Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Freestyle (your update)

Nick Youngblood sent in some fascinating information about the Freestyle machine:
Yesterday, thanks to your column, I couldn’t get the Freestyle off my mind, so I started trying to learn more about it. There was a quite in-depth discussion of the device on a forum that seemed to be dedicated to movie theater and fast food operators. I haven’t verified most of this, but here are a few of the more interesting things I learned.

The technology that makes the Freestyle possible was originally developed for use in chemotherapy machines, in order to precisely measure the relative amounts of various chemo drugs a patient received. This key piece of technology is what allows the concept of the Freestyle to work.

That technology is so precise that it allows the machine to use incredibly concentrated forms of syrup, way more concentrated than you’d find in a normal soda fountain. Thus you can offer over a hundred flavors in a small physical profile. I think this may actually be the source of people’s taste complaints for the following reason. Normal fountains have syrup bags for their various flavors. There’s a coke bag, a sprite bag, and so on. If I understand correctly, the Freestyle doesn’t use this system. Instead, it has a variety of cartridges that hold common components of many syrups, and mixes them on the fly. So when you’re ordering a Coke for example, you’re not getting coke syrup per se, you’re getting a mixture of the various ingredients the machine contains that is supposed to match or closely approximate pre-prepared Coke syrup. Another example. In canned and pre-mixed varieties, the cherry flavor used in cherry coke vs cherry soda is not actually the same. In the Freestyle, the same cherry flavoring is used for all applications of cherry. If this is true, the flavor problems with the machine may never be fixed, in which case they’re doomed (or we are).

Another factor that can influence flavor is that due to the way the spigot works, remnants of the drink ordered before yours will often make it into your drink. I don’t know why this is so, but reports are common of people receiving a little lime diet coke in their pineapple soda or what have you. 

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