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What Is The Difference Between an Automatic Coffee machine and a Coffee Vending Machine?

The C12 Dr Coffee coffee machine for small offices and homes
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Rheavendors V+ Grande coffee vending machine

We often get asked this question, so the first thing we do is to explain what each machine can and cannot do, and then explain what the pros and cons of each type of machine are. As you will see, the answer boils down to one key difference!

The rise of the “automatic coffee machine” also known as “bean to cup” or “super automatic” coffee machine took place in the last few decades of the 20th century. These machines could grind coffee and make an espresso-based coffee with the push of a single button. However, the process still required the user to froth their milk manually and place a cup under the coffee pouring nozzle, and so it was not truly “fully automatic”.

Similarly, coffee vending machines from that early era allowed a user to make a cup of coffee with added milk and to have this delivered in a cup – all at the press of a single button. However in the early days up to around 1995, most coffee vending machines used instant or soluble coffee and powdered milk. The only way you could get coffee from actual coffee beans was through manual espresso coffee machines of the type you will see in restaurants, a coffee plunger, a filter coffee machine or pour over, a Moka pot or a super automatic machine.

That all changed with the development of bean to cup coffee vending machines with brewing units that could produce a cup of black coffee from ground coffee and then also add a choice of powdered milk and even sugar or other powders like hot chocolate. The automation of the brewing process was a major step forward for coffee vending machines, which could then do the same thing your automatic machine could offer. The one enormous difference was that coffee vending machines could also drop a cup automatically and so the process from pushing a button, to receiving a cup of coffee, truly was a one button-press process.

While the automatic machines were targeted at domestic users, the larger coffee vending machines became the mainstay of the office coffee market because they held more product and could be left alone longer while meeting the needs of office staff.

Smaller automatic coffee machines then started to offer something the coffee vending machines could not – steamed fresh milk. Indeed, the first super automatics offered only an automated way of serving black coffee. While they may have had a steam wand to allow you to steam milk separately, they certainly did not have any automated fresh milk frothing capability, and so the process of making a cappuccino was a two-stage process – making the coffee and then steaming the milk before adding the latter to the coffee.

This all changed with the “one touch cappuccino” makers that started to come into their own at the turn of the century (2000’s). Since then, the range and functionality of these coffee machines has advanced significantly. Today you can press a button and get anything from a ristretto to a cappuccino to a latte, and even hot chocolate, chocaccino and everything in between. Just check out the Dr Coffee coffee machine page to see the number of different options available today. 

Coffee vending machines which traditionally used milk powder, then also started to advance down the fresh milk avenue, and today there are coffee vending machines that use fresh milk. So the single defining feature of a coffee vending machine is that it not only makes coffee, with powdered or fresh milk (and any other drink it has soluble powder canisters for), but it does so with an automatic cup dropper.

More important for our customers than these so-called descriptive names, is the actual function of the machine and how that relates to their needs. Does it use fresh milk or powdered milk? Does it produce coffee from coffee beans or soluble coffee powder like Nescafe Classic? Does it offer any other powder canisters to make hot chocolate or a flavoured latte? Does it require frequent filling? Does it self-clean? How many cups can it make before refilling is needed etc.

With these questions in mind, we can determine which is the best coffee machine to offer you, regardless of whether someone calls it a coffee vending machine or an automatic coffee machine.

For example, a small professional office of say 10-20 staff who enjoy espresso-based coffee, would opt for a small coffee machine with a 1kg bean hopper, a 6l built in water tank and the fresh milk option. The Mythos Duo Touch, in this example, would be that machine and it is affordable, as well as fitting of the professional atmosphere, to have coffee shop quality coffee in such an office.

A call centre on the other hand, with two hundred staff and the need to have larger canisters to hold more stock to reduce the number of times it needs refilling, may opt for a larger machine like the Rheavendors Grande V+ that uses powdered milk and an instant coffee. Here fresh milk may be too expensive to supply (never mind store on site) and a small machine, as in the professional office example above, would simply be overworked.

So let us recap. Automatic coffee machines and coffee vending machines have both come a long way since the late 1980’s and both can now offer bean to cup coffee with fresh milk at the touch of a button. Coffee vending machines, however, can hold cups for a complete solution, whereas you need to place your own cup in the case of a super automatic machine.

The issue though remains: what coffee machine do you want? So by thinking about issues such as drink choice, drink quality, drink making automation level and budget, you can start to narrow down what you are looking for. We will do the rest if you choose from our coffee machine range.


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