Expensive and slow, Keurig Kold is the New Coke of home drink makers.
According to its creators, the $370 Keurig Kold system, born of a partnership between Coca-Cola and pod-coffee-brewing giant Keurig, will revolutionize the way you enjoy soft drinks at home. The key to that revolution has two parts. One, it will make officially licensed Coke products. The other is that that, unlike other home-carbonation solutions -- namely SodaStream, which has a partnership with Pepsi -- Keurig Kold will let you make cold Coke and other-branded soft drinks on demand with its own unique carbonation system. Unlike SodaStream, the Kold does not require a CO2 canister to produce bubbles. That means no more trips to Target to swap out canisters.
Putting aside its price for a moment, the concept of Keurig Kold sounds compelling if you're a soda drinker. In practice, it's anything but. The machine is bulky, loud, and it makes drinks too slowly -- about 90 seconds to produce one 8-ounce glass of soda. Worse, especially for American soda drinkers who famously demand consistency, Kold-produced Coke doesn't taste the same as the canned or bottled versions. Keurig's carbonation technique results in a flatter mouth-feel. It also tastes syrupy.
Factor in those sins alongside the sky-high price for both the Kold unit and the drink pods (about $5 for a pack of four pods, each of which yields just one 8-ounce serving ), and Keurig's new soda machine feels more like New Coke than Coke Classic. Stay away.
Packed into puck-shaped plastic containers similar to the coffee pods for which Keurig is best known, Kold pods contain everything needed to create soda once you add water. The procedure for making Kold drinks is also close to that of Keurig's coffee machine. Once you fill the machine with water, you simply open the device, drop in your selected pod, then hit the button. After 90 seconds-- about 75 seconds longer than it takes to pull a can out of the fridge and open it -- you'll receive your drink.
Alongside the seeming convenience of soda on-demand, Keurig is also clearly banking on its partnership with Coke to help sell the Kold. While soda consumption in America has fallen every year for more than a decade, Coke still enjoys a sizable market-share lead over rival Pepsi: 42 percent to 30 percent, according to StreetAuthority.com in 2014. You'll find Kold-specific pods that make Coke Classic, Diet Coke, Coke Zero and Coke, as well as Coke-owned Sprite, and Fanta. Keurig also offers pods for Dr. Pepper and Canada Dry (owned by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group), as well as its own house-branded soda with names like Flyte, Waterful, and Red Barn.
The first thing that grabs you about the Keurig Kold appliance is its imposing size. Dwarfing even kitchen monsters such as the Caso SousVide Center SV1000 and SousVide Supreme , the Kold machine is simply massive. It stands at 17.5 inches tall and measures an expansive 12 inches wide by 19.25 inches deep. More shocking, its 23.7 pound weight gives new meaning to the word "heft" for a countertop product.
Despite being humongous, the Kold's exterior and basic design is very similar to Keurig's coffee pod brewers. Pull the rounded handle on its front face to open and close a receptacle for Kold pods. The left side of the drink maker houses its large 52-ounce water tank. The reservoir is removable and features a detachable lid for hassle-free filling.
A big, round button on the Kold's control panel will activate the beverage-making process but only when the appliance is ready. A LED light that rings the button communicates the status of the machine by glowing in different colors. For example, when the Kold is occupied, the light will either shine white for chilling, purple for priming or cleaning, or red if there's a problem. When it's ready to make a drink, as with other Keurig machines, the light will turn blue.
Directly below the button are the Keurig Kold's other indicators. A chiller gauge (essentially a coldness level bar) graphically displays drink-making capacity in increments. Likewise, a water drop symbol blinks blue when the water tank begins to run dry.
The Keurig Kold system and carbonated drink pods rely on a novel technology to put the fizz in your glass. Called Karbonator beads, these tiny pellets are essentially bits of an undisclosed mineral that have been industrially saturated with CO2. When exposed to moisture, the material releases the molecule, resulting in ultra-fast carbonation.
Since each live bead is packed with CO2 that's ready to be freed by contact with water, they must be handled with care. Keurig confirms as much, advising users against opening sparkling drink pods to avoid exposure to the substance. Keurig goes on to say the beads , "may cause serious injury to stomach if swallowed [and] may burn tongue or mouth." In a nutshell, be careful with those pods, especially unused ones.
There's no denying that the most addictive aspect of Keurig coffee pods is just how convenient they are. Regardless of what you might think of their taste, expense, and environmental impact, it's hard to resist the luxury of hitting a button and getting a piping hot cup of coffee less than 30 seconds later. Sadly, the Kold system is not quite as satisfying.
For instance, before you use the Keurig Kold for the first time you must wait two hours while its chiller system cools down. It's a task that's only part of the initial setup, and most owners will likely perform it just a handful of times during the life of the product.
It's actually rather impressive that, after that initial cooling period, you can refill the reservoir straight from the tap and the Kold will still make a cold drink within 90 seconds. You might need to pause after making six drinks in quick succession, although a "Party Mode" will let you create more drinks in a row by adding ice to the water reservoir.
The pods also have their own peculiarities. You must remember to peel off a small aluminum "freshness seal" from the bottom of each pod before running it through the machine. Fail to do so and the pod will be ruined, and you'll be left with a glass full of cold, flat water instead of Coke. For $1.25 a pop per pod (aka $5 for a four-pack), it's a costly mistake. I found a 12-pack of 12-ounce cans of Diet Coke for $4.50 at a Walmart in Secaucus, New Jersey.
Also keep in mind that the entire prep time for a Kold drink, from button press to full glass is about 90 seconds. It might not sound like that long a wait, but if you're accustomed to the swift 30 seconds it takes for K-Cup coffee to hit your mug, making Kold drinks feels like an eternity. Worse, for your patience you're rewarded with just 8 ounces, 4 fluid ounces shy of a single full-serving can.
So how do Keurig Kold beverages compare to traditional soda drinks? In terms of flavor and mouth-feel, I'm sorry to say there is a difference. In blind taste tests among our CNET appliances editorial team, I pitted classic Coca-Cola made from Kold pods against the same flavor drink poured from 12-ounce bottles. Unanimously, my group of thirsty soda samplers could quickly and accurately detect which beverage came out of the machine and which I grabbed from the fridge. All my testers also preferred the bottle decanted pop to the Keurig Kold variety.
The same scenario unfolded when I conducted a similar test based on Diet Coke. Even though a few members of the group are not regular diet cola drinkers, every taster successfully identified the Kold-created pop. That said, it took them more sample sips to separate Kold Diet Coke from a traditional pour. Even so, they found the taste of the canned cola more pleasant.
To be fair, the difference between Coke sourced from Keurig Kold and pop straight from the bottling plant is subtle. Still, when it comes to soft drink brands, customers tend to be fiercely loyal. If the New Coke debacle of 1980s taught us anything, it was that any tinkering with tried-and-true flavors is a recipe for trouble.
Even if the Keurig Kold system was effortlessly convenient to use and its drink-making machine sleek and compact, the costs of owning and operating the device simply don't add up. Overlooking the comically high $370 price of the Kold device itself, paying $5 for packs of four pods is foolish.
For instance, while prices will vary, I picked up an eight-pack of 12 ounce classic Coca-Cola bottles for $5 here in Louisville. With a total volume of 96 ounces this comes to 19.2 ounces per $1, or just over 5 cents per ounce. The same equation works out to to just 6.4 ounces of beverage for every $1 dollar you spend (or more than 15.5 cents per ounce) through Kold pods--- a whopping three times the cost. Frankly, that's outrageous -- especially for a solution that doesn't solve a customer problem as far as I can tell.
This fact alone is reason enough to avoid Keurig Kold with a ten foot pole. Add to this a litany of frustrations such as a machine so large only Big Foot could love, tiny portions he certainly wouldn't, slow performance, plus flavor and fizz that don't match the bottled product, and it's hard to characterize this machine as anything other than a misfire. The Keurig Kold simply falls flat.