Should you leave your coffee machine on all day? (and at night?)

One of the most common questions we get from students of the Professional Barista Course is ‘should I leave the coffee machine on or off at night’? A valid question considering how tight things are economically for a lot of cafes, this list will help to show the potential costs involved in what would seem a cost savings measure. Please note this list is referring to machines which are plumbed in, not domestic or tanked machines.

1. Limescale Building Up In Machines Components

Limescale is the the number one factor which determines your coffee machines life expectancy. Limescale is a result of calcium buildup. Calcium is present in the water which supplies your coffee machine.
It takes effect as soon as the water is stagnant long enough to start building up. Limescale clogs pipes, blocks group solenoids and causes mayhem to the machine’s pump plus much more!
Whilst having your machine on at night will still leave your machine stagnant for periods of time, as the boiler fills itself to maintain the correct water level several times overnight it agitates the water preventing the calcium to get a decent chance to build up.
The parts which are commonly affected are not cheap either. Each group solenoid is around $100, a pump is currently around the $250 mark, plus the reduction in business from not having a machine operational.

2. Quality Of Coffee Produced

Your machine takes a lot longer than the initial heat up period to reach the desired operational temperature. Turning your machine on from cold will take anywhere from 20-45 minutes to heat to full pressure, depending on its size and specifications. However, it takes several more hours for the machine to reach a temperature where all the groups and components are at the desirable temperature for making consistently good espresso coffee. Plus you’ve also go to heat the cups, which play a big part in the overall temperature the coffee is served at.

3. Risk Of Milk Contamination

Contamination of the boiler is one of the most expensive mistakes that can occur to your coffee machine! What is it? It is when instead of steam coming out of the steam wands it sucks the milk back up the wand and takes it to the boiler, where the milk goes off after several days and sticks to the boiler, pipes and valves meaning every time you go to steam milk it produces steam with the stench, taste and appearance of off milk.

To remedy the problem the machine must be completely disassembled, blasted in a sand blaster like machine to remove the off-milk from everything and then completely reassembled… very expensive!

How does the problem occur? For the milk to be sucked back up, the boiler needs to be act like a vacuum and this occurs when the barista has their jug of milk ready to stretch, turns the steam wand on to find there is no steam as it is still cold from being turned off, leaves the wand in the jug of milk while they go away and wait for it to heat up, as the machine heats up to temperature it creates that vacuum with the cold milk being there and sucks it up the wand, and in to the boiler. It really is a hideous smell.

Sure, you might think that you’ll make sure your baristas never do this, but you will be surprised how often we come across this, especially in the opening week after the Christmas break, when everyone turns their machine back on. Not the best way to kick off the year.

4. Rodents

That’s right, rats and mice love a warm machine. As you can see from the mouse pooh circled in the picture to the right, on top of the group heads makes a nice resting place for your local rodent family. Who knows if they run over the cups, takeaway cups, saucers and whatever else to get to their favourite cosy sleeping spot. Deter them as much as possible by making sure their normal sleeping spot is too hot!

5. Cost Of Heating Machine From Cold

The main reason people turn the machine off at night is to save on power, but through working out how little the machine actually uses when not in use, especially considering the other factors listed above you may have second thoughts.

When the machine is on, but not in use it is not heating permanently. It turns on for only 20-30 seconds every few minutes to maintain the correct temperature, so for more than 80% of the time it is not even heating.

Where when you turn on the machine from cold it will take anywhere up to 45 minutes of full power to get it just to operating temperature, plus you will need to preheat each cup you use if you want to serve anything of notable quality to your first customers of the day, meaning the machine will be heating more to maintain the correct water temperature.

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