Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The World of Coca-Cola

Here’s my first disclaimer: there’s not a lot of culinary insight in this post.

Here’s my second disclaimer: I am not a big consumer of soft drinks. Long ago I decided I wanted to stick to completely natural beverages. That means, water, orange juice, coffee and red wine. The closest I come to drinking carbonated beverages is Veuve Cliquot.

But, I am a fan of food and beverage history – and particularly enamored of iconic products and their strange, hypnotic ability to permeate our society. That’s probably why I find myself compelled to visit the newly-opened World of Coca-Cola, a glistening shrine to soda pop in the heart of the Deep South.

Maybe it’s my recent journey through the land of the soft-drink cake gateau and my dalliance with the classic Coca-Cola Cake. Maybe it’s because I’m spending a couple of days in Atlanta, the ancestral home of Coke. The advertising is everywhere. The whole Coca-Cola thing becomes subliminal after a point. I even put on a bright red polo shirt this morning. The Real Thing is even more real in Atlanta. The bubbles – even the subliminal bubbles – are just intoxicating.

I am already dripping with sweat as I approach the glossy big-box World of Coca-Cola at Pemberton Place in downtown Atlanta. The 90 foot tower that holds a giant Coca-Cola Bottle catches my eye.

People move slower in Atlanta. Maybe it’s the perennial steam bath that cloaks the city. They’re also excessively friendly. As I stand in the entrance hall of this temple of the magic of effervescent marketing, surrounded by soft drink memorabilia, the archivist for Coca-Cola says “Have a peachy day!”


It reminds me of a visit to the World’s Fair or Epcot Center. I am bombarded with the international relevance of the most popular soft drink on the planet. Who would have thought that a little caramel-colored liquid could have such global impact?

We are greeted in the hub of the pavilion by a bubbly Coca-Cola “ambassador” who explains the layout of the exhibits. The minute the ambassador concludes her speech, two thirds of the crowd make a mad dash for the “Taste It” room which features floor-to-ceiling dispensers for each continent offering nearly 70 different varieties of soft drinks. I quickly edge my way in, as I fear the rampaging crowd will suck the place dry. It’s free pop after all. It is interesting to note the flavor profiles for different countries. The soft drinks range from spicy in Asia to excessively sweet in North America. The Europe spigot features a brand called “Beverly” from Italy, which tastes like Red Hot candies. The Africa spigot offers sodas flavored with pineapple and kiwi. There is bubbly black currant and “Sunfill Mint” from Africa which tastes a little like carbonated Scope Mouthwash. Yet, it is not unappealing.

In the “Milestones of Refreshment” Hall, ten galleries are crowded with Coke artifacts. There’s a bronze statue of John Pemberton, the man who created Coca-Cola in 1886, an old fashioned soda fountain, similar to Jacobs Pharmacy where Coke was first introduced in Atlanta, and a variety of red and white Coke dispensers. In the “Pop Culture” Gallery, there are Andy Warhol prints and even the classic holiday advertising that featured Jolly Old Saint Nicholas and redefined our world view of Christmas and Santa Claus.

I stroll through “Bottle Works,” the smallest Coca-Cola Bottling plant in the world. As one ambassador tells me, it’s the real thing, “but condensed.” The plant produces 20 bottles a minute. I learn that water is the main ingredient and C02 makes the bubbles, but the secret formula for the syrup remains closely guarded to this day.

I pass by bottles of every shape and advertising in every language of the world. It’s all starting to feel more important than the daily proceedings at the United Nations, so I head for the Coca-Cola store. This is about capitalism, after all.

One tee-shirt later, and with my just-capped souvenir bottle of Coke straight from the bottling line in hand, I am ready to go out and teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.

I exit the complex feeling just a little bit brainwashed and slightly over-carbonated, imagining a destination called “The World of Hostess Twinkies,” where international visitors are greeted by life-sized versions of Twinkie the Kid and burrow through an endless tunnel of frothy vanilla whipped cream.
I'd buy a ticket in a heartbeat.

©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Here in the northeast US, where Coca-Cola is not prevalent, it's easy to forget that Coke is the soft drink found most often in every corner of the world. We've been offered Coca-Cola in Vietnam, in Japan, in Venezuela, in Italy, in Poland's mind-boggling! Love the photo of the giant Coke bottle suspended above Atlanta.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Would you believe I've had Coke maybe 2 or 3 times in my entire life? It just never appealed to me, which is why I guess I skipped the Coke tour when I went to Atlanta. Of course, A a big bubbly grin grew across my face when I clicked on your site and saw the gargantuan Coke bottle. You gotta love that.

Susan G said...

Oh you are a find! Who are you...OK, just keep on writing. Thanks.

Jann said...

Look at all that coke! You are bringing back my teenage memories~