Seven things to consider when thinking about buying a coffee vending machine

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

  • Bean-to-cup: coffee 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.
  • Instant coffee: machines that use an instant coffee such as Nestle Nescafe or CIRO.
  • Tea and coffee: the 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 strength to be set.

Third, look for "pre-selection" options. These include the ability to have choices 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.

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 and has 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 machine can differ greatly. Coffee vending machines differ in quality and you certainly do not want one that is breaking down on a weekly basis - does this happen? Of 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 brands from places like South Korea.

Seventh, you need to consider after sales services. Should things go wrong, or should you need (as you will) maintenance (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 care here - it is always the difference between a pleasant experience and a wasted investment.

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