The Cold War-era drink that rivals cola
As a third dessert option was being squeezed on to the kitchen table in front of four sufficiently full young men, all too polite to refuse a final helping, I reflected on how fortunate I and my companion Marco were to be visiting Bratislava with friends who grew up in the city. Marek and Kubo were back in their home town from Barcelona and Prague for a short time only, and so their mothers were keen to feed them – and their two lucky guests – while they could.
That evening we’d gorged on the sweets from my friends’ childhoods: buchtičky se šodó, a doughy vanilla cake with just a touch of rum, and šišky s mákem, sweet dumplings made from potato, sugar, butter and poppy seeds. It was when a dark and dense beverage was passed around in plastic bottles that Marco, the designated driver for the evening, looked as though he could take no more.
那天晚上我们大尝特尝了马雷克和库博儿时吃过的甜品：有buchtičky se šodó，一种面团质感的香草蛋糕，带一点点朗姆酒；还有 šišky s mákem，是一种甜甜的饺子，材料有土豆、糖、黄油和罂粟籽。大家传着倒一种装在塑料瓶里的深色浓稠饮料时，当晚的司机马尔科觉得自己不能喝这个。
This was my first introduction to Kofola. Although it resembles a stout beer, Kofola is non-alcoholic, and originates from the second half of the 20th Century when Czechoslovakia was a Soviet satellite state. Created as an alternative to Coca-Cola and Pepsi at a time when Western goods were prohibitively expensive, the drink has since gone on to become a national favourite in the now-independent countries of Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
The syrup that forms the foundation of Kofola was invented in the late 1950s by Zdeněk Blažek, a scientist who had been commissioned by the state to create an alternative to American cola brands, using ingredients available in Czechoslovakia. The result was Kofo syrup, a mixture of fruit and herbal extracts that forms the base of Kofola. Some historical accounts say that Blažek and his team came up with the recipe for Kofo syrup (which remains secret to this day) when experimenting with ways to use the waste generated from roasting coffee, but while Kofola is caffeinated, these accounts are unsubstantiated.
口福乐最基础的糖浆是布拉扎克（Zdeněk Blažek）在 1950 年代末发明的。布拉扎克是位科学家，受国家委托，要用捷克斯洛伐克本国的原料创造一种美国可乐的替代品。于是便有了口福（Kofo）糖浆，混合了水果和药草提取物，是口福乐的基础。一些历史记录记载，布拉扎克和团队是在尝试利用咖啡残渣时发现了口福糖浆的配方（配方至今保密），但尽管口福乐含咖啡因，这些记录却没有得到证实。
The beverage is still served on tap in most of Bratislava’s bars and restaurants, and the company that makes it boasts a following of half a million people on Facebook, making it one of the most popular Czech/Slovak brands on the social networking website.
As the four of us left Marek’s family home and gave thanks for a wonderful evening, his mum passed each of us a huge slice of poppy seed cake wrapped in foil, and we promised to try ‘proper draught Kofola’ on our next visit to a pub.
Kofola has become so popular that knock-off versions of it have been produced in Slovakia. Linda Metesová, who gives food tours of Bratislava, laughed when she told me that after analogous brands like Lokálka became available, “pubs in Bratislava put up signs to advertise that they sell authentic Kofola.” Most people on her tours have not previously heard of Kofola, let alone Lokálka, and so when she gives her food tours she is keen for them to try the original version. She hears “it tastes like Jägermeister” a lot, noting that people are often surprised to discover that it’s not alcoholic.
As we drove away from Marek’s mum’s house, I reflected that the word ‘fake’ didn’t come up once during our conversation about the rich beverage. Kofola is perceived not as an imitation of Coca-Cola or Pepsi, but rather as a unique drink with a set of nostalgic associations that are deeply embedded in the two cultures. For Czechs and Slovaks, Kofola has come to represent a very specific period of their shared history.
It was against a backdrop of scarcity that Kofola became popular in Czechoslovakia. During the Soviet era, Western goods such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi were only available in Bratislava’s state-owned Tuzex stores for heavily inflated prices, and could be bought with bony coupons – which were produced by the state and were like golden tickets to a world of luxury items unavailable to most. There were apparently local girls (known disparagingly as ‘Tuzex girls’) who dated foreigners who could afford to purchase bony. There was even a burgeoning black-market trade in these coupons during the 1970s and ‘80s, and you would hear “need some bony?” whispered in hushed tones by suppliers on Bratislava’s street corners.
A cold glass of Kofola, on the other hand, offered refreshment without scandal.
Kofola was by no means the only alternative to American cola that proliferated behind the Iron Curtain. In East Germany, consumers could choose from brands such as Vita Cola, Quick Cola, Kaffee Cola and at least 14 others. The Polish People's Republic had their own variant, Polo Cockta, as did the USSR, with a drink called Baikal. Yugoslavia’s Cockta, which is still available today, is flavoured with caramel and rose hip.
在苏联的铁幕统治之下，美国可乐的替代品大量涌现，可不止口福乐这一种。在东德，消费者可以选择的品牌包括维他可乐（Vita Cola）、快客可乐（Quick Cola）、卡菲可乐（Kaffee Cola）和至少 14 个其他品牌。波兰人民共和国也有自己的同类产品——波罗柯柯达（Polo Cockta），前苏联也有一种饮料叫做贝加尔（Baikal）。南斯拉夫版的柯柯达如今仍然在卖，里面加了焦糖和野玫瑰果。
Yet Kofola’s distinct herbal taste has been key to its lasting success. Many of the other Cold War-era imitations matched the original product too accurately, and so could not compete with the originals when trade opened up after the fall of the Soviet Union. “My mum and her colleague managed to buy an expensive bottle of Fanta once in the 1980s,” Metesová recalled. “But after sharing it they were disappointed to find it tasted just the same as the fizzy orange [drink] sold in Czechoslovakia.” Kofola, on the other hand, which is noticeably less sweet than other cola drinks, offered a different refreshment experience altogether.
不过，口福乐独特的药草味才是它经久不衰的关键。冷战时期许多其他的仿品与原版太像，在苏联解体贸易放开后难以和原版竞争。“我妈妈和同事曾在 1980 年代设法高价买到了一瓶芬达，”梅特索夫回忆说。“但俩人喝完之后很失望，因为发现味道和捷克斯洛伐克卖的橘子汽水完全一样。”而口福乐明显没有其他可乐那么甜，喝起来感觉完全不同。
Although its flavour recalls a difficult period of Czech and Slovak history, Kofola’s present-day popularity is rooted firmly in nostalgia. When I asked Bratislavans about Kofola, it was their happy childhood memories that came to the fore. “I remember going with my dad to the pub and drinking draught Kofola with the other kids; we felt like adults,” said Martin Záhumenský, a Slovak chef and judge on MasterChef Slovensko.
尽管口福乐的味道会让人想起捷克和斯洛伐克那段困难的历史时期，但它今天的人气却深深植根于对往昔的怀念。当我向布拉迪斯拉发的居民问起口福乐时，涌上他们心头的都是快乐的儿时记忆。扎哈明斯克（Martin Záhumenský）是位斯洛伐克大厨，也是斯洛伐克电视节目《厨艺大师》（MasterChef Slovensko）的评审。他说：“我记得和爸爸一起去酒吧，同其他小朋友一起喝桶装的口福乐，我们感觉像大人一样。”
Today Kofola’s aromatic taste is still a beloved alternative to the sugary flavour of Coke or Pepsi, and demand for the drink now extends beyond the boundaries of Eastern Europe. There is demand for the drink amongst Czechs and Slovaks living in the UK, according to Anish Shah, director of Halusky, a supplier that specialises in the food and drink of these two nations. “We initially started selling just a few bottles in 2004, when the countries joined the EU. Today we sell pallet loads, perhaps 3,000 litres a month,” he told me. There is clearly money to be made keeping the diaspora in good supply.
时至今日，香味馥郁的口福乐仍是甜味可口可乐或百事可乐外的又一选择，仍然深受人们喜爱，而且需求已经不止限于东欧。沙阿（Anish Shah）是哈卢斯基公司（Halusky）的董事长，公司专门供应捷克和斯洛伐克两国的食品和饮料。他表示，生活在英国的捷克人和斯洛伐克人也要喝口福乐。他告诉我：“一开始就卖几瓶，当时是2004年，这两个国家刚刚加入欧盟。现在是一货板一货板卖，一个月能卖3,000 升。”保证口福乐在国外供应充足显然是一笔赚钱的买卖。
While Kofola purports to be healthier than mainstream colas (it contains roughly 30% less sugar than its big competitors, with no phosphoric acid at all), it is surely the sense of nostalgia and brand loyalty felt among its consumers that helped the company survive when the newly independent Czech and Slovak markets opened up to Western competitors in the 1990s. Kofola is now available in a variety of flavours, including lemon and vanilla.
口福乐声称比主流可乐健康（含糖量比大型竞争对手约少30%，而且不含磷酸），但可以肯定的是，在 1990 年代刚刚独立的捷克和斯洛伐克向西方竞争者开放市场时，让公司存活下来的是消费者的怀旧之情和品牌忠诚度。口福乐如今有多种口味，包括柠檬味和香草味。
When the four of us finally made it to the pub to sample proper Kofola on tap, it was colder and more refreshing than the bottled version we had previously tried. The heavy glasses accentuated the deep brown colour, and the herbal taste was much more pronounced. This was a small taste of life in Bratislava for four young men, two of whom not born here, and the other two too young to remember what it was like when Kofola was the only option.