We’ve already established that the FAQ pages for various restaurants can offer a funny glimpse into the priorities (and preoccupations) of a given business. But they can also be pretty instructive. On McDonald’s FAQ page, you’ll find a hilarious humblebrag pertaining to the fast food chain’s fountain soda: “Why does Coca-Cola taste so good at McDonald’s?”
The best part is, we can’t even call out McDonald’s for slipping shameless self-promotion into its FAQ page, because this really is a common query across the internet. The “McDonald’s Coke” phenomenon is commonly attributed to the fast food chain’s high turnover: The ingredients in the soda machines (CO2, water, syrup, ice) are refilled more often, meaning you’ll more likely to get a deliciously fresh, effervescent soda every time. But there are a number of other reasons McDonald’s cites for the superior soda quality.
“We simply follow the guidelines set by Coca-Cola® and take steps to ensure that we serve a high-quality fountain beverage,” reads the McDonald’s FAQ page. Well, la-dee-dah. Beyond that, though, it explains that temperature is key to getting Coke right.
“The water and Coca-Cola® syrup are pre-chilled before entering our fountain dispensers with the ratio of syrup set to allow for ice to melt,” says McDonald’s. Business Insider expands upon this explanation, noting that a tube running from the McDonald’s fountain drinks dispenser to a back-of-house refrigeration unit maintains a constant temperature just above freezing. At these temps, the liquid can hold more CO2—the carbon dioxide that makes soda fizzy. As a result, the fountain drinks achieve the strongest carbonation and the best bubbles, which is why so many people associate McDonald’s soda with an appealing “sharpness” or “crispness.”
As for the syrup, its ratio is calculated with the addition of ice in mind. There’s a bit of extra syrup (also kept very cold!) so that when the ice inevitably melts into the drink, it doesn’t leave you with a watery soda. So, there’s little reason to worry about chugging your Coca-Cola quickly on a hot day.
“In order to ensure our drinks are always meeting a gold standard, we filter all the water before it enters fountain dispensers,” McDonald’s writes. This sounds simple, but water quality can affect everything from your morning coffee to your afternoon tea. It makes sense that soda would be no different.
Lest you think we’ve fall for McDonald’s marketing lingo, however, we should point out that we don’t know which other chains are filtering their fountain drink water as McDonald’s does. It’s something that other fast food places could simply be doing less braggadociously.
McDonald’s is a little less forthcoming with certain details about its Coca-Cola. In a 2014 story on the “symbiotic” relationship between Coke and McDonald’s over the past 70 years, the New York Times highlights a technical element of the arrangement that has a big impact on flavor:
Over the years, the companies created a system for the delivery and production of Coke’s sodas at McDonald’s restaurants. At other restaurants, Coke syrup is delivered in plastic bags. But for McDonald’s, Coke delivers its syrup in stainless steel tanks that ensure its freshness, creating what many believe is the best Coca-Cola available.
The stainless steel tanks keep the syrup extra fresh and extra cold, allowing for the best bubbles and overall flavor. The tanks are particular to McDonald’s—as are the prices.
“Coke sales teams are prohibited from selling syrup to other restaurants for less than what McDonald’s pays, even if that means losing business to Pepsi-Cola,” the NYT story explains. “The companies declined to comment on their relationship.”
It’s not that the price affects the flavor directly, but if McDonald’s is always guaranteed the lowest possible price on Coke, that might, in turn, incentivize McDonald’s to invest even more money in fancy filtration systems and second-to-none refrigeration techniques. And that means Coca-Cola is presented more reliably as a drink people can get excited about. Symbiotic relationship, indeed!
Straws make drinks fizzier, plain and simple. If you ever want to jazz up a can of soda at home, stick a straw in it. Bubbles form along even small bumps in the straw, exciting carbonation. McDonald’s serves its fountain drinks with a slightly wider straw, so that freshly agitated fizz hits your mouth at its coldest and bubbliest.
One more theory, which McDonald’s FAQ page does not confirm, is that a cold, syrupy gulp of Coke simply pairs well with all of McDonald’s other specialties: hot, salty, cheesy meat and potatoes. Sweet and savory taste great together, don’t they? Maybe we think McDonald’s soda is the best because we always happen to be imbibing it alongside its perfect complement.