Why McDonald’s Coca Cola Really Does Taste Better

The Coca-Cola at McDonald’s is the stuff of legends. If you’re a soft drink connoisseur and McDonald’s lover like me, then you know that the Coke at the Golden Arches simply tastes better than Coke beverages anywhere else.

I used to think this was just my imagination or the result of McDonald’s pervasive marketing. But it turns out there are actual, scientific reasons why McDonald’s Coca-Cola tastes better.

Let’s dive in and learn about what makes their Coke products genuinely better than anyone else’s.

The Perfect Temperature

Eye-level shot of a hand holding a clear, lidded cup of dark-colored soda, with a yellow McDonald’s M logo and a car dashboard in the background, Lafayette, California, November 21, 2022. Photo courtesy Sftm.

If you asked a typical person about the best temperature to serve a Coca-Cola, they’d probably just say “cold.”

McDonald’s, though, takes things way further than that. According to The Takeout, they chill both the syrup for their Coca-Cola (on which more below) and the water to a temperature that’s just above freezing.

That’s right–the Coke at McDonald’s isn’t just refrigerated; it’s carefully maintained at a temperature that’s just above the point where it would be icy (or would turn into a frozen coke). That makes the soda extra refreshing, versus a Coke you grab from your fridge, which is probably at around 40 degrees.

But it also does something else. Cooling the liquid to just above freezing allows it to absorb more CO2, based on a fundamental physical law called Le Chatelier’s Principle. The upshot? More dissolved CO2 makes for bubblier Coca-Cola than you’d get at home.

Fresh Ingredients

Soda fountain with Coca Cocla and Diet Coke visible at McDonald’s restaurant in Lafayette, California, March 14, 2022. Photo courtesy Sftm.

Like most restaurants, McDonald’s makes it Coca-Cola by combining compressed CO2 with syrup using a soda fountain. Unlike most restaurants, McDonald’s sells an incredible quantity of Coca-Cola each day.

Priding itself on inexpensive food, McDonald’s charges as little as $1 for a large soda. That means a typical McDonald’s might sell hundreds of gallons of Coca-Cola per day. 

All the turnover means that McDonald’s is constantly refreshing their soda fountains with new syrup, fresh ice, and CO2. Just as freshly picked fruit tastes best, very fresh ingredients mean very tasty Coca-Cola.

A Unique Delivery System

McDonald’s sells so much Coca-Cola, in fact, that the New York Times reports the chain has developed a unique way to receive syrup. Whereas most chains receive Coca-Cola syrup in plastic bags, McDonald’s receives it in stainless steel tanks.

These tanks “ensure its freshness.” Since stainless steel is inert, it doesn’t contribute any flavors to the syrup, and likely does a better job protecting it from heat and light than plastic bags, too.

The end result? Syrup that’s not only fresh, but is also delivered without the risk of degradation or spoiling.

Aggressively Filtered Water

Brightly illuminated sign on a McDonald’s fast food restaurant at night in Dublin, California, March 5, 2018.

As many a pizza connoisseur will tell you, the quality of water in a specific place can radically alter the chemistry of food.

Tap water can contain varying levels of chlorine, dissolved minerals, and even contaminants and sediment, depending on the filtration process of the city (or rural well) providing the water.

According to McDonald’s website, the company sidesteps this issue by aggressively filtering all the water that it uses for its Coca-Cola. In its words, “In order to ensure our drinks are always meeting a gold standard, we filter all the water before it enters fountain dispensers.”

That ensures a consistent water quality, whether you’re getting your Coca Cola in San Francisco or Kalamazoo.

Soda Filling Robots

A Mcdonald’s robot. You can see the cups waiting to be filled, with lids in a little container to the right

In making the perfect Coca Cola, the quality of the soda is only one part of the equation. Achieving the perfect ratio of soda to ice is also essential.

Partly that’s because ice melts, which can dilute a drink over time. But it’s also important not to overload a drink with ice, which prevents the soda from flowing freely up the drinker’s straw.

To make sure that its Coca Colas have a perfect soda to ice ratio, McDonald’s is increasingly using soda filling robots. These robots automatically fill each drink with the ideal mix of ice and Coke, and are faster and more consistent than a person.

Automation means a better Coca Cola.

Carefully Designed Straws

If you’ve enjoyed a bubble tea from a chain like Boba Guys, you know that the straw is a big part of the drinking experience. Wider straws deliver more of your drink at once, bathing your tastebuds in flavor and carbonation.

According to McDonald’s, the chain uses straws that are “slightly wider than a typical straw so all that Coke® taste can hit your taste buds.” Think of a sommelier decanting wine to get its flavor perfect.

Mouthfeel and fluid dynamics make a big difference in taste. McDonald’s has tuned their straw to deliver Coca Cola in a way that perfectly bathes and coats your tastebuds, resulting in optimal flavor.

The Best Coca Cola, Through Science

Close-up of flagpole against blue sky flying American flag and flag with logo of the McDonald’s corporation, Dublin, California, February 23, 2020.

For their part, McDonald’s is very modest about their Coca Cola prowess. According to their website, “We simply follow the guidelines set by Coca-Cola® and take steps to ensure that we serve a high-quality fountain beverage.”

Really, though, it goes way deeper than that. McDonald’s uses everything from a unique stainless steel delivery system, perfectly temperature-controlled and filtered water, and specially designed straws to optimize their Coca Cola.

With aggressive pricing, they also sell a lot of Coca Cola, which means lots of turnover and fresher ingredients.

The end result is something familiar to any McDonald’s lover: the chain’s iconic, absolutely sublime Coca Cola drinks!

Getting thirsty? I know writing this article makes me want to run to Mickey D’s and grab a Coke now. It’s about the most American combination I can think of–a Big Mac and a Coke. 

And in addition to being a sign of an all American partnership, McDonald’s Coca Cola is also a prime example of American ingenuity. Grab one soon and see what I mean!

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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