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May 10, 2018

It's Time to Clean Your Coffee Station. Here's What to Do.

As anyone who has worked in a high volume coffee establishment will tell you––and I am one of those people––keeping coffee equipment clean is a huge job. And while a professional shop has to maintain its equipment with a daily regimen of daily cleaning, descaling, urnexing and polishing, what I realized when I came home from my coffee shop was that my personal coffee equipment was some of the LEAST attended to items I had in my kitchen. I think for many people, coffee is such a utilitarian part of life, it is easy to lose track of how many brews your machine/grinder/kettle/aeropress may have gone through. And of course, coffee is not exactly a liquid that leaves no trace of itself. At least once a year––if not more like every 3-6 mos.––your coffee station deserves a freshening up. 

Let's tackle this like a coffee shop might. 

Clean the Surrounding Area

First off, pull away all of your plugged in appliances and remove any other items that "live" in the area where you make coffee. For myself that includes a drip brewer, a burr grinder, an electric, gooseneck kettle, a stovetop gooseneck kettle, a chemex, a French press, several drip brewers, an airtight coffee canister and a sugar bowl. These things live here fulltime, and while I routine clean the area, it isn't that often that I think to remove everything out of the way and attend to the surrounding area. When I finally do, there are inevitably grounds and beans, sticky coffee stains, the occasional cream spill. This is the time to scrub the counters, backsplash and wipe down the outsides of anything that you can get off with a damp paper towel. You want a fresh space to put your station back together. 

 

Avoid Soap if you Can

The best soaps for cleaning are the worst soaps for flavor. And unsurprisingly, you just can't use the cucumber-melon hand soap and have any luck on getting coffee stains off of glass or plastic. You need something heavy duty. Unfortunately, the best soaps for this are also disgusting if brought anywhere near your taste buds. And the aroma and flavor of soap can last and last, especially in plastic containers or in anything made of natural materials (I'm looking at you, attractive wood-and-leather thing attached to my chemex!) So, for cleaning your coffee brewing materials, rather than let them sit in soapy water, there is an excellent agent for cleaning: distilled vinegar. Distilled vinegar is basically vodka left out to ferment and then watered down. It is clear, its odor does not linger, and it works wonderfully as a solvent. It's also cheap as can be. Fill a sink with warm water and add a 1/5 to 1/4 measure of distilled "white" vinegar. This will work for MOST of what you want to get back to shiny-newness. 

De-Scale with Professional Help

With coffee, however, overtime you can develop really really serious stains. There's practically no way to avoid it. If you have any carafe-style drip machine (especially if there is a heating plate involved), where coffee is sitting at least in the bottom, sometimes for days, you are inviting some serious stains. At times, I've attacked these with steel wool and some serious elbow grease, only to realize that I could never quite get it clean enough. When I finally worked in a commercial setting, however, the solution became clear: you have to use something special. Unsurprisingly, it comes from the espresso-saturated land of Italy, where keeping your macchina incontaminato is very important. You can buy Urnex tablets for coffee makers, espresso machines, or in other formats, but it really does have a huge effect on getting coffee stains off of class and metal.

 

Attend to your Grinder

Something that probably very few people thing about cleaning is a burr grinder. It is such a delicate mechanism and everyone is so absolutely clear that you should never use anything wet or even damp in cleaning it out, it seems like maybe you should just let it be. I will note a few things. While you absolutely CANNOT bring water anywhere near your grinder, the hopper and grind-holder are removable and can absolutely be cleaned as you would other coffee-making materials. But make no mistake, your grinder is full of coffee fines and oils that will negatively affect your grind and even the flavor of your cup if not cleaned. There are two important ways to do this. First, put your grinder on its finest setting and grind a half cup to a cup of plain, white rice. This will get out some of the fines and other grounds. But you should next let Urnex be your guide and use their grinder cleaner to clean out the oils and other volatiles that are left in your burr grinder. 

Its More Important to Clean Your Chemex Than Keep It Dry

This is specifically about chemex coffee makers, but also, it isn't. When I first got my amazing, gorgeous, Nordic-inspired drip coffee carafe, I loved the wooden accent and leather that was decorative as well as a functional. But for the longest time, I had such a difficult time cleaning my chemex, it was more likely that I just would avoid using it. It wasn't easy enough to remove to justfy just taking it off, and there's no way to grab a chemex other than by the insulating wood. And being unsure of how to clean something is about the worst reason there is to NOT use something. And that's when it occurred to me that there just wasn't going to be a way to keep the leather and wood completely dry. So now I just wash normally, try to dry off the wood and leather parts as well as I can, and accept that things just have to be used. And that lesson goes way beyond just my chemex. It goes for using my Bialetti more often, taking the time to make cold brew in the Summer, and accepting that my plastic V60 dripper is always going to look like it has been cracked in a thousand places. Sometimes––especially when you are annoyed by cleaning––you have to remind yourself that the whole point of having these things is to use them.

Since Spring is the season of getting your act together, its a perfect time to show your coffee station some TLC. Its a chance to pull things off of the counter and get underneath all of your appliances and have a fresh start for the year. Your morning cup will thank you for it.

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JoelSelby on May 10, 2018:

Oh man, I am so guilty of not cleaning out my grinder! Thanks for this post.