Coffee vending machines are a common sight in office buildings, manufacturing facilities, warehouses and public spaces. These machines offer a quick and convenient way to get a cup of coffee, tea, or other hot beverages without having to wait in line at a café or restaurant or spending half your lunch break waiting for the office kettle to boil.
But how do these machines work, and what is going on inside them to produce a great hot drink in just a few seconds? In this article, we’ll take a look at what goes on behind the vending machine door to make the seemingly impossible, possible.
What the inside of a coffee machine looks like
The main components of a coffee vending machine include the heating element/water boiler, brewer, coffee dispenser and control system.
The operation of an office coffee machine is managed by the machine’s onboard computer, which manages all inputs and outputs of the machine, as well as looking after the data flow around machine vends and malfunctions. When a user interacts with buttons or a touch interface, the machine’s ‘brain’ determines the actions that should be undertaken by the machine.
Though there are some smaller commercial coffee machines to have water tanks, many businesses prefer to have a cold water feed plumbed into their machine to remove the need for refilling of the water tank. Some larger floor standing machines can have plumbed in waste, meaning there’s no need to manually empty waste fluids from the machine, but this is less common than plumbed in water supply.
The heating element, which is typically made of metal, is used to heat the water to the desired temperature. Different coffee machine manufacturers use their own water boiling elements, especially those who focus on reducing energy consumption. In some machines there is a need for multiple water boilers, as the capacity and vend requirement of the machines is such that water cannot be boiled quickly enough to keep up with demands at peak times. This is more common in floor standing coffee machines which are also handling fresh brew tea alongside bean to cup coffee.
For bean to cup machines, the machine will have an integrated brewer that grinds fresh coffee beans into a powder, doses this into the required amount and then forms a ‘cake’ of pressed coffee. This component also manages the final stage of passing pressurised hot water through the ground coffee to create a delicious Espresso that can then be dispensed into a cup from the coffee dispenser at the front of the machine.
The coffee dispenser is the ‘customer end’ of the machine and dispenses the beverage into a cup and can take anywhere from 10 seconds to 45 seconds to complete a vend. The control system, which is usually located at the back of the machine, manages the flow of water and the temperature, and operates the machine’s display and buttons.
How drinks are brewed and dispensed
The first step of any vending experience is made by the consumer – by using the machine interface, the user can select their desired drink and any customisations, such as extra milk, stronger brew coffee and add sugar. With this information, the machine can now start to prepare the appropriate drink.
Once the drink selection has been made, the machine will begin to prepare the consumables needed – hot chocolate, soup, instant coffee, GSM, coffee beans, fresh milk, loose tea leaves – and will send the first ingredient to one of the internal ‘bowls’ for mixing with hot water from the machine’s boiler. If the consumer has selected an espresso-based drink, this is the point at which coffee beans will enter the machine brewer to be processed.
Each machine is configured by installation engineers to have the appropriate selection of drinks for the client, and each drink will have determined ingredient quantities to make the perfect tasting drink. These are typically measured in grams, and help to ensure consistency of drink strength, taste and composition for every single vend. For bean to cup machines, the pressure of the water will also need to be taken into consideration for optimal taste. Once the ingredients are in the mixing bowl, the brewing of the drink can take place.
Depending on how the machine is setup, the machine will either have dispensed a cup or will have prompted the user to place their own cup under the machine dispense area, in preparation for the drink being delivered. With the freshly made chocolate, coffee or tea now ready to be dispensed, the cup can begin to be filled. It will shortly be followed by either GSM (granulated milk) or fresh milk from a separate chilled unit, to complete the drink.
Should there be any overflow or spillage from the drink dispense area, this will be collected in the machine’s drip tray and will either be held in a waste bin or taken away by a plumbed in waste line. Likewise, any used coffee cakes will be sent to a bin within the machine where they can be separately emptied, and in an increasing number of businesses, sent for recycling.
How to pick the right coffee machine for your business
Choosing a commercial coffee machine for your business can be a daunting task, but we’re here to help you on the journey. You can read one of our helpful guides on how to find the right machine for your business, or alternatively reach out to our expert vending team to find out more.
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