Roasting coffee is a messy job. By-products such as chaff and oils are created every time green beans are put into the roaster, which, over time, can cause problems for both the roaster and those within proximity of it.
A clean and well-maintained roaster is important in supporting a consistent workflow, reducing the risk of coffee defects, and protecting the wellbeing of staff. For those with roasters on display in places such as coffee shops, clean equipment helps contribute to an image of care, responsibility, and professionalism, instilling trust in customers.
To find out more about the importance of cleaning roasters and how to do it efficiently, I spoke with Samba Coffee Roasters’ Head of Quality Control and 2018 Hellenic Barista Champion, Michalis Katsiavos.
See also: How To Create An Efficient Roastery
Why Do Roasters Need To Be Cleaned?
The most important part of any roastery is the roaster. Not only does it make up the biggest investment, without it specialty roasters would be unable to carry out their job.
Yet like any equipment with moving parts, regular maintenance and cleaning is required. One of the main issues is the buildup of oils, creosote, and other solid waste in the exhaust ductwork during roasting. When green coffee beans are heated, they release various by-products that can disrupt airflow and increase the risk of fires if they’re not dealt with.
It can also affect the flavour profile of the roasted coffee, leaving a bitter, overdeveloped taste in the cup. This may render entire batches unfit for distribution, which can have an impact on profit for roasteries.
“Holes in the roasters can become clogged with oil and dirt, making it difficult to control airflow and maintain roast profile consistency,” Michalis says. Having worked in the coffee industry for more than a decade, he understands well the implications of neglecting roasters. In his position as Head of Quality Control at Samba Coffee Roasters, it’s up to him to ensure their coffee is of a consistently high standard. He tells me that a big part of this is keeping the roaster in good working order.
“A dirty roaster can significantly disrupt the quality of the batch,” he explains. “Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the roast operator to ensure it’s kept clean.”
Another common problem for roasters is chaff. Chaff (also known as husk) is the outer layer of green coffee beans that is shed when beans are roasted. The hot temperatures cause the outer layer to become brittle and break away, leaving a clean coffee bean. Dry processed beans tend to produce considerably more chaff than wet processed beans.
The majority of roasters are fitted with a “chaff collector” that draws up the waste product and separates it from the central drum. Chaff is incredibly flammable, which means keeping it away from high temperatures is crucial.
“The chaff bucket and cooling tray, which gathers oils during roasts, need to be regularly checked to ensure they’re clean,” Michalis explains.
How To Keep Your Roaster Clean
When it comes to maintaining your roaster, frequency and thoroughness are the two most important factors. While there are no hard and fast rules for how regularly you should carry out a full cleaning, it’s a good idea to stick to a schedule so that you don’t forget to do it.
Coffee roasting expert Scott Rao recommends cleaning the chimney of your roaster at least every 200 hours of roasting to ensure it remains free of byproducts that could potentially block the airflow. However, this number may vary depending on the typical roast profile of your coffee, as darker roasts require more frequent cleaning than lighter roasts.
Michalis says that regardless of output, roasteries should put aside time everyday to clean out the chaff collector to avoid unnecessary risk of fires.
“Make sure you get in the habit of emptying the chaff collection chamber at the end of each day once your roaster has cooled down,” he says. “Chaff is very flammable, which means it’s important to keep it clear. You’ll also be prepared to start your next day of roasting in the right way.”
Removing the chaff collector is easy and won’t cause an inconvenience to your day if you make it part of your routine. The chaff can also be recycled for use as animal bedding or compost, helping towards a zero-waste roastery.
Investing in a commercial-grade vacuum cleaner with a long spout is advised for reaching into certain areas in which dust builds up in your roaster. You’ll find a small buildup in a lot of small corners of the roaster and a vacuum cleaner is the best way of reaching these areas.
Behind the shutter that lets the green beans into the roast drum and underneath the cooling tray are two places that build dirt over time, yet are often easily forgotten. Similarly, the top of the cooling tray often looks clean, but can become very dirty. You should take the grate off regularly to clean off any buildup of oils and dust from its undership, as well as using a roller brush to keep the grate holes clear.
“In our roastery, we also use Urnex Roaster Sprayz, a chemical spray that helps dislodge and remove any buildup of oils,” Michalis says.
In addition to creating a schedule, devising a cleaning checklist that can be ticked off as you go is an effective way of remembering to cover all bases and ensure nothing remains dirty.
The Importance Of Health & Safety In A Roastery
Minimising the risk of injury to yourself and your employees is of the utmost importance when running a roastery. By taking the time to properly clean and maintain your roaster, you are immediately lowering the danger of fires and helping create a safe environment.
However, it’s also important to ensure that whoever is responsible for cleaning and maintaining the roaster is protected while doing so.
Some roasteries may choose to post a list of protocols that must be followed for all cleaning duties. Displaying standard practices such as waiting for the roaster to cool, unplugging all electrical appliances, and keeping the roastery well ventilated before cleaning are all recommended.
In a blog post on their website, coffee equipment manufacturers Urnex highlight the importance of wearing the right equipment when carrying out any form of maintenance on your roaster.
They suggest wearing goggles to keep debris from getting into your eyes and latex or rubber gloves to avoid contact with cleaning chemicals and grease. A mask is also a good idea as this will protect your lungs from any dust that’s whipped up during cleaning.
Roasters are usually the largest expense in a roastery. By keeping the inside and outside of the machine clean, it will extend its life and reduce the risk of fires, while allowing you to consistently produce high-quality coffee for your customers.
At MTPak Coffee, we understand how much time and effort goes into roasting quality coffee. For that reason, we offer the highest quality sustainable coffee packaging available, from kraft paper stand up pouches to PLA flat bottom pouches.
For more information on our sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team here.
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