Babin Gurung on the importance of cleaning and maintaining coffee equipment, and how to set-up healthy rituals to keep your venue in peak operational condition.
Although we rely on technical service providers to perform regular servicing, it is important café operators have a basic understanding of preventative measures to keep machines running in top condition.
Matthew Galea, National Business Development Manager of Espresso Mechanics says daily cleaning of espresso machines is a must.
“In doing this, you are not only keeping your coffee machine’s internals clean from coffee and or milk build-up, but you are also increasing the longevity of your equipment and avoiding any unnecessary costly repairs,” he says.
As such, I am a big believer in having a well laid out café procedure checklist to ensure all cleaning and maintenance tasks are carried out in timely manner. Dividing tasks into daily, weekly, and monthly occurrence is the most effective way to ensure nothing gets missed.
What’s important to keep in mind while performing any maintenance task, is that safety comes first, and only get involved if you have prior knowledge and experience. If in any doubt, leave your maintenance needs to your service technician. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the tasks that need to be carried out regularly.
Daily cleaning tasks and setup procedures
- Machine cleaning: running backflush using cleaning chemicals ensures there are no build-up of coffee oil and grime. Regular purging between shots helps maintain cleanliness during service, but at the end of each day, a thorough chemical clean is required. Using sharp tools while performing any of the tasks is not recommended as it can damage the machine or its parts. Similarly, group handles along with baskets need to be soaked in cleaning chemicals for anywhere between 20 minutes to half an hour before rinsing for best results.
- Grinder hopper: hoppers collect lots of oil and grime from coffee and without daily cleaning, can quickly build up. This gives off an unpleasant smell and adds to a stale and bitter coffee flavour. The best way to keep hoppers clean is to empty the beans after the service period and rinse them under warm water. Soap can be used to remove excess build up. Do not put hoppers into dishwashers as the heat can damage the plastic. Ensure it is thoroughly dried before placing it back on the grinder.
- Steam wand: if you notice a drop in steam pressure, it could be due to a blockage in your steam wand tip. Purging before and after use followed by a thorough wipe is the best way to keep it clean, and ensure no obstruction for steam to pass. If however, the holes in the tip are clogged, a metal pin can be used to clear build-up. Some group head brushes come with this attachment but any pin that isn’t likely to break will work in this case. If this doesn’t solve the steam pressure issue, further investigation will be required. Also, remember to clean you milk jugs to avoid scaling using a dishwasher or handwash using soap. If your jugs have excess scale build-up, you can soak them in a descaling chemical before thoroughly rinsing them.
- Automatic tamper: one final task to finish daily cleaning is to give your automatic tamper a wipe down. Manual tampers are easy to clean while automatic ones may need some technical know-how. Ensure you follow proper steps to give your automatic tampers a good clean.
- Grinder cleaning: depending on the coffee usage, cleaning your grinder should be done once or twice a week. Add a small amount of grinder cleaning pellets into an empty hopper and grind it out completely. Then, add a small amount of leftover coffee beans back into your grinder and run it through till all visible cleaning pellets are removed. This ensures a clean chamber and burrs, resulting in consistent dosing and grinding with fewer grinder jams. It also helps prolong the life of burrs which has cost saving impact in the long run.
- Shower screen: the shower screen is responsible for dispersing water evenly into the group handle. Over time, it collects coffee grinds leading to blockage and uneven distribution of water. Daily backflushing does help maintain cleanliness of shower screen, but a more thorough cleaning is needed on a weekly basis to clear excess build-up. Using a shorter flathead screwdriver, remove the screw at the centre of the shower screen which detaches shower screen and plate. Once again, put safety first when performing any maintenance tasks. The shower screen can now be hand washed or soaked in espresso cleaning chemical for few minutes to remove build-up. After rinsing thoroughly, screw it back without getting it too tight.
- Grinder burrs: between weekly cleaning and a six-monthly service, performing a monthly clean of burrs and chamber ensures high performance and accuracy of your grinder. This operation, however, can only be performed with expert knowledge and experience which includes knowledge of grinder mechanics, various hardware and software functions while maintaining product warranty and safety. To remove the burrs, follow product manual, after which they can be cleaned using a damp cloth or a dry brush. Use this opportunity to clean the chamber and remove excess build-up. Secure the burrs back in place and ensure it is tightly screwed. You will now need to perform grinder calibration as the burrs have moved from their original position.
- Clump crusher: due to numerous factors including humidity and static, coffee grinds can come out with clumps or sometimes spray out of the chute. This can have a negative impact on workflow and espresso quality. Therefore, most grinders are equipped with what’s called a ‘clump crusher’ to tackle this. Clump crushers come in many different shape, form and materials including plastic, metal, or rubber and are located near the dispense chute. Their durability is limited, so keeping them clean is important for maximum performance. Removing clump crusher for cleaning or replacement is simple and can be done in-house by following a product manual.
- Rubber seals: rubber seals or gaskets ensure a tight locking of group handles into the group head. Daily cleaning and locking handles in the group head when not in use to keep them warm are some ways to prolong the life of the gaskets. However, through heavy use, they can wear and tear resulting in water leakage and poor performance of coffee machine. They can be replaced easily without the need of a technician. Usually, a metal hook or a screwdriver is used to remove the unit and can be fitted with a new one without any use of adhesive or screws.
As café operations rely heavily on smooth performance of coffee equipment, it is important to have the above procedures carried out regularly. Upskilling yourself and the team to be able to perform these tasks and knowing the risks involved are key elements that will add long-term benefit to your café. Most importantly, stick to your regular preventative maintenance schedule with your trusted service provider. Just like you wouldn’t miss a car service, you wouldn’t miss the chance to have your coffee machine tuned up. After all, a healthy working machine is the pillar to all café operations, and delivering coffee to your customers that looks and tastes as it was intended.
This article appears in the April 2023 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.