Many factors affect our ability to produce excellent results with coffee but, in my opinion, those individuals and businesses who achieve truly excellent results in coffee brewing share a few common traits such as a willingness to experiment, openness to knowledge and adherence to the details of processes. Such is our drive to understand the coffee brewing process in all its complexity, that it’s easy to overlook some basic practices which can increase the consistency with which we produce top quality coffee.
Today we’ll be focusing on everyone’s favourite part of the process: cleaning. Basically anything that is used in the process of producing espresso coffee should be wiped frequently to remove oils and our equipment should certainly be powder free, lest you begin to taste the effects of old, grimy and re-extracted coffee.
Listed below are some tips to make sure your cleanliness (or lack of it) is not affecting your ability to achieve great coffee results.
- Remove and clean the filter basket and wipe the inside of your portafilters clean many times a day. The frequency is up to you, but the more often the better.
- Rinsing your portafilter in-between shots might seem like a good idea with the above point in mind, but the extended drip time resulting from the rinse often leads to a messy, dripped upon workspace. Wipe the basket clean and dry in between shots, and adhere to the above as often as possible.
- Awesome barista, George, exposed me to the idea of wiping the shower screen with a cloth before purging water through the grouphead for every shot. This creates more consistent behaviour from the water displacement for which the shower screen is intended. Fist bump, George.
- Following on from the above, always purge between every shot to remove any excess powder in the grouphead. Set up a volumetric button for this function and you will have hands-free purging.
- Clean your shower screens on a daily basis by (if you can remove them) removing, wiping, rinsing and re-attaching them before backflushing with chemicals. Be warned, if you’ve never done this to your espresso machine before, the mess within will appear horrific. In the long run it’s worth doing this every day, as the particles you’ll find up there need to be physically wiped away and will not always dissolve with the use of coffee cleaner. This means you’ll be re-brewing old coffee for every shot if you let that stuff build up! Tasty. Some cafes even carry extra shower screens and switch them in the middle of the day.
- When removing the shower screen for cleaning, take care that you don’t lose the shower screen screw and be sure to screw it back on finger-tight. The last thing you want to do here is double-thread the screw.
- Backflush with chemicals such as Cafetto Commercial Espresso Clean with a machine at the end of every day. Or, if you’re a home barista who’s machine has a three way valve, use the Espresso Machine Backflush Cleaner at least once a week. If you’re worried about this, use fewer chemicals, but keep it up! Make sure you reattach your shower screen before backflushing to prevent pushing any errant coffee particles back in to the water jets of your grouphead.
- Purge your grinder. Whenever you’re changing coffees, finishing a shift or shutting a grinder down, find a way to remove all the coffee from inside the grinding chamber. Our weapon of choice at the Australian Barista Academy is a sweet, sweet commercial vacuum, although you will more commonly find plungers (not the filter coffee type, more the toilet/drain unclogging type) used on the grind collar once the hopper has been removed.
- Manually remove the build-up of coffee particles in your drip tray by wiping them up, as opposed to flushing them down the drain line. This will help prevent the drain line clogging, which is the last thing you need during an epic coffee rush. Be sure to run a jug of water down your drain line every day to help prevent blocking.
- Purge your groupheads fully every day (using about 1.5 litres of water per group), to prevent stale water being used in the brewing process and ensure you’re pumping fresh stuff on top of your espresso.
Cleaning is only part of the picture, but creating a pristine environment for brewing will only enhance the quality of your results. Systemise as much of the above as possible, and you’ll remove cleanliness as a variable which affects your results.