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The Truth About Caf-Pow On NCIS

As much as we enjoy the explosions, kidnappings, and shootouts NCIS gives us over and over, we never forget that Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and his fellow field agents would be nothing without the support of the team back at the lab. That's where the real grunt work happens — and just like in real offices, much of that work is fueled by caffeine.

But while Gibbs takes his energy boost in the form of many cups of coffee, the show's most famous energetic beverage is forensic scientist Abby Sciuto's (Pauley Perrette) favorite energy drink, Caf-Pow. This is served in huge red-lidded cups — although we have also seen a miniature version and a pink-lidded Valentine's Day special edition — and promises "X-Treme Caffeine."

Sciuto's drink of choice has become such a signature of the show that you can buy your own Caf-Pow merch. There are even unofficial recipes that try to replicate the drink's famously high caffeine content so you can try to get that crime-solving buzz yourself. But how did the drink become a fixture of the show, and what is actually in those giant cups? Here's the truth about Caf-Pow on NCIS.

The NCIS creators always knew Abby would have a caffeine addiction

Caf-Pow appears so often in NCIS that some international viewers thought it was a real drink! Alas, Caf-Pow is a fictional brand. Fans have suggested that the name probably came from combining 'caffeine' and 'power' or referencing the classic comic book punchline "POW!"

The man who created Caf-Pow the brand and much of the rest of the graphic design you see in NCIS is Doug Reilly. He's been with the show since the beginning and previously worked on JAG, the show that originated NCIS.

The creators of NCIS knew early on that they wanted Sciuto to look like a goth (that's Sciuto's tattoos on NCIS explained) while flipping the doom-and-gloom trope on its head by making her super energetic and bubbly. During a Q&A session at NCIS Fan Fest 2008, Reilly recalled that they wanted her to always be hyped up on caffeine. He says that originally Caf-Pow was going to be a bottle of caffeine pills, until it was decided that having a character popping energy pills all day at work was a bad look.

According to Reilly, his first iteration of the Caf-Pow cup was a lot smaller and blander. But when it became clear that the drink was going to be a mainstay of the show, he redesigned it with a bolder, brighter look, including the famous red lids. These later got a temporary blue makeover for the decaf version, No-Caf-Pow, and the Christmas version, which contained nutmeg.

It wasn't energy drink Pauley Perrette was drinking all day

Fortunately for the sake of actress Pauley Perrette's nerves, it's not really energy drink in those huge cups. In 2009 she told CBS News, "For the first six years it was Hawaiian punch but then I quit eating and drinking refined sugar, so now I have unsweetened cranberry juice." According to Perrette, it's a pretty intense flavor — "like five billion percent raw cranberries." Her co-star Sean Murray, who plays Sciuto's on-again, off-again love interest Tim McGee, confirmed that Perrette's raw cranberry juice is not for the fainthearted. No matter where you see the NCIS cast, you won't find them stealing a sip of Caf-Pow.

Another difference between Sciuto and Perrette's drinks is the size. Perrette is not swigging Caf-Pow-sized cups of cranberry juice during filming (which probably wouldn't be medically advisable). Instead, Reilly explained that the props team put a type of glue into the bottom of the cup and fixed a can of Perrette's drink of choice in place. That way she can swig through the extra-long straw but only consume a regular can-sized amount of drink. Now you know one of the NCIS secrets no one will ever tell you — but just like much of the show, we don't recommend trying this at home.