May 13, 2020

How to Clean & Maintain Your Coffee Roastery

Cleaning and maintaining your roastery can be a daunting task – not only are there many parts that need upkeep, from the roaster to pipes and de-stoners, but they’re also often huge, heavy, or hard to get to. Yet it is an essential part of being a coffee roaster.

A poorly maintained roastery can pose tremendous risks to the health and safety of you and your staff, as well as resulting in physical damage and financial losses.

To better understand how to maintain a roastery, I spoke to Nicholas Flatoff and Brice Sturmer, technicians at Usonian Systems, a provider of expert advice and specialized equipment to coffee roasters across North America. Here’s what they recommend, starting with the roaster and moving onto other equipment.

Lee este artículo en español Cómo Limpiar y Hacer Mantenimiento a Tu Tostaduría de Café

Roaster working at a roastery with a Loring machine

Roaster working with a Loring Roaster. Credit: Usonian Systems

Looking After Your Roaster: The Basics

Every roaster is different, and no generic guide will compensate for detailed information specific to your equipment. Brice says, “The best place to start is by looking at the manufacturer’s manual.”  

He also recommends getting in touch with a technician or an operator. “Manufacturers don’t necessarily set up a roaster like a production roaster; they rely heavily on an operator and on technicians like myself to provide them with feedback as to what’s actually happening with their machines in the field. Manuals can only go so far with roasters in regards to maintenance.”

Once you have a better understanding of your machine, check the hours log. “If you know how many hours the machine has been running, that’s the best way to plan and schedule the preventative maintenance programs,” he stresses. 

Of course, sometimes that’s easier said than done. Brice tells me that roasters used to have hour counters on them, but modern ones don’t tend to have that feature. He recommends logging hours on a digital spreadsheet so that it’s easy to check and share the data. 

You might also like: Planning Your new Roaster Site: A Checklist

Roaster working at a roastery with a Loring machine

Roaster working at a roastery with a Loring machine. Credit: Usonian Systems

How to Clean & Maintain Your Roaster

The general rule of thumb for roaster maintenance is to keep airflow obstruction-free. While this will vary according to your roaster and roasting style, generally speaking, you should aim to clean the chaff collector every 3–5 roasts. 

If you tend to roast darker, be sure to check even more frequently to see if the oil is building up and inhibiting the airflow. On the other hand, don’t be tempted to check less just because you’re roasting light: that’s how you end up with fires, not to mention that poorer-quality roasting caused by limited airflow will be even more noticeable.

Besides the chaff collector, the cooling tray needs to be cleaned daily, if not more often. Nicholas says, “If you’re roasting a full batch four times an hour for a full day, you’re going to probably need to be vacuuming out the cooling tray two, three times a day. And that’s going to go for most roasters of pretty much any size from 15 to 150 kilo.

“If you’ve been roasting for two or three hours straight, check the cooling tray to make sure there’s not a buildup in there. Make sure it’s not inhibiting airflow.”

On a weekly basis, you should check the ventilation and your bearings – do they need greasing? Nicholas tells me that if you’re greasing them too often, you’re probably using the wrong product. “If you are using the appropriate food-safe high-temperature grease, you shouldn’t need to grease the bearings every single day,” he says. 

Pay attention to this: low-temperature grease won’t just require frequent reapplications but can also affect the machine’s performance.

As for deep cleaning the roaster, Nicholas recommends starting monthly and then adjusting. “If you find that you need to do it more often, do it more often. If you find that monthly is overkill, step back to two months, three months, whatever it might be. Each roaster has its own rhythm and its own needs,” he tells me.

When you do your monthly deep clean, make sure to also look at the fans, chaff cyclone, cooling tray, and more. Change any tape that needs it and look at if you need to replace your gaskets. Inspect the drum gap to see if it needs adjusting.

Clean out your flues every six months. And after every 2,000 hours or so (which at eight hours per day, five days per week, is roughly once a year), you will probably want to replace the bearings. You should also tune your roaster ignition and check the gearbox transmission fluid on a yearly basis.

Throughout the year, make sure that you are regularly checking every part that can accumulate any chaff or dust. Nicholas says, “It’s fairly uncommon for us to receive an emergency maintenance call and for us to get on site and find a clean roaster.” 

Roasters being installed.

Roasters being installed. Credit: Usonian Systems

How to Clean & Maintain The Rest of Your Roastery

On a daily basis, you should be dusting and sweeping the premises, as well as emptying the vacuum and trash so as to minimize hazards and comply with food and safety regulations.

Every week, take a look at the ducts for potential leakages or airflow obstruction.

Once a month, check if the carbon monoxide meter and ducts are working. Do a thorough clean of the premises, too. Nicholas says, “You really do need to be climbing into those tight spaces with a steel brush and a vacuum at least once a month.” 

Schedule a quarterly deep clean of your destoner, green loader, and any other equipment you have. This is a good time to also check if the fire extinguisher is in place and functioning, as well as to run over fire protocols and go over safety plans with your team.

Lastly, check your afterburner on a yearly basis.

Yet remember that every roastery is different. Brice recommends paying attention to where buildup happens on your site and then adjusting your cleaning plan. There may be some areas that you need to inspect more frequently, due to your workflow and turnover. 

Freshly roasted beans cooling down.

Freshly roasted beans cooling down. Credit: Jean Pierre Flores

Warning Signs to Watch Out For

You’ve created a maintenance plan and are cleaning regularly. Does that mean you’re in the all-clear? Not necessarily. Watch out for signs that something needs extra attention, particularly these two:

  • Unusual Noises

Unexpected sounds coming from your machine? Nicholas tells me that there are two common causes: “the first being the bearings, and the second being the drum.” 

He associates scraping and scratching noises with the drum, and groaning and grinding noises with the bearings. However, without inspecting the roaster, it’s impossible to know what the issue is.

Whatever you do, don’t put off fixing this until tomorrow. Nicholas says, “Those [noises] are indicators that there’s something wrong. That might not have damaged the roaster already, but if you continue to roast on it without doing anything about it, it could create potentially irreparable damage to the roaster.”

Hearing odd noises that don’t sound like scraping, scratching, groaning, or grinding? It’s still not worth waiting. Check straight away – you don’t want to have to replace your roaster just because a normally minor issue was left long enough to cause significant damage.

  • Changes in Roast Profiles & Roaster Performance

“Any deviation in what you are normally achieving for your profile” should draw your attention, according to Brice. 

“If your roasts, all of a sudden, are getting way longer or way shorter, and you are not changing anything on the operations side, that can be an indication of an airflow problem or perhaps burner problems, and those are both systems that need to be regularly maintained,” he says. 

Newly installed roaster

Newly installed roaster. Credit: Usonian Systems

Sticking to Your Maintenance Plan Is Crucial

You’re probably working non-stop to roast all your orders on time, do quality control, cup, refine roast profiles, train new employees, check your packaging, do marketing and sales, and more. Yet roastery maintenance cannot be delayed. It’s just as high a priority as getting orders delivered.

Nicholas says, “The biggest issue we see, when a roaster ignores something that feels off, would be damage to the drum or the drum actually seizing. The drum can actually start to grind into the faceplate of the roaster and material off.”

He tells me that he’s seen drums grind as much as “a quarter of an inch,” or 6 mm, into the faceplate.

“You’re looking at potential damage to the shaft, potential damage to the faceplate, the drum, the motor, the gearbox,” he continues. “This can get very expensive very quickly if you run into a situation where your drum clearance isn’t accurate… And if you just ignore that, that can total the roaster.”

Then there’s the risk of fire, the risk to employees’ health, and the many ways you can potentially damage other items of equipment.

Both Brice and Nicholas agree that it’s crucial to plan and keep to a maintenance schedule. Allocate tasks to set people and ask them to perform them at specific times. Make sure they don’t just check them off but also add any observations they have – this can help you spot issues early on.

And, most importantly of all, if something seems wrong, pay attention to it. Brice tells me that there are two keys to maintaining your coffee roastery: keeping it clean and “knowing what your normal is and knowing when your roaster deviates from normal.” 

Nicholas also recommends paying attention to your instinct. “A lot of roasters are super in tune with their machines,” he says. “If you’ve been roasting on the same roaster for a year, five years, or ten years, you’re going to know better than anybody else whether or not there’s something off with that machine. 

“Trust that kind of sixth sense that roasters have in connection with their machines. If something feels off… don’t just say, ‘Oh, it’ll be fine.’ Actually take a moment to check it out and if you’re not sure what’s going on with it, a call to an expert is usually free.”

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Featured photo caption: Roaster checking beans being roasted. Featured photo credit: Jean Pierre Flores

Please note: This article has been sponsored by Usonian Systems.  

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