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What is Sparkling Water?

You know that one scene in English Vinglish? Y’know, that one scene where Sridevi’s character walks into a cafe and bewildered by all the choices, asks for water, and the short-tempered barista asks her if she wants it ‘still’ or ‘sparkling’? And Sashi, bless her confused little soul, just stalls, cause what the hell is still or sparkling water? Still water is easy enough to explain, as it’s just normal drinking water. Sparkling water on the other hand? What’s up with that?

Sparkling water, or carbonated water was never “invented”. It’s a naturally occurring phenomenon in springs and geysers, and people have consumed it since time immemorial. But if you want someone to blame (thank) for the fizzy craze, you need to look at Joseph Priestly in the quaint little town of Leeds in the land of the colonials, aka England. Like any man a bit too invested in the world around him (especially the next door brewery), our man Joe was particularly fascinated by the gas causing bubbles in the booze. After finding out that the gas was carbon dioxide, he decided to find a way to get the delightful little bubbles in plain old wa’er. And he did it! Hanging plain water over a beer vat did the trick, and with the help of an aerating apparatus devised by Henry Cavendish, Joseph successfully “invented” artificial carbonated water. He described drinking giving him a “peculiar satisfaction”. 

Enter Johann Jacob Schweppe, a watchmaker of all people, taking Joe’s idea and commercializing it. In 1783, the man founded the first-ever soft drink brand, Schweppes, and the people swarmed. The people loved and adored it. An instant hit, and the beverage market hasnt been the same since. 

Sparkling water has been changed and warped with time, adopting different names and variations through the ages. Drinks have been spawned, some very iconic. And not laced with cocaine nowadays. But sparkling water has always been the base of all these drinks. Sparkling water has also been used in medicine, and to relieve indigestion and gas. With such a rich and varied history, Sparkling water has shaped social movements, cultures and households through time. For a vary simple drink of water infused with carbon dioxide, It’s more than just a beverage. It’s a statement.


[1] Joseph Priestley. "DIRECTIONS FOR IMPREGNATING WATER WITH FIXED AIR; To communicate to it the peculiar Spirit and Virtues of Pyrmont Water, And other Mineral Waters of a ſimilar Nature". Today in Science. Archived from the original on 29 July 2019. "Our fizzy seas of soda water". The Telegraph. 21 September 2016.

[2] circa 1790: Joseph Priestley (1733-1804). English clergyman, chemist. Lectured on anatomy, astronomy, introduced teaching of modern history and sciences 1761, librarian to Lord Shelburne 1772-79. He wrote on, experimented with electricity, discovered 'Dephlogisticated air' now called oxygen 1774, a minister in Birmingham 1780-91, where due to his sympathy to the French Revolution, his house was burned, emigrated to the US, settling in PA 1794. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

[3] - Transcript of Podcast Episode "Gettin' Fizzy With It" featuring Barry Joseph, author of book, Seltzertopia

[4] Based on observations by the author

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