Cem Kesemen

Always clean the steam wand.

It took me no time to go from non coffee drinker to basically a coffee snob.

My significant other played a significant role in my newfound hobby. As a licensed barista, certification and all, she introduced me to the bitter-sweet wake-up juice. Next thing I knew, she moved in and we had a brand new Breville espresso maker.

She taught me all the things: How to dial in espresso, the differences of single origin and blends, where beans come from. All that jazz.

Her first lesson to me, though: Always clean the steam wand.

Milk in a pitcher being frothed by a steam wand.
Photo by Jackson Schaal on Unsplash

When offices and events were still a thing, I went to quite a few of them. All these companies were rushing to show potential candidates their work place amenities.

We’ve got free snacks!
Fridge is filled to the brim with yogurt!
You can make your own espresso!

However, there’s a reason why you don’t see self-serve Starbucks shops yet. There’s an upkeep to espresso machines, and especially milk frothing wands.

Oh the horror, when I went up close to inspect the machine at these offices, and saw all the milk residue, all burnt up and caked on the wand…

I thought to myself, this would be a horrible torture for me if I ever worked here. I can make a great cappuccino, but I wouldn’t touch that machine with a 10-foot pole! So, if I wanted coffee, I’d have to go out and pay for inferior drink, while some oblivious colleague would enjoy the over- or under-extracted crema-free espresso & bacteria-ridden warmish unfrothed milk drink they’ll call a “latte”.

No job is what it seems like on the surface. Every job has some kind of maintenance attached to it.

Take us designers, for example: We need to make sure we do the right research to know we’re creating the right solution. We need proper file structures so whoever takes over where we leave off can understand and interact with our designs and documentation. There’s a hygiene to attend to, a know-how to be gained. You do that by teaching. You get senior designers to teach new designers, you get senior developers to teach new developers.

Same goes for cleaning the steam wand. It’s no rocket science—a damp microfiber cleaning cloth, prepared before we even start the machine, and some elbow grease right after the wand is used is all it takes to keep the wand clean.

If things are done only for show, they’ll start to stink.

Putting an espresso machine with no one in the kitchen to guide someone will ruin the experience for anyone, experienced barista or an interested novice.

Getting a “junior designer”1 to your developer-driven company will have the same affect. It won’t only affect the poor designer, with the responsibility of 5 positions that should be above them—it’ll also affect everyone who has to interact with the product of the company.

So, follow through. If you really want to provide good espresso to people, hire a barista to go with your espresso machine. If you want good design and can’t create a team, make budget for an experienced designer, or at least hire a design consultant.

Rocket scientist not required.

  1. This industry really needs to stop calling starters “junior”. ↩︎