In the first article of our new My Coffee Journey series, we speak with Cristi Bradu, Head of Service at Connect Vending, to hear about his experiences with coffee, the vending industry and how important it is to know your beans.
What was your first experience of coffee?
My mum would invite our neighbours over for coffee every weekend. I was always too young to have coffee but one day I was feeling courageous and asked if I could take a sip – I did, and I couldn’t stand it! It wasn’t the best introduction to coffee and for years after this, I would only drink tea or hot chocolate.
As I grew up, I started to work during the school holidays and I thought it would be a nice idea to take some of my mum’s coffee to work with me, for my colleagues to enjoy. I hadn’t realised that the coffee my mum made had so much sugar in it, which for me made it much nicer, but also made me sick for at least two days… not ideal, but I started drinking coffee again at this point.
That’s where my coffee journey really began.
What’s your favourite coffee?
I really like a blonde roast, something relatively light in taste which I can enjoy with milk and has nice, subtle flavours. Lavazza Super Crema is a roast which works for me – it’s the perfect balance of strength, bitterness and flavour.
How do you take yours, black or white?
Always white, as I like the smoother and more subtle flavours of a Cappuccino or Latte. Only occasionally will I have an Espresso if I’m tired and need a caffeine kick!
Over your time in the industry, what’s the best coffee you’ve had and from which machine?
I will always remember the best coffee I’ve had. I don’t drink it now, but it was a Mocha from an instant machine in my first job in vending for Nescafe in Romania. It was a great sweet coffee and I could get through 20 of them a day. It was my job to taste them and I didn’t want to waste any drink so I finished each one!
The best coffee I’ve had during my time in the UK would have to be a Starbucks blonde roast out of a Franke A600 machine.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen since your coffee journey began?
There are a couple of huge changes that I’ve witnessed during my time in the vending industry.
The first big change has been the cultural shift away from tea and towards coffee. There is definitely a huge demand for consumers to have access to high quality coffee, in a quick and cost-effective way. People want to be able to have that big-brand coffee in their workplace, or at home, as that’s now what they’re used to and expect.
It wasn’t that long ago that the concept of the Flat White was unfamiliar to the industry, and the UK, generally. I remember McDonald’s started selling Flat White coffees and suddenly there was a spike in demand from my clients to have this coffee available in their vending machines. The impact of bigger brands marketing coffee into a relatively new market in the UK, across TV and social media has driven enormous demand in the vending industry.
The second big change has been in the perception of vending machines and the drinks which they produce. If you asked somebody to describe the experience of using a hot drink vending machine 15 years ago, you’d likely hear of machines breaking down, drinks being inconsistently delivered, cups not dispensing, whereas if you asked them today they would have a completely different view.
Those days are long gone and the businesses we speak to who are looking for vending solutions are focusing more on the quality of the drinks and are enjoying the array of different options that they now have available to them.
How important is it for you, to be a coffee person when you’re working in this industry?
It’s a no-brainer, 100% requirement for me and I believe it’s the same for the guys in our service team. When we’re selling, preparing, installing and servicing hot drinks machines, we need to be confident that we know what tastes good, what tastes average and to be able to identify if there’s an issue and fix it.
Whether it’s coffee, tea, milk, it’s important that everyone in the service team working on those solutions understands how each ingredient contributes, how everything works and the impact of the technology on the quality of the drinks being vended.
We are a consultative business who pride ourselves on getting the right solutions to our customers and we know our clients appreciate our passion.