenge).

The Reason: Although the fantastic ad campaigns run by both companies would have you think otherwise, the soft-drinks' similarities are pretty striking. Pepsi and Coke were both the brainchildren of Southern pharmacists. In 1893, Caleb Bradham began experimenting with various drink mixtures in New Bern, N.C. His 1898 concoction, then known as "Brad's Drink," became an overnight success, and "Doc" Bradham began selling his "Exhilarating, Invigorating, Digestion Aiding" syrup by the gallon (7,968 of it for soda fountains in his first year). In the 1940s, to support America's war effort, Pepsi began using its now-famous red, white and blue logo.

Coca-Cola was invented by an Atlanta pharmacist, Dr. John Pemberton, in 1886. Yes, there was originally a concentration of cocaine in the soda, but it was reduced to a tiny amount (1/400 grain per ounce) by 1902 and removed altogether by 1930. The company changed hands a few times, and after Prohibition Coca-Cola was sold to the Woodruff family for $25 million. While both drinks contain vanilla, rare oils, carbonated water and kola nut extracts, Coca-Cola maintains a secret ingredient: the mysterious "7X." The formula for the soft drink (7X included) is kept in a bank vault in Atlanta. Employees who know the secret formula sign non-disclosure agreements before they get to peek at the recipe.

Good to Know: Coca-Cola was forced to abandon the market in India after a law there required that all trade-secret information be disclosed to the government. In 1991, India changed its trademark laws, and today Coke and Pepsi vie heavily for the market.

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May 8, 2008 - 9:23am
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