As I took Keurig's Kold machine out of its box, the first thought that ran through my head was, "Man, Alton Brown would hate this." You see, the Good Eats and Cutthroat Kitchen host has a vendetta against single-use kitchen gadgets: that is, products designed to do one thing and one thing alone. And it's usually a purpose that could easily be replicated by another doodad already living in your kitchen. In the case of the Kold, a device that dispenses single servings of cold drinks at the touch of a button, that doodad would be your fridge.
That initial impression was inspired by the sheer size of the Kold. I whipped out my measuring tape and found that its depth is a rather substantial 19.25 inches -- not counting the extra two inches they ask you to leave behind the device so the vents in the back can circulate. That's over 21 inches of counter real estate this device is asking for in depth alone. Now, the kitchen counters in my modest Brooklyn apartment are 23 inches deep. But, the Kold is also a foot across and almost 15 inches tall. Taking into account that both space and outlets in my kitchen are at a premium, I decided to set up the Kold on my dining table instead.
Whether you have a luxuriously sized suburban kitchen or you're trying to cram this setup into a studio apartment, you'll want to carefully consider your placement of the Kold: Wherever you put it, it's going to be living there a while. This isn't just because of the size and weight (topping 23 pounds); plugging it in initiates a mandatory cooling cycle, which makes a sound like a small jet plane and takes about two hours to complete. The noise isn't that bad, but if you accidentally unplug it or experience a temporary blackout, you won't be making any drinks until it finishes.
Once the cooling cycle is complete, getting started is simple enough. You fill the water tank, just like any other Keurig, and then "prime" it by running a cycle with no pod. Nothing about the setup was particularly hard. Indeed, Keurig prides itself on ease of use.
With the Kold all ready to go, it was time to start making drinks. But I wasn't too big on the idea of downing glass after glass of sugary, carbonated beverages all alone in my apartment (and neither was my waistline). Keurig says this thing would be good for people who like to entertain, so I gathered some friends and set about entertaining the heck out of them.
In front of a group of 10 people I inserted a pod of cane sugar cola from Red Barn, Keurig's house brand. After checking to make sure I put the pod in correctly and removed the little foil "freshness seal" on the bottom, I lowered the lid and pressed the large, pulsing button. The group waited with bated breath. And waited... and waited. Preparing "fresh" soda was not a fast process by any means.
The delay and the sounds can be unnerving, but they're due to the number of operations going on internally to produce a cold, carbonated drink. Water must be transferred from the side tank, and the carbon dioxide is channeled out of the carbonation beads stored within the pod. The two are combined by churning them with a propeller. The newly-carbonated water is then sent to the chiller, which is lined with copper and capable of draining off enough heat to bring the temperature down to just above freezing. After about 90 seconds the Kold spat out the carbonated water, filling half the glass in a relatively steady stream before it also plopped a bunch of syrup into the drink. We now had a glass of "fresh" cola, and I tentatively took a sip.
It tasted good. Sweet, but not overpowering. And it was suitably cold. But... it also seemed to be lacking a bit of punch. After letting others in the room have a taste, the consensus was that the drink was a bit flat.
The instruction manual, the boxes that the pods came in and the pods themselves all contain one very explicit warning: "Do not eat or handle beads." Despite these very clear instructions, both these were completely ignored within five minutes in a room filled with (mostly) sober thirty-somethings. Fortunately, representatives from Keurig have assured me that the beads are non-toxic. They're made of a highly absorbent ceramic that is initially filled with carbon dioxide but, as the water is added in the drink-making process, the beads release the CO2 and absorb H2O instead. They do get a little hot in the process. But, in the end they're perfectly safe -- Keurig is even trying to get the beads certified for composting.
Next we prepared a blind taste test of Dr. Pepper, comparing a Keurig sample to the bottled variety as well as a large cup of fountain Dr. Pepper from the local Subway franchisee. I put the Dr. Pepper pod into the Kold, hit the button and waited two minutes only to have the machine spit out a glass of cold, tasty... seltzer water. Turns out I forgot to take the freshness seal off the pod, an extra step that you don't have to worry about with K-Cups. I tried running it through again, but this time we ended up with just still water, the carbonation having been used up and the syrup still trapped inside. The wasted pod was a big disappointment. Even worse? I again forgot about the seal later on, squandering yet another pod. I suspect that I am not the only person who will make this mistake, making the freshness seal a big mar on what is otherwise a user-friendly experience.
So, how did all three Dr. Peppers taste? Sample #1 was the sweetest, #2 was somewhat flat and #3 was actually a bit harsh. The resounding winner, with eight out of 10 votes, was #1: the bottled Dr. Pepper. After the earlier incident with the Red Barn cola everyone assumed #2 was the Keurig Dr. Pepper, but it turned out to be the Subway variety. That left #3 as the Keurig sample -- not as sweet, but with a strong kick of carbonation that two of our voters preferred.
One friend brought a SodaStream so we could pit the two machines in a head-to-head competition. The SodaStream had the advantage in terms of its smaller size, and the fact that you could use any syrup you wanted to make drinks. Our comparison quickly hit a snag when we discovered the CO2 canister in the SodaStream was empty.
In fact, it's the process of having to change CO2 canisters for SodaStream machines that led to the creation of the Kuerig Kold in the first place. When current Keurig customers were surveyed about what they liked about their coffee makers and what the company could do better, many asked if Keurig had plans to do cold beverages as well. Apparently a lot of people who own Keurig machines also have a SodaStream, and they weren't particularly fond of having to take the CO2 cartridge out and either buying or exchanging for a new one. They hate the process so much that they'd rather pay $5 for a box of four soda pods instead.
It may sound crazy, but this is essentially the business model that Keurig's coffee makers have been operating on for almost two decades. The original K-Cup machine may have been created to solve the problem of stale pots of coffee at the office, but plenty of people have willingly spent the extra money to enjoy that ease of use at home. But, while plenty of people need the boost that coffee offers them every morning, soda isn't necessarily a need. It's a sugary treat -- one that plenty of people have been turning away from in favor of healthier options. The Keurig can make non-carbonated drinks as well, but if all you want is something cold you might find a mini-fridge a better investment.
The Keurig Kold is only a first attempt at such a device, and the company has big, big plans for future iterations. Keurig would love to reduce the footprint of the machine, just as its coffee makers have gotten smaller over the years. There's the issue of making the pods a little more environmentally friendly, because right now the amount of waste produced is astonishing. Most ambitious of all is that Keurig wants users to be able to customize their drinks: not just the flavor, but also the level of sugar and carbonation. A machine that could literally produce any kind of soft drink you wanted might actually be something worth having in your kitchen.
Right now, the Kold is a bit limited. After my friends declared it "a toy for rich douchebags," they proceeded to drink the rest of the bottled Dr. Pepper, along with most of the beer in my fridge. Meanwhile, the Kold still sits on my table, its large button glowing like an angry eye of Sauron. It beckons me to pop another pod in and enjoy some sugary goodness. I might just give in. One glass of root beer can't hurt, right?