From fruit smoothies to blended coffee drinks to frozen margaritas, customers are looking for and expecting blended beverages more often and in more places these days. No matter what type of operation you’re in, you probably have a blender somewhere, and you probably don’t think much about it.
You put a lot of thought and effort into selection criteria for a major piece of equipment like a combi oven or a dishmachine. Small appliances often get short shrift, often purchased on the basis of price, not specs. After all, a blender is a blender, right? Not so fast. While different blenders certainly can stand in for each other on certain jobs, manufacturers have designed models for more specifi c applications and operating environments. It pays to do some homework.
First, there is a difference between food and beverage blenders. Back-of-house blenders typically come with more powerful motors and stainless blending containers. (There are lighter-duty versions, too, with smaller motors for small batches.) All offer slower speeds so you don’t over-blend dressings and sauces.
Beverage blenders, on the other hand, typically have clear polycarbonate or other plastic jars so customers can see the contents being blended. And depending on the application they can range in power and size from ½-hp, 32-oz. models to more than 3 hp and containers as large as 1½ gal. Two basic categories are bar blenders—smaller-size units with stainless containers—and frozen drink or smoothie blenders that are larger and typically have sound enclosures among other special features.
Here’s what you need to know.
Three Basic Questions
Three factors will determine what type of blender you buy: where you use it; what you’ll use it for; and how often you’ll run it.
Where? A noisy sports bar is a far different environment than a relatively quiet hotel lobby bar. Same is true of a boisterous smoothie shop compared to the relative quiet of a coffee shop. Low-end blenders tend to be loud. Larger, more powerful blenders can operate at slower, and quieter, speeds. And covers or sound enclosures, usually found only on higher-end machines, reduce noise even further. But the decibel level of even blenders with covers varies from one model and maker to another.
What? If you’re blending ingredients for a single drink with little or no ice—daiquiris or margaritas in a bar, or blended juices in a restaurant, say—a small, ½- to 1-hp bar blender is likely all you’ll need. As soon as you start adding ice to your beverages, for frozen drinks, smoothies, granitas, etc., you should consider a more powerful machine. And the larger and harder the ice cubes, the more power you’ll need. The same holds true for capacity; if you’re making pitchers of margaritas or frozen daiquiris, you need a machine powerful enough to handle more ingredients in a larger container.
How often? One of any blender’s biggest enemies is overheating. The more you run a blender, the hotter the motor gets, so high-volume operations should spec models with more horsepower to make easier work of blending no matter what the ingredients.
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll fi nd basic bar blenders in the range of ½ to 1 hp or more; frozen beverage bar blenders tend to be in the 1- to 2-hp range because drinks such as frozen daiquiris and margaritas have a granita-like consistency; and smoothie blenders have motors with 3 hp or more to get the creamy consistency customers want.
Comparing power output isn’t easy. Some manufacturers boast very high “bare motor” speeds, that is, rpms of the motor itself. But bare motor speed doesn’t tell the whole story. Even blenders that produce high rpms with ingredients in the jar may not be more powerful than a lower-speed model.
Other manufacturers reference wattage to indicate power. But again, wattage doesn’t give you the whole picture. Machines with two different wattages may produce the same horsepower. And machines with the same horsepower may not consistently produce the same amount of product in the same timeframe.
Amps are a better indicator of power. Torque is what gives blender blades the leverage they need to crush ice and cut through fruits or ice cream, especially large batches in containers of 44 oz. or more. Higher-amp motors tend to give you more torque with less strain on the motor. They don’t overheat as quickly when they’re run frequently. If you make less than 50 smoothies a day, for example, a 10-amp machine may be adequate. Most high-volume blenders are in the 13- to 15-amp range. If your stores produce more than 100 drinks a day containing ice, frozen fruit, or ice cream, a 20- or 30-amp blender is a better choice.
Blenders are loud, but manufacturers have several tricks to mitigate some of the noise. Look for models with a well-made, sturdy base and motor housing. Plastic is almost as durable as stainless these days, though it scratches more easily, but be sure that either one you choose is heavy duty.
Make sure countertop models have large rubber feet to dampen vibration and noise, and look for designs with rubber where the container meets the base. Some models have a rubber gasket between the blending platform and the base. A few models claim that the design and shape of the platform itself (which the container sits on) can dampen noise. And some have sound baffles built into the base itself to dampen sound from the motor.
Another option available from several makers is mounting the base of the blender in the countertop, so the motor housing sits underneath, lowering the volume of the motor, at least.
Most high-end blenders—both frozen drink and smoothie types—come with sound enclosures standard or as an option. These clear plastic enclosures can reduce noise output by as much as 50%. They’re hinged so the cover closes over the seated container like a hood. One maker added clips to its enclosure making it easy to remove for cleaning.
Maintain Your Control
Controls range from simple to sophisticated. Basic bar blenders have on/off switches and two speeds. Stepped-up versions may include a timer to automatically shut off the blender after a set run time, and a pulse button to “refresh” a blended drink.
Frozen drink blenders typically have five or more speeds, a timer, pulse button, and often preset blend cycles.
At the high end, smoothie blenders have electronic controls that are fully programmable. Keypads let you enter one of up to several dozen preprogrammed blend cycles (one model offers more than 100), so employees can choose a cycle based on the drink recipe. Some even have a USB port, so you can download program cycles and change them when you change drink menus or add drink specials.
Variable-speed control allows many of these models to ramp up to a specific speed, and gives users the ability to optimize blending speeds in up to 10 or more phases during a cycle. LCD or LED displays on many models indicate which blend cycle you’ve selected and provide self-diagnostics, letting you know if the unit is overheating, for example.
Moisture is the other major enemy when it comes to blender failure. Look for sealed membrane touchpads, so spills won’t affect the electronics.
Made To Last
Any blender worth its salt is manufactured with high-quality materials and built to last. Look for hardened stainless blades, either stainless or stainless and bronze blade assemblies with stainless ball bearings, and heavy-duty metal clutches. A few well-made bar blenders designed for low-volume applications have rubber clutches—also called couplings (used to join the drive shaft to the jar and transmit torque to the blades)—and at least one has rubber-coated metal flanges where the container/blade assembly sits on the base. Bartenders tend to be impatient, and pulling the jar off the base while the motor is still slowing down can damage the flanges.
See if the models you’re considering have safety features like auto shut-off when the unit starts to overheat or if a blade jams, a container sensor that shuts the unit off if the container isn’t seated properly, or an auto-brake that stops the motor as soon as the container is lifted.
One of the best ways to determine how well a blender is made is to look at the warranty that comes with it. A two-year limited warranty covering parts and labor is fairly standard, but some makers offer three years, and several offer lifetime warranties on certain parts like blade assemblies, a key component of any blender. A quality supplier will put his money where his mouth is.
• Rinse containers after every use, especially those used for dairy products. Some manufacturers make separate automatic spray devices that help employees easily rinse containers.
• Clean containers daily either in a 3-compartment sink (wash, rinse, sanitize) or by placing hot water and a little mild dish soap (about 1½ tsp. per quart of water) in the container and pressing the pulse button for 15 sec., and then sanitize and air dry.
• Clean the motor housing daily with mild detergent and a damp rag. Spin the blade assembly by hand daily; if it doesn’t spin freely, add a drop of dish soap and turn by hand until it does, then rinse.
• Clean the drive socket weekly with cleaning solution, gently using a toothpick or thin brush to clean sticky residue out.
• Keep several extra containers on hand, at least four or five per blender depending on your beverage menu.
• Keep a few extra blade assemblies on hand in case one fails.
• Load your blender properly; liquids fi rst, fruits or other ingredients next, ice last.
• Don’t wash containers in the dishmachine.
• Don’t use glass containers (an option often available); use BPA-free plastic (such as polycarbonate or copolyester) or stainless depending on the application.
Two blades? Four blades? Three blades? Which is better? Some manufacturers may tell you their blade assemblies and/or container design does a better job of blending ingredients. One, for example, touts its patented system that continuously forces ingredients down into the blades for smoother product. The fact is, virtually all designs pair blade shape and container shape in a way that helps maximize the action. The idea is that the blades not only cut and crush the ingredients, but also create a vortex as the contents spin. The shape of the container then forces that content away from the sides and into the vortex where it’s pulled down into the blades again.
Beverage Blender Gallery:
BAR MAID BLE-310
Bar Maid’s BLE-310 is a powerful 3-hp blender designed for making smoothies, beverages, soups and salsas. For “hands-off” operation, it features variable speed/timer controls and auto stop that can be easily programmed and repeated. A pulse and unique “Infinity” feature varies the speed low to high, moving the contents for smoother consistency. This well-made blender has rubber-coated metal flanges where the container/blade assembly sits on the base. The BPA-free Triton 1/2-gal. container is ideal for large batches of frozen drinks such as margaritas.
BLENDTEC COMMERCIAL BY LANCER STEALTH 875
Blendtec has upgraded its Stealth 875, known for powerful but quiet operation and innovative design. Sporting a 15-amp motor and 42 pre-programmed blend cycles, this blender serves more than 200 customers/day. With an illuminated touch-control surface and a USB port, operators can deploy recipes through online programming to ensure quality and consistency. Upgraded sound-dampening enclosure enables quiet blending without sacrificing power or performance.
HAMILTON BEACH HBH750
The Hamilton Beach HBH750 uses a powerful 3-hp motor and patented Wave-Action system to perfectly blend practically any ingredients in its 48-oz. polycarbonate container. Safety features include a jar pad sensor and temperature gauge that prevent the unit from operating if the container isn’t seated properly or the motor overheats. Tested for moisture resistance and featuring a durable metal drive clutch, the blender offers a lifetime warranty on the blade and motor drive coupling, and a 3-yr. warranty on all other parts and labor. A Quiet Shield reduces noise, and the unit can be mounted in the countertop.
This series of KitchenAid Commercial blenders perfectly blends a 40-oz. margarita in 22 sec. The 3.5-peak-hp motor and controls system deliver consistent power without bogging down, even with the toughest ingredients. Speed options are high, medium and low, or take advantage of the variable timer function (5 sec. to 60 sec.) that includes a slow start to process thick ingredients before ramping up to high speed. The 60-oz., BPA-free jar sits securely on the base with a silicone jar pad for added stability and sound dampening.
VITAMIX THE QUIET ONE
The Quiet One from Vitamix maintains a peaceful atmosphere with 93 variable speeds that softly blend at the decibel level of a nearby conversation. Known for its ground-breaking hush, The Quiet One features a magnetically secured sound enclosure and other patented technology to drastically reduce blending noise. The unit comes with a 3-peak-hp motor and 120V, 15-amp electrical. The 48-oz. Advance container has a unique design with a built-in, no-drip spout to reduce product waste and clean-up.
WARING BLADE SERIES
The Waring Commercial BLADE Series features the BB300’s classic toggle switch design, the BB320 with an electronic keypad, and the BB340 with the electronic keypad and a countdown timer. The BLADE Series features a Soft Start function that gradually incorporates ingredients for consistently even blending, and thermal protection so motors can’t overheat. Industrial stainless blades are driven by powerful 1-hp motors that perform without restraint. They blast through anything you put into them to achieve the perfect consistent blend, according to the company.