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Do Carbonated Drinks Go Flat Quicker on Their Sides?

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by James Hunt

From Coca-Cola to carbonated water, there isn't a fizzy drink around that tastes better once it has gone flat. As soon as you break the seal on the bottle, it's a race against time to finish off your soft drink before the precious bubbles that make the drink taste better are depleted. The last thing you want to do is speed up that process. 

That's why we had to know: Does laying a bottle on its side make a soft drink go flat more quickly? Or is it nothing more than a consequence-free way to cram more and more of them in the fridge?

To figure out the answer, you first have to understand why fizzy drinks go flat at all. The carbonation in soft drinks is a result of additional carbon dioxide being dissolved into the liquid, which is then sealed under pressure. When the container is opened, the difference in pressure allows the carbon dioxide to form into bubbles, which then rush to the surface and escape back into the air. As each bubble bursts, the drink becomes a little less fizzy.

This process can theoretically continue until the drink contains the same amount of carbon dioxide as the atmosphere around it—though the drink will seem flat long before that point.

So does it matter if the container is on its side?

The answer: Not really. While it's true that a bottle that is lying down will have a greater area of contact between the liquid and the air inside the bottle, that's a small enough factor that any effect on the speed of carbon dioxide dissolution will be negligible. Since carbon dioxide bubbles form, or  "nucleate," on the side of the bottle, increasing the surface area between the drink and the air might actually make it go flat slightly slower if the bottle is on its side—but again, this effect isn't pronounced enough to make much of a difference over anything other than very short time scales.

What really matters when it comes to keeping a drink fizzy is the pressure inside a sealed container. As the carbon dioxide escapes, it builds up the pressure in the air within the bottle, until it's high enough to prevent bubbles forming, which keeps the liquid fizzy. The pressure inside an opened bottle of soda that has been resealed is virtually the same, whether or not it's standing up or on its side.

Things that do help keep drinks fizzy include chilling (carbon dioxide dissolves into air more readily at higher temperatures) and screwing the cap on tightly to help keep the pressure within the bottle high.

Squeezing the bottle doesn't help, unless you keep it squeezed until the next time it's opened—otherwise, the carbon dioxide will just escape the liquid and deform the bottle back to its original shape. Indeed, the fact that there's no air inside the bottle will effectively suck extra carbon dioxide out of the drink in an attempt to equalize pressure inside the container, so squeezing the bottle actually makes the drink go flat more quickly than the alternative.

And finally, those repressurizing pumps? They'll only work if you pump in something that contains more carbon dioxide than the drink. Air doesn't, so the extra air you pump in creates a high-pressure mix of mostly oxygen and nitrogen, which—if anything—helps forcibly displace the carbon dioxide in the drink by encouraging oxygen and nitrogen to dissolve.

Whew. Knowing all that, the main tip for keeping your drink from going flat before you finish it? Keep it cold until you're ready to drink it, then chug it down. Your dentists and doctors might not thank us, but your taste buds will.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Epic Poster Charts More Than 500 Varieties of Beer
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Pop Chart Lab

Pop Chart Lab has produced several beer-related posters, like the "Very Many Varieties of Beer" and the "Very, Very Many Varieties of Beer." They’ve outdone themselves again with their latest refreshing visualization. The new chart, titled "The Magnificent Multitude of Beer," organizes more than 500 individual beers into more than 100 different styles.

According to Pop Chart Lab, this latest poster is particularly expansive, listing two to five times as many beers as their previous charts. Even the most seasoned beer aficionado has something to learn from studying it. The product’s description reads:

“This ultimate beer chart breaks down every style of brew from hoppy IPAs to fruity Iambics. Now including ABV and IBU ranges for each style—as well as glassware recommendations!—this massive mapping of beer captures the delicious, awe-inspiring output of breweries around the world.”

All that information requires an appropriate package to contain it. The poster measures 48-by-32-inches—making it more than big enough to cover the wall behind your home bar. Hang this poster where you can see it and your well of beer knowledge will never run dry. You can preorder a print for $65, with shipping set to begin on February 15.

Chart of beer varieties.
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Framed poster of beer varieties.
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Public Domain // Mendhak // CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic (Wikimedia Commons)
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George Orwell's 11 Tips for Proper Tea Making
Public Domain // Mendhak // CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic (Wikimedia Commons)
Public Domain // Mendhak // CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic (Wikimedia Commons)

More than 70 years ago, in the January 12, 1946, edition of the Evening Standard, George Orwell wrote up 11 tips for making and consuming tea. Published under the title "A Nice Cup of Tea," Orwell noted that "at least four [points] are acutely controversial." That's a bold claim!

So what does it take to make an Orwellian cup of tea? Read on.

A NICE CUP OF TEA BY GEORGE ORWELL

If you look up 'tea' in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.
This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:

FIRSTLY

First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays—it is economical, and one can drink it without milk—but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase 'a nice cup of tea' invariably means Indian tea.

SECONDLY

Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities—that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.

THIRDLY

Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.

(Ed. note: a hob is a stove burner in this context. Depends a bit on what sort of pot you're using whether it's safe to put it on the burner!)

FOURTHLY

Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes—a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.

FIFTHLY

Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.

SIXTHLY

Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.

SEVENTHLY

Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.

EIGHTHLY

Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup—that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one's tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.

NINTHLY

Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.

TENTHLY

Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.

LASTLY (SADLY NOT ELEVENTHLY)

Lastly, tea—unless one is drinking it in the Russian style—should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tea lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Some people would answer that they don't like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

Orwell concludes:

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one's ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

Let the arguing commence, tea lovers!

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