14 Cola Brands, Ranked Worst To Best

As far as soft drinks go, it's hard to dispute that cola sits atop the throne. With a flavor base that starts with the kola nut — hence the name — this particularly popular pop drink got its start via a pharmacist in Atlanta, Georgia in the late 1800s. John S. Pemberton saw the potential of combining the kola nut's flavor and caffeinated qualities with a certain stimulant. That stimulant happened to be cocaine, which was removed from the product in 1905, but it also serves to explain the moniker of Coca-Cola. The result was an appealing tonic that has been consumed in parts of three centuries and has had many copycats attempt to replicate or top the classic formula. But, despite the two behemoths that have the market cornered on cola — Coca-Cola and Pepsi — many brands have stood the test of time over the past century and have loyal followings within their local regions. And, many still have national distribution.

Beyond the requisite kola nut, it's up to the cola brewer to decide which aromatics and spices to throw into the blend to make it unique. Traces of cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, and citrus oils could make appearances. And while there are plenty of diet varieties and colas that add syrups for an extra layer of flavor, we preferred to stick to a taste test that ranks straightforward, no frills cola. After careful scrutiny, here is how we would rank the ones we tried.

14. Shasta Cola

Shasta — a brand that dates back to the 19th century with roots in Northern California — has an impressive line of soda flavors that span from kiwi strawberry, black cherry, tiki punch, pineapple, strawberry, root beer, and more. There are also plenty of low sugar versions that replicate the more amply sugared versions of Shasta's many varieties. But, we're here to discuss cola, and compared to the other colas we sampled, we found that the one from Shasta fell rather short of the mark.

What we drank just came off as pure sugar water with the bare minimum cola flavor and also very little additional spices or seasoning notes to give this soda pop the flavor pop it needed to stand out as distinct or special from the others that we tried. There also wasn't much fizzle from the carbonation, which added to the flat reaction we had upon tasting it.

13. Boylan Cane Cola

Boylan traces its roots back to 1891 in Paterson, New Jersey, where William Boylan began hawking a birch beer elixir to the locals. These days, the birch beer remains and various seltzers, tonics, ginger beer, creme soda, and cola have joined its ranks. 

There were plenty of fireworks when we poured Boylan Cane Cola. It had an impressive amount of noisy, foamy head at the top of the glass, and below that was a rich, almost opaque mahogany color. But, that big burst of fizz died down almost immediately, and after only a minute, we found the cane sugar cola from Boylan to be rather flat. 

Flavor-wise, without checking the ingredients, we picked up on licorice — but after consulting the label, it contains oils from orange, lemon, and lime, as well as a gentle amount of nutmeg, coriander, and surprisingly, lavender. Its spice forward notes could have fooled us into thinking we were drinking root beer if we didn't know better, so we would rank it a bit lower because it had some unfamiliar qualities we wouldn't necessarily associate with cola. We also found it to be rather cloyingly sweet courtesy of the sugar cane. There's a slight tang there, but overall it wasn't as evenly balanced as some of the other colas we tried. The finish of the sip also didn't end on a particularly high note and we found the mouthfeel to be rather watery.

12. Dublin Vintage Cola

When we popped off the cap and gave this bottle of Dublin Vintage Cola a pour, there was not a lot of head, which we would consider a good thing — there was no waiting involved and it was immediately ready to drink. But don't be fooled by the looks of it — when you take a sip, you'll find that there's enough carbonated fizz and it's not as flat as it might appear. The bubbles burst on the tongue and keep going all the way to the back of the throat.

Color-wise, it's a dark cherry wood. It's not completely opaque, but close to it. Dublin wasn't quite as saccharine as some of the other cane sugar sweetened colas that we tried. But we found it to be a little bit one note in terms of the flavor. Brown sugar was a component that came through, but there wasn't the fully rounded sweet, sour, and slightly spicy blend we know and love when it comes to cola, so that's why it got a bit of a lower ranking from us.

11. Fever-Tree Distillers Cola

If we had a scale to measure carbonation levels, we think the cola from Fever-Tree would be off the charts. This is not your standard cola, and it's mostly due to its intense fizziness. There were immediately tons of bubbles and crackling sizzle upon the pour. And then, when we took a sip, there were fireworks on the tongue — it reminded us of the experience of eating Pop Rocks.

Fever-Tree's cola was a lighter shade of brown compared to other colas that we tried — it was more of a burnt caramel tone rather than a dark amber or fiery red. Considering that this cola was designed to complement alcohol — specifically whiskey and bourbon — it makes sense that the recipe wouldn't deviate too far from the accepted standard cola ingredients and instead put its focus on being bubbly and fun. And we would say that the mission was accomplished.

We'll place it a bit lower in the rankings because while it serves a specific purpose, at a price point of around $6 for a four pack at the time of publication, we wouldn't say that it's worth a purchase — money doesn't grow on trees, or Fever-Trees. Unless you are over 21 years old and extra fanatical about the blend of liquor and cola, you might want to save your cash.

10. Double Cola

Sometimes these cola sodas are a bit of a roller coaster ride, but Double Cola had a consistent flavor from start to finish. Double Cola almost immediately reminded us of Coca-Cola Classic, with a bit more depth. There was a slight touch of vanilla and honey that gave it sweetness, but there wasn't as much cherry flavor that you might sometimes find in a cola. We wouldn't put it at the top of our ranks simply because there wasn't much to make it notably distinct from the competition in terms of its flavor profile, but we wouldn't discourage purchasing it.

What makes it Double Cola as opposed to it being called "single cola or "triple cola"? There isn't anything specific about the recipe when it comes to the name — only the portion. When Double Cola launched back in 1933, it came in a 12-ounce bottle. At the time, cola was typically found in six-ounce bottles. So, you do the math. 

9. Sprecher Puma Kola

Primarily known for its root beer and cream soda, the Milwaukee, Wisconsin based Sprecher Brewing Co. also offers up their unique spin on cola, which they've dubbed Puma Kola. In addition to glucose syrup, what makes this cola distinct from the competition is the inclusion of local Wisconsin honey to provide a kick of sweetness — and it also gives this craft soda extra authenticity if you're going with the craft description. But, we wouldn't rank it quite as high as some of the other colas we tried — the honey element was a bit off putting.

Visually, it has a dark amber hue — almost a burgundy red. There's a strong nose to the drink before you take the first sip, and it has plenty of fizz. In terms of mouthfeel, it's slightly dry, though not necessarily in a bad way — true to the ferocious puma featured on the label, it does have a bit of bite. While it's not labeled as being cherry flavored, it does take us to that place. It tasted a bit like liquefied Red Vines with a slight pucker in the finish, and upon checking the label, that's due to the presence of citric acid.

8. Jarritos Mexican Cola

This cola from the popular Mexican soda brand Jarritos had a very peculiar aroma, which came off as medicinal and even slightly soapy. As far as flavor, we will allow that it may be an acquired taste that accommodates particular palate preferences. We detected notes of licorice, fennel, ginger, and even spearmint, which made this a strongly herbaceous and vegetal cola compared to the others that we tried. In some ways, it could be compared to a complex mole poblano sauce.

We would rank this cola a bit lower on our list due to its esoteric qualities. It also gets a couple of points knocked off because it was a bit difficult to find — after searching high and low, we were only able to score it via Jarritos' Party Pack, which at the time of publication is sold at Walmart. But at the same time, we would award it some bonus points for being distinctly different from the rest of the pack.

7. Pepsi

All due respect to Pepsi for going toe to toe with Coca-Cola for so many years. While the latter brand literally created the cola soda pop industry, Pepsi has continually refused to back down and play second fiddle and has come up with all sorts of ways to remain competitive. The Cola Wars of the 1980s was the focus of a documentary series. Any '90s kids out there remember Crystal Pepsi? Who can forget the ad campaigns fronted by the likes of Michael Jackson, Cindy Crawford, and Britney Spears? Cut to 2023 and you'll find Nitro Pepsi for those who just can't get enough foam.

But in a taste test, how does Pepsi cola compare to its rival or to other mass market colas? Or how does it compare to the craft and artisan colas? Stacked up against the others, we found it to be sharply and pungently flavored with tons of fizzle. We picked up on some orange and slightly bitter notes, but not enough to be offensive. In general, it felt safe and familiar but not intriguing, and we would put it in the middle of our rankings for those reasons.

6. Mr. Cola

With a name like "Mr. Cola," along with the title of being the "Aristocrat of Colas," you should expect this pop drink to carry some authority. It certainly does that, and is in no way subtle with its flavor. It's a sugar bomb — be sure to brush your teeth because frequent consumption of this cola could help give you a cavity or two. It reminded us a bit of crème brûlée with some caramel and dark brown sugar notes. We also picked up on warm, cozy spices like cloves, star anise, and cinnamon.

We would rank this around the middle of the colas that we sampled. While it had plenty of flavor, we found it to be a bit too much in that department. To compare it to alcohol, it was more like having a hair-raising shot of whiskey versus a chill bottle of beer.

5. Fentimans Curiosity Cola

Fentimans got its start in 1905 when Thomas Fentiman acquired a recipe for ginger beer from a fellow who owed him payment on a loan — that deal turned out to be a bargain because more than 100 years later, the brand is still standing with a line of beverages beyond ginger beer, which also happens to include a delicious cola.

And, we think it's appropriate that the company's logo features a tough looking dog — Thomas Fentiman's dog named Fearless — because this cola has some bite. Beyond that, Curiosity Cola is an apt moniker because this cola contains a lot of interesting components. When you take a sip and then glance at the label only to see that this botanical-based recipe features herbal extracts, the immediate reaction is, "Yep, that makes sense." In general, there's a lot to unpack here because this cola takes you on a ride. There is a hefty amount of spice. Cinnamon and ginger both come through rather prominently. We would rank this cola higher on the list because it stays true to the formula, but is assertive with its flavor without being overly aggressive.

4. Coca-Cola

Most of us are quite familiar with Coca-Cola Classic. Then, of course, there's Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, Coca-Cola Caffeine Free, Coca-Cola Cherry, Coca-Cola Vanilla, Mexican Coca-Cola — which is sweetened with cane sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup in the American version — and the list goes on and on and on. Beyond the ones you'll always find in the store, there are all sorts of strange limited edition flavors that are worth trying while you can. In 2022 and 2023, Coca-Cola released Coca-Cola Dreamworld, collaborated with Spanish pop star Rosalía on Coca-Cola Move, and offered a sugar-free edition in partnership with the renowned DJ Marshmello.

It was certainly an interesting experiment to try the classic formula alongside craft colas and see how it compares to the others that have been around approximately as long as Coca-Cola, but haven't achieved worldwide domination. It's an iconic beverage and the standard bearer — there isn't a whole lot to say beyond the fact that it just tastes like cola as you know it and love it. There's plenty of carbonation, and it makes a statement immediately when you open the bottle with a burst of bubbles. Flavor-wise, it has it all — sweet, tang, spice — and it's all quite well balanced. We place this cola higher on the list because it ticks off all the boxes.

3. Triple Cola

"Drink it for vim & vigor!" doth sayeth the label emblazoned on Triple Cola from Orca Beverage, Inc. And, we would agree. Though this slogan goes all the way back to 1921, we found that it holds true to this day. It certainly gave us a strong caffeine boost and put some major pep in our step, and that's why it's sitting higher at the top of our rankings.

Triple Cola gives you a jolt to the senses, and it's not just courtesy of the caffeine. We found that it has an especially jubilant burst of the expected cola flavors, but also hints of cinnamon, mint, and other herbs and spices. It's quite a potent blend that has enough going on with flavor and sugar that a single 12-ounce bottle might be worth splitting. Like a good whiskey, bourbon, scotch, or rum, it wouldn't hurt to add a cube of chilly ice to mellow out the intensity of the flavor in this particular beverage.

2. Spiffy

"A swell cola drink" is boasted on the label of Spiffy cola, and we found that it more than lived up to that promise. That's why we're putting it quite high on our ranking list of cola brands. First and foremost, what we loved about Spiffy cola was that it had a perfect amount of carbonation. It was fizzy and refreshing, especially when coupled with a few ice cubes.

As it poured, we found it to have a very deep brown coloration — almost like a cold brew dark roast cappuccino with a faint bit of crema on top. Despite the cartoon mascot on the packaging, we didn't find that the contents were trying to be too cute — it tasted just the way you want cola to taste and didn't have fussy, frilly ingredients. It tasted a bit like warm caramel. The tangy elements were very slight, and it didn't come across as overly fruity.

1. Royal Crown Cola

Royal Crown Cola is a beverage we had not had in a very long time. We held no bad or good memories of it in particular, but it just isn't quite as frequently found at the soda fountain as Coca-Cola or Pepsi. However, when we stacked it up against those Goliath competitors, we found it to be just as good, and perhaps better. 

We were particularly impressed at how much carbonation remained after leaving the two-liter bottle we purchased aside for about an hour and then giving the drink a revisit. It still remained vibrant and sparkly and we didn't find that to be true with many of the other colas we tried. It had a pleasant flavor — it didn't err with being too sweet, and had just the right amount of zesty spice and citrus notes. Perhaps when you've been at it since 1905, you know a thing or two about your craft and we would say RC deserves to wear a Royal Crown.