Why a clean machine is integral to unleashing the full flavour potential of coffee

clean machine coffee

Why a clean machine is integral to unleashing the full flavour potential of coffee, and how Cafetto cleaning products are an effective solution.

Delicious coffee doesn’t just magically appear in the cup. It takes extreme care from each sector of the supply chain, right down to the equipment in which it’s dispensed from. 

Former Swiss Barista Champion André Eiermann knows this too well. He was once offered an “amazing coffee” from Honduras, but the coffee didn’t taste as clean, transparent, or sweet as Eiermann expected it to be. 

“I asked the barista to show me the inside of the portafilter. After having seen the dirty portafilter I asked him to clean the machine. The following experience was totally different: the espresso tasted super sweet, clean, and the flavours of peach and plums were beautifully crisp. And finally, you could even taste the delicate champagne flavours in the aftertaste – Finca El Puente at its best,” Eiermann says.

Sadly, that wasn’t Eiermann’s only experience with a poorly maintained espresso machine. It once took him two hours to clean both shower heads of a customer’s two-group machine, which hadn’t seen a cleaning product in several months. 

Not only does an unclean machine impact extraction and flow rate, but in-cup quality. 

“Coffee out of a poorly cleaned machine can taste, to the extreme, burnt, ashy, oxidised, and rancid. The cup won’t be clean, and you won’t be able to experience the flavour clarity and intensity you would expect from your coffee. In addition, you will lack the sweetness we are looking for in specialty coffee. Sweetness won’t come through a dirty cup,” Eiermann says. 

He adds that a clean cup should have a pleasant aftertaste and be lingering and juicy at its best. In specialty coffee, even the most delicate flavours should even be detected, such as floral notes. 

clean machine coffee
Cafetto cleaning products ensure coffees taste as clean and sweet as intended.

Doug Bolzon, CEO of cleaning solutions provider Cafetto, says the reality is that poorly maintained equipment will always produce sub-standard coffee. 

To avoid such occurrences, Cafetto has been working hard for the past 15 years to produce a suite of products that are not only environmentally friendly, but effective.

“Cafetto does a vast number of laboratory tests to determine that the product developed is going to effectively clean the machine, but also against various machine components, such as metals and plastics, to ensure that there is no damage done to the machine,” Bolzon says. “Once these new products have passed lab testing, they are sent out for field trials to ensure they perform.”

In its popular cleaning agent EVO, Cafetto uses plant-based detergents that are specifically chosen to target coffee oils and residue, which includes alkaloids, proteins, lipids and complex acids. Once these oils and residues are removed from a surface, it is important they do not re-deposit back onto the surface. So, Cafetto also adds ingredients that suspend and carry away coffee oils and particulates from the machine.

Bolzon says regular cleaning not only will extend the life of coffee equipment but produces better tasting coffee. 

“People are fanatical about their coffee equipment and getting their hands on great coffee beans. So why wouldn’t you clean your equipment to guarantee it is kept pristine and at the same time experience the wonderful flavours of the coffee?” Bolzon asks.

Claudiu Filip of Bean2cup Tech Support in Ireland says 80 per cent of his customers are educated on the importance of regular machine cleaning, but every now and then he finds a culprit.

“The first thing I do when I’m called out to a service is clean the machine. I will put Cafetto EVO into a blind filter and circulate it through the group heads,” Filip says. “Only when the machine is clean do I begin servicing, because then I’ll be able to really assess what the problem is. If it’s a result of not cleaning the machine, I’ll know.”

Filip says the most common issue from an irregularly cleaned machine is a blocked brew valve.

“Because of the build up of coffee oils and residue, water can’t pass through properly, meaning a machine could be running on 50 per cent less capacity,” Filip says. “The two other common signs are when we have to change the group seals and shower discs. If they aren’t cleaned properly, you’ll see how blocked they are, and you’ll be able to taste it in the cup.”

Filip believes in the Cafetto range and its ability to “do exactly as it says on the packet”. He says the best proof of customers adhering to regular cleaning is when they ring up asking for more Cafetto products, because regular cleaning not only extends the life of the coffee machine, but results in less call-outs for technicians and less bills for café owners.

Reigning Australian Barista Champion and Ona Coffee Wholesale Manager, Matthew Lewin, says it’s important to create a consistent cleaning routine and let your palate guide your decisions. 

“Every morning, dial in a few shots to season the café’s espresso machine with coffee oils prior to tasting. Identify and record the qualities and best expression for each coffee, such as ‘high quality sweetness, smooth texture with pleasant dark chocolate tones throughout.’ Refer to this data throughout the day as the benchmark for how your coffee should taste,” Lewin says. “If you start to observe a lower quality sweetness in the cup, gritty texture or undesirable heavier taste experience – foreign flavours that shouldn’t be there from that morning recipe you set – then most likely it’s time to clean.”

One flavour Lewin says we shouldn’t be afraid of however, is bitterness. It’s a key component on the World Barista Championship score card and an integral part of having a balanced espresso shot.

“At a certain level, bitterness needs to be present with all specialty coffee, just of a high quality – think delicious coco bitterness or grapefruit peel. When you notice bitterness becoming gritty, or that the texture becomes rough, dominating the refined sweetness and specialty flavours in the cup, then it’s very likely your dialled in morning coffee is being compromised by a dirty set-up,” Lewin says.

At Ona Coffee stores in Australia, Lewin says regular cleaning occurs during daily service, especially when 90 per cent of its coffee volumes are milk-based. This means the roasted coffee is fully developed and will excrete lots of oils through the machine’s group heads. It will also amplify residual, tainted flavours much quicker than say a lighter roasted coffee which doesn’t have such heavy compounds.

To manage a regular cleaning cycle, the Ona team sets timers every 60 to 90 minutes to remind them to back flush, clean the shower heads, and wipe down all pieces of equipment before using Cafetto products at the end of the day. They also set timers on their special blends or espresso-focused ginders for black coffees to indicate when it was last used. Grinders also excrete “dirty, oxidised coffee and oils” that needs to be regularly cleaned with Cafetto Grinder Clean. 

“We have a dial-in sheet to say what the coffee should taste like. We also get our team to taste the coffee at a minimum every two hours, or about 45 minutes after a cleaning cycle has finished. That’s the only real way to assert how often you should be cleaning your coffee based on how much you’re using and its roast profile,” Lewin says. “Nine out of 10 coffees we make are milk-based, so these are the most important coffees to get right. In coffee, consistency is always front of mind. It’s the hardest thing to get right, but it also applies to having a consistent cleaning schedule.”

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This article appears in the November/December 2020 edition of Global Coffee Report. Subscribe HERE.

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