Have had a Starbucks Barista Athena which has worked perfectly over the past 6months then after a session of milk frothing (about 5 pitchers) I noticed a fowl smell from the machine. I had been practicing making microfoam as directed by a youtube video with soap water and thought maybe the smell was heated soap coming from the steam wand. I wiped down the wand extensively and turned the machine off to cool. When I turned it on again I noticed brown specs of sediment coming out when hot water or steam was expressed from the steam wand. I thought it was coffee grounds and flushed a tank through only to find large brown flakes shooting out of the steam wand. Much too big to be espresso grounds. I thought perhaps discolored calcium deposits even tho the machine was descaled prior to being shipped to me. My other thought it maybe I burned a part during consecutive steaming sessions or these are teflon or rust flakes? I saw a previous post by someone with a rancilio silvia doing the same thing back in 2008 or so and no one was able to answer his question back then so I am bringing up this topic again. Does anyone know what causes this or what I need to replace? Thank so much. Pic attached.
In between the pitchers of "milk" did you pull more water into the boiler? Since there is only one boiler ( I assume, not familiar with the machine ) steam is using up the water in the boiler and exposing the element to air. You'd have to run water through the group-head or wand to pull more water into the boiler I believe.
Just to rule out milk crud accumulating in the steam wand, what is your workflow when you steam milk?
I have a Silvia, and after I steam milk, not only do I wipe down the entire wand with a wet rag, but I flush out about 3 seconds of steam. All of this is done immediately after I am done steaming the milk. Then after I pour the milk into my latte, I go back and turn on the hot water pump which ejects another 5 seconds of steam through the wand before hot water comes out, and I let the hot water run for a couple of seconds. This is my piece of mind to make sure milk never gets up into the wand and stays there.
If you do something similar then I'd say you could rule out old milk crud. If you don't flush out your wand thoroughly, that fact, coupled with the foul smell you mentioned, may be pointing to milk remnants.
Not sure why it would be soap coming up through the wand - you are putting the soap in the pitcher and not in the water reservoir right? (if I saw the same youtube video you did, the instruction was to put soap in the pitcher)
It could be scale, though that would be really bad scale. You say it was descaled before being shipped to you. Any idea how long the previous owner had the machine, and how often he did descaling? If he didn't do it for years and then did one right before shipping then he probably loosened a bunch of it which may not have fully dislodged until just now. Depending on the hardness of the water being used, descaling should be done preventatively (every 2-3 months if you have hard water, every 6 months to a year if you have softened water). If he hadn't done it in a long time, then scale was probably caked on the boiler and following normal descaling instruction basically began to eat away and dislodge it, but depending on the severity of the problem, it probably didn't flush it all out.
ianpirro I think you may be pointing out an important mistake I may have made. I steamed quite a few times in a row and I think I left on the steam button the whole time and did not turn it off and pull more water through in between since I wasn't making actual lattes.
CarloM, Yes, I follow the same process as you. I very meticulously only use Dasani or Smartwater and I always immediately clean off the steam wand after I use it and then run hot water through it afterwards. I really don't think it's dry milk by the consistency, color, or size.
Is is possible that these flakes could be coming from inside the boiler or another part? Would exposing the heating element to air cause this since I did make the mistake ianpirro pointed out? Should my next step be disassembly since flushing several tanks and descaling has not completely resolved this problem? I imagine the cost of shipping and repair would offset the current value of this machine. Maybe I'm best just to take this opportunity to move up? ... but alas I can't help but wonder if a simple fix would be possible.
also just to clarify, No i was not placing soapwater into the machine. I was placing one drop of soap into my pitcher full of water and then steaming that to create fake microfoam for practice as I saw in a youtube video. I thought the smell was from the soap water of the pitcher getting on the exterior of the steam wand and then becoming overheated and producing the smell; there was not any soap coming out of the actual steam wand. Hope that clears up a little.
That's a honkin' big flake. You must have large holes in your steam wand! I'd be inclined to rip apart the machine and do a thorough cleaning. Does your machine have a 3-way solenoid? If it does it'll vent brew head pressure to the drip tray every time you turn OFF the pump... you'll hear a FUMPHHH sound, it's hard to miss. With a 3-way solenoid your options for flushing are more limited, you can use the hot water dispense setting (note: machines with hot water dispense buttons almost always have a 3-way solenoid) to push water out through the steam wand. Maybe remove the tip to give the largest orifice possible and flush flush flush until you don't see any more gunk coming out.
If you do not have a 3-way solenoid you likely have a spring-loaded pressure valve between the boiler and brew group. If this is the case you can remove the shower screen and turn on the pump (hot or cold, doesn't matter) and whatever is in the boiler will get pushed out through the brew head.
It's important that as soon as you turn off the steam immediately remove the wand from the milk pitcher. As the steam in the tube cools very quickly, then condenses, it will draw a vacuum and suck milk up into the tube where it will leave a most disgusting and smelly mess.
mauijer Senior Member Joined: 10 Mar 2012 Posts: 29 Location: Phoenix, AZ Expertise: I love coffee
Espresso: QM Silvano Grinder: Baratza Vario W Drip: Chemex
Posted Sat Apr 13, 2013, 1:28pm Subject: Re: Help! Steam Wand Shooting out Flakes
It does not have a 3 way solenoid. The steam wand has a single hole and is similar to the silvia's without a tip to remove. It is set up quite similar to the estro vapore, or saeco via venezia or saeco aroma models.
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