Last week, Fred came back from a beverage run, muttering to himself, while tossing his can of tea from hand to hand.
“You don’t really need to shake those up,” I said.
“I’m not shaking it, I can’t hold it. The can is too damned hot. The vending machine must be broken! This is supposed to be ICED TEA!”
“Sorry Fred, the machine’s not broken. It’s only iced tea in the summer time. Once the season changes, it becomes hot tea.”
“What are you talking about? Who would want hot iced tea?” asked Fred.
“Everybody who likes hot iced tea, or at least enough to make it worthwhile to change from cold iced tea to hot when the seasons change.”
One of the quirks of living in Japan is that you can’t depend on your favorite vending machine to stay the same forever. They regularly rotate stock, change brands, and even shift from hot to cold, and back again. The big changes come with the changes in the season. In the fall, the formerly cold beverages are shifted to hot; and in the spring, hot beverages are shifted back to cold.
The illiterate (in Japanese, at least) have to contend with two problems:
First, deciding which product to buy. I had to experiment with several unique brews before I found my favorite coffee drink. Luckily, every vending machine has a sample can in the window. So once you know your favorite by sight, it is easy to select the same product day after day. I happily fed my coins into the machine all winter, enjoying a piping hot can of fresh coffee. I was as surprised as Fred when my cans started coming out cold.
The second problem is dealing with the happy surprise of not knowing what temperature beverage is going to come out of their favorite vending machine. As noted above, the temperature changes with the season. But not all vending machines change at the same time.
The cautious consumer will note that there is indeed an indicator for the temperature. The hot drinks will have a RED label near the selection button, and the cold drinks will have a BLUE label near selection button.
Of course, some items always stay the same. Although I have never sampled them myself, I understand the machines that vend panties are permanently set to HOT.