Back around 1959 or soon thereafter, the powers that be in the Czech Republic were looking for something to do with some sort of caffeinated byproduct of the coffee roasting process. They turned the problem over to a chemistry lab which developed KOFO syrup. Shortly thereafter Kofola was born, and Eastern Europe rejoiced that their children could also rot their teeth on carbonated sugar water.
Kofola boasts some 14 “natural” ingredients, and while the various references agree on the number, I could find no list stating what all of them were. The Wikipedia article (and the dozen other places that quote Wikipedia without citing it) focuses on things like apple extract, while others mention cardamom and licorice. They are proud to have less sugar than Coca-cola (almost certainly beet sugar in Kofola’s case), and essentially the same amount of caffeine as Coke, which is pretty tame by today’s standards.
According to the boys at Kofola, they are every bit as popular as the American invaders, but in my personal experience I don’t see how that could be true. Maybe it’s a city-country thing. More likely it’s a generational divide, and the people who drink Kofola were the ones who learned to like soda when the western options were limited. Among the people I know, however, Kofola drinkers are rare enough that in my years here I had never tasted Kofola. I decided this was one of the things I had to do before my return to the US.
I went to the corner store to buy a small bottle of the stuff. While I stood scanning the soft drink choices I noticed that the 2-liter bottle was the same price as the 1/2-liter bottle. Hm… I paid my money and hauled the big boy home. After all, if I liked the stuff, I wouldn’t want to regret not getting more for the same price.
I held my anticipation in check, deciding that my first taste of the stuff should be chilled. I wedged the bottle in the freezer next to the carp and waited. Before long I felt tired so I moved the drink from freezer to fridge and went to sleep.
The next morning I was up at the crack of midmorning and ready to try Kofola. I poured a glass, sniffed, swigged. As you might recall from the title of this episode, Kofola isn’t very good. I can also say that it defies description. Anyone who buys into Dr. Pepper’s claim as the most original soft drink in the world has not had Kofola. Perhaps if the communists had asked a kitchen to develop the syrup rather than a chemistry lab things might be different. Perhaps. Perhaps the recipe is “the fourteen things they had a surplus of in 1960.”
Now I have in my refrigerator most of two liters of Kofola (I had a second glass of the stuff to see if it might be one of those flavors that grows on you), and two carp. In the spirit of Communist Czechoslovakia, perhaps I should find a recipe that combines the ingredients I have a surplus of. CArp au Kofola, anyone?