For reasons no one I’ve talked to here is sure of, last week we got a lot of free samples of Tava, Pepsi’s new fruit-flavored, caffeine-free “zero calorie sparkling beverage” at our office*. We love free shit as much as the next guy, and as rule around here, anything that’s up for grabs gets snapped up quick, regardless of whether it’s any good. But the Tava–well, we still have a refrigerator full (literally) and it’s not going very fast.

Looking at the ingredient list–sparkling water, citric acid, natural flavor, citrus pectin, aspartame, and a bunch of preservatives, dyes, and vitamins–it’s not hard to see why. Nothing in this stuff has ever come near any real fruit as far as I can tell. One coworker described its taste as “synthetic,” while another who’s particularly sensitive to aspartame thought it had an aftertaste of burned plastic.

I thought an intern pretty much nailed the taste when she compared it to “bad Kool-Aid,” (although I didn’t know there was any such thing as good Kool-Aid–I thought people just used it to dye stuff). Asked to rank the flavors, another intern declared the Tahitian Tamure “really nasty,” the Brazilian Samba “less nasty,” and the Mediterranean Fiesta “least nasty.” The best review I’ve heard is from a coworker who thought it was too sweet, but since we were standing next to a refrigerator full of it, grabbed a can, saying, “Well–it’s free. Maybe I’ll get used to the taste.”

Possibly the most interesting thing about Tava is that, according to the New York Times, Pepsi is marketing its new product mainly online, skipping the traditional television and print ads. But when I google “Tava,” the first three nonsponsored links that come up are a Wikipedia entry and the Transgender Americans Veterans Association Web site (twice). Then come some suggestions that maybe I meant to type “Teva,” and finally, “Also see tava pepsi.” If they’re really all about the online market, they might want to pay more attention to these things, and maybe get some Web gurus to move it up the list. It doesn’t look like its popularity is going to be moving it up anytime soon.

*It’s been pointed out to me that my first sentence isn’t totally clear. To clarify: we get stuff all the time from companies trying to get publicity; what’s unusual isn’t that we got free samples of Tava, but that we got so many of them.