Kofola – Retro on Tap

A mug of draft Kofola, a staple non-alcoholic drink in Czech restaurants.

A Mug of Nostalgia

If you find yourself outdoors in the Czech Republic on a sunny summer day, it’s not at all unusual to see Czechs indulging in frothy mugs of freshly drafted Kofola rather than the beer you might expect them to be drinking while taking a break from whatever outdoor activity they may have been expending their energies on.

Part of Kofola’s appeal is that it’s frequently available on tap in pubs and restaurants across the country. A cold mug of Kofola fresh from the tap can be very refreshing indeed, much more so than from the bottle, after physically demanding activity.

Kofola also enjoys popularity as a mixing drink in a number of types of cocktails in pubs around the nation.

Since first being put on the market in 1960, Kofola has enjoyed popularity among Czechs and Slovaks that has withstood the fall of Socialism and the ensuing high influx of soft drink brands such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi onto the Czech and Slovak markets.

At that, let’s take a look at Kofola, its history and what makes it the unique drink that it is:

At the Heart of the Drink

As the story goes, Kofola was developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a way to use excess caffeine created in the coffee roasting process and as a substitute for “Western” colas such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi which were not readily available at the time. While the latter part of that story is definitely true, the former part may be more legend than fact.

The core ingredient of Kofola is Kofo syrup, the exact make up of which is closely guarded secret, a mixture of 14 herbs, fruit extracts, caramel and licorice. This mix gives Kofola not only its distinctive herbal and fruit qualities to set it apart from the colas it is typically compared to; it also gives Kofola less caffeiene and refined sugar than the others.

It’s also good to look at what Kofola does not have that the others do: phosphoric acid. Typically, phosphoric acid is used in soft drinks to give them a tangy taste which is something Kofola already possesses through the ingredients in Kofo syrup.

The lack of phosphoric acid means that Kofola is less fizzy than other colas and so can come across as rather flat if you were expecting something more akin to Coke or Pepsi. With strong medical evidence showing phosphoric acid to be a contributor to tooth decay and the formation of kidney stones, however, there is at least some small reduction in health risk in drinking Kofola compared to some others.

The Czech Coca-Cola? Seriously?

Foreigners tend to have very strong opinions about Kofola. Many develop an aversion to it from the first sip; this is not a surprize given that many Czechs simply say that the drink is a Czech version of Coca-Cola that was developed during Socialism. While it’s true that Kofola was developed during Socialism, to compare it to the likes of Coca-Cola or Pepsi has certainly given many foreigners distinctly false expectations of the drink before they’ve even taken their first gulp.

Given Kofola’s distinctly herbal nature in both taste and smell, as well as being less sweet and less fizzy than typical colas, it would be much more fair to compare it to root beer. However, root beer is a drink that Czechs don’t have the same frame of reference for as they do for Coca-Cola or Pepsi as it’s not that commonly seen in the Czech Republic.

Kofola Today and learning More

As mentioned at the start of the article, Kofola is a Czech brand that survived the ups and downs of the fall of Socialism to still be with us today. It was not a smooth road, however, as the drink lost favour in the years immediately following 1989 and did not see a revival in popularity until the early 2000s.

Today, the brand is strong and riding a wave of nostalgia as a Czech retro brand. It is also seeing some success on the export market beyond the borders of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

You can find out more about Kofola and their current range of drinks at their company’s website:
Official Kofola website

While written from a more Slovak angle, this BBC Travel article makes for some interesting further reading:
Link to BBC article about Kofola