The Complete Guide To Cleaning And Maintaining Cafe Equipment
Whether you’ve spent months planning the launch of your cafe or years getting it off the ground, keeping your equipment and space clean isn’t just a chore—it’s an integral part of caring for your passion and career and protecting the work you’ve put into it thus far.
Cleaning isn’t just for your low-level employees. When everyone plays a role in maintaining your cafe, starting with you and ending with your latest hire, customers notice. And it does impact how they choose which cafe to visit.
This guide will cover the most important cleaning and maintenance routines that your cafe needs to incorporate, as well as help you decide which products to buy to get the job done. If you follow through on these important task and train your employees to take them seriously, the rewards will start showing up…
- ● Your coffee will taste better (especially the espresso)
- ● Your customers will notice how clean everything looks and feels
- ● Your equipment will last long—years longer
- ● Your coffee grinders will be more precise
- Your baristas will begin to see cleanliness as a value, rather than a chore
These are some top-level benefits you’ll experience, but we could go on and on about how implementing these strategies and tools can benefit your cafe, your coffee quality, and your customers’ experience.
Let’s jump into the various routines and tools you need to make this happen.
Water: Your Best Friend And Greatest Frustration
Your water supply can be a major source of frustration. It’s best to take care of it early on and not have to fuss with it down the road.
According to research by the SCA, coffee flavour thrives with a very narrow range of minerals and acidity. Most cities don’t provide tap water within this range, which leads most coffee shops to opt to purchase a dedicated water filtration system for their coffee brewing gear.
Let’s look at your options for water filtration, as well as some things you should consider before buying any filter set.
Finding The Right Water Filter For Coffee Brewing
Before you click ‘buy’ on a filter, you should really first discover what your local city water is made up of. Most municipalities will give you information on the local water if you ask, but it can be a bit of a hassle to finally get your hands on the report. You can compare the measurements with the SCA’s data to see how far off your local water is from the target.
If you’re one of the lucky few whose water supply matches (or is very close) to the SCA standards, you don’t need to invest in a filtration system. However, if you’re like the other 99% of us with a more wild carbonate hardness or manganese level, you’ll want to look into a “plumbed-in” water filtration system.
These systems, like the Brita C150 Kit, automatically feed local water into a filter, which then sends it to your espresso machine and optional faucets with water that’s tailored specifically to coffee brewing. This method is easy to setup, affordable, and effective—as long as you keep up with your filter replacement schedule.
If your local water is off-the-charts hard, a filter may not be enough. Some cafes instead choose to pair a reverse osmosis machine with a mineral infuser. This approach takes everything out of the coffee and inserts just the right amount of minerals back in. This setup is, on the other hand, expensive and more difficult to maintain.
Descaling: Embrace The Inevitable
Even if you use a powerful water filter, calcium scale is eventually going to build up in your espresso machine, because a small amount of calcium does help the water pull out some coffee flavour. Here’s why you need to take scaling seriously:
- ● It affects the pressure of your espresso machine pumps
- ● Which affects the flavour of your shots (and drip coffee)
- ● And creates inconsistency with your steam wand
Scale buildup is the #1 reason for commercial espresso machine breakdowns.
Don’t let something so simple as scale end up closing your doors for a day or two while you order repairs. That’s expensive—preventative action is so much less costly.
While descaling can be done with an acid such as vinegar in home settings, we strongly suggest against this advice for your cafe. Vinegar-flavoured espresso has never really been a big hit in our experience. Instead, get a dedicated descaling product:
- ● Urnex DEZCAL Coffee Machine Descaler Tablets
- ● Clean Machine Triple Action Descaling Liquid
- ● Clean Machine Activated Descaler Commercial Powder
These products are efficient, safe, and won’t impart off flavours onto your coffee or espresso. We suggest descaling every 1-3 months. See our entire coffee machien descaler range here.
Now that you understand the dangers of non-filtered water and what to do about it, let’s move onto the more regular maintenance of your espresso machine.
Espresso Machine Cleaning And Maintenance
Keeping your espresso machine clean and in top-notch condition isn’t something that happens every couple months. It’s not something that happens every week either. Espresso machine maintenance is a daily effort.
Let’s look at the cleaning tasks you should be incorporating into your baristas’ regular routine.
At The End Of Every Shot
Once the shot is pulled and the drink is delivered, you want to get the coffee grounds out of the portafilter. Leaving them in there allows fines and oils to cling to the filter screen, which impacts the flavour of your shots.
- ● Knock the spent puck into the knock box
- ● Rinse the filter screen and portafilter for 1-2 seconds
- ● Reattach the clean portafilter
It’s alright to leave a handful of grounds in the portafilter as long as they’re not getting jammed into the filter screen or gasket.
At The End Of Every Shift
If you own or manage a high-volume cafe, you’ll want to train your baristas to be a little more thorough between rushes. A couple quick cleaning tasks every few hours can go a long way when it comes to the quality of your shots when you’re pretty busy.
- ● Give the filter screen a quick wipe with a clean rag
- ● Do a ‘clean’ backflush (without detergent)
Backflushing helps detach grounds and oils that are attached to the gasket and grouphead. Here’s how the process usually looks:
- ● Replace a portafilter basket with a blank screen
- ● Insert the portafilter into the grouphead and run the water for ten seconds
- ● Turn the water off for five seconds
- ● Repeat three times
- Turn on the water and wiggle the portafilter in the grouphead to dislodge gasket grounds
You should be able to see a handful of grounds in the water remaining in the blank portafilter—a sign that your machine’s now a lot cleaner.
At The End Of Every Day
While the earlier cleaning steps are more geared towards coffee quality and the customer experience, this one’s for the health and longevity of your espresso machine. Do not skip this part, and establish serious consequences for baristas who don’t take it seriously.
For this end-of-day step, you’ll need a dedicated coffee cleaner. These come in the form of either powder or tablets and are designed to dissolve in hot water. Here are some of our favourites:
- ● Clean Machine Espresso Machine Cleaning Powder (10kg)
- ● Cafetto Espresso Clean (1kg)
- ● Cafetto Tevo Tablets Maxi 2.5g
You’ll use these for a couple steps daily, so make sure you’re always stocked. They can also be used to give your brewing gear and mugs the occasional deep clean to get rid of coffee stains. See our full range of coffee machine cleaners here.
Let’s now look at the end-of-day espresso machine cleaning routine you should follow passionate zeal:
- ● Detach the group head filter screen and scrub. You’ll probably want to use a Pallo Coffee Wrench to detach the filter screen. Then grab a group head brush and start scrub all over the inside.
- ● Perform a backflush with detergent. Follow the directions for whichever product you buy, along with the steps outlined above. This is the thing that gives your machine a fresh start for the next day and is extremely important for long-term care.
This process is not optional and cafes that do not follow these practices are sure to face problems much sooner than cafes that are very strict about cleaning and maintenance.
How To Clean Your Milk Steam Wand
We all know how gross a dirty steam wand is. There’s just something about dried milk caked onto a wand that makes us gag—and it can drive customers away at first sight since it’s often one of the easiest things for customers to see from the other side of the counter.
After every single steaming session, your baristas need to wipe it down with a dedicated steam rag. Do not use the same rag you clean the drip tray or portafilters with—you don’t want coffee oils inside the wand. It’s also important to purge the want with 1-2 seconds of steam after steaming for force out any leftover milk.
Here are our favorite cleaning rags that can be used for this:
While you’re going through the closing espresso machine cleaning routine, you should also give your steam wand some special treatment. Use a milk-specific steam wand cleaner to ensure milk particles and sugar don’t build up and create pressure inconsistencies.
How To Clean Your Milk Jugs
Milk jugs are designed to be easy to clean, but that doesn’t mean you can afford to get lazy with them. Within a minute or two of steaming, make sure to give them a thorough rinse with a jug rinser. If you don’t have a rinser, send the jug to be washed—don’t use it a second time without cleaning it!
Reusing pitchers without a rinse or cleaning is a clear sign of a cafe that doesn’t value cleaning. The milk dries and becomes more brown with each steaming. It’s gross. Your customers will see. Don’t do this. Always, always, always rinse or clean the pitchers between uses. For more on milk jug cleanliness see our milk jug cleaning guide.
At the end of every shift, take your milk jugs to the back and give them a thorough cleaning with regular hot water and soap.
And Don’t Forget To Clean The Rinsers
The rinser themselves don’t need to be neglected either. These devices are sending milk down the line all day long, so they need their own treatment to keep milk gunk and sugar from building up over time.
Once again, these steps are so simple and take no time at all. Build them into your regular routines and don’t think twice about them.
Coffee Grinder Cleaning and Maintenance
Let’s move away from the espresso and milk cleanup and onto grinder maintenance. Grinders are the tools that really determine your espresso’s potential, so it’s vital that you care for them regularly.
Here are a few ways you can care for your grinders and prolong their lifespans.
Keep The Burrs Clean
There’s no question: dirty burrs wear faster than clean ones. All those tiny coffee ground particles get places they’re not supposed to cause slow damage over time. Thankfully, keeping them clean is quick and easy…
Note: Some cafes swear by using uncooked rice as an alternative to specific grinder cleaners. It’s cheaper and still very effective, but we tend to suggest not going this route. Some rice is extra-hard, more so than the average coffee bean, and can cause strain on the motor. Some companies, like Baratza, won’t even cover damages that occur from using rice this way when the warranty is still valid. It’s doable, but there are risks.
With these simple procedures in place, your burrs will stay sharp longer, produce more uniform grounds, and they won’t give ‘off’ flavours to your shots from old junk clinging to them. For a more in-depth looking on coffee grinder cleaning best practices
Know When It’s Time To Replace The Burrs
Proper maintenance sees burrs through their entire lifespan, but it cannot stop the inevitable: dull burrs. It’s going to happen, but it’s not going to be obvious. Burr dulling isn’t like flipping on a switch—it’s slow and difficult to notice unless you know what to look for…
Any one of these symptoms can be caused by changes in coffee alone, but once you start to notice two or three of them, it’s time to replace the burrs.
Grinder companies typically suggest replacing the burrs every 500 to 900 kilograms for espresso grinders. Retail grinders, because the grind setting isn’t nearly as fine, are often capable of staying sharp for 6,000+ kilograms. Check with your specific model for a more precise number.
The #1 Key To A Clean, Well-Cared For Shop
Buy-in from the owners and managers is the best way to keep your shop maintained—not any specific tool or cleaning solution. Your baristas will feed off your energy and make decisions based on your values.
It all starts with the initial training and doesn’t end. Ever. Continued training, continued education, and the occasional reminders keep this value in place. And when you hop behind the bar, don’t let your baristas do all the cleanup. Lead by example, and they will take responsibility for the cafe’s cleanliness on their own when you’re not around.
If you embed cleanliness and gear-care into the fabric of your cafe, your baristas will absorb these practices into their own vision for the shop.