Many people prefer fountain drinks over canned or bottled soda. There's a reason for that: Fountain drinks utilize a different syrup mixing process that creates a slightly different taste and are often fresher than the bottled or canned option.
But where can you find the best fountain drinks? Success will be had based on several factors, including the freshness of the syrup, the temperature at which the beverage is served, the ratio of the syrup to the water and whether the water has gone through a filtration process.
Freshness increases at high-traffic locations
In regards to syrup: The fresher the better, according to delishably.com. The longer syrup sits in a dispenser, the older and warmer the syrup gets. Since colder and fresher typically tastes better, establishments that sell a high volume of fountain drinks tends to serve up superior products. This is why fountain drinks at convenience stores like Maverik or fast-food restaurants like McDonald's usually taste so good. They don't sit for long in the dispenser.
Temperature affects carbonation
The colder your beverage, the better, according to sodadispenserdepot.com. "Your carbonated product must be dispensed cold to keep the CO2 gas in your soda. The warmer the drink, the more gas leaves the drink when dispensed."
You'd think this would explain why fountain drinks are generally served over ice. Actually, ice will cause more of the carbonation to fizzle out initially, which means fountain drink soda will be slightly flatter tasting than canned or bottled versions. Most people see this as a plus, as it cuts down on the carbonation burn and simultaneously enhances that sweet, syrupy taste. (Plus, there’s nothing better than a fizzy drink over the classic nugget ice.)
Syrup ratios can vary
Depending on your taste preference, you may find the concentration of syrup in fountain drinks preferable to canned or bottled sodas, but no two establishments will serve them the same way.
Some fountains also pack in premium features. “We try to make sure our fountain drinks taste as fresh as possible, so we filter our water through reverse osmosis and make sure we have clean lines and proper carbonation levels,” said Lauren Hancey, Maverik’s fountain drink specialist. Reverse osmosis is a process that forces water through a membrane to purify it of the many particles (ions, molecules, bacteria, etc.) that could be floating in there. The fewer particles there are in the water, the more carbonated syrupy goodness you can saturate it with and the better your soda will taste.
More flavor options
“Specialty drink shops” such as Swig and Sodalicious are the newest trend in the Utah beverage market. These shops add mix-ins to already sweetened sodas to create extreme flavors combined with drive-in convenience. But consumers typically pay almost double compared to similar create-your-own flavors at enterprising convenience stores.
“Mixology continues to become a bigger and bigger force in fountain drink culture,” Hancey said. “At Maverik, we have a variety of flavor shots and lime wedges — you can even add creamer to give your drink a ‘float’ characteristic."
Can't think of your own concoction? "We like to post recipes that give customers an idea of all the different options available to them," Hancey continued. "If you add French vanilla creamer and coconut flavoring to your Dr. Pepper, it transforms into a totally different flavor experience. We call that one Paradise Float.”
Price can make a difference, too
Sure, this might all be psychological, but when a nice fountain drink comes in a bigger cup and at a lower price, there's some added sweetness in that. And with convenience stores that have syrups and flavorings on hand and a "large" bigger than most fast-food restaurants, it's hard to not to spend a mere dollar and sip, sip, sip away.