These days I own some very serious espresso equipment. I am pretty much set with espresso. But one thing is still missing from my kitchen, and that’s a commercial soda fountain.
I do not own a car, which is one of the reasons why I have time and money to purchase the abovementioned espresso equipment. Not having a car, I hate lugging soda bottles from the store , hate running out of soda, hate having to drink warm soda because I forgot to put a few bottles into the fridge. The solution is rather simple – build my own soda fountain.
Indeed there are people crazy enough to put together soda fountains from parts bought on eBay. I might have a better espresso machine, but this guy, for example, has a bar style soda gun right in his kitchen:
This setup is pretty sweet as well :
If you read the explanation from the link above, building your own from eBay parts is a long and messy process, although the price will stay under $1000. There’s a company that sells prereconfigured units, but that costs about 3K. Also all of the soda machines take up a lot of cabinet space, and some require a separate ice cube maker.
I don’t have the time, space or money to attempt a project like this now. But there’s a low rent / low tech alternative called Soda Club. You have to chill bottles with water and then carbonate them in a small tabletop unit. I don’t know looks kind of similar to the iSi syphon and thus lame. Maybe I’ll try it.
One of the chores that I had to do weekly when I was little was refilling two large soda syphons in a little kiosk a few blocks away from where we lived in Odessa. You can still buy a soda syphon today, but these are crummy tiny cartridge operated ones. Mine were big metal units that were refilled by what was probably a hundred year old machine operated by a cantankerous old dude or his equally cantankerous wife.
In the kiosk they also sold soda by the glass, adding syrup from a very interesting dispenser that operated on the same principle as a titration buret. The choice of syrups was the same as in soda vending machines.
Once, on a trip to Kiev, my father took me to an amazing giant shop that sold soda. They had a whole forest of those syrup dispensers, all different. The place was operated since before the revolution of 1917 (a huge rarity in the Soviet Union). I remember trying the most delicious tarragon flavored soda.
Actually a very delicious bottled tarragon soda was also sold in the Soviet Union under the brand name “Tarhun”.
Soviet soda was sold in glass bottles with crescent shaped labels. For some weird reason Pepsi was sometimes made available in different bottles with square labels. I’ve never seen a Soviet Coke bottle, but apparently they existed :
I had my first taste of Coke in Moscow in the late eighties in a theater’s concession stand.
The label above and the ones below are from the site of some dude who has an amazing collection of Soviet soda labels. he sells them at $2.50 a pop. I think I’ll buy some. Oooh, these bring back a lot of memories.
One of the neighborhood grocery stores here in Brooklyn once stocked very interesting plastic seltzer bottles from Brazil (I think) that operated as siphons. Iv’e never seen ones like that since.
Here’s another memory of my childhood illustrated by a photograph by the author of Window Shopping in the (Evil?) Empire:
This is a Polish version of the Soviet soda vending machine, an amazing piece of technology.
During Perestroika we got a glimpse of foreign television during the Japanese TV week. If I remember correctly they showed an hour or two of selected Japanese TV shows on one of the three state-run stations. As a curiosity they showed a snippet in which Japanese reporters try to use one of these machines. Equipped with some change, giggling they approached the machine. They put one of the coins into the slot and were surprised by the jet of water from the dispensing nozzle. In Japan one of them explained, the glass drops down from the machine and fills with ice. Then they noticed the communal glass (a paneled one from the previous post) and for a few minutes tried to figure out how to wash it. Then they notices the indentation to the right of the machine. They stuck the glass in there and after a few tries washed it with in the mechanism that shoots little jest of water from underneath. Another coin – soda went into the glass correctly prompting shouts of triumph. I don’t remember if they were brave enough to drink it.
The prices were 1 kopek for plain seltzer and 3 kopeks for seltzer with a shot of syrup. Those with a sweet tooth liked to collect a few shots of syrup which was dispensed prior to the water (technically making it a post-mix machine) and then filling the glass completely. Unscrupulous machine maintainers liked to underdose the syrup helping them to steal some money.
Another one of bright memories was when my father, a civil engineer, took me to his construction site which had one of these soda machines that did not require a kopek to operate – you could drink as much as you wanted. There was no syrup water, but the refrigiration unit was hacked to make it much colder than the machines out in the street. Even visiting Microsoft which has commercial style refrigirators filled with free soda, juices and water did not impress me that much. Oh, and I also got to go up into the cabin of a huge crane (not at Microsoft of course).
Believe it or not, but the company that made these soda machines is still in business. They look like this now: