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When I was a kid, a friend and I had a list of favourite containers for soda (specifically Coca Cola). We said that it tasted the best when coming out of a glass bottle and the worst from a plastic bottle. Our list went as follows:

  1. Glass bottle.

  2. Machine coke (as in at the movies).

  3. In cans (aluminium).

  4. Plastic bottles.

My question is can the material of the container really make such a big difference? My logic tells me that obviously it must, but on the other hand, how big can this really be? Most of our childhood friends agreed with our ranking of the taste, but was this mostly in our heads?

Also, following from this, the machine coke also comes from plastic tubes, so shouldn't this then taste as bad as the plastic bottles? Lastly, if this then really affects the taste of the soda so much, doesn't it then follow that certain (potentially dangerous) particulates are being introduced into the sodas that affect the taste? (The reverse of this, if it doesn't happen, bringing me back to then why the perceived difference in tastes?)

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    I'm pretty sure the Coca-Cola that comes in glass bottles is not using the same type of sweetener the sodas in other containers are; they are using REAL, refined sucrose, not junk HFCS, as a result of being bottled in Mexico and being unable to benefit from corn subsidies here in the United States. This article talks about things some. – Uticensis May 9 '11 at 17:47
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    Other than agreeing that glass Coke > all, I'm not sure I agree with your other rankings. Mind you, it's possible that our perceived tastes depends on the context in which we imbibe; "machine Coke" might taste better to you over plastic bottle Coke, because when drinking former you're likely to be in a relaxed situation, at a pleasant night at the movies, while drinking the latter is associated in my mind with all-nighter junk food runs and salty snacks when there's no time for lunch. – Uticensis May 9 '11 at 17:51
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    My dad always said that coke in plastic bottles tastes worse then glass bottles is because the coke takes some of the bottles 'flavour' which it can't in a glass bottle. since both my parents did work in plastic goods creating companies i always beleived my dad on his word. – Andy May 10 '11 at 14:23
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    This gets even stranger with beer: many people (e.g. me) prefer bottled beer over canned beer. However, I also prefer draft beer over canned beer, which is odd considering both are provided in a metal cylinder. (However, it appears most kegs are made of steel, while most cans are made of aluminum, so perhaps the type of metal has some bearing.) – Patches May 18 '11 at 21:55
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    My understanding is that a soda fountain operates by mixing a flavored syrup with water upon dispensing, so that if the mixture in any particular fountain is off, the soda won't taste right. I don't know if I'm right, but it would stand to reason that it's easier to transport bags of syrup than big kegs of soda -- also I have experienced fountain soda tasing either too strong or watery, although I suppose that could be due to other factors. – Carson Myers Jun 1 '11 at 18:52
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There are a few different factors at play here which might affect the taste between containers:

Formulation

Most Coca-Cola is sweetened with High-Fructose Corn Syrup, but there are a number of ways to obtain Coke Sweetened with Sugar.

Transport/Carbonation strategy

Bottled/Canned soda is carbonated by the manufacturer in the bottle, then shipped in sealed containers, while "Machine Coke" as you call it is shipped as concentrated syrup in a Bag-In-Box that is mixed with carbonated water on-site. Most fountain soda systems allow the owner to adjust the ratio of carbonated water to syrup, as well as the temperature and amount of ice that gets served to you in the cup. All of those will affect flavor, to varying degrees.

Container Taste

xiaohouzi79 provides some good references that plastic containers may impart flavors on the finished product, and this article from Slate suggests that metal cans also will change the flavor of the soda, although this effect gets diminished as can-lining technology gets better.

Carbonation Leakage

That same Slate Article claims that plastic is also more CO2-permeable than aluminum, which will (over time) mean that the plastic bottle will yield "flatter" soda than the aluminum can. I suppose a similar question could be asked about the quality of the seal between the metal cap and the glass bottle. Differing levels of carbonation will affect the "mouthfeel" and also the taste by means of Carbonic Acid

Other effects

Different containers will retain heat differently (conductors vs. insulators), which will affect how the soda tastes in your mouth as well as how the can, bottle, or cup feels on your hand and lips (not strictly part of taste, but affects the soda-drinking experience).

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Accoding to Drinking Water: Storing an Emergency Supply published by the University of Nebraska:

Many types of containers are available for water storage, including those made of glass and plastic.

Some containers deemed safe for water storage may affect the taste of stored water.

Also from EMERGENCY DRINKING WATER SUPPLIES from Bio. and Ag. Engineering of NC State University

Some plastic containers may affect the taste of stored water.

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