This Is the Best Way to Drink Diet Coke

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If the Diet Coke cult were a real cult, I would be their Squeaky Fromme (totally devoted, freaking hot). Some of my earliest foodie memories are of combining Diet Coke with Oreos in vacation Bible school, but I didn’t notice the No-Cal drink and was so old in old age. The silver can turned 40 this week, which seems too old and too young at the same time. (Incidentally, this is exactly how I imagine turning 4o feels.)

On an alignment chart, Diet Coke is a chaotic neutral. Its tart, bubbly, invigorating nature pairs with the sweet and the savory—even Thanksgiving feast— and avid Diet Coke connoisseurs have been known to enjoy them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I really don’t know any casual Diet Coke drinkers now that I think about it. We all have a sick little Diet Coke ranking system that we’re happy to share with anyone who asks (or doesn’t ask). Opinions about cans or bottles tend to vary from drinker to drinker, but virtually every Diet Coke fan will agree that a Diet Coke from a McDonald’s fountain is the pinnacle of Diet Soda enjoyment. (The other thing we agree on? Diet Pepsi is never “OK.”)

There are three factors that make McDonald’s Diet Coke so perfect: consistent syrup-to-water ratio, temperature control, and that beautiful straw. And while you may never have your very own Coke fountain, you can apply McDonald’s principles to create your best Coke drinking experience at home.

It starts with the syrup

The differences between McDonald’s Diet Coke and other Diet Coke start with how the syrup is transported to the restaurant. According to that New York Timesmost of the syrup is shipped in plastic bags, while McDonald’s has its syrup shipped in stainless steel tanks, keeping it fresh longer.

Then there’s the matter of consistency and chilling (and chilling consistently). If you’ve ever encountered a soda with a syrup-to-water ratio, you know it can be an uncomfortable experience, especially when that soda is Diet Coke (aspartame is a fickle beast). McDonald’s prevents such a disaster by keeping a precise ratio and keeping everything super cold. From their website:

We ensure our Coke products are fresh and always taste the way they should by following guidelines set by Coca-Cola, using a syrup ratio that allows ice to melt, and using Coca-Cola syrup and pre-chill the water before they enter our soda fountain!

Why does temperature matter?

Warm Diet Coke is gross. It feels flat on the tongue and has a unique flavor best described as “blood and metal.” According to that New York PostMcDonald’s “Soda water is constantly recirculated through this tubing system so it can stay between 90 and 100 degrees (just above freezing) at all times.”

Not only does keeping the drink cold helps it feel more refreshing on the palate, it also keeps it more fizzy. Cold liquids hold gases better than warm liquids – ie gas is more soluble in a cold liquid, but equivalent Science. comTemperature and pressure changes can also affect pH and therefore taste:

The taste of carbonated beverages depends on the temperature at which they are stored. This can be explained by the fact that the temperature has to be lowered in order to stabilize the carbon dioxide content. The resulting conditions lower the pH to 3.2 to 3.7 and give the drink a sour taste that describes the typical soda taste. For this reason, carbonated drinks should be consumed cold.

This lack of acidity in warm Diet Cokes makes them taste unbalanced and metallic, which is why McDonald’s takes temperature so seriously.

A straw can only do so much

The McDonald’s straw is a perfect straw. It’s wider than most, allowing for more invigorating bubbles per sip, but even the best straw can only do so much when faced with a warm or flat drink. To test the power of the straw I went out and picked up a large fountain Diet Coke from McDonald’s along with a 1 liter bottle from my local Plaid Pantry convenience store.

I’ve tried the Diet Coke five different ways: out of the McDonald’s cup, through the McDonald’s straw; straight from the 1 liter bottle, without a straw; from the 1 liter bottle through a McDonald’s straw; and poured into a glass with ice, with and without a straw.

The McDonald’s fountain Diet Coke was best, but drinking through the McDonald’s straw from the 1 liter bottle was a close second, and only for that easy warmer and therefore not as invigorating.

The Diet Coke I poured into a glass was awful and tasted almost completely flat — especially when you sipped it and compared it to the McDonald’s soda — but that makes sense. Opening a bottle (or can) of soda releases pressure and fizz, but pouring it into a glass with ice induces nucleation sites, which promote bubbling and release carbonic acid from the liquid into the air. This is why lemonade froths so aggressively when you pour it and why I never ask for a glass with my can of Diet Coke. Even the best, widest straw can’t fix a nearly flat soda – it doesn’t matter how many bubbles you can fit in if there are no bubbles to deliver.

What should I do?

It’s not possible to replicate the McDonald’s diet Coke delivery system at home, but there are things we can learn from the fast-food giant’s methods.

Keep your Diet Coke as cold as possible (without freezing) by storing it in the coldest part of your fridge or by placing it in an ice bath (like champagne) before serving. You should also avoid transferring the soda from the original container into a glass, so it’s a good idea to avoid larger bottles (like 1- and 2-liter) and cans (like the Tallboys) altogether. Not only do these often need to be decanted into a second container, they also de-carbonate every time you open them.

Lifehacker’s senior Health Editor Beth Skwarecki, (a colleague of Diet Coke) “especially likes the 500-ml bottles” so she can “keep the cap on and keep the fizz in.” And I tend to go for the standard can because the aluminum cools with the drink and I drink them fast enough to keep them sparkling to the last drop.

When choosing a fountain drink, keep in mind that not all machines mix and dispense the soda in a standardized way, so find a good one and stick with it. in the words of Lifehacker Senior Tech Editor Jake Peterson: “A good Diet Coke is my number one choice, but I’m always wary because fountain soda is bad.” baaaad.

And of course, it never hurts to grab an extra straw from the drive-thru. It won’t save a flat cup of soda, but it will will Allow more fizz to hit your tongue per sip (if fizz is present) and enhance your diet coke drinking experience, whether you’re sipping from the can, the 20-ounce plastic bottle, or the fancy glass bottle.

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