Chicago, Enjoy Bottled Water at Any Time of the Year

Bottled water options in Chicago

Bottled water continues to be a popular choice for both refreshment and rehydration in Chicago. As the seasons change and summer comes to an end, Chicago employees are getting ready for all that the fall and winter have to bring. Even though the temperature may be slowly dropping, it is important to remember to stay hydrated.

Dehydration can happen to anyone when there “is a lack of water in the body resulting from inadequate intake of fluids.” Even a small amount of dehydration can cause headaches, poor concentration, tiredness, and lightheadedness — all symptoms that can make it harder for employees to be productive. An easy way to stay hydrated is to always have low or no-sugar beverages like bottled water available in the office break room vending machine.

Bottled water choices in the United States (U.S.) have expanded to include domestic non-sparkling water (5.5 percent increase), domestic sparking water (27.5 percent increase), imported sparkling and non-sparkling water (9.2 percent increase), and home and office delivery of 3 to 5-gallon size bottles (1.3 percent increase). The switch from other packaged drinks to bottled water has been so strong that, according to the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) and the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC), “bottled water is the number one beverage product in the U.S., by volume, for a second year in a row.”

Bottled Water options in Chicago

And that list of beverages includes carbonated soft drinks whose sales have continued to decline over the past 13 years as consumers have shifted away from sugar-sweetened beverages. Some of the reasons why Chicago employees have made the switch include the following. Bottled water

  • is a healthy choice,
  • tastes great and is refreshing,
  • is convenient and available any time of day, and
  • Is portable.

Another way to help boost productivity is to keep hunger at bay by offering healthy snacks in office break room vending machines or micro-market. Eating healthy snacks regularly throughout the day keeps energy levels up and blood sugar stable. A satiated and hydrated employee is a winning combination. For more information about adding a micro-market or healthy snack and beverage vending machines to your place of business, contact Mark Vend at (847) 291-9216. We look forward to working with you.

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Finding Coffee in Chicago

Coffee options in Chicago

Enjoying coffee continues to be a daily experience for 64 percent of Americans. That number is important because it means that, according to research performed by the National Coffee Association (NCA), 5 percent more Americans are drinking it daily than there were in 2016. Unfortunately, not all of the results in the study were positive as out-of-home coffee consumption decreased from 40 percent in 2017 to 36 percent in 2018, and those who claimed to have a workplace coffee area decreased by 3 percent.

While these new findings might sound negative, they create an opportunity for Chicago beans are considered to be gourmet beans. They are more expensive to grow because they need very specific growing conditions, must be carefully handled and roasted to perfection. All of this combined creates a gourmet cup of java.

Traditional coffee is made with beans that are not considered gourmet and was preferred by 31 percent of the participants. This type of brew is usually made from Robusta beans or a mix of Robusta and Arabica beans. Robusta beans are cheaper to grow and easier to handle, but have an inferior taste.

While it appears that the study participants preferred traditional beans over gourmet ones, it is important to compare the demographics of the study to the demographics of your Chicago employees before making a decision. For example, only 19 percent of the 18 to 24 year-olds in the study drank traditional coffee while over 30 percent of the same cohort preferred the gourmet version. In older demographics, the traditional variety does better, but gourmet beans still draws in more than 30 percent of that age group.

Coffee options in Chicago

At Home or At Work

The second step is to understand where employees are getting their caffeine fix. For the majority,  coffee-based beverages are still consumed at breakfast in Chicago homes, but there has also been an increase in enjoying coffee between breakfast and lunch or when employees are at work. This second block of time is when an office coffee service can have an impact.

Rather than having to go offsite to find either an espresso-based beverage or a cup of coffee, employees can find what they are looking for in an onsite break room with a cafe-style service. It’s a benefit with a highly perceived value that outweighs the actual cost. Increasing the perceived value is easily accomplished by offering snacks via a micro-market or vending machine. A healthy mid-morning snack with a cup of Joe is a great way to boost your employees’ energy levels.

For more information about adding office coffee service or another vending service option to your Chicago break room, contact Mark Vend at (847) 291-9216. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Chicago, Have You Tried the New Better-for-You Snacks?

Snack option in Chicago

If Chicago employees look closely, they will see that there are new better-for-you chocolate snacks to be enjoyed. This is good news for employees that enjoy chocolate but stay away because of chocolate’s nutritional value. Researchers and analysts have found that consumers prefer better-for-you (BFY) products and are frequently moving away from traditional sweet treats. The chocolate industry has responded by developing a variety of new chocolate snacks such as fruit covered in dark chocolate.

Other new chocolate BFY snacks include chocolate combined with different ingredients to make new textures, chocolate paired with herbs and spices, dark chocolate and sea salt, nuts covered in dark chocolate, chocolate in protein bars, poppable truffle bites made with dark chocolate, chocolate and nut butter dips, chocolate bark with a variety of other ingredients, pulse brownie bites made with chickpea flour, and sweet potato brownies. With so many choices, there is a chocolate snack for almost everyone.

For those Chicago employees who don’t like chocolate, there are a lot of new non-chocolate BFY options available.

Fruity Flavors: Naturally sweetened sweet or sour gummy bears are a fun low-calorie treat made with stevia. Fruit is also a commonly used ingredient to make naturally sweetened treats such as fruit chews and fruit leather.

Brittle: A syrup-based sweet treat, BFY brittle can be naturally sweetened with maple syrup, honey, or coconut nectar.  

Other Candy: Hard candy, mints, and lollipops are made from a variety of natural and sometimes organic sweeteners including brown rice syrup, cane sugar, evaporated cane juice,  honey, and maple syrup.

Snack option in Chicago

Whether Chicago employees enjoy something with chocolate or something without chocolate, there are three themes that run through all of the types of sweet treats.

  1. Better-for-you sweet snacks are made with new ingredients and a different type of ingredient. Sweet potatoes, chia seeds, nut flours, chickpea flour, and coconut flour and sugar are rarely found in traditional sweet snacks, but they are frequently used in BFY sweet snacks.
  2. The second theme is that the types of ingredients have changed. Consumers also expect to see organic, non-GMO, minimally processed ingredients.
  3. The amount and type of sugar is the third theme Chicago consumers expect to see. Regular sugar is no longer an acceptable ingredient. Today’s sweet snacks are made with either sweeteners that are low in calories and fructose and are very sweet such as stevia, xylitol, or yacon; or natural sugar based sweeteners like honey, coconut sugar, or maple syrup.    

Which better-for-you sweet snacks do your employees wish they could find in the break room? Mark Vend can help create a customized list of snacks and beverages that are both better-for-you and a tasty sweet treat. For an even sweeter treat, offer vending machine snacks and beverages for a lower or zero cost. Call us at (847) 291-9216 more information.

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Office Coffee Service Boosts Productivity in Chicago

Coffee Service in Chicago

“Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee” is a phrase almost all Chicago employees have heard at least once at the beginning of the workday. Whether an individual needs the caffeine to finish waking up or to just mentally prepare for the day ahead, coffee plays an important role for more than 64 percent of American adults. With the increasing number of coffee drinkers, employers have an opportunity to harness the effects of caffeine by turning it into a productivity tool. As David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com expressed, “companies need to provide higher-quality coffee and related benefits as part of broader employee retention and loyalty strategies that ultimately help enhance employee productivity.”

Why Coffee?

With more than half (68 percent) of at-work coffee drinkers drinking coffee that is made or dispensed in the office break room, there is an opportunity to positively impact the majority of Chicago employees. Offering a sought-after selection of beans and roasts and other hot beverages will also encourage employees to get to the office in the morning and keep them onsite during the workday.

Increased Productivity

It is well established that the caffeine decreases fatigue, provides a mental boost, and improves, memory, reaction times, and concentration. Each of these benefits positively impacts an individual’s productivity, but recent research by the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis has found that caffeine also has a positive impact on a group’s performance. Groups that have consumed coffee were more willing to work and generated a higher number of topic relevant statements. Coffee breaks also contribute to an increase in networking and spontaneous idea generation among groups of individuals.

Coffee Service in Chicago

Plan of Action

Step 1: Offer options in your Chicago break room that can compete with coffee purchased or made outside of the office. Be aware that employees value quality and flavor, but are often disappointed when it comes to at-work choices.

Step 2: Invest in higher-quality options. Packaged Facts recommends offering only “two varieties that communicate clear distinctions that matter to the target audience could make most employees happy while keeping product assortment manageable.”

Step 3: Don’t forget to offer your employees a variety of sweeteners and creamers and a selection of healthy snacks and meals to enjoy with their cup of Joe.

Step 4: Contact Mark Vend at (847) 291-9216 to customize your office coffee service or to add healthy snacks and beverages via a break room micro-market or vending machines — your employees will enjoy the added benefit.

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Emerging Snack and Beverage Trends in Chicago

Healthy Snack and Beverage Options in Chicago

Changing snack and beverage trends in Chicago are impacting everyone from small, local companies to the largest snack food distributor. To be successful in the long run, both big and small companies need to understand what consumers are looking for.

Meals

Rather than eating three meals per day, more consumers are looking for ways to enjoy six to eight smaller meals or snacks each day. While the nutritional needs of Chicago employees have not changed, how they get those nutrients has. This means that each “mini-meal” consumed while at work needs to be nutritionally solid.

Healthy snack and beverage options need to provide the right type of nutrition to meet those nutritional needs, but in smaller quantities. One way to do that is to offer snacks and beverages with the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat that will get them to their next consumption occasion.

Plant-based Snacks

While Chicago consumers are gravitating toward snacks with high protein and fibrous plant ingredients, many other consumers are not. Historically, “healthy” plant-based snacks lacked flavor and had unusual textures. Dr. Christine Cioffe, senior vice president of PepsiCo Sustainability and Global Snacks R&D explained it best when she said, “People might change their behavior for something with a functional benefit, but overtime will fall off if it’s not flavorful.” Today, there are many delicious plant-based snacks available.

Determining which plant-based snack and beverage products to offer in the office break room might sound overwhelming, but here are two approaches depending on the situation.

  • Survey employees about which plant-based products they already enjoy outside of work.
  • For new products and especially when people are suspicious about the taste, encourage employees to try new products by creating a trial run period for products at no cost. Then survey everyone to learn which snacks are the most popular.

Healthy Snack and Beverage Options in Chicago

Organic, Non-GMO, and Socially Good Practices

Consumers want transparency about a number of things from the origins of their prepackaged snacks to how companies are accountable for their environmental footprints and the health of their consumers.

Helping Chicago employees understand both the big picture and the little picture is important. For the little picture, provide information about what each term means, why it is relevant, and where to look for information on each product. Explaining why companies need to invest in socially good business practices and how it benefits the consumer is a great place to start understanding the big picture.

How is your business helping Chicago employees meet their snacking goals? Consider removing the extra noise and offer healthy snacks and beverages in your break room vending machine. We’ve done the hard work and made sure that all-natural and organic snacks and beverages are available.

For more information about adding healthy snack and beverage vending machines to your location, contact Mark Vend at (847) 291-9216.

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Consider Natural Sugar Alternatives in Your Chicago Snacks and Beverages

Healthy Snacks and Beverages in Chicago

Being aware of the type and amount of sugar in snacks and beverages is important. The number of Chicago residents coping with health related problems connected to sugar has increased over the years. Katherine Allmandinger, manager of strategic insights at Nielsen Health & Wellness, shared that “one in five households has a diabetic member who is either pre-type I or II.” And diabetes and obesity are just two of the many issues.

Since many Chicago consumers are leary of marketing claims regarding sugar, reading the nutrition and ingredient labels on the snacks and beverages they plan to purchase is becoming standard practice. The challenge for many consumers is knowing which sugar alternative to choose. Artificial sweeteners, while low in calories, are made from ingredients that are known to be harmful. A healthier alternative are natural sweeteners such as monk fruit, honey, and agave.

Monk Fruit

Monk fruit is a small sub-tropical melon from Asia that is 200 times sweeter than sugar. The easiest way to enjoy the sweetness of monk fruit is to use the extract or sweetener. Unlike other fruit, the monk fruit gets its sweetness from naturally occuring antioxidants instead of naturally occuring sugars. This difference is why monk fruit does not affect blood sugar. In addition to not impacting blood sugar levels, monk fruit has anti-inflammatory properties, combats infection, and fights fatigue.

Healthy Snacks and Beverages in Chicago

Honey

Honey is a sugary sweet liquid produced by honeybees. A natural sweetener, honey can be used as a substitute for sugar in snacks and beverages. But be careful, honey is sweeter than sugar so you’ll need less of it to get the same sweetness. As with monk fruit, honey has multiple health benefits. Honey boosts energy; contains a variety of vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium; has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and antioxidant properties; and has trace amounts of more than 15 amino acids.

Agave

Agave is a succulent plant native to the southern United States that is transformed into dark and light agave nectars or syrups. The lighter nectar has a mild flavor while the darker nectar has a stronger flavor that has been said to be close to the flavor of  maple syrup. Just like monk fruit, agave nectar is low on the glycemic index and doesn’t cause a sugar rush and unhealthy blood sugar spike. Antibacterial properties, an improved immune system, and increased bone mineral density are just a few of the other health benefits of agave nectar.

Which sweetener would your Chicago employees like to see in their healthy snacks and beverages? A great way to provide a variety of healthy options and give your employees’ finances a boost is to include reduced or zero cost healthy vending machines in your office break room. Mark Vend can help you customize the perfect selection of snacks and beverages to meet your employees’ sweet and salty needs. Call us at (847) 291-9216 for more information.

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Healthy Snack Alternatives in Chicago

Healthy Snack Options in Chicago

Are you ever in the mood for a snack that is salty and crunchy, but want it to be a healthy choice? If you are, there are a lot of new healthy options available that were on exhibit at the 2018 NAMA (National Automatic Merchandising Association) Show. Attending vending operators sought out better-for-you products that could help Chicago employees their health and wellness goals.

In addition to chips made from wheat alternatives and vegetables, there were several other themes that appeared. Low or no-sugar beverages, energy drinks, and beverages made with superfood ingredients such as matcha, naturally occurring antioxidants, and protein topped the list. But, let’s go back to that craving for a salty and crunchy snack.

Instead of only finding the traditional potato chip in your Chicago office break room vending machine, there are now chips made with brown rice, quinoa, hummus, and lentils. Each one of those ingredients offers a different flavor as well as the following health benefits.   

Brown Rice

  • High in Fiber
  • Contains: manganese, antioxidants, lecithin, magnesium, and selenium
  • Benefits: helps convert food into energy, protects from free radicals, digests slowly which keeps blood sugar levels stable during digestion, has anti-inflammatory properties

Quinoa

  • High-Quality Protein
  • High in Fiber
  • Gluten-Free
  • Contains: nine essential amino acids, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, copper, iron, zinc, potassium, B vitamins, calcium, vitamin E, and multiple antioxidants
  • Benefits: super nutritious, works well to control blood sugar, lowers cholesterol, and contains anti-inflammatory properties

Healthy Snack Options in Chicago

Hummus

  • Made with mashed chickpea, tahini, oil, lemon juice, and garlic
  • High in Fiber
  • Contains: protein, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, isoflavones (antioxidants), minerals, and vegetable-based iron
  • Benefits: helps maintain blood sugar levels; decreases risk of some cancers; lowers bad cholesterol; decreases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes; and reduces likelihood of blood clots

Lentils

  • High-quality Protein
  • High in Fiber
  • Contains: magnesium, iron, folate, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamin B1
  • Benefits: strengthens and repairs muscles; battles fatigue, stress, and mood swings; prevents heart disease and lowers cholesterol; improves blood circulation; aids in and slows digestion; maintains blood sugar levels; and reduces the risk of some cancers

With so many healthy crunchy snack options, your Chicago employees can choose what they think tastes best. Don’t forget to offer them healthy beverages such as bottled water, iced tea, and carbonated mineral water to enjoy with their snack. To learn more about providing healthy snack and beverage options, call Mark Vend at (847) 291-9216. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Look Out for New Technology in Chicago

Break Room Technology in Chicago

Have you ever thought about which technology you might see in the future in your Chicago office break room? Many of those new technologies are likely to first be found in quick service restaurants and grocery stores. They include interactive kiosks, robotsas (a cross between a robot and a baristas), and unattended retail technology or vending machines that sell unique products. The following is a list of technology that is either in use today or will be soon.    

Coffee Robot: It’s exactly what it sounds like. The unattended coffee distribution system or robot barista makes a variety of customizable beverages. Customers order their favorite caffeinated beverages from a smartphone app or a nearby tablet, and pick up their beverage from the robot. If you’re lucky enough to be in Austin, TX or San Francisco, CA, then you can try one for yourself.

Robotic Kitchen Restaurant: A new restaurant has recently opened in Boston, MA that is unlike any other. Customers use a touch screen to choose an entree on the menu, add additional ingredients, and remove unwanted ones. The robot then gathers the ingredients, cooks them in a hot pan, and passes the cooked food on to a human who adds some garnish and labels the bowl—all in under three minutes.   

Pizza Robot: This one is also exactly what it sounds like although there are currently several different types across the country. Whether the robot assists restaurant employees with making the pizza or is part of cooking the pizza and bringing it to you, it’s all about creating a delicious pizza pie as quickly as possible.

Break Room Technology in Chicago

Robotic Burger Flipper:  Still one of a kind, this robot in California can flip burgers twice as fast as a human. The robot continues to learn by using feedback loops from its co-workers as well as from its own mistakes. But, there are still a few kinks to work out as this robot works too fast for its human counterparts.  

Ice Cream Self-Serve Robot: It’s an ice cream/frozen yogurt shop that makes customizable treats in a vending machine with a robotic arm. While it’s not available yet, it will soon be easier to enjoy a sweet treat especially when grocery shopping.

Unique robots aren’t the only innovative technology that might appear in a break room. Many Chicago break rooms already use cutting-edge technology such as ENERGY STARⓇ certified vending machines, high-efficiency micro-market coolers and freezers, LED lighting, wireless technology, and mobile payment systems. What’s in your Chicago break room?

Whether you’d like to update your current vending machines or micro-market technology, Mark Vend can help. We can also help customize the right mix of healthy snacks, food, and beverages to fit your Chicago employees’ needs. Call us at (847) 291-9216 for more information. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Chicago, Enjoy a Healthy Snack Today

Break Room Snack Options in Chicago

It may be summer outside, but don’t forget to include a bit of dark chocolate in your healthy snack. The key is to use dark chocolate made with a high-cocoa content, low unhealthy-fats, and very little sugar. A few different ways to enjoy a dark chocolate snack in the summer include: dark chocolate ice cubes, fruit dipped in dark chocolate, homemade dark chocolate ice cream, and dark chocolate pudding or mousse in addition to the traditional bar of dark chocolate.

Why dark chocolate? Because dark chocolate contains antioxidants, caffeine, endorphins, and serotonin which offer many health benefits. According to research presented at the Experimental Biology 2018 annual meeting, “consuming dark chocolate that has a high concentration of cacao (minimally 70% cacao, 30% organic cane sugar) has positive effects on stress levels, inflammation, mood, memory and immunity” as well as cognition.

Let’s take a look at how caffeine, endorphins, serotonin, and antioxidants play a role.

Caffeine

As many Chicago employees know, caffeine can provide an energy boost when one is feeling tired. But caffeine does more than just decrease fatigue. Caffeine offers a short-term mental boost, improves memory, and even helps decrease pain sensitivity in some individuals with chronic pain.

Endorphins & Serotonin

While endorphins are a group of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system, and serotonin is a chemical and neurotransmitter, both have a similar effect. They can both improve a Chicago employee’s mood. Endorphins create feelings of pleasure, and serotonin elevates one’s mood.  

Break Room Snack Options in Chicago

Antioxidants

Understanding the impact of antioxidants is a bit more complicated. There are many different types of antioxidants. Several of the ones that come into play with dark chocolate include flavonoids (flavanols, flavonols (source of the antioxidant qualities), epicatechin and procyanidins) and polyphenols. Flavonoids, a type of antioxidant, improve cognitive function, help absorb UV light, increase blood flow to the skin, improve skin texture, increase skin hydration, fight inflammation and oxidative stress—improving blood flow, improve cardiovascular health, reduce insulin resistance, and decrease cravings for sweet, salty, and fatty foods. Those are a lot of benefits!

The benefits from antioxidants are often seen in Chicago individuals when three to four ounces of dark chocolate made with 70 percent to 80 percent cocoa are enjoyed each day. Don’t forget to avoid dark chocolate made using processing methods such as fermenting, alkalizing, and roasting as they cause important flavonoids to be lost.

Can your Chicago employees find a healthy dark chocolate snack in their office break room? Offering healthy vending machine options is one way that your organization can support your employees’ health. For more information about adding vending services to your place of business, contact Mark Vend at (847) 291-9216. We look forward to working with you.

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Chicago, Do You Know What the Secret Ingredient in Coffee Is?

Office Coffee Service in Chicago

Making great coffee while protecting the brewing equipment requires Chicago employees to constantly perform a balancing act. They must choose the best type of water to find the sweet spot between preventing damage to the brewing equipment and brewing the perfect cup of coffee.

Why is the type of water so important? A cup of coffee consists of 98 percent water. That means that the beans only represents two percent of the beverage. The quality or type of water can range anywhere from “hard” (full of minerals like magnesium) to “soft” (distilled water falls into this category).

To understand the impact of hard and soft water on brewing equipment, consider the following:  

  • many maintenance issues are caused by water because the water comes into contact with almost every part of the machine
  • for example, some compounds found in hard water are sticky and seek out specific compounds in the coffee grounds impeding the brewing process
  • the more minerals the water contains (or the harder the water), the more damaging the water can be to the brewing equipment
  • minerals cause scale buildup (or coat) the inner workings (pumps, boilers, and valves) of the brewing machine, causing corrosion, leaks, and ultimately, the destruction of the machine.

Office Coffee Service in Chicago

If too many minerals in hard water damage the brewing system, why not use soft or distilled water? The answer to this question is why balancing the water selection is so important. The right balance of minerals in the water improves the taste of a Chicago cup of coffee.

To understand how hard and soft water changes the taste, consider the following:

  • minerals found in water carry coffee’s body and aroma to the palate
  • a high mineral content contributes to a decrease in the quality
    • too much alkalinity in the water can cause a soapy taste or residue in the brewed coffee
    • water that is too hard can give a bitter or chalky taste
    • very little mineral content is also a problem at it causes strange extractions and off-flavors
  • soft water can create a bland cup of coffee   

If Chicago individuals are interested in monitoring the water that goes into their coffee, the following table from the Specialty Coffee Association’s Water for Brewing Standards lists the acceptable characteristics for the best brewing water.

Characteristic Target Acceptable Range
Odor 1 Clean/Fresh, Odor free n/a
Color 2 Clear color n/a
Total Chlorine 0 mg/L n/a
TDS 3 150 mg/L 75 – 250 mg/L
Calcium Hardness 4 grains or 68 mg/L 1-5 grains or 17 mg/L – 85 mg/L
Total Alkalinity 40 mg/L At or near 40 mg/L
pH 7.0 (neutral) 6.5 – 7.5
Sodium 10 mg/L At or near 10 mg/L

However, not everyone has the time or desire to check the mineral content and quality of their water. When that’s the case, there are several options to explore. The first is to reconsider your source for coffee beans. A local roaster will likely test their beans with local water increasing the likelihood that your Chicago employees will brew great tasting coffee. On the other hand, nationally recognized brands often use pure water, which can be found almost everywhere, to test their beans as they strive to create a consistent flavor nationwide. A second option is to use water that tastes good on its own. If water tastes and smells good and is clean straight from the tap, the end result will likely be tasty.

As a side note—avoid pure distilled or reverse osmosis water. While they are often recommended, they are too pure to brew coffee and will leave a lot of flavor behind. A better option is to consider installing a water filtration system in your office break room. Employees can relax knowing they don’t have to worry about the water quality, and Chicago employers will know the chemical makeup of the water running through their coffee brewers.

Whether your Chicago organization is looking for a new office coffee service or just wants to update the office break room, Mark Vend can help. We offer a wide variety of customizable vending solutions including micro-markets and healthy vending. To take the first step, call us at (847) 291-9216. We look forward to hearing from you.

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