I am a Diet Coke addict. I drink *way* too much of the stuff. I’d like to drink less–especially because of the caffeine. I’m also a gadget freak. I love gadgets of all kinds. So the SodaStream was a bit of a no-brainer. So last month, my wife got me one for my birthday.
If you live in a cave and haven’t heard of the SodaStream yet, it’s a home carbonation system. Think “giant seltzer bottle”. It lets you carbonate water and then add flavoring to create your own soft drinks at home.
How It Works
Basically, you put liquid in a bottle (water only, according to the manual–more on that later), then screw it into the SodaStream, and press the button a few times. Each time you press (and hold) the button, the CO2 is injected into the water, carbonating it. After 3-4 pushes, you unscrew the bottle, pour in your flavoring, cap it and mix. Then you’re ready to enjoy a freshly made carbonated beverage!
There are seven different models of the SodaStream, ranging from the low-end “Fountain Jet” to the high-end “Penguin” that actually carbonates your drinks in swanky glass carafes. All of them are essentially the same thing: a tank of carbon dioxide, a hose, a valve, and a nozzle that you can screw one of their bottles onto. I looked at the more expensive models, and frankly, they aren’t constructed any better than the lower end models. None of them are made especially well–lots of plastic. They all feel kind of cheap, especially compared to other kitchen appliances. But there’s also not much to them–they don’t have any electronics or anything. They are just CO2 delivery systems. So there’s also not a lot to break, I suppose.
One feature that I do think differentiates them is that most can only take the 14.5oz. CO2 cylinders, which will carbonate about 60 liters. SodaStream also sells a 33oz. cylinder, which is more cost effective–so I wanted the option to use the larger size, in case I got hooked. Fortunately, the lowest end “Fountain Jet” can accept both. The higher end ones can’t. I am really not sure how SodaStream made their design decisions. Other than styling, I can’t see any reason to buy any of the higher end versions of the SodaStream.
You can’t just use any old bottle with the SodaStream, you have to use their bottles. That’s somewhat understandable: you are injecting pressurized gas into the bottle. The wrong bottle, or a weak bottle could break, exploding liquid everywhere. The Fountain Jet comes with one bottle, but of course, if you end up using it a lot, or want to have different flavors around, you’ll have to invest in more bottles. The default size is 1 liter, which is fine. They do sell a smaller .5 liter size, but nothing bigger.
The most annoying thing about them is that the basic bottles are not dishwasher safe. Super. Annoying. They do sell a dishwasher safe bottle, but I have yet to see it on sale anywhere, so I have not been able to use it. They also sell replacement caps, so if you lose one, you can just buy the cap. The reason they claim the bottle isn’t dishwasher safe is that the heat weakens the plastic, which is valid I suppose–but I think they should just include the dishwasher safe bottle with all the kits. I’d pay a little more for that.
Using the SodaStream
It really couldn’t be easier. Step one: fill the bottle to the line with water. Step two: screw the bottle onto the SodaStream nozzle. Step three: press the button 3-4 times. Step four: unscrew and pour in the flavoring. Step five: cap and mix. Step six: drink!
One thing that took me back a bit the first time I used it: when you press and hold down the button to carbonate, you keep holding it until it “buzzes”. That first buzz can be a bit jarring. You get used to it, but that first time I thought I broke something.
Now, you’re supposed to only carbonate water, and then add the flavoring after you’ve carbonated it. Yeah, right. I’ve tried to carbonate all kinds of stuff–but I do have to warn you: I’ve also exploded liquid all over my kitchen. When you carbonate a liquid other than water, some react differently to the carbonation. If the pressure exceeds some threshold, it blows the valve on the SodaStream, and whoosh. Liquid explosion! So, I fully endorse experimentation, just be prepared to do some cleanup.
In general, I have found that adding whatever flavoring you are going to use after you carbonate is the better idea. But here’s another tip: use liquid flavorings. I was experimenting with some Crystal Light flavor packets, which are powdered. When you add a powdered flavoring, it’s an explosive mix–the powder (probably because of the increased surface area of the particles–but I’m not sure) causes the CO2 to be released really fast. So if you aren’t lightening fast with the cap, you get to clean up again. The solution: just pre-mix the powder in a little bit of water to make your own flavor syrup first. That makes it much easier.
I’ve been experimenting with pretty much any kind of drink you can make. But SodaStream sells a number of flavors you can add: Cola, Root Beer, Ginger Ale, Orange Drink, Lemon-Lime, Cran-Raspberry, Pink Grapefruit, Energy Drink, etc. Most of them also come in a diet version, made with Splenda. Overall, they aren’t too bad.
One thing to note, which I think is a bit duplicitous: most of the non diet versions of the SodaStream flavors also contain Splenda (sucralose). That helps them advertise lower calories than Coke/Pepsi, but if you’re trying to go au natural, this is a huge fail. SodaStream is now marketing “All Natural” flavors–which are in addition to, not replacing, the regular flavors–so there are non-sucralose versions of their cola, but I still think they are trying to pull a fast one.
One thing is for sure: if you are a Diet Coke fan, forget about it. The “Diet Cola” flavor–while not bad–is no substitute. To me, it tastes a little like Diet Coke with Splenda, but mostly it tastes like RC. It’s not bad, but I’m not giving up Diet Coke for it anytime soon. Update: The Diet flavor sucks. There is a bad aftertaste that I just can’t get past. It was mild at first, but once I noticed it, I can’t not notice it. I won’t be buying it again.
In fact, I found most of the flavors to be somewhat lacking, compared to commercial soda’s available. The “Orange” flavor isn’t bad. The Ginger Ale is merely OK. The “Diet Dr. Pete” isn’t bad–but oddly doesn’t seem to hold carbonation for squat. The Diet Lemon-Lime is pretty awful. The flavors that stood out, to me, are the Cran-Raspberry, which was pretty tasty, and the Pink Grapefruit, which I thought would be like Squirt, but was actually much more “grapefruity” and not bad at all. The Diet Root Beer is OK, too. It will never beat a premium root beer, but it’s not bad to be able to make on demand.
The nice thing about using the SodaStream official flavors is that they mix well. And you can easily tweak how much flavoring you add, according to your own tastes. What I would *highly* recommend, though, is that before you spend the $5-7 for a full bottle of any particular flavor, you pick up the SodaMix Variety Pack. It comes with 12 samples of the various flavors, so you can try them before you commit. It’s well worth the investment, believe me. One really annoying thing about the bottles, though, is that they come with a “built in measuring cap” which is basically a cap with a little shot glass in it. Unfortunately, there are no clear markings, so I wasn’t clear on how to measure–turns out, you just fill it to the top. However, it doesn’t pour very well. They could have easily moulded in a little dimple/spout so that the syrup would pour smoothly. As it is, I always end up getting some of it poured down the side, etc. which makes a mess. That’s supposed to be the point of the built in measurer: convenience and no mess. Doesn’t work very well.
The Bottom Line
Should you get a SodaStream? Depends. If you are looking at it because you think it’s going to save you money by making your own soda, then I’m skeptical. Taste the mixes at a store sampling or at someone else’s house, first. I don’t think the flavors hold up to most commercial brands well enough to think of the SodaStream as a replacement for them–unless you really don’t care. For many drinks, I don’t care (like orange drink) but some, like Diet Coke, I do care–the SodaStream is not going to make me give up Diet Coke. Probably ever.
If you are looking at it because you’re a dork like me and you want to experiment with different flavors and carbonate everything in sight, then go for it. It’s a relatively cheap gadget to play with making your own carbonated drinks. You can mix and match with the SodaStream flavors… you can try other commercial drink mixes… or you can get super inventive and make your own! (I’m going to try making my own ginger ale at some point.)
Overall, it might not be a soda replacement system, but it’s a pretty fun kitchen toy if you like to tinker.