Growing up in Texas, I’m not sure how I made it to my late teens without ever having tasted Mexican Coke. It probably has something to do with my preference for iced tea in restaurants, which I would sweeten with two packets of Equal if they had it, Sweet and Lo if they didn’t. If you want to know if artificial sweeteners cause cancer, call me in a few years. Now, living in North Carolina, where sweet tea is king, I use Splenda, reasoning that it’s a little better for me. But I’ve gotten off track.
My first bottle of Mexican Coke came from 100% Taquito, a restaurant that started as a project for a class at the University of Houston. It was listed on the menu as Coca-Cola Mexicana, and I ordered it immediately, more out of the desire for something new than anything else. I didn’t expect it to taste different, and I certainly didn’t expect it to taste better, but it did. You can find scores of taste comparisons online, but for me the first thing that came to mind was that it was less harsh. It was a softer, more mellow Coke.
In Texas, a craving for Mexican Coke is easy to satisfy. But once I moved out of state, first to South Carolina and then to North Carolina, it got harder to get my hands on. So here’s what I’ve learned about finding Mexican Coke in the four years since I left Texas. Sometimes they disguise American Coke in glass bottles, but here’s how you can tell the real stuff apart from the fake stuff.
Look for the label.
Food in the United States has to have a nutrition label, a lesson I learned at the Houston Food Bank when I was eight, and was given the task of sticking nutrition facts on small bags of rice that had been divided from larger donations. There’s a telltale label on every bottle of Mexican Coke that looks like a return address sticker. It’s stuck to the outside of the bottle and doesn’t quite fit. It looks like an afterthought.
Keep an eye out for a retro bottle.
Have you seen Coca-Cola ads from the 1950’s and 60’s? That’s what you’re looking for. The elongated bottle, made from green-tinted glass. The brand name is painted on the bottle, as are two other dead giveaways: Refresco and Hecho en Mexico. You will need an opener to get at the contents inside. No twist-off caps here. They come in two sizes, 355ml and 1 liter.
Know where to go.
Personally, I’ve had the best luck in gas stations. There are usually a few bottles tucked away somewhere, although I’ve heard more than one gas station owner say that their Coca-Cola reps have told them they can’t carry it. Another place to try is ethnic markets. The United States is, to the best of my knowledge, the only place that sweetens Coca Cola with corn syrup. Keep an eye out for Indian groceries, African groceries, Mexican groceries. They usually have some in stock thanks to nostalgia for the Coca-Cola taste from home.
Buy a case.
One of my last great memories of my father is driving from Houston to Austin for July 4th weekend. We stopped for gas in Flatonia, which is about halfway, and, as was our habit, we looked for Mexican Coke. We only found four bottles, but we took all of them to the register. Once we got there, my Dad offhandedly asked the cashier if they had another case in the back. She said she’d check, and came back with one. We lit up like kids at the sight of it. We arrived at my aunt’s place with a huge haul of soda, the same kind that the family had indulged in as an occasional treat years before I was born.
Since then, the only other place that I’ve seen a case is at Sam’s Club. My husband, who I’d yet to introduce to the soda, said that it was ridiculous to buy so much at once, and I didn’t press the issue. We’ve never seen it at that store again, and it’s a lot harder to come by a case of Mexican Coke in Raleigh than in Houston. It seems like someone else is always moments ahead of us. If you can lay your hands on a case, buy it. Stock up so you’ll have something to sip on while you’re on the hunt.