Sparkling soda, seltzer, or tonic - what’s your favorite? Some have a strong preference, others love them all - or never knew there was a difference between each type. While individual tastes may vary, one common thread is clear - the demand for carbonated waters has rapidly risen in the past few years alone. Well-known varieties have joined the ranks of avocado toast as stereotyped millennial favorites, though studies show year after year that sparkling soda is beloved by fans of all ages with staying power amongst the masses. In fact, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal, U.S. consumers purchased roughly 821 million gallons of carbonated water in 2018. This is nearly triple the quantity purchased in 2008, and the booming growth shows no sign of slowing.
Since sparkling sodas and similar products have surged in popularity so recently, it's easy to mistake this up-and-coming industry as a relatively new one. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re here to share the fascinating history of our favorite bubbly beverages, and the subtle distinctions between the carbonated water types we know and love today.
As you read this, a mineral spring is gently bubbling from the ground in Neiderselters, Germany, commonly known as the "Selters Spring." Its first recorded reference was in the year 772 (you read that right), and it's bubbled onward and upward throughout written history to date. A popular resort business centered around the Selters Spring in the late sixteenth century, and the sale and transportation of the water took hold soon after. The English term "seltzer water" is derived from "Selters Water," the adopted brandname of water transported from the spring and sold. Orders were sent from Selters to Russia, Scandanavia, Africa, North America, and even the Dutch East Indes. After centuries of business, the bottling fountain was closed in 1999, and the spring has since been owned by the community.
Dr. William Brownrigg of Northern England was the first person in known history to make still water fizz with the addition of CO2 in 1740. While intrigued, he didn’t publish his findings, and his innovative discovery temporarily fizzled out. Thankfully Dr. Joseph Priestley (yet another British scientist) had the same revelation just twenty-seven years later. Priestley placed a bowl of water above an effervescent vat of beer, and to his surprise, it led to carbonation. He noted how satisfying he found the resulting effect and shared it with visiting friends. Priestly later published his discovery in the 1772 paper "Directions for Impregnating Water with Fixed Air." For this, he was awarded the Copley Medal that same year by the Council of the Royal Society in honor of the concept’s scientific merit. Priestly also invented a specialized device to carbonate water, which was adapted for mass production by J. J. Schweppe, and the carbonated beverage industry steadily grew over the next hundred years. New brands rose to prominence subsequently, as did the new method of pumping pressurized carbon dioxide directly into water - an improvement from Priestley's original method. Though he didn’t see a profit for his innovative idea, Priestley has since been known as the “father of the soft drink.”
Until World War II, carbonated water was known in America as "soda water" because it contained sodium salts. Eventually this was shortened to the colloquial term "soda" which encompassed each and every drink of the bubbly variety. Soda water and its growing popularity eventually led to the creation of more carbonated beverages, and the introduction of the PepsiCo and Coca-Cola brands in the late nineteenth century. Many in the Great Depression called unflavored soda water “two cents plain,” as it was the cheapest option sold in soda fountains without the three cent cost of flavoring. For individuals struggling to get by in Depression-era America, soda water was a little luxury within reach, which further sealed its spot as an American pop culture classic.
While the popularity of sparkling water products has steadily risen in the past decade, research has shown that sugary alternatives have seen a gradual decline. Health-conscious consumers have shied away from chemical-laden soda choices, reluctant to consume excess toxins, loads of sugar and hundreds of calories, all of which fill far too many soda products. Sparkling water comes in a variety of appealing flavors today, and is regarded as a much more palatable, tasty alternative to plain old H2O, without sacrificing hydration or consuming needless calories and additives. The formerly limited scope of sparkling water product options now includes everything from caffeinated drinks to our hemp-infused beverage line, joining the best of other desirable elements with sparkling soda's effervescent appeal. Sparkling water’s increasing popularity and continued evolution would undoubtedly make its creators proud.
Curious about the differences between tonic, sparkling water, club soda and seltzer? Let’s take a closer look at the distinctions between the top types of bubbly beverages.
Sparkling water, club soda, tonic water and seltzer have an important shared ingredient – carbonated water. If you’re ever unsure of exactly what fizzy water you’ve been sipping, call it “carbonated water” and you’ll be correct. Virtually all manufacturers now force the process of carbonation in cold water by dissolving carbon dioxide gas into it. The manufacturer of J.J. Shweppe – of the famous Shweppe’s brand – perfected the process of making water bubble artificially, adapting Priestley's original ideas and prototype to build his eventual enterprise. Before the origin of this process in 1783, the only source of carbonated water was tapping naturally occurring springs like the Selter Spring in Germany. Today, we refer to water that’s tapped from the ground as mineral water. While natural springs of bubbly water are mystifying in concept, relying solely on their limited availability would greatly reduce the carbonated water available for consumers today (and probably dramatically increase its price). Therefore, we owe our favorite varieties – including sparkling CBD water – to the innovative genius of Priestley and Shweppe.
Club soda is carbonated water which has been infused with added minerals, differentiating it from other carbonated water varieties. It is typically infused with several common minerals, including potassium sulfate, sodium chloride, disodium phosphate, and sodium bicarbonate. Like the other varieties, its contains a base of carbonated water, which contains carbonation from the injection of CO2. The presence of minerals in club soda give it a slightly salty taste, and fans agree that this helps to increase its flavor. In fact, club soda’s mineral content makes it taste similar to the original variety, bottled straight from mother Earth. While we’ll always prefer the sweet and natural appeal our sparkling sodas with phytocannabinoid-rich hemp extract, club soda is admittedly hard to beat.
As we mentioned above, Seltzer originated in the town of Neiderselters, Germany. Seltzer is similar enough to club soda that its frequently used as a substitute in many cocktails. Unlike club soda, however, seltzer tastes more like plain old H2O, due to a lack of added minerals. The simplicity of seltzer makes it a perfect cocktail mixer – allowing flavorful additions like citrus to be added without adulterating their taste with a hint of salty flavor, as is often the case with club soda. Bob Kenworthy is the host of The Science History Institute’s podcast on Distillations. In one episode by the name of “Fizzy Water,” he explains that “seltzer, as we know it today, is pretty much water artificially impregnated with CO2.”
Tonic water - or simply "tonic" - differs from the rest in its noticeably different taste. Tonic water, like club soda, contains minerals. Unlike the others we’ve mentioned, tonic water also contains quinine, giving it a uniquely bitter aftertaste. Quinine is dervived from the bark of cinchona trees. Historically, tonic water was used to prevent the spread of malaria, in tropical locations where the disease tended to spread rampantly. In those days, the level of quinine was much higher, helping to differentiate it from potentially risky, unclean water and keep the disease at bay. While the other categories of carbonated water are considered to be healthy, tonic water generally isn’t, as its often sweetened with lots of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and/or other chemical additives to improve its bitter taste. Tonic is a well-known mixer for lots of popular, simple cocktails.
Unlike the other carbonated water varieties, sparkling mineral water contains natural carbonation, from a well or spring with inherent carbonation in the water that arises from it. Sparkling mineral water is naturally stocked with a multitude of minerals, including sodium, magnesium and calcium. The mineral quantities vary by type of spring water, depending on the location from which it was bottled. The mineral content of water impacts its taste to a surprising degree. The Food and Drug Administration dictates that sparkling mineral water must include 250 parts per million (or more) of dissolved minerals and trace elements to meet the criteria of this category.
Sparkling water is almost indistinguishable from seltzer: mere carbonated water with a hint of extra flavoring. Unlike mineral water, it isn’t necessary sprung from the ground. Sparkling water can contain sodium, just like seltzers. In fact, seltzers and soda waters often have similar flavor profiles and identical lists of ingredients. They’re considered a healthy, mineral-rich source of hydration. Because of the high level of overlap between the categories of seltzer and sparkling water, its up to each individual brand to decide how they prefer to be classified. Since seltzer carries more historical connotations, many older brands opt for “seltzer” in their monikers, while “sparkling water” (or “sparkling CBD water” for a few contemporary sellers) is adopted by new brands on the rise. Shweppe’s, despite their founder’s status as the original creator of seltzer and the carbonation process, has recently switched labels and rebranded their products as “sparkling water.” This change in tune – but not in process – just exemplifies how interchangeably the labels may be used.
Sparkling waters and sodas offer a much healthier and ever-delectable alternative to processed soda products, contributing to the dramatic shift in popularity in recent years. Our five original sparkling CBD soda options have just 100 calories per can, and we’ve recently added two fresh calorie-free sparkling water flavors. All seven delicious flavors of Colorado’s Best Drinks have five simple ingredients or fewer with phytocannabinoid-rich, broad spectrum hemp extract in BPA-free packaging. They’re also vegan, non-GMO and free of gluten, THC, sodium and preservatives.
While the origin of carbonated sodas in Selter spring is more than a millennium behind us, Colorado’s Best Drinks remains devoted to bring carbonated beverages back to their natural roots - and to deliver them straight to your doorstep.