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Starbucks Knows What The People Want

Everyone loves their nugget ice. Now Starbucks is finally testing it in some drinks.

Pellet ice. Nugget ice. Pebble ice. Crunchy ice. This special form of frozen water goes by many names, but no matter how you refer to it, this type of aerated ice has a devoted fan base that swears by its chewable and brittle texture. Now, it sounds like America's top coffee chain is finally ready to jump on the bandwagon.

Starbucks is currently testing nugget ice made by a machine from a manufacturer named Follett, which calls the little pellets "Chewblets." Starbucks confirmed to Today that it will be rolling out the machines to select stores for its cold beverages like iced coffee and Refresher drinks, leaving many fans elated.

What is nugget ice?

Nugget ice (also called pellet ice, pebble ice, or crunchy ice) is a type of ice formed from flaked ice layers fused together, a process that adds small pockets of air into each piece. That gives it a brittle texture, which, combined with the small size of the "pebbles," makes it easy to chew on. This, more than anything, is what people love about it. The air pockets make it significantly easier to absentmindedly chew on those pebbles once you get to the dregs of your lemonade or iced coffee.

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One prominent place you've perhaps encountered the stuff is Sonic Drive-In, where the porous ice is paired with the chain's signature cherry limeade. The Sonic ice is so beloved, in fact, that it's sold by the 10-lb. bag.

How nugget ice is made

Nugget ice is usually made by a specialized machine, some models of which you can buy for home use. They're expensive, however: As you can see from these Amazon listings, models rarely dip below $150 and tend to hover in the $200–$400 range. 

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If you want to make some of this coveted ice without the use of bulky electronics, you can freeze carbonated water into cubes, then crush them manually to get a similar result.

The best way to use nugget ice

I'm a pretty big fan of pellet ice, but only in certain situations. I particularly like it when it's used to cool down a beverage that has a lot of concentrated flavor, like sweet sodas, strong iced coffee, and cocktails. That's because the flavor of the drink permeates each nugget, so when you get to the end of your drink, you essentially get small bits of flavored ice to snack on when you're done sipping.

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Don't put it in any beverage with a delicate balance of flavors, though, because they'll end up getting muted by the fast-melting ice. Which brings us to the biggest downside of the stuff.

The downside of nugget ice

Though there are big fans who sing nugget ice's praises, plenty of people dislike it too. For one thing, it reminds some of a trip to the hospital, since hospitals usually have nugget ice on hand. Others don't like the way it rapidly melts. After all, those air pockets and flaky layers add up to a lot of surface area exposed to liquid, which means the ice dwindles in your drink faster and waters down the beverage.

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Just like so many other beloved foods (can we call ice a food?), I think nugget ice has its time and place. Given the opinionated chatter online, however, it would seem like there are more fans of the snackable ice than there are detractors. Starbucks certainly seems to think there's a good enough reason to roll it out at certain stores. And if the nation's number-one coffee giant is betting on customers seeking it out, you know a wave of other beverage slingers are sure to follow suit.

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