COMMENTARY

My plain old Coca-Cola is disappearing

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There are so many news stories, not all bad — but most of them not good — that occupy the dinner table discussions at my home. 

We’ve shed tears, shared frustrations, debated politics and more. I could write about any of those topics. 

But instead, can we talk about something really important… like the proliferation of Coca-Cola Freestyle machines? 

If you’re not familiar with these machines, they offer a touchscreen selection of more than 150 different drinks, plus the ability to mix them to create custom flavors. 

First introduced in 2009, these machines are now replacing traditional fountain drink machines all across the country. 

Restaurants and convenience stores across the area are installing them at a dizzying pace. 

All of which leaves me hunting for a new place to go to buy just a regular old fountain Coca-Cola. 

You see, I can’t stand the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines. Whatever drink it produces, it’s most definitely not the plain old Coca-Cola that I grew up with and still prefer to drink. 

Traditional fountain machines mix a flavored syrup with water and carbon dioxide to make a soft drink. The proper mixture is crucial to the flavor, and as McDonald’s has learned, earning the restaurant rave reviews on the taste of its fountain drinks. 

The fast food giant says on its website that it applies high standards for filtration to the water used in its soda and cools both the syrup and water prior to mixing, and then uses insulated tubes to keep the mixture just above freezing all the way to the fountain dispenser. On top of that, a wider straw adds to the taste. 

Keeping the water chilled is necessary to maintain superior CO2 levels, which means that it can become more carbonated, and better carbonated water means a crisper fizzy drink, according to the company. 

What does all this have to do with the new Freestyle machines? 

Nothing. 

Those machines use “concentrated flavor cartridges” to mix with water and CO2, instead of the traditional syrup mixture. The taste is, well, underwhelming. 

Sure, the Freestyle machine is great for those who want a Diet Cherry Coke mixed with Sprite Zero and a shot of grape syrup. But for me, just wanting a plain old Coke, it just doesn’t work. 

I sure can’t explain any of the science behind why it tastes different, but I’m definitely not the only one who thinks so. 

A quick search of the internet turned up dozens of posts and even entire Facebook groups dedicated to the dislike of Freestyle machines.

"These dumb ol' Freestyle machines are so busy offering you over 100 soda flavor combinations that they all end up tasting wrong," CultureMap Austin's Michael Graupmann wrote in his blog.

In another review, a customer named Kelly said that she initially thought the "horrible" taste was caused by her own error in selecting the wrong drink. 

That was not the case. 

"Gave it a second try and tastes even worse the second time around," she wrote. "I guess the good news is that this machine will help me kick my soda habit."

That’s one way to look on the bright side. But really, I just want a plain old fountain Coke. 

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