Keurig KOLD Drinkmaker Review: For the Love of Soda
- - Fresh sodas, good flavor variety.
- - Easy to use.
- - Unique novelty factor.
- - Expensive compared to alternatives.
- - Needs to stay plugged in.
- - Potential noise issue depending on placement.
For as long as I have been alive, there has been a battle over consumers’ choice of drinks. No, I’m not referring directly to the Pepsi Challenge, but what I am getting to is that where others opt for coffee, tea, or rain water taken directly from the city streets, I’m firmly in the soda camp. My strong preference is for Coke products, but many soda flavors and brands have their occasional appeal and utility.
Once I became old enough to be a little discerning, I realized that the best soda options that were available, shy of going to the factory, were plastic bottles and cans. Those once classic 8 oz. glass bottles have almost entirely been displaced by cheap import stuff. Most modern soda fountains found in restaurants and so forth can’t even do as well as McDonald’s. (And I haven’t been to a McDonald’s in years.) Never mind the horrid soda gun they use in bars.
The practice of bringing home plastic bottles and aluminum cans of soda comes with some pretty obvious drawbacks. Plastic bottles are, in my opinion, notoriously difficult to get to the right temperature. I prefer cans, but I have to admit that the mettle taste is part of the package. Keeping cans cold and ready to drink means having a system, which consists of a small fridge just for cold drinks and a dedicated shelf space in the pantry for 12 packs. These considerations are pretty routine, and we do a good job of staying ahead of running out of cold or cased drinks. What’s more annoying though, is having the less popular stuff around. Our goddaughter came to visit for a few days, and when she left, we wound up with ten strawberry Fanta sodas.
She’ll visit again, but I don’t want those sodas hanging around eating shelf space in the meantime, so we took them to the office and after struggling to find a taker, gave them away.
I should mention that with the old lead pipes in our home, we don’t utilize the ice-maker in the fridge. It’s strictly bottled water for humans and animals. (Cases from Costco, and yes, it all goes in recycling.)
Of course, deep in my memory, I know that trying to have a soda fountain at home is a pretty hopeless endeavor. There’s CO2 cartridges and syrup bottles, and a lot of messy equipment.
Thus, when I met the Keurig KOLD, I took notice. The machine takes water, and a Keurig KOLD pod, and turns out wonderfully chilled and expertly finished soda.
In a way, I’m a good market match for the Keurig KOLD. I don’t do Starbucks, and I never had a pod-based drink prior to the Keurig KOLD. Plus, I often run headfirst into early adoption.
I was pretty sure that the actual drinks that the KOLD made were spot on before I had a machine in my home. (I expect no less from a partnership with Coca-Cola.) When I tasted me first Keurig KOLD Diet Coke at CES 2016, it really hit the spot. Now, after living with the KOLD for a while, I quickly learned of its quirks, but the product has stayed superb. I’ve gotten a kick out of showing off the machine.
We had people over for the AFC & NFC Championship games, and I was able to dish out perfectly cold Cokes, Diet Cokes, Dr. Peppers, Flynn’s Orange Cream and so on. Normally, I almost never manage to have Dr. Pepper around, and when I do, it’s gone flat or it’s not cold or some such. So even without the fun of showing Keurig KOLD do its mixing thing, my measure as a host went up.
And the mixing is a thing to behold. First the machine draws in some water from its 72 ounce reservoir, presumably around 8 ounces. The water goes into the chiller, and gets chilled. At the same time, some water is brought into the top of the pod, where the carbonation beads reside. The carbonation is released and combined with the chilled water to make chilled, carbonated water. This water is then poured into the waiting glass, and at measure the syrup is released to make for a precise mix. This all seems to happen in about a minute, and as I said before, the result in terms of nailing the soda flavors I know so well, is spot on.
One key that might be missed is that the syrup goes directly from the pod to the glass. This is important, because unlike what I understand can happen with coffee pods, there’s no residual flavor left over. Thus, a sugary Orange Cream and a Diet Coke can be made back to back without any troubling overlap.
With that happy little process and end product in mind, it’s time to get into the finicky details that can only come with regular use. While Keurig and coke put a lot of time into developing this product prior to launch, there are nevertheless plenty of early adopter issues to note.
Setting Up the Keurig KOLD
The chilling tech in the Keurig KOLD is unlike anything you’ve ever used… unless you’ve used a fridge. What this means is that right out of the box, or if it’s been disconnected from power, the Keurig KOLD is going to need some serious time to warm up/get cold. I’d recommend setting it up overnight. It can be plugged in from the box quickly (mainly it’s just removing the packing tape), but the machine will need plenty of hours to get cold. During this time, it’s like a loud fridge.
I have an old-fashioned kitchen that is mainly closed off, so a loud fridge-sounding machine on the counter isn’t a huge issue. Even so, I was glad when it reached its normal noise level. That normal level might bug me if it was next to my desk or in my home theater, especially in my dead quiet house, but in the kitchen, it hums along without much bother. I did come home from a road trip as the weather had suddenly changed from cold to warm (maybe 80 degrees inside) to find the Keurig KOLD getting a bit louder temporarily.
My review unit was a Keurig KOLD black, and happily it’s been designed to fit under cabinets, which is a major improvement compared with my wife’s just too tall KitchenAid mixer. The unit included the Keurig KOLD along with two Keurig KOLD Drinkmaker glasses. The glasses are a nice touch as they are perfect for 8 oz. drinks, with some room to spare. Also included with the machine was a primer piece. Basically, after setting up the machine and letting it get cold overnight, I needed to run some water through it. So instead of a KOLD pod, this little purple piece (primer pod) goes in, the water runs through and then, gets thrown out (by me). It’s not too much trouble, but here again is another reason to keep the machine plugged in and in-place.
Making a Drink
Now for actually making the drink. We are talking an 8oz. portion, which is going to throw some people. Another thing that can throw people is the foil seal on the bottom of the pods. It’s just a piece of foil that gets pulled off before the pod goes in the machine.
I’ve heard of people forgetting this and getting frustrated. On the one hand, that seems pretty silly since it’s so easy. On the other hand, I’ll admit that when chatting, I’ve wondered if I forgot it.
You see, when the pod compartment is closed, it punctures the top of the KOLD pod. A big no-no in the documentation is opening the pod compartment back up after closing it and before the drink is ready. (That would be premature.) Once closed and with glass/cup in place, the only button on the machine will flash. Press it, and the KOLD starts its thing.
This seems to take about minute, so it’s best not to stare at it like a toaster. There’s also a bit of noise from the carbonation and filling that might bother someone who is completely out of it. (Perhaps in a kitchen nap.)
I’ve had it happen where I put the pad in (after removing the foil) only to realize that I need to add some water to the machine. I add the water (again I use jug water from Costco), and then the machine is happy to have the water, but isn’t flashing ready. Remember how I said opening the pod compartment early is a big no-no? Well, in these cases, I open it the tiniest fraction, and immediately re-close it. That seems to set the machine right, and next thing you know, the drink is being made.
So yeah, it’s takes some good practice. It’s kind of like putting a disc in a vacuum drive or maybe just using home theater equipment in general. It seems pretty natural to me, and I’ve yet to waste a pod.
Speaking of the pods, while I was awaiting the Keurig KOLD, someone mentioned something to me about the how hard it is to recycle the HOT pods. This had me pretty concerned. As it turns out, the KOLD is a different animal. What I do, is I take a spoon, and I scrape some of the little carbonation beads out of the top of the used pod and put them into the trash. Then I can just flip the pod over and dump out rest of the beads. That leaves me with a pod that is marked Plastic #7, which is accepted as part of the local bi-weekly recycling program.
So yeah, instead of crushing aluminum cans, I’m scooping out carbonation beads. One thing I would like is for Keurig to develop a tool specific to this task. (I visualize a flat corkscrew design.)
One thing I noticed about the drinks though is they tend to lack foam. That’s foam and not carbonation. From what I can tell, the ingredients on the Coke products are identical to the can and bottled versions, except the pod-made drinks are meant not to foam. (I can’t say I miss it.) Meanwhile, the first time I made a Flynn’s Soda Shop Orange Cream, I thought it was going to foam over. Instead it stopped exactly in place.
In an era of 4K TVs and Ultra HD 4K Blu-rays, it’s pretty easy to see how early adoption can feel pricey. As of this writing, a Keurig KOLD is about $280 on Amazon. Meanwhile, I buy the pods from either Bed, Bath and Beyond or Target for about $4.49 for a pack of four pods. These boxes of four are shaped in a way where six of them take up the same space as a twelve pack. So on top of saving crazy space in the fridge, there is space savings to be had on the shelves. The key here, however, is that a Keurig KOLD drink, such as a Coke, works as a special product. I might run around all day listing to streaming music and whatever else, but when I get home, and when I have downtime, then I can be choosy. I can set the lights, and I can sit and enjoy my best audio equipment with the best sources. Maybe I can even enjoy a whole album in either vinyl, flac, or whatever else suits this relaxing but discerning time. This is when having a Keurig KOLD drink, with its perfect temperature and mix, is the most appreciated.
Here I’ve gone on and on about soda, and about the machine, and I’ve left out things like iced tea and mojitos. The truth is these, that stuff is just a bonus. There’s nowhere else I know short of going to somewhere like the Dr. Pepper museum where fresh and expertly made soda is available to drink. The Keurig KOLD has some good and bad traits that early adopters will find familiar. For me, nothing comes close to overshadowing the actual drinks the Keurig KOLD makes