As I broke yet another portafilter brush yesterday (snapped clean off) I was reminded of the importance of keeping a clean set of tools. We talk a lot about consistatizing the coffee experience here at The Brown Coffee Company — taking the necessary steps to ensure that one espresso shot, one pourover, one ColdBrew is as consistently delicious as the last…and the next.
If we’re serious about taking espresso seriously we need to grapple carefully with the “known knowns” we can control that contribute to shot inconsistency. Among those are the usual suspects: consistent weight; high incidence of uniform grounds particle size; water temperature stability; and so forth. One of the basic considerations everyone knows about but gets surprisingly overlooked intraday is the massive importance of keeping one’s portafilters clean. And it’s understandable to a point. Even the most careful baristas who find themselves in high traffic espresso bars all find themselves in the same predicament: If I’m busy cleaning a portafilter I’m not serving customers. You might guess the easiest response to that: If you’re serving customers with dirty portafilters, are you really serving customers?
Some best practices. First, schedule daily and intradaily chemical and non-chemical cleaning. Intraday, even if it’s busy, one still can generally find the time to give a non-chemical scrubby scrub utilizing said cleaning brushes and the easy access one has to very hot water. This can take a little as 30 seconds but can help boost the flavor of your espresso back closer to its intended taste.
Second, if you are in a higher traffic location that has a full time back bar to do your dirty work for you, have them do the deeper chemical cleaning for you (including a good soaking in near boiling water). Since this will necessarily mean the loss of one or more of your portafilters (read: you will be slower on the line), consider purchasing a second set of portafilters. Then it’s just a matter of bing, bang, boom, switcharoo, and you’re back in business with a fractional loss of time.
The longer I do coffee the more I realize that so much of what we can control in brewing better coffee is simply mitigating as many variables as possible that cause us to make a divine shot one time, and simply a pretty good one the next. Control what you can control to the best of your ability and you’ll go a long way to making the next customer as happy as the last.
It’s a small part of the larger mosaic of minimizing variables in the good fight for better and better espresso.