If you were a child of the 80s, then SodaStream is probably firmly lodged in your subconscious. You either wanted one, or weren't allowed to use it, or in your haste to get to the fizz, forgot to install the water bottle properly and sprayed your kitchen, much to your parent's annoyance.
We were there, so we welcomed with open arms the SodaStream Genesis G100 that dropped through the door of Pocket-lint towers. Before you could say Coca-Cola, we'd slapped in a bottle and were getting bizzy with the fizzy.
For those who don't know, SodaStream is a drinks making system that allows you to carbonate water yourself, then add any flavour you want. As such, SodaStream models come with a cylinder of CO2. The Genesis model comes in three colours, red, white and grey (which we tested). It comes in several pieces in the box, and assembly is simply a case of screwing the CO2 cylinder in place and slotting the two halves of the drinks maker together.
The Genesis comes with 2x 1-litre drinks bottles. After filling with tap water and chilling in the fridge (carbonating chilled water is much better than room temp water), you simply screw the drink bottle over the nozzle on the front of the G100. A few button presses is all that is needed to carbonate the water. It is a slightly noisy process, but one that kids will like and it only takes a few seconds to end up with fizzy water. If sparkling water is all you want, then that's all there is to it. But SodaStream has always been about flavour.
There is a range of flavours available (a full list is here) and we had the Taste Sample Pack to get to grips with. Back in the day, SodaStream had various licenses, so you could get genuine Schweppes lemonade for example. It now seems that the range is entirely proprietary. The flavours run from various colas (normal, diet, zero) through various fruit flavours and a Xstream, which passes itself off as an energy drink with various vitamins and tastes like Red Bull.
It's all very simple, but what are the results like? We sat down and guzzled several litres of fizzy pop to test out the flavours on offer. We weren't expecting a flavour like Coca-Cola or Pepsi Cola, so we weren't surprised to find that the cola varieties tasted like own-brand cola drinks you get in the supermarket. That's not necessarily a bad thing if you're not so fussy about your colas, or just want to use it as a mixer with vodka.
Cola flavours are easy to determine, but step away from the typical and you have less of a preconceived idea about what it should taste like. The fruit flavours offer variety and we found the sugar free cranberry and raspberry was very nice. SodaStream uses sucralose in its sugar free range rather than aspartame and those "sugared" drinks aren't too sweet, except Xstream, which is by nature very sweet.
The cylinder in the G100 will give you 60 litres of fizzy drinks. Once the cylinder is empty, you'll have to swap it out for a full one. Cylinders are available either in-store (with a store list here, although we couldn't get it to work), or via direct postal exchange (£2.99 P&P). Like other gas products, you return the empty cylinder and only pay for the new gas, at £18.99 a bottle.
New gas constitutes part of the ongoing cost of the SodaStream system, the other is the flavour concentrates. A bottle of the flavour concentrate will cost you £2.99 (or £3.99 for the Xstream). This means each litre of SodaStream drink effectively costs you 55p (gas and flavour). Of course, you'll have paid £59.99 for the drinks maker too, so you'll have to drink a fair amount of the stuff before you have a saving over your normal pre-prepared fizzy drink purchases.
But SodaStream isn't just about saving money. Kids will love it, you get easy access to variety (you don't have to use their flavours, so you could make fizzy Ribena, for example) and it is easy to use. From the sample pack we were able to produce random soft drinks when friends came over in a flash.
Previously the longevity of the bottles was as issue. Back in the 80s the bottles were glass and the lids would break down and you'd have to buy a new ones regularly. The new bottles are plastic and more substantial, although they aren't dishwasher friendly, and SodaStream says they will last 3 years.
SodaStream has undeniable novelty value and from the flavours we tried, they are well balanced: not too sweet or artificial tasting, which is always the danger.
We tested the SodaStream on a number of friends and some didn't like the idea, preferring to buy what they needed ready made. We like the fact that you can make carbonated drinks whenever you need and it's definitely a hit with kids. The system seems substantial enough to put up with regular usage too, and as the company rightfully points out, there are no empties to dispose of so there is an environmental benefit too.
It's a tricky one though, because if the flavours don't work for you then it is money potentially wasted as you can't really try before you buy. If you drink a range of fizzy drink flavours on a regular basis, then you'll probably do well out of SodaStream. If it's just Coke that you drink, you'll probably find it doesn't quite hit the mark.