In prehistoric times when I was a teenager, the SodaStream was an object of aspiration for many families, while the Kidman boys sobbed into their No Frills cordial. It eventually disappeared into the same retail vacuum as Amstrad 3-inch floppy discs, but since 2010 Sodastream has returned to the market. Does it still do the biz when it comes to the fizz?
At Lifehacker, we're all for anything that cuts down on your shopping bill. We're also all for anything that stops trucks full of flavoured water being shipped around a nation where there are taps accessible almost everywhere. So we were very pleased to get our hands on a review SodaStream Genesis unit (it sells for $99.95) and a bunch of sample flavours to see how well it works.
If you're not across the basic concept, it works like this: the SodaStream lets you carbonate chilled tap water, to which you then add flavouring in order to produce your own soft drink. It doesn't have licensing deals, so you can't make Coke, but you can make cola. We got sent four flavours to try: cola, ginger beer, orange and Xstream (an energy drink, though only powered by caffeine).
Setting up the device attracted a lot of excited commentary around the office. Quite a lot of this was because everyone knows that the SodaStream makes a farting noise when you carbonate the water. (You do this first, before adding the flavour and shaking.) Kotaku editor Mark eventually stopped laughing when this happened, but our night editor Elly giggled every single time.
Operating the device is straightforward: attach the bottle, press the button until it "buzzes", stop, repeat once. In truth, the biggest challenge is remembering to fill the bottle and refrigerate it so you can use chilled water.
The flavour syrup is, well, syrupy. The bottles also look oddly like laundry detergent. Sniffing it is certainly not recommended, especially in the case of Xstream, which smells like cough syrup gone mad. Our office tech/design/carbonation guru Ben, who already owns a SodaStream, assures me you can use regular cordial just as well.
Of the flavours we sampled, the universal favourite was the ginger beer, which was very well rendered. The orange was also nice, and using a half/half mix of ginger beer and orange was much better-tasting than you might suspect. The cola tasted exactly like any generic brand cola; not unpleasant, but not, let's face it, Coke. I don't like energy drinks, but our publisher Danny is a fan. He drank Xstream, but he then felt the urge to follow with a Red Bull chaser. This may not have been wise.
For the sake of completeness, we also carbonated plain water to make a soda water/mineral water clone. This was fizzy and pleasant, but actual mineral water has a slightly salty edge which normal water obviously isn't going to replicate.
Despite my well-known klutz nature, we only had one "incident": the cola got a bit enthusiastic when the flavouring was added. That could have been due to me being over-enthusiastic with the carbonation, of course.
The economics of SodaStream stack up quite well compared to paying for your own soft drinks. The machine aside, you're looking at prices between $6.95 and $8.95 for the official syrups (which are sold through a bunch of retailers and also through the Sodastream site.
The most expensive item for what it is are the official bottles: $17.80 for a twin-pack of the official bottles. You can't use other bottles for a carbonation, since there's a proprietary cap size, but there's nothing to stop you from decanting from a single bottle and chilling water in a large jug if you don't want to buy lots of "official" bottles to keep in the fridge. Gas refills start from $20, but that's a rarer event in any case. (Weirdly, you actually "license" rather than outright own the gas cylinder because of safety regulations.)
If you consume a lot of soft drink, getting a SodaStream could well make sense. As well as reducing costs, you'll carry a lot less shopping home from the supermarket. I could suggest just drinking water, but this is Australia and soft drink is one of the top-selling supermarket products.
Got your own Sodastream stories or tactics to share? Tell us in the comments.
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