Milk, while delicious and indispensible when making many espresso-based drinks, can be a dangerous health hazard if you are not careful about using fresh milk stored at cold temperatures, and if you don’t routinely clean your steam wand to remove any caked-on milk solids.
Fortunately, the presence of milk residue is quite obvious if you simply look at the steam wand of your espresso machine. While superautomatic espresso machines also have internal lines that can carry milk, and should be cleaned with the pre-programmed “clean” cycles (not discussed here), you should inspect your steam wand frequently, and you should clean it frequently.
Unfortunately, many coffee shops are sloppy about this; if you simply look at the steam wands on espresso machines in many shops, you’ll see a bead of caked-on milk-solids on the tip of the steam wand, as shown in the photos below. While unattractive, it’s also a health hazard. And it’s a health hazard that’s easy to eliminate.
The first photo shows some of the fresh milk froth on the end of a steam wand immediately after use. The milk is still wet, and should immediately be wiped off with a barista towel simply as part of the routine in frothing milk. The second photo shows the end of a different steam wand at the end of a week’s use, even when it was given a wipe-down after each use. Because the wand gets hot, the milk bakes on. In short, gross!
A Steam Wand Tip with Milk Foam on it Immediately After Use
A Steam Wand Tip with Baked-on Milk which Needs Cleaning!
The good news is that this is very easy to clean, and it should be cleaned daily. The main cleaner that’s made for this is called “Rinza,” which is the standard milk-cleaning product used for espresso machines. Since Rinza is a very strong detergent, care should be taken to rinse the cleaned parts off with plain water after using Rinza, since it can be toxic.
The picture below shows a pair of standard 1-liter bottles of Rinza. (A liter is slightly more than a quart.) On the left, we’ve circled a special feature of the bottle that allows you to measure a 30 milliliter dose by simply squeezing the bottle to fill this little container. (30 milliliters is about 1 fluid ounce.)
Two Bottles of Rinza, One with the 30 Milliliter Chamber Circled
Note that a liter contains a little more than 33 of these large, 30 milliliter doses. While a superautomatic espresso machine will use a 30 milliliter dose in its preprogrammed internal cleaning cycle, if you’re simply using it to clean a steam wand, you’ll use much less than this. In fact, you should be able to get over 100 steam wand cleanings from this bottle.
Note that Rinza is NOT used full strength; it’s way too strong. To use Rinza, you should first mix a 30 milliliter dose (one ounce) of Rinza with half a liter (two cups) of water. This is the mixture used for a half-liter of cleaning solution for the superautomatic cleaning cycle. But to clean the tip of your steam wand, you don’t need 500 milliliters (two cups) of cleaning solution. All you’ll need is enough solution to fill a small glass in which you’ll soak the tip of the steam wand.
For example, if you can fit the tip of the steam wand in half-a-cup of cleaning solution, all you need is ½ cup of warm water and ¼ ounce of Rinza. Since 1 ounce is 2 Tablespoons (or 6 teaspoons), ¼ ounce is ½ of a Tablespoon (1 ½ teaspoons).
So how do you use Rinza? Simple: Mix ½ Tablespoon of Rinza with ½ cup of warm water in a small-diameter glass. Prop the glass up so that the dirty part of the steam wand is submerged in the solution. Let it soak for 15-30 minutes, then wipe it off with a cloth.
Important: After cleaning, rinse the wand liberally with fresh water to remove all the residual Rinza – it’s strong and toxic. Simple enough? Note that while Rinza looks expensive, for 100+ cleanings it’s actually very cheap. You should use it!
Steam Wand Tip Before and After Using Rinza!