There are a lot of reasons to love Japanese vending machines, but one of our very favorites is that they sell hot drinks. On a cold winter’s day, there’s nothing better than being able to enjoy piping hot coffee or green tea whenever you happen to be near a vending machine (which covers a lot of the time in Japan).
But today we’re checking out a vending machine that doesn’t just sell hot drinks, but thick drinks too.
These machines, jointly developed by Japanese companies Apex and Nutri, sell both hot and cold drinks in paper cups. A lot of Japanese vending machines of this type allow you to select things like how much cream or sugar goes into your drink, but this one lets you choose an extra-thick consistency, or toromi, as it’s called in Japanese. What’s more, the option is available for all the types of drinks it sells (coffee, tea, matcha latte, cocoa, etc.), and for both hot and cold beverages.
There are three levels of extra thickness, all of which are thicker than the machine’s normally made drinks. To get yours extra-thick, after inserting your money you need to press the toromi button, labeled とろみ in Japanese text. Make sure to do this before hitting any other buttons.
▼ This one right here
Then, if you want level 1 extra toromi, the smallest extra amount, press the toromi usui button (とろみ薄い), followed by the button for the drink you want. If you want the thickest of the thick, level 3 extra toromi, hit the toromi koi (とろみ濃い) button, and then the button for your drink. Finally, if you want level 2, press neither of the buttons and just select your drink.
▼ Level 1 button on the left in the blue area, and level 3 on the right
We started off with a level 2 cup of coffee, and just like we’d been promised.
It was noticeably thicker than a regular brew. Again, we’re not talking about the flavor, which was the same as a standard cup of joe, but the thickness of the liquid.
▼ The thickness of our level 2 coffee, and our level 3 salty lychee drink we bought next, were especially easy to see when we gave the cups a shake. The level 2 coffee had a consistency that reminded us of ramen broth, and the level 3 was even more substantial.
So why did Apex and Nutri go to all the trouble of letting you choose how thick you want your drinks? It’s not just for personal preference, but for safety reasons. According to the designers, since a thicker liquid flows more slowly, you can’t pour as much down your throat at once, which in turn slows down the swallowing reflex and helps prevent accidental pulmonary aspiration, i.e. your drink going into your trachea and towards you lungs instead of into your esophagus and towards your stomach. Having a beverage go down the wrong pipe and triggering gagging and a coughing fit is embarrassing enough for anyone, but for elderly people or those with medical conditions, it can be dangerous.
Of course, if a liquid gets too thick, it ends up almost like a solid, which can be a choking hazard in its own way, so the key here is balance, with the machine designed so that it’s extra-thick drinks are neither too watery nor too viscous.
▼ “So that anyone can drink the drink they want,” says the sign attached to the top of the vending machine.
Selectable toromi vending machines are still relatively rare in Japan, but with the country’s large population of senior citizens, we may be seeing more in the future.
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