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The Confidential Spanish Origin of Coca-Cola

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Everyone knows what Coca-Cola is, the world’s most popular and marketed soft drink. They say it was invented in Atlanta in 1886 by an American pharmacist, John Stith Pemberton. But have you ever heard about the theory that supports the Spanish origin of Coca-Cola? This is what the inhabitants of a small village in Valencia, Aielo de Malferit, have been arguing for decades!

And, just like Coca-Cola, there are other things that Spaniards claim as their own, such as the origin of the Wild West! But now, let’s delve into the Spanish origins of this beverage that is enjoyed by both young and old alike.

Aielo de Malferit, the small town where people say the original Coca-Cola comes from.

A group of friends’ dream

Bautista Aparici, Ricard Sanz and Enric Ortiz were a group of friends who decided to create drinks and liquors in 1880.

They set up a small factory in Aielo de Malferit which produced syrups, horchatas, and distillates. The Aielo Liquor Factory quickly gained popularity in Spain due to the creativity and innovation of its owners, who won several awards and even became a supplier to the Royal House. Their liquors, apart from their exquisite taste, had very original names that captured the public’s attention: For example, Amor Perfecto (Perfect Love), Placer de Damas (Ladies’ Delight), or Lágrimas de Contribuyente (Taxpayer’s Tears).

But, if there was one syrup that stood out, it was their ‘Celestial Anise’ (which they later called ‘Kola-Coca Nut’). This alcoholic liquor was made from Kola nut and Peruvian coca leaves. In Spain, they advertised it as a digestive and restorative syrup, which was also highly regarded by doctors.

Coca leaves (from Peru) and Kola nuts (West Africa) were the main ingredients of Kola Coca.
A 1880s advert of Kola Coca which higlighted all its benefits

Kola-Coca’s success abroad

The success of Kola-Coca Nut didn’t stop in Spain. The company soon began to participate in European competitions, such as the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition, when the Eiffel Tower was inaugurated. Also, they participated in a beverage contest in Philadelphia in 1885, a year before the official birth of Coca-Cola.

The Spanish product was highly successful in this American competition, appealing to people from all around the world. Due to its popularity, one of the three friends left samples of Kola-Coca Nut in the United States. They had no idea about what was about to come!

Baptista Aparici, one of the creators of Nuez de Kola Coca.

Plagiarism and the purchase of the patent

The Juan Micó family, the current owners of the liquor factory, still maintain that it was at that competition where the Spanish drink was plagiarised. The reason? Kola-Coca had been in the United States a year before Coca-Cola was even invented!

In 1886, pharmacist John S. Pemberton created a medicinal syrup with a blend of coca leaves and cola seeds. Initially, he would call it Wine Cola. That was before his accountant proposed naming it Coca-Cola, which then became a huge phenomenon. The Kola-Coca Nut was also a syrup, as evidenced by the early labels and the Diploma of Extraordinary Merit that the Spanish company won in London in 1882. Was this new American drink a coincidence? Spanish people didn’t believe so.

Coca-Cola’s popularity started growing worldwide in the 20th century. Because there was already a drink with a similar name and ingredients in Spain, Coca-Cola company travelled to Valencia with the intention of buying the patent. According to a German newspaper, Coca-Cola executives had to pay 30,000 pesetas (around 190$/£150) in order to be able to distribute their drink.

So, what happened to Kola-Coca?

The Kola-Coca Nut continued to be produced in Spain, but with alcohol. Nevertheless, the Ayelo liquor factory (one of the oldest in Spain) still survives. On its walls hang the medals and diplomas from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a glorious time when their drinks were a symbol of creativity and innovation.

The company still sells handcrafted liquours of great quality. Some of them, such as Amor Perfecto or the Kola-Coca are sometimes served at weddings or special events as genuine rarities! And, suddenly, it happens: Around a table, the guests toast with a mysterious black drink that immediately reminds them of something.

You can visit Destilería Ayelo and learn more about its history. Image from: Destilerías Ayelo.

So, what do you think? Do you also believe in the Spanish origin of Coca-Cola?

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