Open Source Cola – “Cube Cola”

Posted on September 26, 2012

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From their site:

Standing on the Hands of Giants

We are wildcrafting our own cola from an open source recipe reverse-engineered from the original Coke. A process merging domestic and scientific methodologies. Cube-Cola is distributed by social courier within the city perimeters of Bristol UK, and is available by mail as a cola concentrate worldwide.

I chatted with one of the people behind this at their stall at the recent Brighton Mini Maker Faire and she told me the backstory to it and I mentioned some of the recipes I had seen for it. The exorbitant price of neroli oil was mentioned too, and you’ll see why that is worthy of note later. (I must confess that do not know which of the two women I spoke to as my memory for names is shamefully non-existent).

I am interested in the history of chemical recipes of this sort, even though I am a lapsed chemist graduate and I have collected a number of books about the history and development of the ‘high-street chemist’, for want of a better name. (In that vein, if you can track down watchable copies of the BBC and Open University produced “Victorian Pharmacy“, I highly recommend it!)

I found a few recipes for “Coca-cola” in the books I have, a generic narcotic version (pre ~1900ish IIRC) and a few unofficial non-narcotic versions. One book in particular is full of fascinating generic fomulas, originally published in 1938 under the title “The Standard Book of Formulas: How to make what you use”. The reprint I own is from 2004 and is provocatively titled “Two Thousand Formulas, Recipes and Trade Secrets” but I strongly doubt it contains many secrets 🙂

Two Thousand formulas, recipes and trade secrets

It has a generic recipe listed inside for a “Kola beverage”:

The “Fluidextract of Cola” is both where the modern drink gets its name from and the original drink got its ‘uplifting and refreshing’ qualities (as it is a source of cocaine.)

Unfortunately, I cannot find the book with the later, post-1900 recipes in, (the non-narcotic versions) so cannot show you what that looks like. The original combination of flavouring oils surprised me when I first read them and they may surprise you to! (The combination did look a lot like the Cube Cola recipe, so I’ll borrow that, emphasis my own):

  • 7.50 ml orange oil
  • 7.00 ml lime oil
  • 2.00 ml lemon oil
  • 0.75 ml cassia oil
  • 1.50 ml nutmeg oil
  • 0.50 ml coriander oil (12 drops)
  • 0.50 ml lavender oil (12 drops)
  • 0.50 ml neroli oil (optional due to high expense of neroli)

The majority of the ingredients are not that exceptional. Orange, lime, lemon… sure, they make sense. Cassia, nutmeg, coriander, fine too, exotic but makes sense to me. But then lavender appears as an ingredient, something I really didn’t expect. I managed to convince myself that this is the case by drinking some cola and then smelling some lavender oil. It’s faint, but it is certainly a match!

Neroli oil is also very interesting. I won’t bore you with details, but suffice to say it has an aromatic flavour, a sophisticated floral scent, very expensive, but surprisingly commonly found in perfume. This is a link to its wikipedia page. Neroli oil also features in another couple of flavourings I found interesting:

I also stumbled over the following, a recipe for artifical Neroli oil which makes for interesting reading although I wouldn’t recommend trying it today!

Making my own Open Source Cola!

Needless to say that after talking about this with them, I bought some of their cola concentrate to try! It is based on their GPL’d open source recipe and looks very much like the one I remembered reading a number of years ago. However, I have only recently got round to making up the sugar syrup needed for it. The 56ml concentrate may not look like a lot, but it makes almost 2 litres of cola syrup which still requires dilution with carbonated water (at a ratio of 1 part to 7 of water) before you can drink it happily!

As it turned out, I only had 1.2kg of the required 1.5kg of white sugar so I improvised with ~200g of some light muscovado sugar. It has affected the flavour, but the treacly flavour matches well enough with the flavourings. The taste itself I would rate as being far better than most supermarket own brand colas and would give the original a run for its money! I’m not a big fan of the full-fat coke, but I have a friend who is and I’ll get his verdict on it later!

This is one of the two containers of syrup next to the partially drunk bottle of newly minted Cube Cola:

So, it looks like I am going to be drinking cola for quite a while to come!

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Posted in: fun, howto