Well-maintained equipment is a well maintained business, so goes a popular saying.
This is why most commercial establishments employ an in-house technician, or at least outsource the service to keep their machines in good shape.
For most owners of Espresso machines however, the experience is frustratingly different.
An espresso (or coffee machine) is simply a device that brews coffee by forcing pressurized water near boiling point through a layer of ground coffee and a filter to produce thick, concentrated coffee (or espresso).
With Kigali’s fast food and café culture ever expanding, there has been increased demand for Espresso, and with it, for the machines as well. A few affluent families have also been acquiring the smaller home Espresso machines for domestic use.
Whether for home or commercial use, however, owners of the expensive and delicate machines seem to share one problem: that of how to maintain them.
Actually, most people only learn that the machines need regular maintenance once they’ve broken down. Many others simply dump the disused machine and buy a new one for lack of a cheaper option.
The few that are lucky to get their machines repaired have to painstakingly source for a genuine technician through word of mouth–technicians like Frank Maniraguha.
Maniraguha is one of the very few espresso machine technicians in the country, and who, like the rest, has to be found by word of mouth as he has no business premises.
Interestingly, he started off as an electrician at the Bourbon Coffee Nyarutarama branch. That was in 2005, and at the time, he did not even know that maintenance of espresso machines was another specialised field.
“One day, a German guy called Hermton was brought in to train five people in espresso machine maintenance,” he explains. He was lucky to be among the selected group, and for the next eight months, the German took them through the basics of the job.
After the training, all that Maniraguha wanted was to go out in the field in search of broken espresso machines to fix. And he has never looked back since.
Soon, he realized that with his newly-acquired skills, he did not need to be employed by anyone on permanent terms.
He just walked into the next restaurant or café with an espresso machine and advertised his services.
Some of his very first clients were; the Museum Café at the Genocide Memorial Center in Gisozi, Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel, Moriah Hotel in Kibuye, Galaxy Hotel, and the Al-Mannu Fast Foods, in Nyamirambo. Today, he has a long-term working understanding with four big hotels, and six restaurants. Of late, his list of private clients who own machines at home has also been growing.
Of the four other people with who he received the training, two have since left the country for greener pastures, one in Gabon, and the other in New York.
Generally, says Maniraguha, repair works on a machine can take anything from two hours to as many as three days for a major break down. On average he charges Rwf 120,000 for routine service.
It is generally recommended that an espresso machine undergoes routine maintenance at least once in 3-4 months, he says.
“The money is good, although it comes after long intervals because a good espresso machine takes time to break down,” he explains.
“If you don’t clean it regularly, you will spoil your chance of enjoying a great espresso and you will have thrown your money away,” he counsels. He advises that in order for one to develop a proper maintenance procedure for their machine, they need not look at it as a chore, but as a way of safeguarding their investment.
A small espresso machine goes for about $2,000, a figure that doubles for the bigger machines.
He lists three factors that usually cause a machine’s breakdown; poor handling by the owner, the water used to brew the coffee, and old age on the part of the machine.
“The operator is one of the biggest causes of machine failure, either through incorrect operation, or opening and making adjustments to the machine with little or no knowledge of how it works,” he further explains.
To avoid these errors, he recommends the adage; “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”
The other approach he recommends is to read the manual, and any other information available in forums like the internet and learn how to use your machine properly.
Unknown to most people, the very water they feed into the machine is one of the causes for break down. This is because water contains impurities that are harmful even to the human body.
“This situation is clear proof of the critical skills gap we have in the country,” laments Jamaal Murinzi, the owner of Al-Mannu Fast Foods in Nyamirambo, and who is one of Maniraguha’s clients. He contends that there is need for government to institute a regulatory framework for this and other technical skills sectors.
“We have been invaded by un-reputable and unprofessional technicians who open client’s machines and instead of repairing them, steal the parts.”
Like most other people, Jamaal only got in contact with a technician after his espresso machine had broken down.
“For three days, I was running around and making calls in search of a genuine technician.
Earlier when my fridge broke down, I had to bring in a technician from Nairobi, which was quite expensive.”
It was his barista who eventually suggested Maniraguha’s name, having seen him at work before. “When he (Maniraguha) came, I sat him down for about thirty minutes, interviewing him. I wanted to be sure he was up to the task because this machine is expensive and you don’t want someone who will ruin it further,” adds Jamaal.
On his part, Maniraguha appeals to the relevant authorities to initiate courses for new technicians, as well refresher courses for those already in the trade like him. “Espresso machines keep changing in design, so we need to be up to date with the latest trends.
Espresso machine maintenance:
Daily things to do:
After each use, wipe down your portafilter and group, keeping them clean and free of debris.
After dumping your coffee grinds and wiping the portafilter and group, run a few ounces of water through the group to make sure the perforated basket is clean.
Sweep any leftover grinds out of your grinder using a small brush.
Your machine should come with two removable “baskets” (the little inserts that go inside the portafilter)—one that’s perforated, which is used when you make coffee; and one that has a solid bottom. Remove the perforated basket and insert the solid one every night (assuming you’ve used your machine that day) to “backflush” your machine with water, a procedure where you activate your brew lever and allow water to run for a few seconds at a time in order to flush out any debris and oils that have collected in the group.
Purge your steam wand after every use, and then after the last use of your machine every day, soak the wand in hot water and detergent for about 15 minutes. Afterward, purge the wand again and wipe it off.
Use a detergent to clean your machine. And not any detergent—you have to have the kind specially made for espresso machines, such as Cafetto, Urnex or JoeGloe). The good news is you only need a small amount for each cleaning, so one bottle will last you practically forever.
NB: Backflushing is not appropriate for all machines, so be sure to check your owner’s manual to verify whether this method is suitable for you.
Mix together some coffee detergent and hot water and soak your portafilters and baskets for about 30 minutes, or more if they’re especially dirty. Remove them from the solution, scrub them well and rinse and wipe them off.
Even if you’re using flitered water, you should descale your espresso machine at least once a year to get rid of calcium build-up that can eventually damage your machine and negatively impact your espresso flavor.