Customized Coke Machine: Not the Free Choice I Want

TJ McDermott

October 20, 2011

4 Min Read
Customized Coke Machine: Not the Free Choice I Want

I used to think I would never be a Luddite, that I'd always be ready to embrace new technology. Maybe I was simply too young to think through the consequences of what we encounter. Maybe there is a bit of wisdom that comes with age. Or, maybe I'm getting curmudgeonly as I grow older.

Recently, I dined at two different "small" national burger franchises in the Seattle metro area. There, I encountered the new Coca-Cola Freestyle self-serve soda fountain. What a smashing blend of modern technology! Coca-Cola took lessons from Apple, having essentially a single button and touch-screen interface. It uses PurePour TechnologyA cent a euro zA cent to precisely meter all the ingredients to make your perfectly customized fountain drink before your eyes. This beauty can make 125 different beverages while occupying the space of a standard 6-valve fountain!

OK, let's take a deep breath and look at it a bit more dispassionately. Does a soda fountain really need a touch screen? I suppose so. Everything's better with a touch screen, right? Wait, what about water intrusion and sanitation? How clean is that touch screen really? Will restaurants really be "sanitizing" it more than hourly? I am not a germ-o-phobe, but think of all those fingers that touched the screen before you, all those sticky, dirty fingers. The regular 6-valve fountain involves less touching, with the cup usually activating the valve. Maybe the touch screen isn't such a good idea after all.

But it's so cool! It lets you select your base drink, then modify it by sweetener and flavor additive! Hold on a minute, is that really a good idea? Can everyone make their beverage decisions rapidly when faced with 125 possible choices? The line behind this technological wonder grows VERY quickly. There's something like eighteen base choices alone on the main selection screen. That by itself is enough to slow down the beverage dispensing process.


I find it a bit ironic that the PurePour Technology used to meter out all those flavors and sweeteners was originally designed for extremely precise diabetic and cancer drug metering. I think the inventors of this technology will stand next to Alfred Nobel when it comes to intentions and results.

OK, even after all those reservations, it's still pretty neat to get in front of the machine and begin literally concocting my drink. Hmmm. Base drink? Coke. Then, decide if I want sugar or diet. Then, do I want Cherry, Cherry-Vanilla, Vanilla, Lime, Raspberry, or Orange Coke? Perusing the official flavor list, I find interesting that not all flavor additives are available for all base drinks. Sprite permits one to add Cherry, Cherry-Lime, Grape, Grape-Cherry, Orange, Peach, Raspberry, Strawberry, and Vanilla. Apparently some combinations are either so vile-tasting (toxic? explosive?) that one is simply not permitted to add them (Peach Coke?).

At the first restaurant, all I wanted was a simple Coke. A few weeks later, at a different restaurant, I experimented a little. My first choice (Raspberry Lemonade), the Freestyle Fountain ran out one-third of the way to filling my cup! I dumped it and went with Vanilla Coke. Gah! That did not taste as good as it sounds! I went back, got a plain Coke, and finished my meal. Two thoughts about that experience have been kicking around my head. First, what percentage of repeat users will try one or two flavors, then resort back to a basic Coke, or Sprite, or even Pibb, without adding anything else ever again? I suspect it will be a high number.

The other thought was, with all that amazing technology for drink mixology, why didn't the fountain know that it did NOT have enough lemonade concentrate to fill a basic serving? I know it was in fact lemonade that it ran out of, because all of those choices went gray/untouchable. I could still get Raspberry Sprite, and could still get regular sweetener in all the drinks. So why didn't it know it did not have enough for a complete serving?

The choices seem a bit grandiose, too. You can get Dasani water, with flavors added, or Seagram's Seltzer Water. There's a pipe from the tap feeding this fountain. The Dasani Website says it uses local water filtered by reverse osmosis and then enhanced with minerals. I can accept that there is a flavor cartridge inside this magical soda fountain with that special blend of minerals. But a reverse osmosis rig, too? That's stretching credibility.

The Freestyle fountain is an amazing use of modern technology. I wonder if it's worthwhile. Gotta go. My order just came up, and I want to grab a Grape-Raspberry Sprite before I leave. You might consider checking out Freestyle's Facebook page while you wait for your order.

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