How Does a Coffee Vending Machine Work?

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Coffee vending machines are a staple of our great nation. Keeping workers fuelled at every level of every company, caffeine is that miracle we look forward to once or twice (or six) times daily.

From energising coffees to refreshing teas, and even little soups, you rely on your company vending machine to deliver your beverage quickly and carefully.

With such a variety of vending machines and hot drinks, it can be a difficult business choosing the right machine. We’ve made a unique tool to suggest cost-effective coffee vending solutions for your business. If you give us a rough idea of what you’re after, we’d be more than happy to match you with the right suppliers who can help.

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How to operate a coffee vending machine

A vending machine works on the inherently very simple principle of making a payment to receive the appropriate product. In a work environment this is commonly a hot drink or a snack. Exactly how the coffee vending machine works, however, is also determined by the type of beverage that is being brewed:

Instant coffee

This is probably the simplest form of hot drink dispenser. The instant coffee – or, for that matter, tea, chocolate or other powder – is stored in containers within the machine. The user makes a payment and a measured amount of the appropriate powder is dispensed into a cup and mixed with water (and milk and/or sugar if these options are selected).

Machines such as these are typically capable of dispensing large volumes of individual beverages (500 cups or more) before the canisters need to be refilled. Instant coffee vending machines tend to be the most economical, although they dispense a beverage that may be considered a lower quality in today’s more discerning coffee-drinking market.

Pre-ground, freeze-dried granules

A somewhat higher quality product is likely to be produced if the containers within the vending machine are filled with pre-ground, freeze-dried coffee granules. The machine works in a similar way, to dispense a measured volume of granules into a cup and mixed with water (and milk and/or sugar if these options are selected).

Types of coffee vending machine

Now you’ve learned a little about how each beverage brewer works, let’s explore the various types. In the next few sections we’ll think about the difference in quality and flavour that results from each kind of machine.

In-cup vending machines

A variation on these themes involves loading the vending machine with pre-filled cups, containing either instant or pre-ground, freeze-dried beans, when payment is made, the machine then adds water (and milk and/or sugar) to the cup.

Bean to cup vending machines

As the name suggests, bean to cup machines produce a beverage from the coffee bean itself. Beans are poured into a hopper at the top of the machine and ground in stages, so that only enough grinds are available for the next drink. The freshly ground coffee retains a stronger taste as hot water extracts its flavours. Newly ground beans not only produce a fuller flavour but also produce that life-giving aroma we know so well.

bean to cup machine krups espresso maker

Pods, modules and capsules

In the continuing search for vending machine beverages that are similar in appearance, taste and quality to those served freshly in a coffee shop, recent years have seen the widespread use of pods, capsules and modules. Though going by different names, these all rely on the ground coffee (frequently described as a gourmet blend) being pre-packed and sealed into a special pod.

When the appropriate payment is made, the pod drops into the machine and one of a range of different, specialist coffees (such as espresso, latte, or cappuccino) is freshly brewed. These specialist vending machines tend to be smaller and cope with lighter use than the high volumes dispensed by instant coffee vending machines.

Drinks machine payment methods

In some offices you’ll find a coffee machine that dispenses beverages on demand at no cost. However, for some businesses, it’s the right decision to ask for payment per drink.

Modern vending machines offer a range of options, so let’s take a closer look at a few of these.


This is perhaps the most common and certainly the longest-established means of collecting payment. It is just as it says – the customer inserts coins in payment for the beverage dispensed. Some coin-operated systems require the correct amount of money to be inserted, while others incorporate a change-giving mechanism.

canto touch coffee vending machine

Cashless systems

Increasingly popular, however, are entirely cashless systems, relying on the customer’s use of a pre-paid card or key. This is loaded in advance with whatever monetary balance the user may choose and debited with the cost of hot drinks dispensed by the vending machine. Some cashless systems may allow you to program card-holders’ accounts so that the vending machine is a source of rewards, promotions or even “happy hours”.

Cashless payments

Some vending machines come fitted with a card reader so that the thirsty worker simply inserts (or taps) a card to make payment before dispensing a beverage.

How to get a coffee machine in your workplace

Now you’re fully clued up on the different types of hot beverage dispenser, you may be wondering how you can get some caffeine for your colleagues. If you need a quick and easy way to compare coffee machine suppliers, simply fill in some details and we’ll match you with our trusted providers.

You’ll be refuelled and refreshed in no time!

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Written by:
Sabrina Dougall
Sabrina is a business journalist whose career began in news reporting. She has a master's in Investigative Journalism from City University London, and her work has appeared in The Times, The Daily Express, Money Saving Expert, Camden New Journal, Global Trade Review, and Computer Business Review. She specializes in writing about SEO (search engine optimization). Having run her own small business, Sabrina knows first-hand how critical digital marketing is to building a client base and local reputation.