REVIEW: Pepsi-Cola Soda Shop Black Cherry and Cream Soda Colas

Pepsi Cola Soda Shop Bottles

PepsiCo has introduced the Pepsi Soda Shop cola line with two limited edition flavors — Black Cherry and Cream Soda. Made with real sugar, Pepsi promises a modern take on some classics. Drug store soda shops have become harder and harder to find. Yet, the concept remains a touchstone in America thanks to pop culture icons like Grease. Will these sodas have me doing the jitterbug on the way to the store for more?

I pour out samples of each. The bottle describes these as colas, so I was expecting them to be standard cola-brown. I’m pleased when the cream soda is a light caramel color and the black cherry is tinted red.

Pepsi Cola Soda Shop Side by Side

I take a sip of the cream soda one and taste plenty of vanilla, though little cola flavor. There’s not much of a modern twist either. According to Pepsi, its soda has added agave for complexity, but I’m reminded of every other cream soda I’ve tasted. I sample again and perhaps detect a honeyed aspect to the sweetness. Then again, I mostly drink diet soda and could just as easily be tasting plain sugar.

On the other hand, there’s something immediately twisty about the black cherry. Its scent is like cough syrup. It has herbal notes, says Pepsi, which helps make sense of what I’m tasting. It reminds me of herbal craft colas I’ve had. Those colas have interesting flavors not seen in mass-market soft drinks and are bold about not being for everyone. This black cherry soda doesn’t have enough herbal notes to be as interesting as those, but has just enough to make it off-putting.

The one area that stands out with these sodas is the label design. It’s simple, comforting, and the classic Pepsi-Cola font is evocative of the era. It’s a shame the actual product doesn’t live up to it. I briefly considered getting a black leather jacket, slicking my hair back with pomade, and driving to the local drive-in movie theater to more fully embody the time. But no. The lesson here is that a cool design can’t make up for a mediocre product, not that I should buy a very, very cool leather jacket.

Good branding can’t save a mediocre product. The Cream Soda one is too mundane to set itself apart from similar soft drinks. The herbal twist with the Black Cherry is enough to make it unpalatable. Skip these sodas and seek out CVS or Walgreens instead. It won’t have a soda counter, but it’ll have plenty of other sodas worth drinking.

Purchased Price: $1.89 each
Size: 20 fl oz bottles
Purchased at: Piggly Wiggly
Rating: 4 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 250 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 55 milligrams of sodium, 65 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 65 grams of sugar (including 65 grams added sugar), and 0 gram of protein.

REVIEW: Pepsi ‘Hot’ Chocolate Cola

Pepsi  Hot Chocolate Cola Can

Pepsi “Hot” Chocolate Cola was initially called Pepsi “Cocoa” Cola when the online sweepstakes to obtain it was announced. I don’t know if it was a phone call between soda CEOs or a letter from a very powerful law firm that charges per hour what most of us make in a week, but I imagine the name change was caused by something corporate that happened between the soda’s announcement and when these were shipped to those lucky folks who won them.

Also, that name change decision came after the product was produced. Because, according to a Reddit post, if I were to remove the can’s shrink wrapper, the original name is printed on the can.

The soda, formerly known as “Cocoa” Cola, features cocoa flavor with a hint of marshmallow mixed with Pepsi.

I had high hopes for this because the cola producer hit home runs with its recent fruity flavors, like pineapple and mango. (Mini Pepsi Zero Sugar Mango review: it’s my favorite new soda of the year so far.)

Unfortunately, Pepsi “Hot” Chocolate Cola was like a line drive hit that looked like it was going to be a home run but bounced off the outfield wall directly to a gun for an arm outfielder, who immediately throws to second base to prevent the batter, who thought it was a home run and stood in the batter’s box for too long, from getting a double.

The less bloviated, baseball-free version: It’s okay.

Pepsi  Hot Chocolate Cola Glass

Its aroma and flavor have a noticeable Tootsie Roll-ness to them. I guess that’s what happens when cocoa flavoring is mixed with Pepsi. The combination did get my brain reminiscing about Chocolate Soldier, a watery chocolate beverage that came in an unusually heavy can that none of my online snacking friends seem to know about. I also don’t taste anything marshmallow-y.

Pepsi “Hot” Chocolate Cola is unique, and if it ends up on shelves this winter, it’s definitely worth a try. But I’m not going to be clamoring for it to be sold during every holiday season like I do with Pepsi Holiday Spice.

Seriously, Pepsi. Bring it back.

Special thanks to my online reviewing friend, The Soda Jerk, for sending me a can of Pepsi “Hot” Chocolate Cola. He reviewed it for his YouTube channel, which you can watch below.

Purchased Price: FREE
Size: 12 oz can
Purchased at: Received from The Soda Jerk
Rating: 6 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 can) 150 calories, 0 grams of fat, 35 milligrams of sodium, 41 grams of carbohydrates, 41 grams of sugar, 41 grams of added sugar, and 0 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Pepsi Blue (2021)

Pepsi Blue 2021 Bottle

Nostalgia is a heck of a thing.

Sometimes it can drive us to make questionable decisions like almost buying a $160 17-year-old bottle of a discontinued soft drink. Luckily for me, Pepsi decided to do a re-released, limited run of Pepsi Blue hence saving me from a financial error as well as a trip to the doctor.

I had occasionally thought of the drink over the years and wondered if I had just imagined it (hence the eBay searches). But it is very real, and that the bizarrely satisfying flavor of berry cola was mine again to drink.

Pepsi Blue was a weird blip in the timeline of soft drinks. Having a US-wide release in 2002, it would only be around for a little under two years before being pulled from US markets. Described as “Berry with a splash of Cola,” its bright blue color along with unique flavor was another attempt by Pepsi to capture the youth market. You have to also appreciate this was the peak time where Britney Spears was the face of Pepsi.

If I’m being entirely honest, I probably wouldn’t have tried this back in the early aughts if not for my school board making a (highly controversial) deal with Pepsi to put vending machines in the schools. To help sweeten the deal, they did giveaways of their newest product to help win us over. The product? Pepsi Blue.

I tried to not get too excited as I raced home to try it. I had been disappointed by re-released or retooled products brought back to cash in on nostalgia (looking at you Coke with Coffee). I reassured myself it was probably going to taste different due to different ingredients and my own tastes changing. After delaying the inevitable, I went ahead and opened the bottle.

Pepsi Blue 2021 Glass

The smell immediately triggered a strong memory of my middle school cafeteria. The berry sugar smell instantly reminded me of the many hours spent sitting at the uncomfortable tables, trying to scribble down something for class while shoving undercooked tater tots in my face.

The first sip was overwhelming in the best way. It tasted exactly how I remembered. The sweet berry-cotton candy like flavor hits first, followed by the cola taste. It’s almost an indescribable flavor profile. It’s not a cola with berry flavor (like Wild Cherry Pepsi), but a berry flavor with a hint of cola.

The best way I could think to describe it is this: imagine berry-flavored cotton candy packed into a cup. Now take an original Pepsi and slowly drip a little into the cup, letting it dissolve the cotton candy. That’s probably about as close as you can get to explaining the flavor to someone who has never tried it.

Nostalgia and middle school memories aside, Pepsi Blue is an extremely sweet (like 138% of your recommended daily sugar sweet), but enjoyable one-of-a-kind treat. In all the years since trying it for the first time, nothing else has ever even come close to it. It is also wonderful that a re-released item lived up to my memory of it when so many others have failed.

According to Pepsi, it will have an extremely limited run. So I would recommend, if you are at all interested, to give it a try. I look forward to it being re-released in another 20 years where I can wax poetic about when I tried it again in my 30s.

Purchased Price: $1.98
Size: 20 oz bottle
Purchased at: Walmart Neighborhood Market
Rating: 10 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 bottle) 260 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 90 milligrams of sodium, 69 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 69 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Pepsi Mango

Pepsi Mango  2021 Can

Confession: I’m a mango fiend.

I love them in savory or sweet dishes, juiced or whole. When my local grocery store’s supply is paltry, I will happily enjoy artificially flavored products to get my fix. Basically, if a mango is involved, I will likely be nearby, begging for a taste and sneaking leftovers into my Tupperware container for later. My love for the precious tropical stone fruit is why I was drawn to Pepsi Mango like a thirsty fruit bat to an actual mango.

Although Pepsi Mango – Pepsi’s first permanent flavor in five years – was a new discovery for me, the world has seen its likes before. Previously introduced as a limited offering in 2019, it joined lime and berry varieties to give Pepsi Wild Cherry competition as the brand’s most beloved fruit-and-cola mashup.

(Why am I late to the Pepsi Mango party? In 2019, I was likely still distracted by the release of Diet Coke Flavors, a lineup that included a mango version of my favorite caffeine source. Alas, those products, which I found too artificial and astringent-tasting to truly love, left me disappointed.)

Pepsi Mango  2021 Pour

Forgive the gaps in my soda experiences. The important thing is that today is a new day, and I get to experience Pepsi Mango now. The product’s package promises classic Pepsi “with a splash of mango juice and other natural flavors,” and even before my first taste, the juice’s presence made itself known. The soda’s aroma is wonderful and genuinely fruity. If it weren’t for the carbonation tickling my nose, I would have thought my glass was full of fresh juice or smoothie.

Pepsi Mango  2021 Top

In the first sip, mango flavor is at the forefront. Like the Pepsi’s smell, the bright, refreshing taste is strong and unexpectedly accurate. The classic cola taste follows, and while the mango overpowers it by a mere hint, the flavors play together well. I had expected the juice ingredient to give the Pepsi an additional harsh sweetness, but somehow it wasn’t too saccharine. The tropical flavor is a natural pair to Pepsi’s citrus notes, and this combination seems to cut through the syrupy quality that dark colas can have.

Pepsi Mango also has a smoothness and overall drinkability that I would not expect from a cola. Its end result is a delicate aftertaste that almost reminds me of drinking flavored iced tea — without sacrificing the carbonated crispness. This quality, combined with its spot-on fruity flavor, elevates this soda to next-level good.

Pepsi Mango  2021 Box

Mango fans will be pleased with Pepsi’s choice to resurrect this product, which is also available in the Zero Sugar variety. (Look for both kinds in 20-ounce bottles and 12 packs of 12-ounce cans.) Come summer, I will look forward to enjoying this Pepsi again as a refreshing treat on a hot day. The only downside: the three brands of mango-flavored sparkling water stashed in my pantry now seem a lot less enticing by comparison.

Purchased Price: $4.99
Size: 12 pack of 12 oz cans
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 9 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (per 12 oz can) 150 calories, 0 grams of fat, 95 milligrams of sodium, 41 grams of carbohydrates, 41 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Driftwell by Pepsi

Driftwell by Pepsi Cans

The number of times I’ve had a drink to turn up: 9,356

The number of times I’ve had a drink to get ready for bed: 0

Well, until now.

In a world run by Dunkin’, overflowing with Starbucks, and exploding (or, BANG-ing?) with pre-workout energy drinks, the latest PepsiCo’s brand addition came as a massive surprise to me. Sure, some people like a little whiskey nightcap or swear by a soothing cup of warm milk. But aside from a much needed shot of NyQuil to literally pass out when sick, I have never tried, or even seen, a drink designed and advertised to go down like a gentle lullaby.

Driftwell is an enhanced water beverage designed to help you “sip into relaxation” via 200 milligrams of L-theanine in each 7.5 ounce can. The company claims it designed the drink not as a knockout punch (like booze or marijuana) but as a stress reducer. L-theanine is an amino acid most commonly found in tea leaves and sometimes taken as a supplement in pill form that can increase relaxation without causing drowsiness or reducing your resting heart rate.

Unlike grabbing a can of REIGN from the fridge and expecting to be able to run through a wall in 15 minutes (love it!), Driftwell suggests to the brain it’s time to sleep in an even milder way than melatonin. Halfway through the can I felt a noticeable shift in my headspace and was seemingly more sleepy. It was already late, and about 30 minutes before I planned on getting in bed, so the context was right. My eyes didn’t force themselves closed, but I was excited to get in bed. My attention gently drifted away from the excellent movie I was finishing (Batman Returns), and once I hit the pillow, it was easier than usual to slip into a dreaming state. I haven’t been having problems falling asleep recently, so take it for what it is, but I think this stuff kind of works!

Driftwell by Pepsi Glass

The flavor is very subtle and mostly pleasant; it is more or less what I expected from a product that boasts zero sugar and zero calories. Blackberry Lavender is a pretty unique flavor that interestingly tastes a lot like a combination of cantaloupe and honeydew with notes of chamomile. There’s definitely a tea-like aura to the whole Driftwell experience.

I tried it both cold and room temperature on separate nights. Since the box and website have no indication of how to consume this new sleep aid, I’m going to give a formal recommendation for room temp. It reminds me a lot of Hint Water, which I find is very hit or miss with its execution. Fortunately for PepsiCo, this is a pretty solid starting point in terms of taste for a drink that isn’t supposed to erupt with flavor.

Driftwell by Pepsi Box

PepsiCo was the first of the soda titans to respond to the sparkling water craze, launching its own brand Bubly in 2018, well ahead of Coca Cola’s AHA brand in early 2020. Does Driftwell’s slow trickle into the market indicate the company is ahead of the curve again? Or is this a crazy overpriced niche market drink for yogis? I’m edging towards the latter, but time will tell. Hopefully, this makes its way into stores in smaller packs or even single cans so people can test it out for themselves. Even though it does as advertised, it is more expensive than booze, and ten cans is a lot to commit to.

Purchased Price: $22.98
Size: 7.5 oz cans/10-pack
Purchased at: Amazon
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 can) 0 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 0 milligrams of sodium, 0 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 0 gram of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.