What Is French Soda? Anything You Want It To Be

It's a hot day and you need something refreshing. You head to your local cocktail lounge, the one with the great porch and a view. On the menu, you see a special: Lavender-Lemon French soda. Intrigued, you give it a try and are served an icy, fizzing, syrupy concoction that appears to have been finished off with some cream. Even more intrigued, you lift the drink to your lips and take a sip, and it's just what you were looking for — a cool, sweet, well-balanced drink that's perfectly thirst-quenching. That, friends, is French soda.

Europeans don't drink as much soda as we do in the U.S., but, did you know that what we call French soda actually derives from the traditional American soda fountain? It's not a homogenized product like modern soda brands. French soda, also known as Italian cream soda or cremosa is really more of a cocktail sans the alcohol — a soft rather than hard drink. 

There is no set recipe for this drink, but rather a set of components required to make a French soda, that you can have in any proportions you prefer. It's no surprise that the French's laissez-faire approach extends to the drink in your hand. 

The three components

The three components that make up a French soda are as follows: carbonated water, a simple syrup, and dairy. The carbonation provides the soda with the classic lightness and bubbles without imparting the sweetness that a flavored carbonated beverage would provide. It serves as the main body of the drink, the constant among which the other flavors can build upon.

Next, we have the simple syrup. There are an infinite combination of flavors you could develop here. From citrus and chocolate to herbs and spices, the simple syrup serves as the main flavoring agent of the soda. Thanks to the base of carbonated water, the syrup won't come on too heavily. Any flavors, however, will be captured in the bubbles and sing through the soda

.Finally, you have the dairy component, which finishes off the soda. Add however much you like, depending on how creamy you like your soda. Typically, half-and-half is used, because it gives just enough creaminess without being too overpowering. However, you could use any type of milk, or milk alternative, you want. 

Constructing the drink is simple. In an iced glass, mix together one-ounce of dairy to half an ounce of syrup, and top with carbonated water. This could easily be batched if you're hosting a crowd. 

The matter of syrups

Thanks to the chief variable of the simple syrup, this soda is endlessly adaptable to a wide variety of flavor combinations. You could stick with simple, tried-and-true combinations of berry-based fruit syrups like raspberry or blackberry paired with aromatics like lavender, rosemary, and cinnamon. You could also get a little adventurous and try combos like beetroot and chocolate or strawberries and balsamic vinegar. What it boils down to is the question of making your own syrup or buying pre-made. 

Making a simple syrup is straightforward. However, since you are going to be adding in fruits and other ingredients with their own natural sugars, the ratio of water to sugar is going to be different. For a standard simple syrup, the ratio is 1:1 parts water and sugar. However, for a French soda syrup, the ratio should be a 60/40 water-to-sugar ratio. Once the sugars dissolve, everything steeps as it cools before being sieved and served. 

You could also buy some flavored syrups. Monin is one of the best, most well-known syrup brands. They specialize in all-natural syrups made with high-quality ingredients sourced from around the world. They have such flavors as pistachio, mandarin, cucumber, blueberry, hickory smoke, and pumpkin spice. Hearing these flavors ought to get your head wrapped around the fact that you can literally do anything with a French soda. 

Where to find French Soda

As little as 50 years ago, you likely would have been able to go to any drugstore or soda fountain and get yourself a variation of a French soda. Soda fountains were once incredibly popular in the United States, but by the 1970s, thanks to mass canning and bottling, they became mostly a thing of the past. As a result, there are next to no places in the U.S. that have French soda as a menu item. A place that did serve them up, Bellecour Restaurant in Wayzata, Minnesota, closed in 2020. But in Glenn Arbor, Michigan, the Leelanau Coffee Co. still serves up for just a dollar. 

As this drink is so easy to make, you are almost better off doing it at home, especially if you have a Soda Stream machine sitting around. Though, if you asked, we're sure there are bartenders or baristas out there that would whip up a French soda, even if it's not on the menu now that you can fill them in on the formula. Still, the ease, variety, and accessibility of this soda make it all the easier to make at home. Whether you prefer to make your own syrup or like to buy pre-made brands like Monin, a French soda is one drink that could very easily make itself part of your mixology repertoire.