Pros: Good (and healthier!) soda, simply made and at a big savings.
Cons: Proprietary tech and monopoly practices keep prices higher than they should be.
Our family drinks soda -- and lots of it -- so we'd had our eye on the SodaStream line of home soda makers for awhile. Just after Christmas, we found this starter kit on clearance at a killer price and jumped on it.
This is the "bottom of the line" SodaStream model, but it seems to be of solid manufacture and is simple and easy to use. It has four parts:
- A base.
- A top part which includes connectors for a CO2 tank and a water bottle and a button for streaming the CO2 into the water.
- A CO2 tank.
- A 1-liter water bottle (actually two of them come with the kit) made of a much more durable plastic than a normal soda bottle (because it will be under pressure multiple times from the carbonation process).
Setup is simple -- the CO-2 tank screws into the top part, which you then snap on to the base. Once you've done this, you are ready to make soda.
Making the soda is equally simple: Fill the water bottle to a clearly marked line, screw it onto the machine, and start hitting and releasing the button on top of the machine, multiple times, quickly. Eventually you'll hear a loud BUZZ. Keep going. Once you've heard the buzz five times, your water is carbonated.
Unscrew the water bottle, and holding it tilted to the side somewhat over a sink, slowly pour in a measured amount of flavoring (if you don't tilt the bottle, or if you pour the flavoring in too quickly, you'll get a fountain of foam in the face). Put the cap on the bottle, give it a gentle turn or two to ensure the flavoring is distributed throughout the water and voila! You have soda!
It's GOOD soda. We've tried the cola, the diet cola (that's my thing) and diet "Dr. Pete" (three guesses what that's supposed to be like), the orange soda and the "energy drink," and they are all very nicely flavored. I'd go so far as to say that the diet cola is the best I've ever had, and moreover it is sweetened with sucralose ("Splenda"), not aspartame, which is something I have a strong preference for.
As a matter of fact, one of my motives for buying the SodaStream was that it's hard to find non-aspartame diet sodas in the store. And the regular soda is flavored with real cane sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. I'm not going to argue the health issues between sugar/HFCS or aspartame/sucralose, but if you're concerned about them, SodaStream's got your back.
- Once you're set up, soda is cheaper this way than at the store -- and that doesn't even count the costs of GETTING to the store to buy soda. My guess is that in the first month, we saved the cost of the machine in gas alone (because admit it -- when you run out of soda, you run right out to the store to get some even if there's nothing else you need), let alone the extra impulse purchases we've avoided.
- As I mentioned, the soda is good. It's always fresh, because you make it yourself one liter at a time. The flavors are comparable to your favorite name brands. I thought their "Dr. Pete" wasn't quite as good as the brand it copied, but on all other fronts., SodaStream is just phenomenal.
- SodaStream flavoring syrups are available at Wal-Mart and Target to my knowledge. Presumably most people won't have trouble finding them at stores they already frequent.
Yes, SodaStream is cheaper than Coke or Pepsi or even generic soda by the two-liter bottle or 12-pack of cans or whatever. But the pricing is still monopolistic or nearly so, and the machinery proprietary, keeping prices higher than they should be.
When your 14.5 ounce CO2 tank runs out, you can pop $40 for a new one or do an "exchange" (we do ours at our local target), trading in your empty tank for a full one. The "exchange" cost is $14. For the sake of comparison, getting a 20 ounce CO2 tank (for, say, paintball guns, etc.) filled costs about $3.50 at a sporting goods shop. To stop you from doing this, SodaStream uses a proprietary tank fitting. You can buy an adaptor setup to use "standard" CO2 tanks with your SodaStream, but those cost more than the original machine. SodaStream uses an "end user license" scheme to try to prevent their use, and according to Wikipedia has sued unauthorized vendors for refilling SodaStream tanks.
I've also yet to find any "third party" takes on the plastic fill bottles (we paid $15.99 for two more of those, so that each family member could have "their own" soda supply) or flavoring syrups (although I bet store brands of the latter will be along soon -- I've heard of flavoring alternatives, just not seen them at the large, well-known stores yet).
I hate to complain, but ... no, wait a minute, no, I don't.
I paid for the machine, and even at clearance prices it cost me what 40 two-liters of soda would have cost. I'm not complaining about the price, but if I'm going to pay that kind of money for something, I think I deserve to get decent prices on followup stuff.
I'd be happy to pay five or six bucks for the convenience of having my tank refilled at Target instead of going to some sporting goods store ... but $14, four times the market rate due to that proprietary fitting? That hacks me off. Possibly enough to blow $60 on the adaptor, after which SodaStream wouldn't be making ANY money off me for CO2 refills.
The proprietary syrups run about five bucks for a container that makes 10-12 liters of soda. I don't think that's too pricy, but my guess is that some market competition would drive the price down to $2.99 (for the SodaStream or other name brand) and $1.99 for a store brand.
And 16 bucks for two plastic bottles is, well, kind of stupid. <i>They're plastic bottles</em>. I understand going with a proprietary cap size so that kids don't kill themselves trying to refill regular soda bottles that are thin-walled and might explode, but I'd like to see after-market vendors pulling the price of these down to, oh, two or three bucks each.
I guess I should also bring up politics: SodaStream is an Israeli company, and at least one of its factories is located in the Palestinian Arab "occupied territories." If this matters to you, well, act accordingly (I didn't know about it when I bought the machine, and haven't really considered its impact on my future purchases yet).
OK, I'm done complaining. Even with those down sides, the SodaStream saves me time, saves me money, and provides me with a fine beverage that's healthier than the off-the-shelf stuff. I'd like to see a SodaStream on every kitchen counter, if for no other reason than that would create demand for the after-market/third party stuff that would make homebrew soda even cheaper.