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Origin of Coca-Cola: from pharmacy syrup to soda

Cocaine, caffeine, alcohol... In its early days, the composition of Coca-Cola was quite... special ! An explosive cocktail very different from the current recipe.

cans of coca cola

The sparkling drink was not always a simple soda! There was a time when Coca-Cola was sold as a invigorating drugstore syrup. Surprising when you know that the drink was notably composed of alcohol and coca leaves from which the cocaine is derived...


A Corsican inspiration

An advertising poster for Mariana wine

To understand the origin of Coca-Cola, you have to look at Mariani wine. The "Vin Mariani à la Coca de Peroum", its full name, was a "tonic wine" invented in 1863 by Angelo Mariani. This Corsican pharmacist and chemist mixed Bordeaux wine and coca leaves. Each 30 milliliter glass of Mariani wine contained 6 milligrams of the active ingredient, cocaine, we learn on France Info. Something to invigorate anyone! Moreover, doctors and patients quickly lend it many virtues ranging from anti-depressant to medicine against throat cancer. In short, Vin Mariani becomes a huge commercial success in Europe.


An explosive cocktail

A success that soon reached the ears of John Styth Pemberton, who quickly decided to launch his own version. Contrary to what the official site of Coca-Cola, it seems that this pharmacist from Atlanta concocted the drink to fight his addiction to morphine which occurred after an injury during the Civil War.


In short, to alleviate his pain, Pemberton modified the initial Mariani recipe by adding kola nuts and damiana (a shrub from America). The Pemberton's French Coca Wine was born, we are then in 1884.


For those who haven't fully understood the composition of Coca-Cola in the 19th century

Coca leaves (thus cocaine extracts) + kola nut (rich in caffeine) + wine (thus alcohol) = explosive cocktail

I should point out that the syrup was not sold as a medicine, but as a invigorating and invigorating drink.



Recipe change

It is thanks to/because of Prohibition that the recipe will be modified. After a long campaign, religious followers pass an anti-alcohol law in parts of the United States. In 1885, the mayor of Atlanta organized a referendum on the subject: the sale of alcohol was prohibited for a trial period of two years. Pemberton must then replace the wine with a carbonated and sweet drink.


To avoid being connoted with alcohol, the pharmacist removes the word "wine" and chooses the word "coca" which he completes with the word "kola". It was his partner, Franck M. Robinson, who had the idea of calling the drink "Coca-Cola" with two Cs.


As for the coca leaves, it was not until 15 years after the death of John Pemberton that they were removed from the recipe (although traces of cocaine were still detected there in 1929).



The rest, we know it:

  • Coca-Cola had its first direct competitor in 1893 with the invention of Brad's drink, which would become Pepsi-Cola in 1898.

  • The brand appropriated the image of Santa Claus in the 1930s in order to convince consumers that the drink could be drunk in every season (even in winter). But contrary to what is said, it is not the brand that gave Santa Claus his red color, the latter was already taking on many colors (green, blue, red, etc.) since a long time depending on the country.

  • The Coca‑Cola Contour bottle was patented in 1915

  • The brand sells 1.5 billion drinks a day

  • Studies show that coke can cause high blood sugar, osteoporosis and contains aspartame, a potentially carcinogenic product. In short, avoid drinking it every day!


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