September 2009
MAINTENANCE TIPS

Keep Hot Drinks Flowing Right

Specialty hot beverage dispensers make self-service handy for your customers, but sugary powders and water challenges add to your maintenance concerns.

By Michael Romico

There was a time when frothy cups of cappuccino were only prepared by trained baristas at the controls of complex espresso machines. But these days hot beverages such as cappuccino, lattes and hot chocolate are available everywhere thanks to self-serve, powder-based specialty hot beverage dispensers. But while they add a level of convenience for your customers, these machines also add another set of maintenance and cleaning procedures for your staffers to execute.

For example, simple, overlooked things can temporarily derail your machine's production. Take the distressed call that once came to Alan Brewer, product specialist and technical instructor at Bunn-O-Matic Corp., from an operator who said his newly cleaned hot chocolate dispenser was flowing only water. With Brewer on the phone, the operator checked the hopper. Empty, but that wasn't the real cause of the problem. With a full hopper in place the caller realized that someone had left the rinse switch in the wrong position.

We spoke with Brewer and Amir Hashemi, technical specialist at Montebello, Calif.-based Wilbur Curtis, for tips on how to keep these popular machines in tip-top shape. From the outside specialty hot beverage dispensers appear to be foolproof. Unlike the inside of coffee brewers, there's no grinding or extraction process going on, and no spray head to calibrate. Instead, there are internal components that combine and whip hot water and powered product and then dispense in premeasured amounts.

Brewer says awareness should start with your water, and more specifically, how it is filtered. Each store should have a filtration system suited to the local water conditions. Signs of poor or deteriorating water quality include dripping or spitting dispenser nozzles, a situation likely caused by lime buildup. Brewer says most manufacturers provide deliming instructions that typically call for removing parts clogged with water deposits and washing or soaking them in deliming solutions.

Powered product is held in hoppers located in the upper portion of the machine, and refilling can be a challenge if not done correctly. Hashemi says sugary mixes become sticky when exposed to moisture, and problems can arise if your staffers try to fill hoppers without removing them from the machine first. "The best thing to do is to take a hopper out covered" and fill it outside the machine, he says. Even the smallest amount of spilled powder can make its way inside the unit, attract dirt and create a breeding ground for bacteria or pests.

Brewer has also seen beverage powder buildup in the delicate grooves that hold the hoppers in place. After some accumulation, the hoppers fail to click in properly, which can lead to breakage and costly replacement parts.

Though they need infrequent cleaning, Hashemi says hoppers should be dried thoroughly before reuse because moisture will clog the flow. "If the hopper is wet it becomes a big mess," he says.

What To Do Every Day
Brewer says your staffers should keep a damp cloth handy to clean beverage spills in around the dispensing area. Emptying the drip tray and sponging out overflow is a daily requirement.

Hashemi suggests you use a mild detergent with warm or hot water to clean, soak or wipe all plastic components. Avoid harsh chemicals or those containing acidic compounds, which can degrade the integrity of plastic parts.

The whipper chamber, just above the nozzle, typically houses a frother blade, tubes and a whipper chamber receptacle all designed to froth beverages as they are dispensed. Brewer says rinse cycles—some that run automatically—clean this area by running hot water through, and you should make sure your daily rinse cycle is working properly.

"We highly emphasize the use of the rinse feature," Brewer says. "Flushing hot water through at 200° kills bacteria that has accumulated."

...And Every Week
Both experts suggest that on a weekly basis your staffers disassemble the whipper chamber components, wash and dry them, and then reassemble them or leave the components soaking until the following morning.

Soaking these parts overnight is helpful because, as Brewer says, hot water and detergent are your allies when it comes to bacteria buildup in the whipper component's tight corners.

A tip for high-volume machines: Keep an extra set of whipper chamber components handy to make the weekly cleaning a snap, advises Brewer. Simply plug in the clean spare set while the dirty one soaks overnight. He adds that keeping an extra set is also handy if parts are lost.

In addition, smaller parts, especially silicone washers and gaskets, also need weekly cleaning. "The sugar tends to make those gaskets hard," says Brewer, "and washing keeps them pliable."

The exterior sides of the machines should be kept clean using a cloth, warm water and mild detergent. Beyond these daily and weekly functions, Brewer and Hashemi say you should leave other concerns to your service agent, including scheduled checks of controls and thermostats.