There are many factors affecting the taste of coffee served in restaurants. Freshness of product, grind type, amount of coffee used, water temperature, and volume per brew are only a few. But one of the most overlooked, and yet critical points in the brewing process, is also the easiest to manage – the cleanliness of the spray head, and the area surrounding it.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry. Head over to your coffee brewer and pull out the brew basket (if the machine has just finished brewing, pull the basket out slowly. You do not want to spill hot grounds on yourself, or get a burst of steam in your face). Take a look at the area the basket was hiding – it may look a little different on each model, but chances are you’ll be staring at a metal or plastic twist on attachment with holes in it, known as the spray head.
This part, and its surrounding area, should be thoroughly wiped down at the end of every day to prevent a build-up of coffee oils. Ideally, the spray head should also be removed at the same time, cleaned, and the holes cleared before being put back. If the spray head is well maintained all you’ll need to do is wash it in warm water to keep it clean. At the most, you may need to scrub it with a small amount of espresso machine or urn cleaner, or a baking soda paste, followed by a thorough rinse. If you don’t have a filtration system connected to your machine, take a moment to check inside the spray head as well, to ensure there’s nothing lodged there, blocking the holes. Check your brewer’s manual to see how to remove your particular spray head. Some spray heads, especially for the bigger brewers like the Fetco CBS-71, have multiple parts and can be a challenge to put back without plenty of practice. And be sure to put any small parts into a bowl or cup – they can be very easy to lose in the chaos of the average kitchen or bar!
Why the special focus on this particular area? During brewing, oils from coffee are steamed up onto these surfaces. If the machine is cleaned at the end of each day, the effects of this residue are negligible. However, if left to build up on the machine, this steadily darkening gunk will eventually start to affect the fresh coffee, giving it a bitter taste. How? Just as the steam is carrying the oils up to the spray head area, it also slightly loosens whatever’s already up there, allowing small amounts of residue to fall into the fresh coffee. Left too long, the tar like oils will turn rancid.
If your staff aren’t too thrilled with the idea of adding this cleaning procedure to their chore list, remind them that a happy customer generally tips better – and few things make a customer happier than a cup of great tasting coffee!