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So, imagine you are a prospective merchant named Joe, who happens to live in a post-apocalyptic world. One day, you and your business partners visit Atlanta and find -- drumroll please -- the recipe for Coca-Cola. Immediately, you acquire all the needed ingredients (carbonated water, sugar etc.) and make the first bottles of coke in the last 500 years. It cost a lot to make the coke though, so it costs an arm and a leg for anyone who wants to try it, about 4,000 USD for one bottle.

Why would coke be valuable enough to consumers to be worth that purchase price?

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  • $\begingroup$ Who has the most purchasing power in your world and is that population large enough to develop a market for soft drinks? $\endgroup$ – user49647 Apr 30 '18 at 15:51
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The value of an object is in what it represents, more than what it actually costs.

Take wine for example. Some expensive wines are really quite similar to cheap wines from a processing and cost point of view, yet vary hugely in price. A glass of Moet is 10 times more expensive than your standard bubbly - but besides minor variations they are essentially the same.

The difference is actually that Moet is seen as an upper class drink - to be had on special occasions only. Standard other drinks don't have the same representative backing and are thus not able to sell for as much.

In your situation it is very easy to see how a bottle of coke could be $4000. It could simply be that it represents a better, more advanced time, and thus those that drink it are aspiring to that same status.

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  • $\begingroup$ Regarding wine I can assure you from personal experience that the price of a given wine is influenced by much more than its image - image plays an important role, but other factors such as quality of soil, agricultural techniques, know-how, and most importantly the care and expertise going into one's vintage are very important in determining the wine's value, even between neighboring domains.Saying there are "minor variations" is simplistic to say the least, in taste too Also not sure the upperclass factor would still be relevant in a postapocalyptic world - fancyness has few incidence there. $\endgroup$ – Kaloyan Apr 30 '18 at 4:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Kaloyan: But to me, and I think to a great many people, those variations are minor, in the sense that we can't percieve any significant difference between the cheap and expensive wines. Consider all the blind tastings where different wines are poured from the same bottle... $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 30 '18 at 4:38
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    $\begingroup$ From this answer, it sounds like the best background for "Get rich off discovering Coca Cola" would be if soft drinks are already a popular luxury item, and then being able to say "... But WE discovered the original, authentic Coca Cola recipe, for the most timeless of flavors..." and the like, so you immediately get to be "the best version" of something desirable rather than needing to start from convincing people they want it at all. $\endgroup$ – Kamil Drakari Apr 30 '18 at 20:02
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Scarcity. Go over to your spice cabinet: I bet you can find at least 2 in there that were the focus of real, historical wars or genocide campaigns. There was a point in time when cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon were literally worth their weight in gold. The entirety of china was destabilized and subjugated just because brits decided tea was pretty cool. Your Coca-cola not only represents something from a fabled bygone golden-era, it's also rare. Demand drives price, and your soda merchant is the only guy who can make it. If a lot of people want something and only one guy can give it to them then he can charge basically anything he wants.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good point. Although I should add that from a perspective of their value, spices were in fact much, much more valuable than their weight in gold (even tho I know you just said that as a metaphor). The single ship that managed to return from Magellan's expedition to Portugal (out of a fleet of 3 or 4 bigger ships) carried enough spices to cover the entire (quite disastrous) expedition's costs and make a profit on top of that, just to give you an image. $\endgroup$ – Kaloyan Apr 30 '18 at 4:30
  • $\begingroup$ Demand must exist for scarcity to raise the price. Scarcity of something nobody wants doesn't lead to vast inflation in price. Also, China had a monopoly on silk and porcelain for a long time. They also have a fun array of things like opium poppies and exotic spices. $\endgroup$ – The Nate Jul 17 '18 at 2:28
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Two immediate benefits I can think of :

  • Safety of consumption : canned foods have a notoriously long expiration date, and while soda cans don't last quite as long as actual canned food (which can - technically - be consumed even decades after it's sealed) it would still have a decent expiration date. Also, an unopened can is a guarantee for the fact the its contents have not been open prior, something which might be important to consider in an environment where most water sources would probably not be safe to drink from.
  • NOSTALGIA ! Just imagine the scene : after a long excruciating odyssey through the wasteland, your protagonist finds a can of his favorite soda, an open window to his past, tranquil life, as well as a rare occasion for a short sugary break.
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  • $\begingroup$ I can't belive it! I was just writting about the nostalgic effect, but I wasn't able to find the correct word! +1 $\endgroup$ – Ender Look Apr 30 '18 at 2:07
  • $\begingroup$ Cheers ! I'm sure it could make for a really good scene $\endgroup$ – Kaloyan Apr 30 '18 at 2:09
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    $\begingroup$ You don't need Coke for point 1; that's a benefit of bottling, regardless of what you bottle. Point 2 doesn't apply if it's the first Coke made in 500 years, as nobody alive has ever had Coke. $\endgroup$ – chepner Apr 30 '18 at 3:46
  • $\begingroup$ Fair points. I'd object that you can very much feel nostalgic about an era you have never experienced though. Any good old book will have you feel that. $\endgroup$ – Kaloyan Apr 30 '18 at 4:36
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Coke from prewar might be one of the only safe things to drink, so counterfeiting it might be extremely valuable. People are willing to pay a lot to be sure they won't be infected with a plague or poisoned.

Alternately, people could just have an association to safety with it, the problems with water supply being mostly solved by the time in question.
"Coke is safe to drink." is a great meme for sales even if the danger of not drinking it is really low.

For people to spend loads of resources on a beverage means one of only two things:

  1. The beverage is required for their continued survival.
  2. The person in question has an abundance of resources.

All rational answers are going to need one or both of these.

Since Coke isn't a particularly efficient approach to providing it's nutritional benefits compared to, say, its constituent parts, there needs to be a reason it's desired or that it's needed. Warm fuzzy feelings or a severe lack of water could suffice. As Flox points out, status is another possible reason.

Caffeine and sugar are useful in various circumstances, some of which are medical, also.

(Sidenote: Without something to correlate the number, any price tag is mostly meaningless. 4k in dollar bills requires we know what inflation's been doing. If you mean it's equivalent to $4k of modern money buying munitions, say, we have a much more concrete image of the value of this beverage.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Err... But Coke isn't safe to drink :-) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 30 '18 at 4:39
  • $\begingroup$ Why are you all answer like it was bottled coke found instead of mere recipe like it stated in the question. Merchant will make coke using this recipe from the ingredient he will get, so water in coke won't be safer than just water in bottle, 'cos it's same water. $\endgroup$ – user28434 Apr 30 '18 at 9:39
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    $\begingroup$ Is "counterfeit" not part of your vocabulary? $\endgroup$ – The Nate Apr 30 '18 at 9:55
  • $\begingroup$ And, the second point about nostaligia and coke reputation: it first coke made in 500 years, people in current timepoint have no idea what was that, and if it's safe or not. For them coke is like passum for Xth century europeans. You don't counterfeit products like that, they have no brand and recognizability. And building reputation of safe beverage from scratch while brewing it from same local pisswater you have around may be not so successfull as you think. P.S. use @nick when answering, that way people may get notified about your answer. $\endgroup$ – user28434 May 2 '18 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ @user28434 Consider the medieval era. There were numerous items that the ancients did better than the modern medieval craftsman could accomplish and they knew it. They spent considerable efforts duplicating the wonders of the ancient world because they had descriptions and fragments of preserved knowledge that revealed just how far they had fallen. (in reality, much of that was hype, though much was true) So, even if no one touched the wonders of ancient Coca Cola in generations, it's perfectly rational for its legend to live on. $\endgroup$ – The Nate May 3 '18 at 0:06

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