Coke recently announced that it was making a limited-edition soda, called Coca-Cola Zero Sugar Byte. The flavor, according to the company, was “born in the metaverse” and “inspired by the playfulness of pixels, rooted in the experiences that gaming makes possible.” It’s hard to imagine better bait for The Verge, so I asked Coke if it could send me a can. And it delivered.
The can for Coke Byte (as I’ll be calling it for brevity’s sake) is a fun purple color, and has a sort of retro-game aesthetic — it says “recycle me to play again” on the side, and it is adorned with cubes meant to represent pixels. I stuck it in the fridge until my wife Becky got home, and we cracked it open to finally discover what pixels taste like.
Honestly, we’re still not quite sure.
We both had the same reaction upon the first sip: “Ew. Bad. No.” Becky said it made her mouth go numb. While that didn’t happen to me, the taste was so off-putting that neither of us wanted to keep drinking it. Of course, my brand is enduring discomfort for The Content, so I drank a good 75 percent of the can before I finally gave up and dumped the rest down the drain.
It is... hard to describe the taste. To start, the soda is sickly sweet, even to someone who doesn’t mind the occasional glass of regular Coke or Sprite. It’s not just sweet, though — there’s a flavor there, but it’s not something I can describe using any of the food words I know. It’s not bright, but it’s certainly not bitter.
There’s something vaguely fruity about Coke Byte. Not in the lemon-lime Gatorade way, where it at least evokes the taste of something natural, but more like how Axe Anarchy has a “dark pomegranate” scent, or how the red NyQuil is technically berry flavored. Both Becky and I commented on how we were reminded of cough syrup.
What Coke Byte doesn’t taste at all like is Coke. I bought a bottle of original Coca-Cola, as well as some plain Coke Zero Sugar to try alongside Byte, and both of the more traditional drinks had the same slightly tangy cola taste that the pixel-flavored version lacks. Byte did have the slightly poison-y aspartame aftertaste as the regular Coke Zero Sugar (which Becky says she doesn’t really notice or mind), but it was mostly drowned out by whatever the other flavor is. Carbonation-wise, the three sodas had about the same amount of fizz.
Throughout our taste test, Becky swore it reminded her of something, but couldn’t put her finger on it. That wasn’t the case with me — I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything quite like Byte. But a few hours later, a thought occurred to me: maybe Coke was trying to go for an energy drink vibe. The only kind of energy drink I’ve had is coffee, so I asked Becky if it reminded her of Red Bull or Monster.
I don’t think that flavor profile is what I would’ve gone with if someone had asked me to make something taste like pixels. I’d probably try to evoke the staticky, faintly metallic experience of licking a CRT monitor. (Apologies to my mom for what I was like as a kid.) But I can't blame Coke for going the route it did. There’s the stereotype of the the energy drink-downing gamer, and the company’s clearly going for gaming audience with Coke Byte, describing the taste as “reminiscent of powering up a game.”
I know I’ve been very negative about this soda, but that doesn’t mean it’s categorically bad. Obviously, taste is extremely subjective; while Becky and I didn’t like it, Katie Teague over at CNET tasted it and seemed to think it was fine.
If you’re into energy drinks and want to try something new, Coke will be selling an “extremely limited” amount of Byte (though if you’re looking for a jolt, be warned that it only has a mere 34 mg of caffeine — a typical Red Bull is significantly smaller and has around 80 mg). The company says people in the US will be able to buy a two-pack of the 12-fluid-ounce cans starting May 2nd, exclusively on the Coca-Cola Creations online store. It’ll cost around $15 plus shipping, according to Oana Vlad, senior director of global strategy at Coca-Cola.
Johnson also expanded on what the company means by “extremely limited,” saying that there were “fewer than 25,000” two-packs available for people in the US to buy.
Update April 8th, 2:25PM ET: Added information about how much Coke Byte will be available.