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This is the best way to drink Diet Coke

If the cult of diet coke were a real cult, I would be its Squeaky Fromme – the perfect name for a diehard fan. My earliest memory is of pairing it with oreos at vacation bible school, but I didn’t re

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I would be its Squeaky Fromme if the Cult of Diet Coke were a real cult (totally devoted, weirdly hot). Diet Coke and Oreos are some of my first gastronomic memories, but I had no idea that the no-calorie beverage and I were so close in age. This week, the silver can turned 40, which feels both premature and ancient at the same time. (Incidentally, I anticipate reaching 40 to feel precisely like that.)

Diet Coke is a chaotic neutral on an alignment diagram. Dedicated Diet Coke drinkers have been known to enjoy her at breakfast, lunch, and dinner because of her tangy, effervescent, and energizing nature, which complements with both sweet and savory foods, even Thanksgiving dinner.

Now that I think about it, I honestly don’t know any casual Diet Coke consumers. We all have a weird little Diet Coke rating system that we love to share with everybody who asks (or doesn’t ask), and we love to use it. Although preferences for cans versus bottles differ from drinker to drinker, almost every Diet Coke fan will agree that a Diet Coke from the McDonald’s fountain is the pinnacle of diet soda enjoyment. (Another point of agreement we have? Never “OK” with Diet Pepsi.

McDonald’s Diet Coke is exceptional for three reasons: Temperature control, standardized syrup-to-water ratios, and that lovely straw. And even though you might never own a Diet Coke fountain of your own, you can use the McDonald’s guidelines to design the ideal Diet Coke drinking environment at home.

The syrup is the first step.

The way the syrup is delivered to the restaurant is where McDonald’s Diet Coke differs from other Diet Cokes. The New York Times claims that whereas most syrup is delivered in plastic bags, McDonald’s receives it in stainless steel tanks, which keeps it fresher, longer.

The issue of consistency and cooling follows (and chilling consistently). If you’ve ever had a drink from a vending machine that was manufactured with “odd” syrup-to-water ratios, you know how unpleasant it can be, especially if it’s Diet Coke (aspartame is a fickle beast). By keeping everything extremely cold and adhering to an exact ratio, McDonald’s avoids such a catastrophe. According to their website, they follow Coca-rules, Cola’s use a syrup to water ratio that permits ice to melt, and pre-chill the syrup and water before they reach the soda fountain to ensure that their Coke products are always fresh and taste the way they should.

What makes temperature important?

Diet Coke that is warm is repulsive. It has a distinctive flavor best characterized as “blood and metal,” and it feels flat on the tongue. McDonald’s soda water is “constantly recirculated through this tube system so that it can remain between 33-38 degrees (slightly over freezing) at all times,” according to the New York Post.

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The beverage reads as more pleasant on the taste and stays fizzier when kept cold. Gas is more soluble in a cold liquid because cold liquids store gases better than warm ones do, but pH can also be impacted by temperature and pressure variations, which can also have an impact on flavor:

The temperature at which carbonated beverages are stored affects how they taste. This can be explained by the requirement to drop temperature in order to stabilize carbon dioxide concentration. The pH will drop to between 3.2 and 3.7 as a result, giving the beverage a sour flavor similar to that of a regular soda. This is the rationale for the recommendation to only drink cold carbonated beverages.

Diet Coke that is too warm tastes imbalanced and metallic because it lacks sourness, which is why McDonald’s takes temperature control so seriously.

A straw has limited capabilities.

The straw from McDonald’s is the ideal straw. Even the greatest straw is limited when dealing with a warm or flat beverage since it is wider than most, allowing for more bracing bubbles per sip. I bought a 1-liter bottle from my neighborhood Plaid Pantry convenience store and a large fountain Diet Coke from McDonald’s to test the straw’s effectiveness.

I sampled the Diet Coke five times. Directly from the 1-liter bottle, without a straw; directly from the 1-liter bottle, through a McDonald’s straw; and both with and without the straw, poured into an ice-filled glass.

Diet Coke from the McDonald’s fountain was the finest, but the 1-liter bottle with the McDonald’s straw came in a very close second and only because it was a little less icy and bracing.

It makes sense that the Diet Coke I poured into a glass was awful, tasting nearly entirely flat. This was especially true when compared to the McDonald’s drink. Opening a soda bottle (or can) lets the pressure and carbonation out, but pouring it over ice creates nucleation sites that encourage fizzing and let the carbonation from the liquid escape into the atmosphere. Because of how forcefully soda foams when it is poured, I never request a glass with my can of Diet Coke. The greatest and largest straw won’t be able to make up for a practically flat soda because there won’t be any bubbles to convey them.

What should we do?

Although we can’t exactly copy McDonald’s Diet Coke delivery method at home, there are some things we can take away from the strategies used by the fast food juggernaut.

Store your Diet Coke in the coldest part of your refrigerator or place it in an ice bath (much like you would champagne) before serving to keep it as cold as you can (without freezing). Avoid using larger bottles (like 1- and 2-liters) and cans (like the tallboys) altogether since you should also avoid pouring soda from its original container into a glass. Not only do those frequently require pouring into a second container, but each time you open one they lose carbonation.

In order to “keep the top on and keep the fizz in,” Lifehacker’s senior health editor Beth Skwarecki, a fellow Diet Coke drinker, prefers “the 500-milliliter bottles particularly.” And I usually choose the normal can because the aluminum cools along with the drink and I consume them quickly enough to keep the fizz until the very last drop.

Knowing that not all soda fountain machines mix and dispense the soda in a standardized manner will help you choose a drink, so choose a good one and stick with it. A nice fountain Diet Coke is my go-to, but I’m always cautious since bad fountain soda is horrible, as Lifehacker’s senior tech writer Jake Peterson put it.

Of course, getting an extra straw at the drive-through never hurts. It won’t turn a flat cup of soda into something drinkable, but it will increase the amount of carbonation that hits your tongue with each sip (if there is any carbonation to be had), making Diet Coke more enjoyable to consume whether you’re drinking from a can, 20-ounce plastic bottle, or fancy glass bottle.