Ranking the new Diet Coke flavors from worst to best

Diet Coke once had a small "d."  The Coca-Cola lawyers were afraid that by making "Diet" capitalized it'd be a noun, whereas "diet" made it an adjective. The important thing to them was to assure people they were drinking a Coke, albeit a lighter version. Little did Coca-Cola realize how well Diet Coke would sink into the American public and become just as well known as its red-canned sibling. Diet Coke reached its zenith in 2010 when it became the No. 2 soft drink sold in the U.S. But in a 10-year span, Americans consumed 27 percent less diet soda – mainly due to concerns about aspartame, which makes the sodas taste sweet without sugar. By 2017, bottled water sold more units combined than any carbonated beverage.  

Not resting on its laurels, Coke did the only sensible thing and panicked. Well, not a full-on panic, but in 2018 it introduced four new flavors in funky-looking cans to relaunch Diet Coke.  This isn't the first time there have been different flavors of Diet Coke; you may recall vanilla diet Coke or cherry vanilla diet Coke, but those came and went like Tab Clear. These new flavors are meant to last, but will they? Should they? We tasted them all, plus some other Diet Coke products to see which tastes the best.

Here are the rules

We sampled every new Diet Coke flavor, including the standard Diet Coke in the fancy new can.  We additionally sampled a Diet Coke in the traditional 12-ounce can, a Coca-Cola Zero Sugar — which has a new formula to taste more like old school Coke. All the cans were purchased at the same time from room-temperature store shelves and then plopped into the same refrigerator in the same location, all on the door. These are as close to the same temperature as possible. We also tasted Diet Coke from a Coke Freestyle Machine (courtesy of Wawa) and a Diet Coke from McDonald's, which is world-renowned for having great Coke taste.  

We sampled approximately 4 ounces of each drink — this isn't some Pepsi Challenge. The reason Pepsi consistently beat Coke in those infamous 1980s taste tests is that the brain is programmed to like sweet things; in order to get the full taste of something you need to have more than a sip. Tasters were able to sample multiple drinks at once and go back and sample sodas to compare and contrast. So who came out on top? We'll start at the bottom.

9. McDonald's Diet Coke

There's a school of thought that says McDonald's makes the best Coke, and by proxy makes the best Diet Coke. We're here to let the cat out of the bag — it's awful. One taster said, "It smells like cough medicine." The taste is so weirdly sweet, almost like if you took a Coke and Pepsi and mixed them together. But at the same time there's an odd bitter finish that feels out of place. If you drank a McDonald's Diet Coke along with a Freestyle Diet Coke and a can of Diet Coke, you'd declare that one of these is not like the other. "Undrinkable," asserted a taster. Now, when you're just hopping into a Mickey D's and you need a quick drink, it's fine, but to go out of your way to get a McDonald's Diet Coke is a "Will It Waffle?" level of bad ideas.

8. Twisted Mango

"Oh my, it looks yellow!" Well, that taster was being a bit dramatic, but there is a slight hue that isn't the caramel color you expect. The bouquet is mango — which you'd think would be a good thing, but it smells more like a can of mango than a fresh mango. It feels like you have mango stuck in your teeth after you have a sip. The aftertaste is flat — like the mango sucked out all the carbonation and just left you with a syrupy soda. It's just not good. The overpowering smell plus the bizarre feeling in your mouth leads to a hard pass on this one. "I'm not drinking any more of this stuff!" declared one taster — only she didn't say "stuff."

7. Zesty Blood Orange

Of the things in that image, only one is a blood orange. The other one is baby aspirin-flavored soda. "I feel like I'm gonna puke!" exclaimed one taster. "I can feel this in the back of my throat ... in a bad way," said another. This has a really bad taste — really bad. It doesn't taste like a blood orange. It doesn't really taste like a standard orange either. You might be able to convince an astronaut to drink this because there is a Tang-like aroma to it, but at the least there's very little blood orange going on here. Blood Orange Diet Coke is a thing in Europe under the name Coca-Cola Light Sango (Sango = blood), and perhaps a European will like this, but for the rest of the universe it's a decisive no. Full disclosure: I love blood oranges, they're actually my favorite fruit and I'll eat one daily in season. Even to me this tasted terribly.  

6. Feisty Cherry

The first thing everyone noticed was the dearth of bubbles — it wasn't flat, but it didn't bubble up like a standard Diet Coke. If you didn't know any better you'd guess that this was a dark cherry soda — the flavor is rather rich but tasted nothing like the old school Diet Cherry Coke. The aftertaste set this apart from all others; the soda finished perfectly. This drink had the strongest smell, as well. You can't misplace the pungent cherry flavor. It almost has an oak texture, like you'd find in a scotch. There's nothing wrong with drinking one of these, but if you picked up an 8-pack you'd get pretty tired of the taste pretty quickly,  

5. Freestyle Diet Coke

Generally speaking, you might think you prefer a fountain soda over a can. We aren't the only ones that found a vast difference between the two. There's certainly a similarity between the canned Diet Coke and the fountain, but the fountain had a more airy feel to it and left your mouth a bit empty. The cans — both of them — felt more full and balanced. There's nothing wrong with drinking a fountain soda, and 99 percent of the sodas you get at a restaurant will be served in that manner, but if you have two right in front of you at the same price point, you should choose the can over the fountain every time.  

4. Diet Coke Ginger Lime

"I like it!"  exclaimed one taster in shock. There's a faint ginger smell to the soda, but there's virtually no ginger flavor at all. The omnipresent flavor is lime — more so than the traditional Diet Coke Lime. The oddest part of the Ginger Lime is that it almost has a flat taste, like if there is ginger there, it really mellowed out the usual bite of a Diet Coke. This is very drinkable, however, and easily the top choice of the new ones. I would even suggest there's a pretty good chance you might purchase this again after trying it.

3. Diet Coke, traditional can

You know the flavor, but you probably don't drink four Diet Cokes from four different sources at the same time. When you do, you realize there is a difference between them. The biggest difference between the slim can and the old school can is the aftertaste.  Ms. Slim Can had a smooth aftertaste, whereas the flavor lingered a bit in the traditional can. None of the tasters were expecting it, but they all agreed; there was something a bit off from the Diet Coke we all know and drink everyday.

2. Diet Coke, slim can

Can a can really make a difference? The first thing all the tasters noticed was that the slim can Coke seemed to foam up more than the traditional can pour. Is there something to that? Well, maybe. Can design does play some part in carbonation, or lack thereof, but the eyeball test didn't lie. There was more foam. All the tasters thought it had a more "airy" taste than the well-known Diet Coke can. Now, if you're driving around and you grab one of these slim cans, you're going to be pretty ticked off because it'll rattle around in your cup holder and eventually topple over spilling soda everywhere, but as far as a "crack open a can and have it with lunch"? Yep, this is the go to way to drink Diet Coke.

1. Coca-Cola Zero Sugar

Coke Zero made its bones with a claim that it tastes exactly like Coke. With a slight flavor adjustment, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar isn't making that exact assertion, but it's still not too far from the truth. "Like a Coke with a smoother aftertaste," one taster said. But really the taste is halfway between Diet Coke and Coke. Both Coca-Cola Zero Sugar and Diet Coke contain aspartame, so that bite you expect from a Diet Coke is there, but with a smooth aftertaste Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is the clear winner. If you were pondering a switch from Diet Coke to Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, the similarity in taste makes this simple. Coca-Cola Zero Sugar is pretty good!

What's the takeaway?

Yes, obviously everyone's taste buds are programmed slightly different, so you might enjoy the heck out of a Twisted Mango Diet Coke. Everyone else in the universe probably won't, but that's okay. As far as drinkability goes, the good old fashioned Diet Coke still works, regardless of the can you choose. Don't pass on that Coca-Cola Zero Sugar if you've been pondering it; it's worth a try and may just convert you over. The only exotic flavor you'll likely drink on a semi-regular basis is the Ginger Lime, despite the lack of ginger flavor. Try the others at your own peril — and whatever you do don't drink a McDonald's Diet Coke and a can of Diet Coke together — it'll make you question your existence.