Seven things to consider when buying a coffee vending machine

Just as no two vehicle models are the same, neither are coffee vending machines, and the old adage that “you get what you pay for” is very true. So what should you look for when buying a coffee machine? Should you buy the “Rolls Royce”, the SUV or the Mini Cooper? What are the differences anyway?

The first thing to identify is what drinks you want. Coffee vending machines come in various configurations and generally these are:

o Bean-to-cup: machines that use coffee beans that are only ground when you make your selection. The coffee is extracted using the espresso method of hot water and pressure. This provides a great tasting cup of “real” coffee.

o Instant coffee: machines that use an instant coffee such as Nestlé Nescafé or CIRO Pure Instant.

o Tea and instant coffee: the tea machines have a tea pot that provides a quick brew and a cup of tea in about 15 seconds. They also dispense an instant coffee.

Second, identify the scope of the beverages provided. This will depend on the number of ingredient containers inside (eg for coffee beans, sugar, powdered milk, hot chocolate, etc.) and the number of selection buttons. A machine with two containers can only provide coffee and milk or coffee and sugar… and one with five selection buttons can only provide five options. These options can be espresso, black coffee, latte, cappuccino, and hot water. One with ten selections could add drinks with or without sugar, moccachino, latte, etc. A good quality machine will allow you to set any combination and intensity of drinks.

Third, look for the “shortlist” options. These include the ability to have options such as “No Sugar”, “Regular Sugar” or “Extra Sugar” or, similarly, various milk or strong beverage options (eg “Regular Coffee” and “Strong Coffee”). This is helpful because everyone has a preference…and in a corporate or crowded environment, staff satisfaction increases with more choice.

Fourth, identify how many people will be using the machine. Don’t be fooled by a sales rep who wants to fit a large floor machine for a 20 person office! Countertop machines are small, attractive, and capable of serving up to 120 cups a day (typically an office of up to 60 people). If you have more staff, consider two small machines instead of one large machine: the second one can not only reduce queues, but can also act as a backup in case one machine is undergoing routine maintenance.

Fifth, decide if you want to use porcelain or disposable cups and, in the case of the latter, if the machine dispenses them or not. Using porcelain cups saves money and provides a better quality drink as there is no cost beyond the initial purchase and the material retains heat well and does not give “fouling”. The cups sold are usually plastic and can be hot to the touch and care should be taken if you want the machine to sell your cups. Another alternative, if you feel that washing china cups or having hot plastic cups are not options, is to stack paper or Styrofoam cups next to the machine.

Sixth, please understand that the quality of the drinks and the actual machine may differ greatly. You certainly don’t want one that breaks down weekly, does this happen? Oh yeah! In a coffee machine you have hot water, heat and lots of moving parts, a nightmare for engineers. Select a reputable brand and beware of cheap no-name brands from places like South Korea and China.

Seventh, you need to consider after-sales service. If things go wrong, or you need (as you will) maintenance for your machine (like a service for your car!), you want reliable and efficient service. No two vending machine providers are alike and service levels differ drastically across the industry. There are some big name brand companies whose service is known to be exceptionally poor and there are smaller companies whose service is excellent. Be very careful here – it’s always the difference between a pleasant experience and a wasted investment.

So, in conclusion, decide what you need, get the right machine from a reputable supplier, and make sure they provide the service you need. When in doubt, ask for a reference from a major company. If they can keep large, demanding customers happy, they are likely to be a credible company.