Coffee Trends: Countertop Evolution
By Brian Martell
By Brian Martell
The countertop coffee “vending” machine has come a long way since its
first big success in the early ’70s. Back then the VKI 200, arguably
the first widespread countertop, was the product of a progressive
evolution of coffee brewers designed for full size vending machines
adapted to fit a countertop format for smaller locations.
The countertop coffee “vending” machine has come a long way since its first big success in the early ’70s. Back then the VKI 200, arguably the first widespread countertop, was the product of a progressive evolution of coffee brewers designed for full size vending machines adapted to fit a countertop format for smaller locations.
Since that time, there have been numerous machines on the market and many more that are still appearing.
As with the VKI machine, most of the countertops used a vacuum brewing system with the exception of the System 7 and Executive machines from Crane which used a pump system to brew the coffee. Essentially, almost all of the brewers in this category on the market brewed a black coffee of one or two sizes where the condiments were added after the fact.
Some machines, like the Brio or Saeco, brewed coffee with a cup drop and added the condiments to the coffee, but were espresso brewers designed for the European market and adapted to the American market by making an “alongé” or Caffè Americano (a long espresso trying to mimic the volume of a standard nine ounce cup).
Conversely, vacuum brewer countertops offered what was called an “espresso” beverage, which was essentially a stronger cup of coffee by virtue of using the same gram throw with a reduced water component. As vacuum brewers cannot apply pressure to the coffee, the espresso taste was missing along with any significant crema (the golden foam on top of a true espresso).
In both these cases, the consumer looking for a North American coffee out of an espresso machine or an espresso out of a vacuum brewer machine were left wanting.
In April of 2006, a new generation of countertop coffee brewers entered the market. Combining the form and function of the original machines with the convenience of the European options, the Genesis by Crane has brought the countertop to a new level. The essential “unique selling proposition” for the Genesis lies in its ability to produce both a true North American coffee while also being able to brew an authentic European espresso.
The innovation that allows the machine to produce both is the Coex brewer, which incorporates an ingenious device that changes the water pressure depending upon the product selection (espresso requires a higher pressure). The result is a machine that can boast the ability to satisfy both the traditional North American coffee drinkers while capitalizing on the specialty espresso based coffee drinkers. As a fully self-contained unit, the Genesis also allows for greater control over condiments and cups, making it an alternative to full sized vending machines in locations where volumes are lower.
All equipment, regardless of the industry, goes through a period of improvements and modifications; how fast these changes occur is the key element for operator confidence. And while Crane did have teething issues with the Genesis, they did institute a series of modifications surprisingly quickly for a piece of equipment manufactured in Europe, sold in Canada and tested in the U.S.
Indeed, the testing component of vending machines is becoming tighter; with an eye to launching machines that do not require modifications after the fact.
The auto industry used to be rife with what the software industry would refer to as version 1.xx. New model cars coming off the line for the first time would invariably be “tested” by the consumer who would spend countless hours at the dealership or receive recall notices in the mail.
Not surprisingly, most people would shy away from any vehicle that was a new design until all the bugs were worked out of it and wait for the next year’s new and improved car. Now, the automotive industry is using more sophisticated modelling programs, which dictate sample testing sizes and scopes to reduce, if not eliminate the need for a Model 1.43, when Model 1.0 should have worked right off the line.
This not only makes good business sense from a hard cost point of view but also from a soft cost perspective, measured in good will, perception and customer allegiance. Crane’s new head of engineering has taken this commitment as a core value departmentally and as an agent for a corporate cultural shift.
Other companies in non related industries like GE have championed the benefits of quality programs (Six Sigma, ISO, etc.) as a means of achieving near zero defects on current production and close to zero defects on new products; even if the price for this level of quality is the delay of product launches.
Countertop brewers have been and continue to face market challenges by the cartridge or pod-style brewers that offer a single cup, one brew at a time, product. By evolving with the market and building on technological innovations, the countertop solution will secure its place in the OCS/vending milieu for years to come.
Questions or comments? E-mail Brian at Brian@heritage-coffee.com