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Icebreaker! The Ultimate Frozen Drink Temperature Challenge!

What's the coldest drink in town? Icee. It says so right on the cup.

However, if you were completely obsessed with the real temperature of things, and you lived in Sacramento with two kids and a reliable car, you might be tempted to actually find out.

My kids have had a handful of Icees, milkshakes and Jamba Juices in their lives. Of course, they love each of these. I think they prefer super-sweet drinks to actual solid candy. Unless things went terribly wrong, this temp-testing adventure would be similar to a trip to the Wonka factory: More sweet drinks than they had ever dreamed of.

We live near the epicenter of frozen drinks in Sacramento, but in order to make the circuit as fast as possible, we planned a route. We'd travel west to the Quick Stop to get an Icee, Then Northwest to Jamba Juice at Howe about Arden. Then we'd visit the 7-11 on Arden to get a Slurpee, and finish up with a strawberry milkshake at Jack in the Box at Arden and Watt.

Please note that frozen drink vendors must be located in the southwest corner of city intersections. Regulations.

I planned on testing the temperature immediately after buying each drink, but packed an ice chest to keep the drinks looking their best on the way to some group photos at the end of the trip. I was a little low on ice due to my beer-cooling experiments, but luckily we came across the evidence of a freak ice storm and were able to harvest some hailcubes for our own use.

At the Quickstop, the Icee machine was self-serve. We self-served 32 oz. of Cherry Icee for $1.79 plus tax.

We went outside and immediately took a reading. 26.5°F *(-3°C). That is pretty damn cold for something you are supposed to be drinking. Normal iced drinks wouldn't ever drop below freezing, would they?

We stowed the Icee in the ice chest and continued to Jamba Juice. The kids puzzled over the drink names.
"Does an Icee have ice in it?"
"Does Slurpee have pee in it?"

Jamba Juice was surprisingly busy, perhaps in part because Jamba Juice is not self-serve. Nor is it inexpensive. Our 22oz. Strawberries Wild smoothie was $4.85.

Outside, we stuck it with the temperature probe: 29°F (-1½°C).
Ah ha! The Jamba Juice was below freezing, but couldn't match the coldness of the Icee. Was the Icee truly the coldest drink in this area? It's colder than Jamba Juice, but at this point, that was as much as I was willing to venture.

We piled back into the car and set out for 7-11. Leadership at 7-11 knows you are there to buy Slurpees and get out, so they put the Slurpee machines behind a gauntlet of ATMs, magazine racks and Redbox machines. Eventually we discovered the cherry dispenser and pulled ourselves a cupfull. The price was identical to a similar Icee, $1.79 for 32 ounces. Would the similarities stop there?

Yes. Outside we measured the Slurpee at 21°F (-6°C)! This was 5 degrees colder than the Icee and established the Slurpee as the reigning champion of frozen drinks. But, there was still a milkshake to beat on the way home.

At the intersection of Watt Avenue and Arden Way, a Jack in the Box beckoned. We got a chocolate milkshake in the drive-through: 32oz. for $3.70.

We pulled the car over to dip the thermometer and emerged with our final measurement of the day: 24.7°F (-4°C).

Second place!

The results were in. Here they are, from coldest to cold.

  1. Slurpee        21°F
  2. Milkshake   24.7°
  3. Icee             26.5°F
  4. Jamba Juice 29°F

Don't ever believe any marketing slogan ever. The "coldest drink in town" slogan was coined in 1950, right around the time when air conditioners started being installed in automobiles, so it wasn't such a bold claim when they were granted the trademark.

Cold has come a long way since then. The slogan needs an update to "one of the coldest drinks in town" or perhaps "colder than Jamba Juice". Maybe they got sued after then were implicated in a crotch-freezing incident in the drive thru, forcing them to adjust their serving temperature. I don't know.

Although these results are damning, we only tested one of each drink from one of each type of machine. For all I know, they have a thermostat in the back which ranges from "coldest in town" to "no one is ever going to check, so save yourself some juice, and by juice we mean electricity, because real juice doesn't belong within 100 yards of this contraption".

Also, the cups were all different, and here is where Jamba Juice triumphs. The Icee cup is paper. Slurpee is a polypropylene cup. The Milkshake was in a polyethylene terephtalate (PETE) cup, and the Jamba juice comes in a polystyrene (styrofoam) cup. Each of these cups have to shield the drink from your warm hand. None of these materials are appropriate to insulate your drink, save one, the Jamba Juice polystyrene.

What that means is that the Slurpee starts out the coldest, but determining which ends up being the coldest depends on how fast you can drink it.

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