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Choosing a Hot Drinks Machine

The Intelligent Vending web site includes a wide range of hot drinks machines offering different drinks options and at different prices.  Knowing which machine best meets your needs is not always easy.  This guide is intended to help you understand the options and make a choice that best meets your or your company’s requirements.

There are a number of areas to consider:

  • Your budget
    We provide machines from about £1000 up to approximately £10,000, so you need to be clear how much you wish to spend.    High end systems will include options such as fresh milk coolers and more sophisticated design. However, you don’t always need to pay top prices to ensure good quality or a wide range of drinks options, although at the cheaper end of the range you may need to make some compromises.
  • Throughput and numbers of users
    Some of our machines are only suitable for small offices, while others have the capacity to be used constantly throughout the day.  Where heavy use is anticipated, always look at machines that are designed for this.  Buying a cheaper, unsuitable, machine will be false economy because of the increased likelihood of breakdown and a reduced working life.  It will also cause frustration because the actual drinks making process is likely to be slower than on a machine designed for heavy use.
  • Drink Options and Quality
    You may be fairly clear regarding what type of drinks you want to provide, but some further thought is needed to enable you to focus down to the most suitable machine for your requirements.   Many machines (possibly because they are often manufactured in Italy!) focus primarily on providing quality coffee, and while they do also tend to offer other drink options, these are often instant products and do not deliver to the same quality as the main coffee drink. If other types of drink are important to you, ensure you are clear what the machine can deliver.  Phrases to look out for are:

    • Bean to Cup (B2C)
      These machines tend to produce the best ‘coffee shop’ quality coffee because they produce drinks from beans which are ground inside the machine.  Please note, however, that other drinks options provided in the same machine may not be of the same quality.  As a result of the number of elements involved i.e. grinding the beans, producing the drink, and then potentially adding whipped milk topping for cappuccinos etc., these machines tend to be slowest to produce a drink e.g.  40 seconds or more.  If rapid throughput is the imperative, therefore, a B2C machine may not be the best solution for you.
    • Freshbrew
      You will see this for both coffee and tea options, and these machines represent a good compromise in terms of drinks quality.   In the case of coffee the drink is produced from real ground coffee (pre-ground by the manufacturer) which is brewed in the machine; tea is made from real tea leaf so is the closest you will get to tea you make yourself at home.  Please note, however, that apart from a couple of exceptions (see Flavia and Kenco Singles below) you will be required to pay several thousand pounds for a machine that provides both Freshbrew coffee (or B2C)  and Freshbrew tea.
    • Instant/In-Cup
      There are two types of machine in this category.  Instant machines mix powder from a canister inside the machine to produce the drink e.g. coffee, hot chocolate, tea, soup etc.  In-cup machines work on a similar principle but the powder is supplied already in the cup, and hot water is added to this (either in the machine or manually) to produce the drink.   Instant machines can provide good quality drinks e.g. chocolate, but generally the drinks are of lower quality than either  B2C or Freshbrew.  Instant tea, in particular, is typically of noticeably poorer quality (although this is getting better), and customers often provide normal tea bags at the side of the machine and just use the hot water facility on the machine to pour over the tea bag.   Instant machines tend to be good where there is high volume usage and a need for quick turnaround e.g. works canteens.
    • Flavia 400 and Kenco Singles Machines
      These options are included as machine specific additions to the list, because they offer an alternative approach to providing hot drinks, and they are very flexible in terms of the range of drinks offered.  The machines produce Freshbrew equivalent quality drinks (including tea) by forcing hot water through sealed sachets (Flavia) or capsules (Kenco).  They are ideal for small offices, waiting rooms or product showrooms where high quality and convenience are priorities.  Since individual drinks are self-contained in their own packaging, these machines are very easy to operate and maintain with a much lower cleaning requirement than conventional machines; the only waste being the spent sachets or capsules that need emptying from a bin.  The main downsides are the relatively expensive unit cost of drinks (see below) and the fact that they are not designed for heavy usage.
  • Cost of Drinks
    We are frequently asked to provide the cost of each drink by machine option.  Unfortunately this is difficult because so many factors are involved.  These include the type of machine (e.g. Instant, Freshbrew or B2C), the quality of the product/ingredient used), the purchase quantities involved, the drinks strength setting that has been used on the machine, whether the cost of adding milk is included, the size of cup (e.g. 7oz, 9oz, or 12oz), whether the cup cost (if disposable) has been included, and whether the machine uses sachets/capsules.  For coffee, instant drinks cost in the region of 9 – 15p per cup; Freshbrew and B2C from 7 – 12p per cup, and sachet/capsule  machines 25p or more per cup (over 30p if two-stage cappuccino/latte etc.).  So although B2C machines offer the best quanlity, there is not a price premium on this drink and the unit cost per drink compares very well with other options.
  • Manual/Automatic
    Some machines are fully automatic, i.e. you press a drinks selection button and the drink is delivered in a cup to the strength you have selected and with additional sugar already added.  In manual machines, you will need to place a cup under the delivery spout and add your own sugar and milk etc.  Manual machines may be more attractive for B2C because you can use your own china cups and saucers etc. to add to the impression of quality.  Fully automatic machines may be better in very busy environments and because they avoid the need for separate storage for cups and sugar etc.
  • Space Considerations
    The pictures online do not always provide an accurate impression of the size of hot drinks machines, and it is always a good idea to check the machine dimensions to ensure you have adequate space for your selected machine.  As a general rule, floor-standing machines are larger than their table-top equivalents though some floor-standing machines are simply a table-top machine with a matched base cabinet.  Capacity within floor-standing machines also tends to be greater, and there may be scope for storage within the machine.
  • Water Supply
    Most commercial machines are designed to link to the mains cold water supply, and therefore need to be located close to a suitable access point so they can be plumbed in.  This is the most efficient set-up in terms of convenience and probably essential if there is likely to be heavy usage of the machine.   Some machines do offer tank fill as an option, however, if mains water cannot be easily accessed.  You will need to check whether this is a standard option with the machine or has to be paid for as an option.  A separate water tank and pump setup may cost several hundred pounds.  Tank fill is best for floor-standing machines as the cabinet will probably accommodate the water tank and pump kit.  On smaller machines these may need to be located external to the machine which could be inconvenient and unsightly.
  • Payment systems
    These enable the operator to charge for the drinks provided through the machine.  Some, particularly the larger machines, provide for fitting of a change giving coin mechanism to the machine plus, if required, and to offer additional convenience, a note reader which works in conjunction with the coin mechanism.  A less sophisticated option is a coin acceptor which will take payment in coins but does not offer a change facility.  Particularly with smaller machines, a key question is whether a payment system is essential (e.g. in a small office environment), as this option can add £200 – £500 to the machine price.
  • Cleaning
    Commercial hot drinks machines are specialised pieces of machinery and technically quite sophisticated.  To ensure they remain in good working order the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations should be followed closely.  Following the recommended schedule both protects the machine and ensures that the quality of drinks produced remains consistently high. Dirty pipes can produce an aftertaste that severely detracts from the drinking experience!   Failure to keep machines clean and in good order is a frequent cause of breakdown, and would not be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty or any additional maintenance agreement.  Adding a water filter and scale control between the water supply and the machine is also essential for plumbed in hot drinks machines, as this improves drink quality and extends the life of the machine.  Some manufacturer warranties are made void if a filter has not been fitted.  For tank fill machines also, a filter and scale control system suitable for the machine should also be included.
  • Maintenance Cover
    Commercial hot drinks machines are generally provided with a manufacturer’s parts warranty for 12 months.  This does not include labour or any callouts that are required, even if the machine is new and has been installed for only a few days.  Our trade customers typically have the facilities to cover maintenance of their machines, but this resource is rarely available to end users.  We, therefore, strongly advise such customers to take out a maintenance agreement (covering parts and labour) when they purchase the machine.  Although these may seem expensive they are not when compared with the high cost of ad hoc callouts (typically £100 – £150 per time).  As well as offering good value overall, they also provide peace of mind to the customer.

The above information is intended to provide a general overview of issues to consider when you are looking to purchase a commercial hot drinks machine.  It does not provide detail of individual machines (except for Flavia and Kenco Singles machines – for the reasons stated). While the information provided should guide you in the right direction, you will also need to look at the details provided about each machine before you make a final purchasing decision.

The manufacturers brochure for most machines can be downloaded from the respective product page – look for this symbol to the right of the main product picture:

Should you still require further advice once you have narrowed the field down to a few options, please give us a ring on 01629825555 or email us at sales@intelligentvending.co.uk

Author: Intelligent Vending Ltd
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