Feature: Tim Hwang Drinks The Entire Berkman Coffee Supply For You

Since becoming a newly-minted full time employee of the Berkman Center for Internets and Society, I’ve become obsessed with the fascinatingly ungreen and terrifyingly advanced Keurig brand line of products that dispense coffee from those plastic containers that I can only assume are filled with magical pixie dust. Luckily, Berkman boasts a huge number of flavors, and I figured that it’s obvious for self-enrichment purposes to get around to tasting them all. The copy is reliably awesome, and the flavors virtually (?) indistinguishable. USBFB features our commentary, reviews, and incisive analysis every Tuesday until we’re exhausted. No coffee left behind. Previously: Espresso Blend, Hazelnut, and Italian Roast.

Another banner day of forging ahead for the USBFB! This week: KONA BLEND.

It’s really unclear what to expect out of this particular Keurig coffee pod offering. Granted, the hokey tiki-torch lettering and bamboo backdrop suggest something tropical and exotic to the untrained eye. But for the truly inquiring creative professional serious about making the choice that signals “promotion material lol” to the boss, the Tully’s company is completely uninformative here.

First, of course, is the name. Kona? Our Bureau had to deploy some information technology: unless you’re a absolute coffee dweeb, you probably don’t know that Kona refers to coffee grown in a particular district on the Big Island of Hawaii, and can’t be legally called that unless it’s actually 100% made of beans grown there. But even if you already knew that (bully for you), it’s still pretty vague: “Kona Blend” refers to a watered down version of that supposedly wonderful beverage which, according to the Wikipedia article, implies that the pods are made up of something like 10% of actual Kona beans. Which is a little disingenuous, like calling Cambridge, Massachusetts, “Republican Blend.”

The cracked out flavor slider is equally problematic: “BALANCED.”

“I mean, like somewhere at the midpoint between ‘Spirited’ and ‘Grand,’” the label seems to say unhelpfully.

And to top it off, the marketing department decided inexplicably to spend most of the label’s real estate to describe the flavor simply as “Island Coffee.” Which, to say the least, seems pretty broad. “Where do you want to go for vacation?” “Oh, you know, how about the island?”

All of this is a long way of saying that when I put a Kona Blend pod, it is a massive leap into the unknown. It’s impossible to know what to expect. Good? Bad? Excellent? Terrible?

And, having had a cup. And then another. And another. I still don’t, despite the jitters.

The standard haiku-style label promises “FLORAL. COCOA. SMOOTH.” There are accurate, insofar as they mean “unidentifably bitter.” Like a can of Dr. Pepper, I’m at a total loss to identify the flavors here, except that it all ends up tasting like coffee. The effect gets more pronounced as the coffee cools — as it enters comfortable lukewarmness, Kona Blend starts tasting, well, like politely bitter brown water.

But like the extremely attractive stranger who later turns out to be a totally boring hack, the fragrance is right. It seems like some good, classic, traditional honest-to-god American family values Island Coffee. It has scents of hickory and chocolate, with the tangy citrus undercurrents of a floral bloom. It even smells smooth.

Predictably, the coffee is dark brown colored. Well, actually, I take that back. Kind of brownish-black. Or, more like blackish-brown. It kind of depends on what light and emotional state you’re under I guess.

In terms of finish, this coffee goes out as quietly as it came. Within 30 minutes, there’s just a light smoky flavor in the back of your throat. And within the hour, it’s like you never had any coffee at all. It’s spooky.

Rating: B. Truly the most ferociously medicore cup of joe ever devised.

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