Beverage equipment buying guide
Here's our guide to blenders, immersion blenders, grinders, extractors, juicers, dispensers, filters, processors, and mixers. Just listing all the different types of beverage processing equipment there is reveals how crowded a field this is.
To the uninitiated, and at first glance, there might be very little difference between commercial appliances like blenders, juicers, smoothie makers and extractors; they spin round, make a noise and produce a tasty juice drink, cocktail or smoothie. Of course, in reality there are important differences and in many cases using the wrong type of machine on a particular set of ingredients just will not work, or you will not get the beverage quality the customer expects.
Similarly, there is a huge difference in price tags between different types of processing equipment, and for different specifications of equipment within the same range. Specification is very important - cheaper beverage processors made to work harder than their motor is intended to will just burn out. For all models and manufacturers, compare the speed in revolutions per minute, volume capacity and power, to get a sense of whether what you are buying is good value for money and can do the job.
Starting from the entry level machines and working our way up, here is our advice on what to look for in the different classes of beverage processing appliance.
Spindle drink mixers do exactly that - just mix different liquids together. They're extremely simple in construction and operation, great for very simple mixed drinks like cocktails containing only liquids, or milkshakes. However, they will not necessarily puree fruits, or emulsify (mix liquids that would normally remain separate) - for that you will need one of the classifications of blender.
Immersion blenders or stick blenders are held by hand and inserted into a pot or jug with the ingredients to be blended; they're good kitchen appliances for quick, small quantities of blending, such as milkshakes. Catering Appliance Superstore recommends caution if using an immersion blender, particularly in a bar environment - they do not have the same safety features as blenders with jugs, and users should always direct the blades down and away from themselves or other members of staff (into a suitable steel or ceramic jug). Keep them unplugged when not in use.
A blender should be used for liquids, and substances like soft fruit, which contain a lot of liquid. The more powerful the blender motor, and the stronger the blade attachments and vessels, the more solid the items it will be able to blend.
Blenders can puree, emulsify, blend (of course) and, if high powered, even grind dry ingredients. They should not be used to chop, pulverize, or mash solid or even semi-solid foods in any quantity, unless you have purchased a really top end product and the manufacturer guidelines specifically state you can.
They're great for soups, sauces and dips, blended fruitjuices, milkshakes, and of course for smoothies and cocktails. If your smoothies and cocktails are going to quite liquid and with only a small amount of crushed ice, and if you're happy to wait an extra 30 seconds or so for the unit to do its job, you'll be able to get away with a basic bar blender - the Waring BB180SK, for example, with 1.3 litre capacity, 21,000rpm and 375watt power.
A smoothie maker
A smoothie maker is just a type of blender, or rather a specification of blender power (and it may or may not also have some specialised blades). Able to blend whole fruits and foods like bananas, apples, butters, even quite solid items like chocolate bars (in small quantities and if pre-chopped). As the name suggests, the higher proportion of solid substances makes for a smooth, thick beverage. They're rich and filling, easy on digestion, and can be healthy and full of fibre (if you leave out the chocolate bars and just use the fruit).
Blenders capable of making smoothies, which are a lot heavier and thicker than other beverages, need a power rating over 1000kw and preferably around 1500kw. They're also sometimes equipped with programmable speed and time settings to help automate smoothie production, like the Waring MK15000XTXSEK.
A cocktail blender
Again, this is just a specification of blender. Just as smoothie makers are more powerful than regular drinks blenders, cocktail blenders /cocktail-blenders are the same - also generally somewhere up in the 1500watt range, with a motor powerful enough to be described in terms of horse power, with blade components and vessels designed to handle tasks like crushing ice.
They'll also often have features like "slow start", a reduced rpm spin for the first few seconds of a cycle, to stir the mixture around and encourage even blending of ingredients. Without this, sometimes only the bottom section of a mixture is blended properly.
For a highly unique, super quiet drinks blender with all the same power needed for cocktails or even for smoothies, try the Santos 62A. Great capacity at 2.4ltr, 1500watt, and 15,000 rpm.
Food processors are generally not used for bar work - they're noisier, and often the capacity and power they deliver are simply not required. However, a very few cocktail bars, milkshake shacks or smoothie bars might find that the volume of a particular product that they want to mix in one go justifies a unit like this - food processors can have 4 litre capacity or even greater. Bear in mind, however, that they are not specifically designed for mixing drinks, and won't necessarily have sufficient RPM to achieve a smooth liquid as quickly as a specialist smoothie maker or cocktail blender. Processors are also not quite as good when blending small amounts.
Of course, if you want to save a bit of money on equipment, a food processor could be a good multitool option - you can use the processor for vegetable prep in the morning; for shredding, slicing, kneading , grinding, chopping, pulverising, mashing and grating - and then wash it out thoroughly and use it on the bar during service later in the day. Processors tend to have more settings and blade attachments so are more versatile overall - for instance, herbs will be turned to mush in a blender, but a decent processor can chop them finely without obliterating them.
A juicer, or juice extractor, is a very different kind of machine to a blender or mixer. Where a smoothy maker blends all the ingredients, a juice machine takes only the juice from watery foods like fruit and vegetables, and filters out any solid fibres or remaining pulp. In terms of health advantages, there is some evidence to suggest this may allow your body to absorb the nutrients in fruit juice more quickly, but whatever the benefits fresh juices are popular for being so tasty and refreshing, and are not as filling as smoothies.
There are two main types of juicers, the first being the centrifugal juicer with a fast spinning blade operating against a mesh, which pulps everything and filters out the remaining solid matter (which cannot pass through the mesh). Some juice connoisseurs would argue that the second type of juicer, a cold press that operates by crushing and pressing fruits (or veg), achieves a better end product. This is because there is no heat from spinning parts to cause nutrient oxidisation, and no mixing of bitter rind or pith prior to filtering (there is no mashing and filtering process with a cold press). Top end, powerful cold press juicers, also known as masticating juicers, can also extract more juice per fruit than centrifugal juicers.
If you serve a lot of fresh juice, opt for a model that feeds automatically, one you can load with a decent quantity of oranges or other fruit. If you're only selling small volumes fresh juice then a hand fed juicer might be more cost effective.