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What are self-service coffee machines

What are self-service coffee machines

Around the world, convenience is now a key buying factor for many coffee drinkers. Over the past few years, demand has grown for high-quality coffee that is easy to prepare, and we have subsequently seen a rapidly growing market for self-service coffee machines emerge.

The first coffee vending machine was believed to be invented in the US in the late 1940s. It ground and extracted hot coffee to order. Ready-to-drink coffee vending machines were also popular in Japan and remain so today.

In the years since, these machines have evolved to include more customizable options, such as a wider range of coffee drinks, various milk options and additional flavourings.

So where is this market going as the demand for convenience and quality rises? I spoke with three industry professionals to learn more about the self-service coffee market.

What are Self-Service Coffee Machines

Rudimentary self-service food and beverage machines have existed for decades, but coffee vending machines are newer.

The Kwik Kafe is believed to have been the first hot coffee vending machine. It mixed instant coffee and hot water in seconds, and the inventors claimed it could brew around 250,000 coffees a day.

After their launch, coffee vending machines quickly became much more popular. It is estimated that in 1955, there were 60,000 of them in the US alone.

In the 1970s, the first self-service electronic kiosk was introduced in the US, which included a touchscreen interface. Since then, touchscreen kiosks have been one of the main places where coffee is sold, such as supermarkets, fast food restaurants, airports and train stations.

These machines became popular with consumers because of their convenience, and companies also used them to reduce labour costs. For example, the cost to check a passenger in at an airport using a self-service machine is about 0.14 cents, compared to US$3.00 at a staffed counter.

In the coffee industry, self-service machines have evolved similarly; many now offer touchscreens and contactless payment.

How to Do Work Self-Service Coffee Machines

Self-service coffee machines are designed to provide convenience and efficiency for coffee lovers. These machines allow users to prepare coffee beverages without needing a barista or manual brewing techniques. Here’s how they work.

Selection and customization: Self-service coffee machines typically have a user-friendly interface that allows customers to choose from various coffee options. They can select their desired coffee strength, size, and additional features like milk, sugar, or flavours.

Bean grinding: Some self-service machines have built-in coffee bean grinders. When a customer selects their preferred coffee type, the machine grinds the beans on the spot, ensuring the freshest flavour.

Brewing process: The machine begins brewing once the coffee beans are ground. It uses either a drip system, similar to traditional coffee makers, or a more advanced brewing method such as espresso or pod-based systems. The machine controls the water temperature, pressure, and extraction time to achieve optimal taste.

Milk frothing: Self-service machines often have integrated milk frothers for beverages like cappuccinos or lattes. Customers can choose the amount of froth they desire, and the machine heats and froths the milk accordingly.

Cup dispensing: To make the experience seamless, self-service machines usually have automated cup dispensers. Users can place their cups under the dispenser, and the machine dispenses the prepared coffee directly into it.

Cleaning and maintenance: Self-service coffee machines typically have self-cleaning mechanisms. After each use, the machine rinses and sanitizes its components to ensure hygiene and eliminate cross-contamination.

These machines offer several advantages. They provide quick and efficient service, especially during busy hours. Customers have control over their coffee preferences, ensuring personalized beverages. Self-service coffee machines also minimize waiting times, making them ideal for workplaces, cafes, and public spaces.

The Self-Service Machines Scene in the UK

Some of the most prominent brands in the UK coffee vending machine market include Pret A Manger, Costa Coffee and Lavazza. Takeaway food and coffee chain Pret A Manger has partnered with JDE Peet’s to launch the Pret Express self-service solution across several UK businesses, including convenience stores and petrol station outlets.

In July 2021, Costa launched its Express Hot & Iced Drinks Machine in the UK. According to the company, this is the world’s first self-service coffee machine to deliver hot and cold coffee drinks. The machine offers over 500 personalized beverage options – showing the importance of personalization in the self-service coffee market.

What are the Differences Between Self-Service and Super Automatic Machines

Like self-service coffee machines, super-automatic coffee machines streamline the coffee preparation process. With these 2 types of machines, the user selects his order before the machine grinds and extracts the coffee. In addition, they also steam and pour the milk. 

However, super automatics are more often used by baristas than consumers. Therefore, they are more common in cafes than other businesses, such as convenience stores and hotels. 

In addition, the quality of super-automatic machines is increasing, and they are becoming more common in the coffee sector, including in speciality coffees. Major coffee chains such as Costa Coffee and Pret A-Manger are using more super-automatic machines in their stores and self-service machines in other locations.

Are Self-Service Coffee Machines Popular

According to Allied Market Research, the global self-service technology market is expected to be worth $88.33 billion by 2030, which includes coffee vending machines.

Covid-19 has also undoubtedly driven growth in the self-service coffee machine sector. Pret A Manger tested its vending machines due to the loss of revenue during the pandemic when the chain closed many of its stores.

Gerassimos Sarafoglou is the UK & Ireland General Manager for Jacob Douwe Egberts, who have partnered with Pret A Manger to roll out their Pret Express machines. He explains how technological advances have helped further deepen the differences between vending and self-service machines.

“Coffee quality and machine technology clearly differentiate between self-service branded coffee machines and more traditional vending machines,” he says.

“Consumer expectations for coffee on the go have evolved, with consumers wanting more ‘barista-style’ options available in more locations,” he adds.

These machines offer a growing range of customization options thanks to continuous innovation. This includes different types of milk and additional syrups.

“Self-service coffee machines can also operate 24 hours a day. This makes them more cost-effective for companies looking for additional revenue streams,” says Gerassimos. As such, self-service machines are significantly more convenient for consumers than coffee shops. And that is one of the biggest drivers of its popularity.

Why is Self-Service Such an Important Market

Convenience has become essential for consumers in recent years. Retail Insight Network found that up to 97% of shoppers have abandoned a purchase because they didn’t think the service was fast enough, regardless of the product’s affordability.

Furthermore, more than 50% of those surveyed stated that most of their purchases are influenced by convenience, as opposed to any other purchasing factor – highlighting the need to increase convenience with self-service coffee machines. 

Adrian Deasy is the founder and CEO of the Octane Coffee automated drive-thru chain in Milwaukee, USA. He explains why self-serve coffee machines can also be beneficial for business owners.

“Most repeat customer purchase details can be saved in sales systems. As a result, the service is much faster than more traditional methods,” he says. “It allows us to operate more efficiently than a typical drive-thru.”

A General Movement Towards Automation

In addition to other technological advances in the self-service coffee machine market, we have seen an increase in fully automated coffee systems such as barista robots.

These systems generally operate similarly to vending machines: customers order via a touchscreen or button before a machine prepares their drink.

However, the consumer experience of buying a coffee from a self-service machine and a robot barista is somewhat different. When ordering from a coffee shop with a robot barista, watching the drink prepared and served is a significant part of the appeal. 

Emanuele Rossetti is the CEO of Makr Shakr, which makes robotic arms used by bartenders and baristas.

“For many years, technology has been used to help workers in the food and beverage industry, but the pandemic has forced many brands to look to automated solutions,” he explains.

Automation presents several benefits for coffee professionals. For baristas, automatic tampers and steamers can not only reduce repetitive strain injuries but also help make drink quality more consistent. 

Adrian tells me how Octane is a fully automated drive-thru chain.

“We don’t have a lounge, bathrooms or staff on site,” he says. “All of our drinks are made by robot baristas in 30 seconds or less, including contactless delivery.” 

Contactless payment options have also seen wide acceptance after the pandemic, particularly for health and safety reasons.

Automation Versus the Human Factor

Despite the growth of automation in the coffee industry, self-service coffee machines or similar automated technology will likely only replace baristas soon. 

While convenience is more important than ever to consumers, personal interactions with baristas are important to many. And that’s a key part of the customer experience. “There will always be a need for a human aspect to our business. That’s because there are so many variables that affect the customer experience that we need to control,” says Adrian.

Benefits of Self-Service Coffee Machines

Self-service coffee machines offer numerous benefits, making them a popular choice for businesses and coffee enthusiasts. Here are some key advantages:


Self-service coffee machines provide a convenient and accessible way to enjoy coffee. Users can quickly prepare their preferred beverages without relying on a barista or waiting in long queues.


These machines significantly reduce waiting times, especially during peak hours. Users can swiftly make their coffee, saving valuable time, particularly in busy environments like offices, hotels, or cafes.


Self-service machines allow users to personalize their coffee to suit their tastes. They can select the desired coffee strength and size and often have options for adding milk, sugar, or flavours. This customization ensures a tailored coffee experience for each individual.


With self-service machines, the coffee-making process is automated and precisely controlled. This consistency guarantees that the quality and taste of the coffee remain the same, eliminating variations that can occur with manual preparation methods.


Self-service coffee machines are designed with cleanliness in mind. They often incorporate features like automatic cup dispensers and self-cleaning mechanisms, minimizing the risk of cross-contamination and ensuring a hygienic coffee preparation process.


For businesses, self-service coffee machines can be a cost-effective solution. They eliminate the need for additional staff or baristas, reducing labour costs while providing customers with a high-quality coffee experience.


These machines can offer a wide range of coffee options, from basic black coffee to speciality beverages like cappuccinos, lattes, or mochas. They cater to different preferences and accommodate diverse tastes, appealing to a broader customer base.

24/7 availability

Self-service coffee machines are often available round the clock, allowing users to satisfy their coffee cravings anytime. This accessibility is particularly beneficial for places like airports, hospitals, or hotels, where coffee demand can be constant.

Tips for Using Self-Service Coffee Machines

To make the most of your self-service coffee machine experience, keep the following tips in mind:

Follow Instructions

Read and follow the instructions provided by the machine manufacturer. Pay attention to specific steps or requirements to ensure optimal brewing and prevent mishaps.

Cleanliness and Hygiene

Maintain cleanliness and hygiene by following the recommended cleaning procedures. Dispose of used coffee grounds properly and clean any spills promptly to avoid contamination and maintain a pleasant environment.

Experiment with Settings

Feel free to experiment with different settings to find your perfect cup of coffee. Adjust the strength, temperature, and other variables to customize the taste and flavour according to your preferences.

Limitations and Challenges of Self-Service Coffee Machines

While self-service coffee machines offer numerous advantages, it’s important to be aware of their limitations and challenges:

Technical Issues

Self-service coffee machines may experience technical glitches or malfunctions like any electronic device. These issues can disrupt the brewing process and may require professional assistance to resolve.

Quality and Taste Variability

The quality and taste of the coffee produced by self-service machines may differ from the precision and consistency provided by skilled baristas in specialty coffee shops. Factors like bean quality, freshness, and brewing techniques can impact the taste experience.

Dependency on Power and Water Supply

Self-service coffee machines require a stable power supply and access to water. In the event of a power outage or water supply disruption, the availability of coffee may be affected until the issue is resolved.

The Future of Self-Service Coffee Machines

Today many speciality coffee shops and roasters are unlikely to invest in self-service machines, as the investment will be difficult to justify for any business operating under an “artisan coffee” philosophy.

“Large initial investments are required. That’s because reliable automation that works 24/7, year round is not easy to design or implement,” advises Adrian.

Additionally, the craft of roasting and brewing coffee is typically a significant selling point for many speciality coffee brands. In theory, this means that interactions between customers and baristas will likely be more valuable to their business than the novelty of a self-service machine.

Self-service coffee machines often incorporate built-in bean grinders, ensuring they freshly grind the coffee before brewing. Surveys by the World Coffee Portal found that a third of UK consumers were open to a fully automated coffee shop experience – highlighting the importance of technology in the sector.

However, for other coffee, hospitality or retail businesses looking to offer a wider range of product options, self-service machines could be viable.

The same survey found that over 80% of people surveyed wanted to recreate their usual coffee shop order using self-service machines. This means the demand for higher-quality options could increase in the coming years.

Additionally, the more innovation in self-service coffee machine technology, the more options are available to consumers, which puts convenience at the forefront of growth.

Self-service coffee machines have come a long way since the mid-1900s, with significant technological advancements such as touchscreens and a wider range of beverage options.

And with automation continuing to grow across the coffee industry, the potential for further development of the coffee vending machine market is significant.


How Do I Use a Self-Service Coffee Machine?

Using a self-service coffee machine is simple. Select your preferred coffee type, customize options like strength and size, insert your cup, and let the machine do the rest. Follow the instructions on the machine’s interface for a seamless experience.

Are Self-Service Coffee Machines Easy to Clean?

Yes, most self-service coffee machines have automated cleaning cycles. They rinse and sanitize their components after each use. Users can easily clean and maintain them as they often have removable parts.

Can Self-Service Coffee Machines Accommodate Different Dietary Preferences?

Absolutely! Self-service machines offer a range of coffee options, including decaf, flavored coffees, and alternative milk options like soy or almond milk. They provide a variety of choices to cater to different dietary needs.

How Fresh Is the Coffee From a Self-Service Machine?

Self-service coffee machines often incorporate built-in bean grinders, ensuring they freshly grind the coffee before brewing. This helps preserve the flavor and aroma of the coffee. Additionally, some machines have strict inventory control to maintain freshness.

Are Self-Service Coffee Machines Cost-Effective?

Yes, self-service coffee machines can be cost-effective, especially in high-traffic areas. They eliminate the need for hiring baristas and reduce labour costs. Users can also avoid the higher prices typically associated with coffee shops, making it a more affordable option in the long run.


Self-service coffee machines have revolutionized the way we enjoy our favorite caffeinated beverages. They provide convenience, customization, and efficiency, allowing coffee lovers to prepare their drinks easily. These machines offer various options, from selecting the coffee type and strength to adding milk, sugar, or flavors according to personal preference. With built-in grinders, brewing systems, and milk frothers, coffee machines deliver freshly brewed and customized beverages in minutes. They are particularly beneficial in busy environments like workplaces, cafes, and public spaces, as they minimize waiting times and provide consistent quality. Additionally, these machines often have self-cleaning mechanisms, ensuring hygiene and ease of maintenance. Overall, coffee machines offer a delightful and user-friendly experience, catering to coffee enthusiasts’ diverse tastes and demands everywhere.


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