Cafetto develops colour-based Spectra descaler

In the world of research and development, there’s nothing worse than uncertainty.

Scientists want to determine cause and effect, and pair each problem with a solution.

In the case of Cafetto, a specialist manufacturer of cleaning and sanitation products for espresso, coffee brewing, and dispensing equipment, it relies on customer feedback to deliver products that address their wants, needs, and challenges. So, when collective  responses asked for a product that would help identify if a coffee machine had limescale or not, Cafetto was put to the test.

“At Cafetto, we do a lot of physical, chemical, and application testing. We test our products on different machines and components to prove it is effective, but rather than just telling our customers that, we needed to show them,” says Cafetto Research and Quality Manager, Damien Rankine.

To easily prove that a machine was descaled correctly or not, Cafetto’s team of chemists created an eco-friendly powder descaler that visually indicates whether a descaling cycle has been successful. Called Spectra, the descaler uses a dye system that reacts to pH and changes colour accordingly. 

One scoop, or 25 grams, of Spectra descaler is added to 500 millilitres of water. As it dissolves to form an orange solution, 120 millilitres is run through the machine’s water tank, and 60 millilitres out through the steam wand. The descaler is left for 15 minutes before the remaining solution is put through the machine and steam wand again. The colour of the descaling solution exiting the machine and steam wand will indicate the next step.

If there is excess scale build-up in the machine, the water colour will turn a blue/grey colour, indicating the need to re-run the descaling cycle. If the colour of the water comes out yellow or orange, the descaling has been effective, and the tank is scale-free.

“In simple terms, orange is good, blue is bad, and we’ve put that colour scale on the packaging documentation for people to clearly see,” Rankine says. “We always knew that the product was effective at rapidly and easily disposing of limescale and calcium build up, it was just about developing a visual colour change to prove it.”

The product is OMRI-certified, meaning it has been listed as an approved input with the Organic Materials Review Institute as complying with the requirements of the National Organic Program. It is also approved to use in organic systems and is free from phosphate and not derived from genetically modified organisms.

After 12 months conducting trials and tests, Cafetto found the right balance of ingredients, which included the combination of tartaric acid, commonly found in wine production, and citric acid, commonly found in citrus fruits.

“These ingredients are very effective at removing scale from a surface, dissolving it in the descaling solution and flushing it out,” Rankine says.

In its simplest form, Rankine describes limescale as “mineral salts dissolved in water”. When it evaporates, it leaves behind calcium and magnesium deposits in a white chalk build up.

“When it rains, water flows over rocks and through creeks and rivers. Along the way, it picks up mineral salts. Depending where you live, water treatment plants remove the majority of salts present in the water, but for those that remain, they can build up in your boiler and cause blockages,” Rankine says.

Hard water levels differ from country to country, but generally speaking, Rankine says higher levels of limescale is more commonly found in water in regional areas than in major cities. And the longer it stays untreated in equipment, the harder it is to remove.

“A good filter will help manage most limescale, but if left untreated in the boiler and without adequate descaling, it will also impact the taste profile of your coffee,” he says.

“Anyone that is passing a lot of water through a system or heating a body of water should be descaling, from someone using a kettle at home to a high-volume café or coffee chain.”

Rankine recommends using a descaler like Spectra once a week, or more, depending on varying conditions, such as location, water hardness level, climate, and volume of coffee orders.

“It’s also good to remember that you don’t have to be using a coffee machine actively for build-up to occur. Even when idle, scale can still build up,” Rankine says.

The past few months have been a testing time for coffee shops throughout the world, with many having to adjust to new and safe operational guidelines. Rankine says Cafetto has continued to create cleaning and sanitation products, with demand in Europe returning and Asia growing.

Cafetto has distribution centres in Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands to service each market by providing shorter shipping times as well as increasing inventory and product availability to all customers.

Rankine says the message on the importance of cleaning and sanitation in coffee shops around the world is universal.  

“Coffee machine cleaning has always been encouraged, but COVID-19 has reminded people how easily pathogens can spread and the importance of cleaning,” Rankine says. “It should never be an afterthought and it definitely doesn’t have to be difficult. That’s our job, to supply to customers the easiest possible way to clean their equipment in a sanitary and safe way.”

Rankine has worked with Cafetto for the past six years. He completed his PhD in chemistry and conducted research on porous material before making the leap from university research to product development in industry.

“It’s been great to watch something develop from an idea into a product on a shelf, which is something you don’t often get in a university research environment,” he says.

In the line of work Rankine does, from research, development and technical support, to quality and risk management, careful testing at each level of product development is key. It’s a process that can take anywhere from three months to two years, with the outcome always a value-adding product that the industry has requested firsthand.

“In the case of developing Spectra, its creation was in response to a need for validation,” Rankine says. “We are giving customers access to a tool they can test themselves. We know our customers want a simple yet effective way to do things, and that’s what we’ve delivered.”

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