Jan-Feb 2012: The Maintenance Issue

With the holidays over, we finally have time to stop and take a breath at the Sweet Maria’s warehouse. As I stand on the cusp of the new year assessing and strategizing, I can’t help but notice the yellow stains inside my stainless steel mug.

While troubleshooting an off-taste in your cup there are many things to look at such as roast levels and brewing, but often enough it just comes down to a dirty mug, or dirty brewing equipment.  Cleaning techniques are a good topic for a newsletter as well as a good foundation to begin the new year of coffee drinking

Cleaning Your Coffee Tools

Though sometimes folks make do with items such as vinegar, lemon and baking soda for cleaning their coffee tools, we strongly recommend a dedicated coffee cleaner for removing mineral deposits and rancid oils.

Starting with the roaster, some roasting methods are easier to keep clean than others; a skillet or an oven roasting pan need virtually no maintenance.  But for hot air poppers and roasters that recycle hot air to cool themselves, unscrew the bottom once or twice a year to clean out any wayward chaff that might have been sucked in there.  Wayward chaff is also a concern with drum roasters; you want to open up the housing on the Behmor, HotTop and Gene Café at least once a year. Where applicable, clean out the chaff tray after each roast; a shop vac make this job easier.  Most chambers and metal screens are best cleaned by soaking in a degreasing solution, and scrubbing clean with a brush.  Consult the manual on your home roaster for routine maintenance and cleaning procedures.

With the Behmor roaster, one thing that oftentimes changes roasting results is a dirty temperature sensor.  Behmor’s website (www.behmor.com) has updates to the manual that advise you to keep the area on the right-side interior wall (the area of the heat sensor) especially clean and free of built-up coffee oils.  The sensor can also be damaged after a fire. If you suspect a damaged heat sensor, contact Behmor for a replacement.

A key item that is often over-looked is your coffee grinder and its routine cleaning.  Whirling blade mills are easy to wipe out with a rag or a paper towel; you will want to do this at least once a week. When cleaning burr mills (both electric and manual) use a product like Grindz or an instant rice such as Minute Rice. Run the cleaner through the mill until you do not see any more coffee grinds in the mix, and brush the burrs with a stiff brush. If you are using instant rice, grind a small amount at a time so as not to clog your mill.  Remove the hopper and clean it with soap and water.

We use our Technivorm KBTS about a dozen times a day so we clean the carafes once a week with Tabz. Basically it you look inside and there is a brownish cast to the stainless steel, it is time to clean it.  Once a month we run a packet of Cleancaf through the brewer which takes care of the mineral build-up and rancid oils at the same time. You’ll want to do a deep descaling with Dezcal every 6 months or so to make sure the heating element is free of scale buildup. 95% of the problems we’ve seen with Technivorms can be solved by descaling.
Filtercones/French Press filters-
Ceramic filtercones and glass Chemex coffeemakers can be easily rinsed and occasionally cleaned with soap and water. Plastic filtercones should be soaked in Cleancaf or Tabz to get rid of oils.  Built-up oils can be hard to see on dark plastic surfaces, but they will always have a noticeable rancid odor. For your French Press, screens can be soaked in Tabz or any dedicated coffee cleaner.  Tom recently posted a video on our You Tube site on how to dissemble and clean the drip stop mechanism on the Clever Coffee Dripper.

Espresso Machines
Having a regular cleaning routine on your espresso machine is a sure-fire way to extend its life and keep your coffee tasting good. After each use, pop out your portafilter baskets, give them and the portafilter a good rinse and wipe them out with a clean, dry towel. Run hot water through the group head to flush out any grounds from the dispersion screen and give it a good wipe down. After you steam milk, always purge your steam wand and wipe it with a clean, wet towel.

Every 50 shots or so, backflush with a detergent like Cafiza. (Check the user manual to make sure your machine can be backflushed first.)  Once a week, take the tip off your steam wand and soak it in hot water and scrub the inside of the steam wand with a small, thin brush, like Steamy Wanda. Once a month, remove the dispersion screen from the group head and soak it in hot water with a little Cafiza to remove any oils that might be gunked up on it.

It’s a good idea to descale your espresso machine every 6 months or so, especially if you don’t use filtered water and the water you use has a high mineral content. Dezcal works really well for this; all you need to do is dissolve it in water, run the solution through your group head and steam wand and rinse it all out a few times with fresh water.

Mugs & Cups
For most mugs and cups, soap and water is sufficient but to clean stainless steel carafes, mugs and thermos, it is best to use a product like Tabz or Dip It. Fill up the vessel with hot or boiling water; you can usually get away with using a small quantity of the solution. Let it soak for a few hours or overnight before scrubbing it with a bristle brush. You will be amazed by what comes out of there! – Erica & Amanda

Video Sweet Maria’s

We have revived the idea of us doing educational sessions here at Sweet Maria’s, and have chosen to do so via a live video stream.   There are a lot of topics best handled through in person sessions, but given that we are an online business, we would have much greater reach through online sessions. We had our first session on January 13th (what genius picked Friday the 13th as the date to inaugurate this endeavor?) and it focused mostly on using taste to help determine roast level. About 100 people joined us and after working out some technical kinks, I think most folks thoroughly enjoyed it.

We are using Ustream right now and it has obnoxious commercials, but hey, it is a free service. We are looking into low cost alternatives and want to do it again soon.  If you have ideas for more sessions, please email us or check out the thread on this topic in the SM Coffee Forum.  I would like to work out a schedule so we do this sort of thing regularly. – Maria

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