Liquid Thinking

What can TikTok teach us?

19th April 2023

From parmesan espresso martinis to jalapeno rosé, and Champagne and cola; yes, the roster of drinks trends to emerge from TikTok in recent times may sound like a shopping list for the insane. But there’s method behind the madness. Each of these weird sounding flavour combos have some solid flavour science behind them. And what’s more, they’re being embraced by curious consumers keen to replicate whatever fad the social media platform delivers next. So, what can brands learn from this bold approach to both serves and flavour? 

Not since the ice bucket challenge (ummm hmmm) has social media delivered up a series of trends so silly and easily replicable as the recent raft of drinks trends offered by TikTok. And not since dropping a Mento in a bottle of Coca Cola, have consumers been so entertained by trying an unusual drinks experiment for themselves.

They may not be for a good cause – other than to satisfy an innate urge to mix things that truly sound like they shouldn’t go together – but consumers are not only willingly trying them, they’re recording and sharing their efforts, thus perpetuating each madcap combo ever further. 

Let’s look at the evidence. Summer 2022 delivered us the jalapeno rosé. But, why? The trend started by TikTok user Allyssa Marshall encouraged consumers to add sliced jalapenos to their rosé wine. That’s it. Said to transform particularly overly sweet or ‘cheap’ wines to something more palatable, other than testing a bonkers sounding combination, there was incentive for consumers to try it. The heat from the peppers, so the theory goes, dulls your perception of sweetness, giving the wine a drier taste profile. 

Thanks, Tom Hanks

But we can’t just blame TikTok. Proving that odd flavour combos have the ability to go viral wherever they come from, we apparently have Tom Hanks to thank for the combination of cola and Champagne, or Diet Cokagne as the beloved actor has christened it. Naughty. During an appearance on The Late Show, the actor explained how he’d had the brainwave at a party, accidentally creating a viral trend. If you are tempted to give it a shot, three parts Coke and one part Champagne is the magic ratio. 

Since picked up by TikTok users, #dietcokagne now has over 13.2 million views on the platform, with seemingly no end to the number willing to risk their pricey bubbles in an experiment liable to go horribly wrong. But apparently it works, with the dry, biscuity saltiness of the Champagne a good match for the slight spice of the cola. Who knew. 

Cheese and coffee? Sure

So how did cheese end up in a coffee cocktail? The current trend ‘popping off’ across the interwebs is not for the timid. Jordan Hughes, @highproofpreacher on TikTok, appears to be the culprit for bringing a creation by mixologist Jonathan Stanyard, to the masses. 

His original drink, the Truffletini, combined black truffle infused Cognac, fresh espresso, coffee liqueur and lactic-vanilla demerara syrup. Hughes’ twist on that creation has been the much simpler – and easily replicable – addition of grated parmesan and a little salt to the top of the caffeinated tipple. Again, the consensus is, that it works. And its another viral hit with individual videos on TikTok having millions of views each, alongside numerous think pieces popping up everywhere from the Daily Mail to USA Today. 

Power in playfulness

So why are TikTok drinks trends becoming so powerful? One, they’re global. Limited in their ability to spread across the world, only by merit of how interesting or not they are, it seems that the more bonkers, the better. As such, users are incentivised to share their most surprising flavour combinations and are readily doing so. And as the social media eco-system feeds on viral content, don’t expect them to slow down any time soon. As the audience grows, more and more drinks combinations will emerge.

At its heart, that’s a genius way of marketing, spreading through word of mouth far beyond the platform’s reaches. Each bizarre twist has delivered a think piece far and wide across the media, from the New York Times, to Metro and Buzzfeed.  

And secondly, although combining somewhat incongruous flavours, all of these drinks are so easily replicable, with the ingredients readily available. Though strange or unexpectedness is key, so is accessibility. What all the most successful trends have in common, is that they mix easily sourced ingredients most people will already have to hand.

Accessible experimentation

DIY is an important element here; consumers have to be able to create these combos themselves, and therein lies the fun. It’s clear there’s an opportunity for brands to be bolder and more playful in their suggested serves or flavour combinations if they too want to capture the imagination and attention of new consumer groups. A big take out for brands is to look at how far a drinks trend can go thanks to social media, when any sense of preciousness or snobbiness (in the best possible way) is removed and the pervasive mood of playfulness is embraced and tapped into. 

Rather than searching for talking-point flavour combos for a final product, brands should look at what, scientifically of course, pairs well with their existing brands. Encouraging consumers to play, while also educating them on the characteristics and capabilities of their liquid, is an easy win. 

But it’s what these drinks trends tell us about consumers themselves that might be most interesting, and useful for brands. People want to be entertained, and flavour and serves are a great and massively under-utilized way of doing just that. Why shouldn’t brands be more playful with their serves? As long as the flavour science works, consumers are more than happy to give it a go. 


Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

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