Our Daily Bleg: How Much Ice Is Too Much?

A reader named Ben Muschel of Flushing, N.Y. (that’s where Citi Field is), writes in with a question that he admits is trivial:

I often enjoy getting sodas from 7-11. Though I’m aware the markup on fountain soda is quite high, I still consider a “Big Gulp” a pretty good bang for my buck. My constant quandary, however, is the question of how much ice to add to my soda. On the one hand, I don’t want to waste valuable soda space with space-consuming ice. On the other hand, it feels like it should take more than one or two cubes to successfully cool a 32-oz. soda (or the occasional 44-oz. “Super Big Gulp”). But is that true? And to what extent? Is there a specific — or minimum — quantity of ice needed to chill a drink to what could be considered a “standard level of coolness” given the total liquid volume of the drink? Or is any ice beyond the first few cubes a waste of my cup space?

Please give Ben any advice you can. To my mind, there are at least three considerations.

1. It may be a mistake to assume that the soda is more costly than the ice.

2. Since there are more than 500 calories in a 44-oz. non-diet soda, from a public-health perspective it is best to load the entire cup with ice and then squirt in a little bit of soda. (New York City has just begun a soda-as-human-fat public relations campaign; reminds me a bit of this.)

3. The big issue with ice, to me at least, isn’t quantity; it’s quality. Most commercial establishments dispense a loose, sloshy, barely-frozen ice that has a high melt rate and therefore instantly begins diluting your drink. Compare that to a good old-fashioned ice cube that comes from the freezer in your refrigerator. Good ice is much more costly to make but, if I were as concerned as Ben is about his dilemma, I’d be pursuing a revolution in quality commercial ice rather than trying to find the right ratio of soda to slush. Much like phone fidelity, ice quality seems to be a victim of progress. Maybe we should get back to making our ice this way.


Steve

Seems unfair that they don't make the ice cubes out of the soda.

Patrick

This looks like a job for a chemical engineer!

... one with less work than I have right now.

B

One more factor not brought up - more ice, as it melts, dillutes the taste of the soda. Another reason to push for higher quality commercial ice, I guess.

Samuel Bejar

Having worked in the beverage industry for a few years,my recommendation is NO ICE AT ALL.

First, the manufatcturers have specific and strict formulas to determine the proper amount of syrup, water and CO2 in the mix to make a good tasting product. Adding extra ice will just add extra water to the formula and it will ruin the product when it melts.

Second, some retaurants and stores, alter the proportion of water in the mix (add more water) in order to make their syrup tanks last longer and save a couple bucks. So, chances are you are getting an already watered product and adding extra ice will only make it worse.

Third, the CO2 in in the formula is a gas and it is supposed to be dissolved in the water and syrup mix, but its nature is to go back to its gassy form and dissipate in the air. Lower temperatures help CO2 to stay in the mix for a longer time, as opposed to higher temperatures, which promote a faster dissipation rate. In order to keep CO2 in the mix for a longer time, the whole product is usually mixed at 39?F (4?C), slightly above the freezeng point. So, the product is dispensed from the fontain at a very low temperature and extra ice will not really contribute to make it much colder.

Hope this helps :)

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Josh

The shape of the ice has nothing to do with how much of it melts. The correct amount of ice will melt to keep your soda right at freezing temperature. The melted ice is just more obvious when it comes from ice shavings than ice cubes. If you want to keep your soda cold without watering it down, I suggest starting with colder ice cubes.

If you want to keep your soda at freezing temperature for the entire duration of your drinking, while maximizing the amount of soda that you can fit into your cup, you want just enough ice so that the last morsel is melting as you finish drinking. This of course will depend on how cold the ice is, how fast you drink, and whether or not you have diet or regular soda. Diet soda has a freezing temperature closer to that of water while soda with corn syrup has a lower freezing temperature. It will take more ice cubes to keep your sugary soda at the lowest possible temperature.

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Caliphilosopher

Better yet, ask a chemist on how much ice you need to make the soda as cool as you want it to be, and then go from there.

Kristin

i did a similar analysis with dunkin' donuts iced coffee -

dunkin donuts iced coffee is prepared by adding ice to already refrigerated coffee. i decided the refrigeration of the coffee was sufficient to cool the beverage to the appropriate temperature.

so, to maximize the amount coffee i would receive, i decided i should order it with no ice.

the person at the counter had to get the manager to see if they could sell it to me that way... it was an ordeal and they laughed at me. eventually they gave it to me and it was just right!

jimi

Ben clearly needs a girlfriend.

VJ BinCT

There was a story in the business section of the NYTimes last spring mentioning the cost of the raw ingredients of Coca-cola (or maybe Pepsi) syrup. About $2 for enough to make thousands of servings, mostly caramel. No idea what the fast food joints are charged, but the cost of ice probably is greater.

Mike B

Wired Magazine showed the optimal amount of ice in an Info Graphic in within the last year or two. Find that and you have your answer.

Erin

Although the soda may be less expensive than the ice, it is likely that the soda is the item you're exchanging your money for, so it would seem that it would have more value.

I've always been a no ice/half ice kind of person, but I guess it depends on the personal cost of consuming warm soda/how fast a drinker you are.

Ben From Flushing

Jimmy (#8) -

Ben is happily married with a child and a full-time job.

Andrew

I drink my pop kinda fast (10 minutes?) so I really don't like to get ice. Whenever I request no ice from a store I get twice the pop.

Cmor

As I'm not a soda coniseur, I always add a little bit of slurpee to big gulp. Keeps the drink cool, and doesn't dilute the taste as much as ice. I also will do the reverse.

Johnny Mudshark

Buy a slushee, Ben - no ice needed!

Thom

You nailed it with #3.
The density, temperature, and surface area of the ice are the major players in how fast your drink is diluted. A machine that produces solid, dense ice requires much more time to produce one batch. Since it takes longer, it also requires larger batches and/or more finished ice storage.
The temperature is also affected by the fact that many, if not most, soda fountains don't refrigerate the ice compartment. It's simply a cooler that the clerk dumps ice into from another machine.
Ice is a great example of what they call Q-Factor in restaurants: all the things that customers consider to be free, but actually cost money. When I suggested better ice where I worked a few years ago I was laughed at. I'm glad Dubner seems to see the value.

Danny

Ben's other wife is a Porsche.

Ben

No ice, the soda comes out at a temp that's already cool enough for me.
The only time I use ice is when I'm getting some fresh brewed tea (I'm in Texas, there's always fresh brewed tea).

Patrick

Actually, the shape of the ice cubes is important. More finely ground ice will dissolve more quickly because the soda is always going to be a higher temperature than the ice.

The most important factors here are a) the temperature at which the soda is dispensed, b) the "optimal" drinking temperature, c) the rate at which one drinks the soda, and d) the relative utility of soda temperature and soda concentration/dilution. Given this information you could design a "perfect" cup of soda with exactly the right quantity (and volume/surface area ratio) of ice to give you soda at the best temperature/dilution tradeoff possible.

Chuck

I struggled with this very same question (Struggled, I tell you!) until the skies parted and the answer was delivered by an infinitely wise 7-11 cashier: No ice.

My cashier guru sagely told me that most restaurants and convenience stores refrigerate the soda in the soda dispensers to 40 degrees F or colder. Something about the CO2 working best at that temperature. That's plenty cold for me, so there is no marginal benefit to adding ice to the soda.