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What's the Buzz?

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RED BULL. Dynamite Lightning. Energy Plus. Red Devil. Energy drinks--they're everywhere: in supermarkets, mini-marts, dance clubs, and gymnasiums. They've been spotted in the hands of skateboarders and truck drivers, sleep-deprived grad students and millionaires about to ascend Mt. Everest. By now, it's quite clear that there's something pretty powerful in all those funny little cans with the scary names. They must be packing a serious wallop.

But now the question is: How do they taste? After all, one person's carbonated-slap-in-the-face is another person's high-priced, caffeinated mouthwash.

To find answers, we assembled a crackerjack team of experts. Actually, we barged into the used book store at Copperfield's Books in Petaluma, carrying a big bag with some of the most popular energy drinks on the market. Copperfield's resident quartet of hardened booksellers--namely Art, Daniel, Christy, and Jo--agreed to sample these buzz-making nectars and offer their straight-shooting opinions.

Here are the results:

XTC Guarana Power Drink The first major American energy drink, XTC comes with a promising warning: "Not suitable for diabetics and persons sensitive to caffeine." Art liked its glowing green, anti-freeze color, but complained about its "gummy after-taste," which Daniel likened to "strong cough syrup." Christy liked it, saying, "It's like water, but more so," and Jo merely called it bland. "There's nothing there," she said.

Red Bull Energy Drink Endorsed by the cultural heavyweights at the World Wrestling Federation, Red Bull ("with taurine") comes in blue and silver cans emblazoned with two red bulls smacking their heads together. A smack in the head is what some of our taste testers would have preferred to swigging Red Bull. "It tastes like weird Tang," said Christy, while Daniel and Jo merely grimaced. Art, on the other hand, thought it smells like Bazooka bubblegum "and tastes like liquid sweet tarts."

Cinagro Energy Plus This non-carbonated, green tea-based concoction is one of the few all-organic energy drinks on the market. There's no added caffeine in it, but there's a good healthy jolt to it anyway. Its agave and ginseng flavor was not much appreciated by either Christy, who thought it tastes "like scope," or Jo, who described it as "bad fermented fruit juice." The guys liked it, however, with Art saying it has "a vague echinacea flavor," and Daniel praising its fruity lack of carbonation.

Dynamite Lightning Energy Drink This citrus-based power beverage boasts a high level of added vitamins. Jo liked its sweet flavor, which Daniel described as "liquid Gummy Bears." Art appreciated its "licoricey" flavor in spite of a sharp "mediciney" smell, but Christy thought it tastes "like fungus."

Red Devil Energy Drink "Wonderful scent," said a beaming Art, who liked this Cherry sodalike power drink, clearly aimed at the extreme-sports market. Daniel praised its flavor, calling it "raspberry good, kind of cidery," while Jo simply gave it a smiling thumbs up--perhaps all the caffeine had rendered her speechless--and Christy gushed, "I like it. I like it."

Red Devil, it turns out, is the big winner of our impromptu taste test, with both Jo and Dan proclaiming it their favorite. Runners-up were XTC--Christy's favorite--and Cilagro Energy Plus, which Art couldn't get enough of. "Too bad the cans aren't bigger," he said.

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From the October 28-November 3, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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