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 be looking for when buying a coffee machine? Should you be buying 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. 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 Nestle Nescafe or CIRO Pure Instant.
o Tea and instant coffee: tea machines have a tea brewer that provides a rapid infusion and a cup of tea in about 15 seconds. They also dispense an instant coffee.
Second, identify the extent of the drinks provided. This will depend on the number of ingredient canisters inside (e.g. for coffee beans, sugar, milk powder, hot chocolate etc) and the number of selection buttons. A machine with two canisters can only provide coffee and milk or coffee and sugar…and one with five selection buttons can only provide five choices. These choices could be espresso, black coffee, white coffee, cappuccino and hot water. One with ten selections could add on drinks with or without sugar, moccachino, latte etc. A good quality machine will allow for any combination and for drink strengths to be set.
Third, look for “pre-selection” options. These include the ability to have chices such as “No sugar”, “Normal sugar” or “Extra sugar” or similarly, a number of milk choices or drink strengths (e.g. “regular coffee” and “strong coffee”). This is useful because everyone has a preference…and in a corporate environment or one with a lot of people, staff satisfaction increases with greater choice.
Fourth, identify how many people will use the machine. Don’t get fooled by a sales representative who wants to place a large floor standing machine for an office of 20 people! Table top machines are small, attractive and capable of serving up to 120 cups a day (generally an office of up to 60 people). If you have more staff, consider two small machines rather than one large machine – the second can not only reduce queues, but act as a back up should a machine be undergoing routine maintenance.
Fifth, decide if you want to use porcelain cups or disposable cups and in the case of the latter, whether the machine should vend them or not. Using porcelain cups saves money and provides a better drink quality as there is no cost past the initial purchase and the material holds heat well and gives no “taint”. Vended cups are usually plastic and can be hot to the touch and care needs to be taken if you want to have the machine vend your cups. Another alternative, if you feel that washing porcelain cups or having hot plastic cups are not options, is to stack paper or polyfoam cups next to the machine.
Sixth, understand that the quality of the drinks and the actual machine can differ greatly. You certainly do not want one that is breaking down on a weekly basis – does this happen? Oh yes! In a coffee machine you have hot water, heat and many moving parts – a nightmare for engineers. Select a reputable brand name and beware of cheap no-name brands from places like South Korea and China.
Seventh, you need to consider after sales service. Should things go wrong, or should you need (as you will) maintenance for your machine (like a service for your car!), you’ll want reliable and efficient service. No two vending machine suppliers are the same and service levels differ dramatically in the industry. There are some major brand name companies whose service is known to be exceptionally poor and there are smaller companies whose service is excellent. Take real care here – it is always the difference between a pleasant experience and a wasted investment.
So in conclusion, decide what you need, source the right machine from a reputable supplier and make sure they deliver the service you need. If in doubt, ask for a reference from a major corporate. If they can keep large and demanding customers happy, chances are they’ll be a credible company.