The remedy for your flat soft drink woes has been lurking in the backs of kitchen cupboards for around 40 years now. The latest model from SodaStream, the Revolution Drinksmaker, does the same job of creating homemade soda at a low cost, but even easier this time 'round, given it's the first fully-automatic version. While we discovered that it is pretty amazing at vaporizing vodka and other party tricks, is this product really worth shelling out £150?
What Is It?
An easy-to-use soft drink making machine for the home, re-designed from its 1970s predecessors with a simple 1-touch operation. It also allows you to control carbonation levels, so you can choose exactly how fizzy you want SodaStream's newest flavours (Dr. Pete, their version of Dr. Pepper; Highland Fizz, which is their take on Irn Bru; elderflower, and gingerbeer.)
Who's It For?
People who drink incredible amounts of soft drinks; live hundreds of miles away from the shops, or those who happen to really like the idea of 'homemade' fizzy drinks (and broken teeth.)
The unit fits neatly on a kitchen work surface, and owing to its slim black plastic design, it's fairly low profile. The only buttons on the device are for the four levels of carbonation you can choose between, just below a small digital display which only indicates how much CO2 is remaining in the canister, making it otherwise pointless. With a full CO2 canister, the unit has a bit of weight, but this only helps keep it sturdy, and overall, it looks reasonably well-made.
It comes with just one 1-litre bottle for carbonating water, which is defaced by loads of ugly warnings on its clear plastic surface.
Set-up is relatively simple, just requiring the opening of a back panel; twisting-in of the large CO2 canister, and then closing it back up. The LCD display and internals require power via the included adapter, which includes plugs for all regions so you can bring your SodaStream on a round-the-world holiday easily. Because other countries don't have fizzy drinks, amirite?
Operation is pretty simple: fill the included water bottle up to the indicated line with cold water. The manual suggests chilling this down even further in the fridge for better carbonation, but we didn't notice an obvious difference with cool or cold water. The top of the bottle is inserted into the SodaStream with a fair bit of upward pressure and then clicked back. This does require a small bit of manhandling the unit, as it will tip up if you don't use both hands. With the bottle clamped in place, just select a carbonation level and step back.
In most cases we chose the highest level, which produced a fizz similar to what you would get from a soft drink dispenser at a pub. The machine loudly injects CO2 into the water several times, which can be a slightly nervey experience the
first every time you have a go (we all reversed our bodies a good metre or so, in fear of something going wrong). The whole process takes a few seconds and a beep indicates when it's done. The bottle is then easily pulled forward, popping out of the machine from there.
At this point you can either enjoy some sparkling water, or add a cap full of flavouring syrup. This takes a little bit of skill, as the flavouring must be added very slowly to avoid a volcano of water exploding all over you (my first go was Mount St. Helens-esque).
The Best Part
Ever-ready fizzy drinks...as long as you haven't run out of CO2 or flavouring syrups.
You have to consume an enormous amount of soda to make this financially worthwhile. If you want to drink anything other than sparkling water, you are left using SodaStream's flavourings, which while not terrible (in some cases they are comparable to generic store bought soda), they are by no means the real deal when it comes to the taste of known brands. Lastly, if you really enjoy the burning fizz of canned or bottle soda, this product just doesn't come close to replicating that. At its highest setting (I'm still mystified as to why there are three lesser settings), the fizz is just on par with fountain soft drinks from a fast food shop.
And now, some numbers!
The break-even point for a SodaStream-made cola as compared to purchasing litre bottles of Coke in Tesco is 270 litres. So even if you are a massive fizzy drink addict, it will be about a year before that 'value' kicks in. And if you do enjoy a litre of soft drink per day, then the cost of fizzy drinks might be the least of your problems.
This Is Weird
There were enough warning labels on the CO2 cartridge to compel us to read the instructions very carefully, and the warning-laden water bottle seemingly will self destruct if even a drop of hot water touches it (might be due to stresses during carbonation).
We performed a highly scientific in-office blind taste test comparing three SodaStream flavours with comparable branded counterparts. The same five participants tried all the drinks and chose their preferred flavours:
IRN-BRU vs. Highland Fizz (SodaStream)
Not surprisingly, the special flavour of IRN-BRU won 4 to 1 on preferred taste over SodaStream's Highland Fizz. Some tasting notes: "Both were awful, but the Sodastream one was so disgustingly artificial, it was obviously the Sodastream one."
Dr. Pepper vs. Dr. Pete (SodaStream)
Dr. Pepper was preferred 4 to 1. While the taste is comparable, Dr. Pete is incredibly sweet and noticeably less-carbonated than a can of Dr. Pepper.
Old Jamaican Ginger Beer vs. Ginger Beer (SodaStream)
In a surprise finish, SodaStream's Ginger Beer won as the preferred flavour, just clinching the title 3 to 2. In this tight taste-off, one taster noted, "Really difficult to differentiate between the two; I'm a big fan of ginger beer (particularly the Old Jamaica brand) and drink it often, yet I couldn't immediately place my finger on which was which, nor which I preferred."
Overall, the resounding opinion was that SodaStream flavouring is most comparable to off-brand store-bought soft drink, and in some cases was noticeably sweeter and more artificial tasting than branded bottled drinks...which is amazing when you look at the incredibly "natural" colours of IRN-BRU.
Should You Buy It?
No. Unless you live very far and away from places that sell the fizzy stuff, or if sparkling water is your primary form of hydration. The machine works exactly as it says, but it's just not good enough for us to abandon the brand drinks we actually like to drink. From a cost perspective, the argument to buy this £149.99 machine is weak at best, and the need to purchase syrup for every 12 litres, and CO2 for every 60L (plus sending empty ones back) doesn't really sound like much convenience. In all, we fail to find any good reason why the SodaStream Revolution is worth purchasing.