NO ONE will ever know if Asa Candler was having a bad day 95 years ago when two men walked into his office in Atlanta, Georgia with a business proposition. Candler owned the rights to a 13-year-old 'delicious and refreshing' health drink invented by alocal pharmacist and sold for five cents a glass in soda fountains. The pair, Benjamin Franklin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead, lawyers from Chattanooga, Tennessee, approached Candler and asked if he wanted to sell the bottling and sales rights for the drink in the United States. Candler mulled the proposition over for a few minutes and agreed to sell the rights for a token $1, telling the men: 'This bottling idea of yours - it will never catch on.' The drink, of course, was Coca-Cola, the dark fizzy elixir that has achieved the sort of world domination mad dictators dream about. At the company museum in Atlanta 7,500 units of the soft drink are added every second to the electronic scoreboard that displays the running total of drinks sold since 1886. If all the Coca-Cola ever produced was placed in the distinctive bottles and laid end to end, it would stretch to the moon and back 1,045 times. All of which would lead to questions about Candler's well-being on that day in 1899. He had bought the rights to the drink from the inventor, Dr John Styth Pemberton, two years after he had concocted the syrup. To be fair, Candler showed remarkable acumen in marketing the product, reproducing the logo on trays, calendars, fans, urns and even as an advertisement on the back of local school reports. He was also one of the first people to understand the value of the celebrity endorsement, getting vaudeville stars to promote his product. By the time his interests were sold to the bankers in 1919 they were worth US$25 million, an impressive total for the time. When the take-home six-pack was introduced in 1923, Coca-Cola was already a big seller in Hong Kong and China as well as the Philippines, Central America and Europe. When the US entered World War II in 1941, then president Robert Woodruff ordered the company to make the drink available to all US servicemen for five cents a bottle, wherever they were, no matter what the cost to Coca-Cola. It was a remarkable public relations and marketing move. Not only were five billion bottles consumed by the troops but the 64 bottling plants set up in war theatres offered many local people their first taste of the beverage. Between 1945 and 1960 consumption doubled as Coca-Cola expanded into practically every corner of the world. The company's products now account for almost half of all the soft drinks bought worldwide. In Hong Kong the operation run by Swire Bottlers accounts for 80 per cent of the territory's soft drink consumption and Coca-Cola makes up 58 per cent of the total. The company, which was thrown out of China after the 1949 revolution, re-entered the country in 1979 and seven years later began building a concentrate plant in Shanghai. Currently, 13 Chinese bottling operations serve 384 million people; a figure that will expand to 868 million when 10 planned facilities come on line. The prospect of all those millions thirsting for a glass of Kekou Kele has company executives licking their lips. Naturally such a global institution has a museum, The World of Coca-Cola on Martin Luther Drive in Atlanta, the only American city where Pepsi Cola is as rare as prehistoric mammoth steaks. (Coke's bitter rival is also unavailable on Delta Airlines, the Atlanta-based carrier.) The three-storey building bulges with memorabilia, equipment, documents, interactive displays, film shows and a 'kinetic sculpture' representing a fanciful bottling line with bottles taken from Coca-Cola plants globally. One display in which it is worth spending a little more time is the reproduction of a small town 1930s soda fountain with its cast-iron chairs, marble-topped tables and bar. Using a 1935 model dispenser, a 'soda jerk' prepares servings of Coca-Cola using the syrup base with chilled soda water while telling listeners that the shops used to serve myriad varieties of cola flavours including, strawberry, vanilla, orange and even carrot. Students of kitsch might want to linger in the kiosks playing 20 radio jingles recorded in the 1960s by everyone from Roy Orbison, Aretha Franklin, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, the Everly Brothers, Linda Ronstadt and The Supremes. Or the theatre with a never-ending reel showing 'highlights of classic television commercials'. Or the video showing the re-shooting of the 1971 advertisement that spawned the irritatingly hummable song 'I'd like to teach the world to sing'. Coke fanatics could be forgiven for taking a quick-march through the exhibits to reach Club Coca-Cola on the second floor where the company's US products, including Tab, Cherry Coke and Minute Maid, arc three metres through the air before gurgling into your cup. Next door the International Lounge has 18 non-American products on tap including the Czech Republic's sour cherry Cappy, the British pineapple/grapefruit Lilt, the revolting Fanta Peach from Botswana, the impossibly tart quinine aperitif Beverly of Italy and the stomach-churning 'pineapple' drink from Paraguay, Simba Pina. And then there is Coke food. Using the sweet drink in a recipe for Brazilian iced chocolate seems quite logical but its inclusion in Japanese pickled cauliflower, Indian chicken curry, French onion soup, twin cheese dip, mustard herb dressing and Chinese pepper steak seems downright perverse. Chinese pepper steak ? kilo boneless top round or sirloin steak 2 tbs oil 1 clove garlic, minced 1 tsp salt 1 cup canned beef broth 1 cup sliced green pepper 1 cup sliced celery stick cup sliced onions cup Coca-Cola 2 medium tomatoes 21? tbs cornflour 1 tbs soy sauce Trim fat from meat and cut into thin strips. Heat oil, garlic and salt in deep skillet. Add meat and brown over high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add beef broth, cover and simmer for 15 or 20 minutes. Stir in green pepper, celery, onions and half cup of Coca-Cola. Cover and simmer for five minutes. Do not overcook. Peel tomatoes and cut into wedges, gently stir into meat. Blend cornflour with quarter cup of Coca-Cola and soy sauce. Stir into meat and cook until thickened. Serve with steamed rice. Serves six.