For much of my lifetime, progress was marked by how fast or easy a task could become. Automated bank teller machines, drive-through burgers, and phones in our pockets have forever changed the way we live our lives from day to day.
The convenience movement also made its way into kitchens, bringing us automatic coffee machines, microwave popcorn and sodas, in a wide array of flavors in cans or bottles. But lately, when it comes to what we eat and drink, it seems that flavor trumps pace as gourmands and professional gastronauts alike are slowly reclaiming food and drink traditions.
One of the latest revivals of our culinary roots is the return of handmade sodas. House-made sodas are popping up in virtually every type of establishment from traditional ice cream parlors to trendy, upscale restaurants. The interest in house-made sodas speaks volumes to the versatility of the modern soda movement. While commercial suppliers report the strength — if not dominance — of cola and root beer-flavored syrups, we are witnessing a great deal of creative house-made syrups. For a growing number of innovative chefs and bartenders, soda has become a natural extension of their cuisine.
At SINO Restaurant & Lounge, in San Jose CA, chef/owner Chris Yeo offers a seasonal menu of house-made sodas that complement the restaurant's Asian cuisine. Chef Yeo creates simple syrups from fresh herbs and other ingredients integral to his food. Some of Chef Yeo's soda creations include: Star Anise-Honey Soda, Green Tea Soda, Thai Basil-Lemon Soda, Kumquat Soda and Ginger-Lemongrass.
Traveling north to Napa Valley….Ubuntu is a restaurant and yoga studio that builds its menu on its own biodynamic garden. Ubuntu's pastry chef, Deanie Fox, creates unique sodas that are the centerpiece to a few of her seasonal desserts. Chef Fox has created a float that utilizes her handmade Rose Geranium Soda. Creating her own signature soda is simply a logical extension of the restaurant's philosophy to create as much as possible in-house. “We try to make everything ourselves and by doing so with soda I can control the sweetness and include ingredients that are fresh,” explains Fox. Fox, like many budding soda innovators, simply takes advantage of the classic soda siphon (seltzer bottle) to carbonate the house-made sodas.
Offering house-made soda can be just a few mouse clicks away, as a number of quality suppliers are found online. The equipment is straightforward, requiring a number of soda siphons and replacement CO2 cartridges. A suitable siphon will cost you $40 to $50 per unit and should offer years of service. Many new models offer a two-year warranty.
You can get straight to the creative process and build a soda based upon a classic, your cuisine or your imagination. Bartenders can now create their own house-made tonic and ginger as well as a limitless menu of drink bases and additions. If you are walking more cautiously, you can always buy a wide range of syrup concentrates from your suppliers.
Most soda siphons hold approximately one liter. You will need a fresh CO2 cartridge at each refill. Cartridges can be purchased, in quantity, for roughly 40 cents each, making your house-made soda venture economical but not cheap. To ensure the best performance and efficiency, be sure to follow a few simple rules: colder liquids best absorb the CO2, creating fine bubbles. Charging your siphon at least six hours before use will improve carbonation. Always be sure to create a tight seal when closing your siphon, and never break the seal until you refill your liquid and CO2.
Most of all, make the experience a fun one. Start simple by putting a few siphons in the hands of your bartenders. From there your chef and bartender can collaborate to create a signature soda. Guests will have another reason to return to your establishment.