The Guilty Pleasure: A new app for Coca-Cola Freestyle soda machines Where to Get It: A handful of Freestyle machines, at least for now. Price: A couple of bucks, give or take. Depends on the restaurant. What it Really Costs: A potential sharp uptake in high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweetener.
By now, you may be familiar with The Coca-Cola Company's next-generation soda machine, Coca-Cola Freestyle. If you haven't seen one yet, I think they're worth seeking out just for the gee-whiz factor.
You use a touch screen on the machine to select what kind of beverage you want (of 26 different base varieties, including Sprite, Dr Pepper, and of course several versions of Coke), then add optional flavorings (orange Sprite? Sure! Raspberry Coca-Cola Zero? It's mighty fine!). Between the 26 sodas and all of the flavor variations, there's about 150 different drinks available from one soda machine.
But for some, yours truly included, somehow even that isn't quite enough.
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One of the especially enjoyable things to do with a Coke Freestyle machine is coming up with your own flavor combinations. It's sort of like back in junior high school when you mixed all the soda flavors together, only better tasting.
Some combinations are fairly easy to come up with. For example, vanilla Sprite plus orange Fanta makes a soda that tastes like a Creamsicle. Or maybe raspberry-lime ginger ale would be more to your liking.
Now, to add to the soda mixing fun, there's an app for that. Of course there's an app, there are apps for everything. Part of the app is a flavor mixer where you can come up with your own combination. The mixer app is cute, but at first seemed like little more than a novelty. Oh look, I can come up with 38 percent raspberry Fanta and 62 percent Coca-Cola, then show all my friends on Facebook. Whoop-dee-freaking-doo.
Then I found out that Coke has bigger plans for the app. The really fun part of the flavor mixer comes up when you go to certain restaurants with Freestyle machines. Starting with a few small chains, you can connect the app to the soda machine.
You can use the app to scan a QR code (you know, the little square 2D barcodes) on the machine. A few seconds later, your special mixes show up on the machine's screen, ready to pour at the touch of a button.
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The first time I tried it out, the effect was borderline magical. I know the technology involved is fairly simple, but there's something a little amazing about seeing the machine pop up your own custom blends on the screen. And, once I've fine-tuned a certain blend, I know I can have it recreated exactly the same way every time.
For now, the only local chain that has the new custom feature is Firehouse Subs. Qdoba and Wingstop are also part of the program, but neither of them have Freestyle machines at the local locations (except for the Qdoba on Central north of Thomas, and they were getting the machine fixed when I stopped in to see if the QR code was available). If you're outside of Arizona, you can also try Noodles & Company, Moe's Southwest Grill, and Taco Time.
You may not have to wait too much longer to see the connected feature at Freestyle machines everywhere; Coca-Cola says that they expect to launch it nationwide later this year. I hope it happens soon because damn, this is really cool.