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Taste test: energy drinks

Makers of caffeine-laced energy drinks claim the chemicals in their beverages can do things such as boost energy, increase cognitive abilities and improve moods. Taster's Choice wanted to see what all the buzz was about, so we asked one of the primary target groups for the energy drink industry — college students. Five students enrolled in the Writing About Food course at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg sampled eight brands of energy drinks for us. All of the judges were over 18, as some of the drinks contained warnings saying they were not recommended for consumers younger than 18. Our judges weren't concerned about the caffeine or caffeine substitutes in the drinks, but we wanted to know how the drinks tasted. While a couple weren't bad, most of these drinks were a hard sell to our student panelists.

Kathy Saunders, Times correspondent


(out of 100)
Full Throttle


Double Shot

Energy 59
Monster Energy


Judges compared the taste of this "Full Citrus Flavor" drink to Sierra Mist. "It looks like vibrant lemonade," said one judge. One described the color as brighter than highlighter ink. She compared the flavor to "a toned-down, non-alcoholic mojito." She liked that it did not have the unpleasant aftertaste found in some of the competition. Another said, "It looks neon yellow without a lot of carbonation. The smell is citrusy and it doesn't have that distasteful medicinal fragrance." She was pleased that it didn't taste like an energy drink. "It reminds me more of a mixture of citrus Hi-C and watered-down Mountain Dew, which I would be more willing to purchase," she said.The energy drink from Starbucks gets its boost from ginseng and guarana herbal supplements. Judges said the drink looked and smelled like a cup of coffee. "The smell is laced with heavy cream and milky scents, with the certain undertone of coffee beans," said one panelist. "The taste was definitely chilled coffee with more milk than coffee." Even with the milky taste, some students found the drink a bit watery. One said she detected a strong aftertaste of sugar substitute.Monster's caffeine lift-me-up drink had ginseng and guarana as well. "It looks like ginger ale poured into apple juice," said one judge. "It doesn't taste bad, but it tastes unhealthy." The same judge said all of the energy drinks sampled "could be used as special effects for alien blood in a movie." Another student who liked the drink said it tasted "fresh with an orange bite." She said, "It leaves a sweet tang in your mouth." Another said the drink smelled like children's watermelon shampoo and tasted like "apple juice on fire." She added, "I feel my teeth being coated with sugar as I drink."

they buy?
Three of the five judges said yes.One of the five judges said yes.Two of the five judges said yes.
Shopping information$1.25 for a 16-ounce can from Publix.$2.39 for a 15-ounce can from Publix.$1.78 for a 16-ounce can from Walmart.

Also Sampled: Red Bull ($2.68 for a 12-ounce can from Walmart, 38 points); Rockstar ($1.58 for a 16-ounce can from Walmart, 13 points);

Amp Energy Boost Original ($1.48 for a 16-ounce can from Walmart, 45 points); Bing ($1.69 for a 12-ounce can from Publix, 1 point);

and NOS ($1.25 for a 16-ounce can from Publix, 28 points).

Panelists: Christina Quay, Matthew Thomas, Alexa Newsome, Lila Timson and Jennifer Jones. All drinks were tasted blind.

Send suggestions for product testing to: Taste section, Tampa Bay Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or email them to Please put TEST SUGGESTION in the subject line. To read past Taster's Choice columns, go to

Serving size1 can1 can1 can
Fat/Fiber0g / 0g2.5g / 0g0g / 0g
Sugars/Sodium58g / 160mg26g / 170mg27g / 180mg
Carbs/Protein58g / 0g36g / 12g27g / 0g

Taste test: energy drinks 11/11/13 [Last modified: Monday, November 11, 2013 4:44pm]
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