In 2012, I took an overnight Greyhound from Toronto to Albany. It's the same bus route that takes you to New York City, which stops right after it crosses the border at a depot in Buffalo, where there's a ticket counter, a couple of marginally-better-than-the-one-on-the-bus bathrooms, and a few vending machines. And it was in one of those vending machines that, at around 2 AM in late October, I saw something I hadn't seen in years—a decade, maybe: a can of Tahitian Treat.
People who were kids in the 90s will remember the hot-pink, fizzy beverage as Tahiti Treat, which is what it was called when pre-aughts babies (or, more likely, their parents) were able to purchase it on the regular. Drake is one such millennial fan: he raps that he "used to hit the corner store to get Tahiti Treat" on Views track "Weston Road Flows." Back when Drizzy was drinking it, Tahitian Treat was as commonly stocked in grocery stores as fellow 90s pop faves Orbitz and Clearly Canadian. But while the latter two beverages have disappeared into obsolescence (or crowdfunding purgatory, as is the case with Clearly Canadian), Tahitian Treat is still around—it's just next to impossible to find north of the border.
The result is that it's become kind of a cult soda, a fizzy beverage whose admirers catalogue lists of regular convenience-store stockists to visit for a fix. Michael K. Newton is one of them—he actually requested to be called a "Tahitian Treat aficionado" for this article. The Toronto-based DJ (Noisey wrote about him late last year, when his monthly all-Smiths and Morrissey DJ night took a bow) and TRP Radio co-founder regularly Instagrams his Tahitian Treat hook-ups, but has two stores in downtown Toronto that he calls "failsafe": one at College and Dovercourt, just up the street from TRP, and Bloor Mini Mart at Bloor and Symington: "I've even once found a rare two-litre there," he told me.
READ MORE: Drake Is Brought Up During Another Interview with a Toronto Artist, We're Tired of Writing About This
Newton—like many Tahitian Treat fans—is picky about how the drink is described. He takes umbrage with the idea that it tastes anything like Hawaiian Punch, a sugary, similarly-hued beverage also produced by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (DPSG). To him, it tastes "like you would assume a punch bowl at a high school dance would, sans alcohol." He also keeps an eye out for analogues: the short-lived C Plus Fruit Frenzy, often erroneously cited online as DPSG's Tahitian Treat replacement, comes close; Crush's 2013 limited-edition summer flavour, which featured popular bro-rockers Hedley on its labelling, is another contender. "I recognized the guitarist from Hedley one night at a bar, so I went up to him and talked to him about the pop," Newton says. "People were asking to get their picture with him and I just kept hammering the Tahiti chat. He agreed that the flavor was similar."
Newton's Mini Mart is an oft-cited source of "rare" sodas—vanilla and cherry Cokes, for instance—on Reddit, which is itself a hotbed for Canadian Tahitian Treat seekers, tipsters, and conspiracy theorists. One thread from Toronto in 2013 suggests the bevvy is contraband in Canada (it isn't) because it contains the dye Red40, which is a banned substance here (it's not); another from Calgary points to Vintage Pop Shop in Airdirie as a source of Tahitian Treat (it's also stocked at the Gummi Boutique in Calgary, alongside Pineapple Crush, which you can normally only find in Newfoundland). Meanwhile, a message board on GTAmotorcycle.com suggests mixing ginger ale with Hawaiian Punch for DIY Tahitian Treat, while a Yahoo! Answers page seeking the drink from a full decade ago betrays Tahitian Treat's true rarity: "I'm in Toronto/Mississauga, and I've never heard of it before," a poster wrote. "I don't think it's in Canada yet."
Red-dye conspiracies, goose chases, and 90s nostalgia aside, the fact of the matter is simple: Tahitian Treat isn't distributed in Canada any longer because it's a tough sell. The bright pink, ambiguously flavoured, super-saccharine novelty beverage worked 20 years ago, when we were so unbothered by sugar that stores were selling soda with candy floating right in it. But as the pop-buying public grew wise to the health risks associated with chemical additives and drinking your weight in sugar, it was only natural that a beverage whose main descriptor—flavour- and colour-wise—is "artificial" would fall out of favour. DPSG cut back distribution of Tahitian Treat to the area where it sells best: the US, specificallty the southeast.
That's where Dave Repol gets it. He's the owner of Soda Pop Central, the niche beverage seller located in Whitby, Ontario. Repol figures that if anyone in the GTA is stocking Tahitian Treat, they're buying it from him: he orders the drink one skid—210 cases of 12 cans—at a time from a wholesale distributor in North Carolina, and regularly ships skids as far as BC. But he says that even if Canadian convenience stores wanted to go it alone and buy directly from US wholesalers, it'd be tough: most of them stock cold beverages in branded fridges, and if a Coca-Cola or Pepsi rep found Tahitian Treat on their shelves, they'd have it removed. "When I retire," Repol says, "I'm going to write a book about pop politics."
So for now, fans of the fluorescent-hued, maybe-kinda-fruit-punchy beverage will just have to keep their eyes peeled. Though you never know: last month, PepsiCo re-released Crystal Pepsi, the widely-derided 90s soda that is now all but flying off shelves. Partly, that's due to clever marketing: PepsiCo released the see-through soda alongside a video game called The Crystal Pepsi Trail, the brand's take on the classic 90s game The Oregon Trail. One can only imagine that a similar approach would work for Tahitian Treat, given its existing cult status. All they'd have to do is get Drake to sing the jingle.
Follow Rebecca Tucker on Twitter.