A New Tab, with More Caffeine.--

The New Yorker has a brief article on both the new and old versions of Tab, a soft drink made by Coke that is often hard to find in American supermarkets:

The Talk of the Town

As if the mainstream media were not beleaguered enough, now comes word that the Coca-Cola Company is about to release a new drink called Tab Energy. The plan is to capitalize on the popularity of the Red Bull genre while trading on the retro cachet of Tab, with those iconic pink cans—-a plan that could threaten the sanctity of one of journalism’s secret, and most self-conscious, power cliques: the cult of Tab lovers, who have persisted in drinking the pioneering diet soda, despite its virtual disappearance from the market.

“This is a lonely but inspired society,” David Bradley, the owner of The Atlantic Monthly and National Journal, said recently, before news of the brand’s reëngineering had spread. “You can’t imagine the purchasing and trucking and warehousing issues we address in getting Tab into Washington.”

The original Tab, which appeared in 1963, is still produced, though in dwindling quantities. . . . Coke stopped promoting the drink in the mid-eighties, after the cancer scare involving saccharin, an artificial sweetener used in Tab. Present-day Tab enthusiasts must seek out wholesalers . . . or rely on a kind of sixth soda sense—-“the ability to spot the pink,” David Edelstein, the film critic for New York, calls it—in obtaining their daily fixes.

Here in the city, drinkers include Steven Brill and Danny Goldberg, the C.E.O. of the radio network Air America, each of whom has an office fridge stocked with Tab. “I have unadulterated enthusiasm for it,” Goldberg said, adding that he has long since delegated the task of finding the stuff to an assistant.

The fact that Tab comes in a pink can and was conceived as a drink for women seems only to have bolstered the appeal—it’s a “boy named Sue thing,” according to a financier, who picked up the habit from Bradley. (Brill, just to be sure, tends to crush his Tab cans as he drains them.) Then, there is the peculiar flavor (“It tastes like metal”) and the reputation for unhealthiness, a combination that Edelstein, who has four cases delivered to his house every other week, believes gives Tab “the courage of its convictions.”

Steve Isaacs, a self-described “Tab nut” and former Washington Post editor who teaches at the Columbia Journalism School, has been told by several doctors not to drink it. “I tell them to go to hell,” he said recently.

In the mid-1960s (as I recall), the chief diet colas were Diet Rite and Tab, both marketed mostly to weight-conscious women. Coke did not want to destroy its main brand by bringing out a diet cola with the word "Coke" in its name, so it resisted coming out with Diet Coke until Diet Pepsi's long-term success finally led Coke to capitulate. Then Tab was largely orphaned, though some of us persisted in drinking it.

I never liked aspartame (Nutrasweet) much, so I prefer a cola that uses both aspartame and saccharin to one that relies on higher quantities of aspartame. And then there is Tab's lovely metallic taste. I like to say that the main advantage of Tab is that it has two carcinogens (saccharin and aspartame), though I confess that I have not reviewed the medical literature on aspartame and cancer in rodents, so I'm probably unfairly defaming a healthy product.

The new Tab, which is called Tab Energy, seems to be designed to cater to a younger crowd:

Tab Energy, for its part, is “really good-tasting,” according to a Coke spokesman, and “reminiscent of a liquid Jolly Rancher,” according to Fashion Week Daily, which recommends vodka as a mixer. The new can is slimmer, but it’s still pink, with the same Pop-art font. Whereas old Tab has thirty-one milligrams of caffeine and zero calories, Tab Energy has ninety-five milligrams and five calories. Nicole Richie is an early proponent, which seems right—more Los Angeles than New York.

Andrew Sullivan, who pointed me to the story, offered his own fragrant memories of Tab:

I have a very vivid memory of a Harvard friend of mine, with whom I've lost touch - David . . . . His room was full of two things, mainly: dozens of old socks, that had been worn a few dozen times (without ever seeing a detergent), could stand up largely by themselves, and were yellow at the edges; and countless old, empty Tab cans, some crushed, others stagnant, a few actually placed in an orderly pile, ready for consumption. David's politics at the time made Noam Chomsky look like a neocon. Mine were to the right of Reagan. But we had some of the best fights in my life, jacked up on the old cola. The unique aroma of dried-up Tab cans and encrusted foot odor has never quite left my consciousness since.