Sunday, November 07, 2010

Coca-Cola Freestyle: fun with the ultimate soda fountain

Remember being a kid and helping yourself to a self-serve soda fountain--I think they were at Taco Bell? I'd mix together a little Coke with a splash of Minute Maid Lemonade and marvel over my own creativity.

Add 100 more flavors, a computer touchscreen and an iPod-like main button and you'll have the Coca-Cola company's latest innovation, the Coca-Cola Freestyle, a soda vending machine-sized invention that's being slowly rolled out in quick-casual restaurants, movie theatres and the like.
Behold, the shiny black Freestyle

Z and I had the honor of being among the first people in Chicago to play with the machine at the Cosi at Washington and Wacker. I sampled the soda "cocktail" created for me by the red, black and white-clad Coke marketing team, a mixture of Barq's, Vanilla Coke Zero and Cherry Coke Zero (it was only okay), and Z mixed up a purple Laffy Taffy-like drink that was half Grape Fanta and half Grape Hi-C. Ultimately, I was more interested in discovering a wide range of lesser-known Coke products (hello Diet Mr Pibb!) and low-cal flavored waters than mixing one super-sweet soda pop with another.

Lest we fly away on a sugar rush, we also got to sample the lastest seasonal sandwiches from Cosi. I'm such a fan of their Signature Salad that I'd practically forgotten Cosi made sandwiches for grown-ups with their yummy flatbread, but I loved the three cheese grilled cheese and fig. The Thanksgiving-inspired turkey and stuffing sandwich was nice and I liked the ham and yam a lot more than I expected too. I picked off the ham (not a fan) and finished off the sweet potatoes and balsamic vinegar, an unexpectedly savory combination.

I don't typically order soda when I'm out to eat--I'm more likely to enjoy a glass of wine or settle for plain tap water--but I'll admit there's something very compelling about picking your drink from dozens of possibilities. It's a little like a jukebox, and it will be even more so when they upgrade the machines with the ability to save and share individuals' favorite soda combinations.

Disclosure: I was invited to a media event where I sampled the Coke Freestyle and Cosi sandwiches for free and received a swag bag. I was not asked or paid to write about it and all opinions are my own.