There is much debate about when you should service an espresso coffee machine. In fact, we cannot find a single espresso coffee machine manufacturer that will set out a service schedule. Why is this we wonder? Car manufacturers can tell us emphatically that oil changes are needed at 15 000km and a cambelt change is needed around 105 000km, so what is so different about a coffee machine that also has moving parts and parts that perish with age?
The question about coffee machine servicing is highly relevant because it involves costs for labour and spare parts. Our clients quite rightly tend to believe in the “Goldilocks Principle” when it comes to servicing their coffee machines… not too soon to waste money… not too late to have a breakdown occur… but servicing intervals should be “just right” Or in other words, a millisecond before an expensive part fails! We get this.
In fact we get it so well that we researched what other coffee companies around the world suggest to be an optimal maintenance service schedule and blended all our findings into this service schedule below. We believe we are in that “Goldilocks” sweet spot, where cost and performance reliability are well matched. After all, when your coffee machine fails in your restaurant or café, you immediately start losing money, so our aim with a preventative maintenance programme, is to save you money and to avoid customer disappointment.
We have broken down servicing into three categories, like the approach taken in the car industry:
1. Minor Service (every 350kg of coffee used)
The minor service looks to primarily replace wear and tear parts like group head gaskets and showers. The aim here is to avoid what we call “non-critical failures”. These are failures such as a leaking group head gasket, that can affect extraction pressure and impact coffee quality in a minor way, but which will not actually prevent machine use. They are caused by wear and tear over time, and we base this on usage of around 350kg of coffee or around 25 000 cups of coffee.
Generally, this service will not replace safety critical components unless we notice any issues and so we include the following as part of our Minor Service:
- Replace group head seals
- Replace shower screens
- Test group head flow rates and temperature
- Test all switches
The Minor Service can be completed within 1 hour and so it can be completed when a grinder service is needed on say a Mazzer Mini or Mazzer Super Jolly. It can also be done when replacing a water filter.
2. Intermediate Service (every 700kg of coffee used)
As for the Minor Service, the Intermediate Service looks to replace wear and tear components every 350kg of coffee, so the group head gaskets and showers are a good starting point here. However, because 700kg of coffee has now passed through the espresso coffee machine, we start to see other parts in a preventative maintenance light.
During our Intermediate Service we:
- Replace group head seals
- Replace shower screens
- Inspect the steam assembly
- Check the anti-suction valve and replace if needed
- Rebuild the water tap
- Clean the boiler level probe
- Remove body panels and vacuum/clean any dust build up
The Intermediate Service will require 2 hours to complete.
3. Major Service (every 1050kg or 12 months)
The Major Service comes every 1050kg of coffee used or 12 monthly, whichever comes first. This is an important distinction because whether 1050kg of coffee has been used or not, some parts are subject to a time limit on their usable life. So even if only 30kg of coffee has passed through a coffee machine (in a low volume store), the fact of the matter is that the coffee machine has been used for a year – and that usage has included four attributes that impact the integrity of the espresso coffee machine and its components: water, heat, pressure and dust.
Each in their own way will impact structural integrity. Water for example can be corrosive or scale depositing and heat can affect rubber/nitrile/silicon seals and then there is metallic integrity as expansion and contraction occur constantly as hot and cold-water flow through pipes in the machine. Dust also produces erosion of sealing surfaces, and of course pressure is self-explanatory from a safety perspective.
So regardless of the amount or blend of coffee used, every year we recommend that certain parts are replaced.
Our Major Service focuses on wear and tear and safety critical parts and so here we:
- Replace all necessary washers, seals, group seals and shower screens
- Replace the pressure safety valve
- Inspect and replace portafilter baskets as needed
- Replace the waste pipe (if needed)
- Replace the capacitor on pump motor and before solenoids.
- Check drainage system
- Check brew pressure
- Replace the sight glass
- Replace or service the non-return valve
- Dial in volumetrics and grinder
- Test all button and lever functions
- Check boiler temperature set points
- Clean level probes
- Check flowmeter resistance
- Water test and potential filter change
- Check for steam or water leak
- Strip and clean the group head(s)
- Replace anti-vac valve
- Strip, check, clean and replace (if necessary) the steam and water arm(s) and valves.
- Replace 3-way valves
- Check of all general machine settings, and an adjustment if required
- Advise on the overall condition of the machine and the recommendation about any repairs and services that may be needed
The Major Service usually requires that the coffee machine is uplifted to a workshop because of the time needed for the strip-down and rebuild. The typical time allocated to a Major Service is 4 hours.
Maintaining your coffee machine will also potentially require a boiler and water system descale every few years, but this depends on the quality of your water and the water filters that you have used to improve water quality. The lower the scale causing ions, like calcium and magnesium, and the better the filter management protocols, the less likely that this will be needed. It pays to replace water filters because a boiler descale requires boiler removal and an acid wash. Water pipes will also either need to be acid treated or replaced. This can add a few hours to the labour bill, as well as necessitate part replacements (e.g. new valves if there is scaling).
Owners of coffee machines, be they manual espresso coffee machines through to coffee vending machines, need to bear in mind that a budget of a few cents for every coffee made should be put towards the maintenance plan. Our technicians can best advise on a suitable maintenance path for your situation (just like Goldilocks found out with the three bears) to make sure that periodic maintenance reduces the chances of an unplanned breakdown and keeps costs of part replacements at a minimum.