Personal hygiene and machine
cleanliness will not only ensure
that your café is socially
acceptable and medically safe
but your coffee will taste better
too, write Matthew Gee and David Gee
Ever walked into a café, taken a glance at the coffee machine and seen a hundred years of caked-on milk that has calcified onto what you assume was once the skinny steam wand? We have and it literally makes your stomach churn knowing what bacteria probably lies beneath. (By the way, before you get the wrong idea, we're not face mask and rubber glove- wearing cleanliness freaks - it's just that after having a coffee, we don't want to walk out with any nasty diseases!)
The bottom line is that the steam wands on the espresso machine need to be cleaned after EVERY use. Most baristas believe that they are too busy to do this and that the person who cleans down the machine at the end of the night will do it. This is just unacceptable and any owner or manager worth their salt should carefully police the regular cleaning of the steam wands on their espresso machine. The reason that you need to clean the steam wand after each use is that the milk dries on it very quickly after the frothing process and dried milk is incredibly hard to remove once caked on. Caked-on milk will build up and within a couple of hours will begin to harbour bacteria that in turn gets injected into the fresh milk as it is steamed.
Local councils are cracking down on the cleaning of steam wands. They are also looking out for cafés whose baristas go too far in the cleaning of the steam wands by using scouring pads to remove the caked-on milk. Some steam wands are steel plated and have copper underneath this steel plating. When the scouring pad gradually wears down the steel coating and copper is exposed suddenly another health risk presents itself. Fragments of copper mixed with milk and ingested into your body is no health shake, believe us.
A simple remedy to the above hygiene problems is to wipe the steam wands with a cloth after every use and make sure that the holes at the bottom of the wands are open and clean. If they are blocked just use the end of a paper clip to clear them. If the tips of the wands actually wind off, do this each day to make sure they are fully clean.
Use a dedicated cloth to clean your steam wands. Clever cafés use a colour coded system, so that for example a green wipe cloth is used for the benches and a blue wipe cloth for the steam wands. The reason for this is that you shouldn't use a dirty bench cloth to wipe your steam wand, otherwise your milk will become contaminated.
Wipe cloths themselves harbour bacteria so rinse them each night and soak them in a cleaning solution (even bleaching powder) and throw them out every few days.
Over time, espresso will stain coffee cups, especially if the cups are white. Even thorough cleaning often can't get all of this grime off (which can harbour bacteria), especially in a busy café environment. This is why soaking a percentage of the cups in a large bucket overnight in a bleaching powder, like OZO, is a must. Every night a new batch can be soaked so that you are always rotating the cups. Of course the same can be done with plates and saucers.
Filter Baskets and Group Handles
The filter baskets need to be popped out of the group handles and cleaned at least once a day, otherwise oil from the coffee beans builds up and becomes rancid. It makes the coffee taste terrible and does nothing for your health either. Most people use a small scouring pad to clean the baskets. A quick scrub with the pad and a rinse is all that is needed. In a busy café this should be done two or three times a day. We soak our baskets overnight in a container that is approximately half-filled with hot water. Two teaspoons of machine cleaner should be added. The items in the container should be left to soak for at least 30 minutes (or preferably left overnight).
Once the filter baskets have been popped out, use the scouring pad to clean the group handles under running water. Then put them into the container with the filter baskets to soak. Do not let the black plastic handles soak though as they will crack and eventually fall off (just soak the metallic head).
Back Washing the Groups & Shower Screen Cleaning
Your espresso machine should be back washed daily using a blind filter and espresso machine cleaner. Once again, rancid oil and other potential nasties can build up if this is not done regularly.
Once this has been done, take a small screwdriver and remove the shower screen from each group. Clean them thoroughly with the green scourer. Soak them and the copper underpart in the same container as the filter baskets and group handles.
Hygiene and the Barista
It's true that being a barista is all about making good coffee. But you can't make good coffee if your personal hygiene isn't up to scratch.
We've seen some very basic personal hygiene rules that have gone by the wayside in some cafes we have been into.
As a starter, you can't be in the food service industry if you have bad dandruff. For goodness sake, go and buy some shampoo and conditioner that will rectify the problem.
Another basic rule that needs to be adhered to is hand washing at regular intervals. Local councils are cracking down on this during their inspections and rightly so. Cafés are now required to have a soap and towel dispenser near the sink, which should be very close to the coffee machine. Clean hands are essential as your hands are in constant contact with the top of the filter basket as you wipe off the coffee grinds before inserting the group handle into the group. Your hands are also coming into contact with the wipe cloth which is coming into contact with the steam wand which is inserted into the jug to froth the milk. It might sound like an indirect link between your hands and the milk but it is a link nonetheless. How long should you wash and dry your hands? Sing "happy birthday" to yourself and don't stop washing until you're finished. Do the same when you wipe your hands dry.
Wearing clean clothes and clean aprons, using deodorant etc should all go without saying but far too often they are overlooked as people settle into their daily routine. Good baristas though, are on top of all of these aspects of personal hygiene.
Some people say hygiene is all just common sense stuff but we find that like most things, unless someone draws your attention to it you end up turning a blind eye as other things get
in the way in your busy café environment. So for the benefit of your customers, staff and yourself, make hygiene part of your daily routine and hopefully it will become second nature within no time at all.
Matthew Gee and David Gee
Ó & Ô 2004 Matthew Gee and David Gee
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