A week or two ago I passed by the window at my local grocery store and saw a sign in the window that said, "Self-Heating Coffee Mugs! On Sale!" You had me at self-heating, I thought.
When I got home I did a little research. What I found was a little shocking. Apparently Wolfgang Puck had put his name on a self-heating coffee cup which had a few problems including, but not limited to, the coffee cups exploding. Wolfgang Puck's cans were pulled from the shelves after a recall last year.
An image of a defective, exploded self-heating container.
This is what I was expecting to find at my local grocery store. My grocery store has a habit of selling out-of-date and spoiled food at discounted prices. Imagine the deal they could get on a batch of product that the FDA had labeled unsuitable for human consumption. There could be a lot of money in that. However, the brand I found was called Hillside Coffee. I purchased two (one for drinking and one for the museum) at $3.69 each. This was the largest single investment I had made in the Extinct Beverage Museum since it's creation in 1999. However, it's all part of the job as curator. They belong in a museum!
When I got home, I checked my purchases. They labels were plastered with instructions and warning. This was the single most complicated beverage I had ever seen. It's also one of the more dangerous beverages that does not have the word 'Molotov' in the name.
On the container I read the following:
How It Works
OnTech has combined centuries-old knowledge with state-of-the-art packaging to create a revolutionary container that HEATS ITSELF! Pressing the bottom of the container breaks a foil seal and allows water to drain into the heating chamber, which contains quicklime. This combination creates heat. The beverage is heated without ever touching the mixture.
At their website you will find an amazing video which displays the technology used in the self-heating canister. I'm not really sure how to describe the video. It's not a commercial. It's more like corporate propaganda. It does a fantastic job of explaining the unusual technology but it's just not what you would expect from the website of a beverage maker. And it appears that the beverage is merely an excuse to use the technology. They're very proud of the technology. With a company name like OnTech, you wouldn't expect they would do anything other than develop technology like this. Admittedly the technology is quite impressive, a beverage that heats itself with no heat source necessary.
Here's the video that will give you a little clearer idea of how it works:
Before I was going to open this dangerous looking drink, I carefully read the instructions as they appeared on the container:
Much more complicated than the standard beverage container: 1.) Open. 2.) Drink.
Then I considered the various warnings:
DO NOT MICROWAVE.
DO NOT POUR OUT.
Drink from container.
CAUTION! BEVERAGE IS HOT WHEN PREPARED.
Do not activate if stored above 90ºF.
Return to room temperature and activate.
Use only as directed and do not reuse.
Do not use if damaged or emptied.
Do not use if damaged or emptied.
Do not alter or tamper with container to prevent accidental skin or eye contact with heating materials.
IN CASE OF ACCIDENTAL CONTACT WITH HEATING MATERIALS, FLUSH WITH GENEROUS AMOUNTS OF WATER.
I have to admit that I was having serious reservations about consuming this product. Sure, I've consumed more than my fair share of nasty beverages in my day, but this was just something all together different. I calculated the risk involved to be considerably higher than any of my previous tastings. It seemed that it may be less dangerous to try drinking absinthe, grain alcohol or even gasoline.
Luckily I am committed to the vision I have set for the Extinct Beverage Museum. I hadn't shied away from a nasty drink yet, and I wasn't going to shy away from this one, even for fear of being poisoned by deadly chemicals or possibly blown up or severely burned.
To minimize the risk involved I compared the two nutritional facts labels side by side:
I opted for the flavor which contained more than 40% of its ingredients from planet Earth.
I was going to have to go with the Vanilla Latte. The ingredients appeared less like my eleventh grade chemistry homework than its Mocha Latte brother.
To give you a better idea of how the container functions, check out these videos I shot.
Note: I apologize for the quality on these videos. These were the first videos I'd taken with my new camera and I didn't realize that they displayed much brighter in my view screen than they look in actuality.
Here is a video displaying the opening of the container and the activation of the chemical reaction:
One reason they may instruct you not to pour the beverage out may be not to reveal the gross film that seems to sit on top of the coffee. Now, it's not uncommon for coffee to have little spots from the natural oils in the coffee beans that rise to the surface, but this close up picture reveals not only small oil spots but actual particles (of what, I'm not sure).
A close look reveals globs of what may be natural oils or chemical residue.
Maybe this was a chemical leak? Well, it's two days later and I'm still alive after a couple of sips so if it is a chemical, it can't be too deadly.
Since I wasn't going to drink anything past a second sip, I went over to the sink and poured the drink out. That's when it really hit me. There were giant gelatinous chunks of debris that came out of the cup and sat in my sink like little brownish death jellies. It made me feel a little queasy looking at it and it made me feel more than a little glad I didn't drink more of my beverage.
The disgusting mess of chunky globs of goo in my sink after pouring out the beverage. I should have heeded the "Do not pour out" warning. Whatever you do, don't think about the similarities in appearance between what I poured out of this container and the contents of giblet bag. Aw, man, too late. Rumaki, anyone?
For more detailed tasting notes, see my tasting notes below.
Looks like regular coffee though a bit on the lighter side.
There is a pronounced smell of fake vanilla that is rather pleasing, thought I usually associate it with a yellow-colored pine tree hanging from a rear view mirror rather than a beverage.
The taste is not so great. It's hard to judge too harshly because even after 8 minutes the coffee is not as hot as advertised.
The lingering flavor (and fear of swallowing chemicals) need about 3 or 4 tall glasses of water to be removed.
There is a chemical taste in my mouth afterwards. It's unclear if it's because some of the chemicals from the cup leaked into the coffee or just because I am scared that that has happened.
In conclusion, this was one of the riskier tastings I've engaged in. These containers are prohibitively expensive, contain subpar product and don't seem to actually achieve a hot enough temperature. Perhaps next time I would let it sit longer before opening, but I did follow the directions exactly (though perhaps, should have shaken a bit more vigorously to dissolve some of those gross chunks). I waited as long as it told me to and the color had changed completely to white.
The thought here is that you're paying for the convenience. The problem is that you can get a far superior product at Starbucks for less money. The convenience, I suppose, is only in portability and storage. The drink still takes 5-8 minutes, at least double the time it would take to get in line at a Starbucks, pay for your beverage and begin consuming it.
I've got a better idea: Next time I'll make my own coffee.
For more information about Hillside Coffee, OnTech and Wolfgang Puck's self-heated line, see the following links: