How Does a Coffee Vending Machine Work?

Whether you run a small office, a huge call centre, factory or public building (such as a hospital, for example), the chances are that the hot drinks vending machine is a popular and important piece of furniture. The machine is likely to serve not only as a dispenser of beverages, but also a spot where staff and visitors might gather for a quick chat.

Just as there is a whole variety of different machines suited to coping with the demand in different locations and enterprise, so there are many different types of beverage typically served – from instant coffees to espressos, from gourmet beverages to teas, hot chocolate and other hot drinks.

With such a variety of vending machines and hot drinks, it can be a difficult business choosing the right machine for any particular environment. Expert Match UK can make your quest considerably easier by conducting a search of our extensive database and suggesting cost-effective solutions for your business. We can even follow up with some free, no-obligation quotes. Simply complete the short form at the top of this page and we will be in touch with you shortly to discuss your specific needs.

To illustrate the very wide range of choices presented by today’s market, you might be interested to read the following synopsis of how a coffee vending machine works.

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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).

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, these machines produce a beverage from the coffee bean itself. Beans are poured into a hopper at the top of the machines and released into a grinder when the user makes the appropriate payment. The ground coffee is then mixed with water, milk and/or sugar according to taste. Freshly ground beans not only produce a fuller flavour but an authentic aroma of freshly-ground and brewed coffee.

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.


In short, therefore, coffee vending machines have come a long way – in terms of variety, shape and size – since the first vending machine appeared in England as long ago as the 1880s. Those early machines sold mainly stationery and were often installed in railway stations and post office/s.

Today’s hot drinks vending machines are characterised by technology that allows each machine to be individually programmed to cope with a very wide range of different beverages – some are capable of offering up to 22 different selections, for example. Also, machines now offer a wide variety of payment methods.

Payment methods

If you are running an especially small office, you might simply want a coffee machine that dispenses the beverage free on demand. It is more likely, however, that you will want a genuine vending machine that allows you to at least recover your costs and may even be a source of additional revenue for your business.

Modern vending machines offer a range of options:


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.

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”.

Credit cards

Some vending machines can also be fitted with a credit card reader so that the user simply inserts his or her card to make payment for any beverages dispensed by the vending machine.


Lucy heads up the team on Expert Market, helping to deliver industry-leading expertise on business topics for nearly four years.