Recently, I've been transferred to a shop that hosts a refurbished Synesso Cyncra. Prior to that, I was being trained on a La Marzocco Strada.

The Cyncra worked great on the first day. Velvety microfoam. Great texture. Loved it.

Second day, issues started to arise. The steam boiler was building up too much water, so consequently when you turned on the steam wand, it was just spraying water everywhere. I was the first to notice this, and I brought it up to the owner, who took some convincing to finally acquiesce.

Third day, a technician came to the shop and apparently fixed it. Although water isn't blasting out of the steam wand anymore, I've noticed another problem. The milk texture is horrible. No matter how perfect your technique and form, there are always tiny visible bubbles in the milk.

It's okay if you're making mediocre rosettas and hearts, but if you want really sleek, glossy, detailed art work, it's almost impossible.

I've brought it up to the owner, but he's sort of just brushing it off. Personally I was seriously embarrassed with the milk texture we were serving to customers today.

Anybody have ideas as to why the machine is yielding fizzy microfoam? One of my theories is that the pressure might be set too low... I notice the pressure's not as strong, anymore. I don't necessarily ever crank the lever the entire way when I'm steaming, because I only get to steam about 5 ounces of milk, but I'm cranking the lever back about 3/4th of the way. Prior to the technician's visit, I only had to crank the lever about halfway for the milk to develop a dynamic roll.

Also, I noticed that the machine starts squealing towards the end of the steaming process. Now I don't really understand why steam boilers start squealing, but I generally associate it with the beginning of the steaming process, as opposed to the end... the only times the steam boiler on my Silvia has ever squealed towards the end, is when the steam pressure plummeted.

Any thoughts would be appreciated. I feel that if I can present a more specific theory to the owner, he may be inclined to have the technician take a look. Otherwise, I fear I'm gonna be stuck with a faulty steamer for the duration of my employment...

PS: Bubbles in my microfoam has never been a problem. On the LM Strada, the steamer produced consistently velvety microfoam. And at home, the microfoam from my Silvia is very smooth.

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Hey Dustin,

Yeah, we have some competent baristas have given it a whirl, and it's been pretty inconsistent.

Recently though, we've the boosted the temperature by 5 degrees - as recommended by Synesso - and so far, it's back to what it was on Day 1. I'm praying that this'll be the fix.

Otherwise, we'll probably purchase the low flow tips, which was also suggested by Synesso.


Dustin DeMers said:

Hey Andy, is everyone creating crappy foam all the sudden? or is it just you? that would be a pretty big indicator if it was just you or the machine. You said there were competent baristas in the store right? So have they said anything to you about the wands sucking at certain times of the day? 

Thanks Brady,

It's totally fine. I completely understand where you're coming from.

Actually, the owner just hired a couple new guys who have zero experience with dedicated coffee, and let's just say I can relate to your frustration.

When I originally suggested that the steamer was spewing too much water, the owner brushed it off as an excuse. I don't blame him. I'm the new guy, so the faith/trust factor/credibility isn't there. Fortunately, there was also a proven barista, who I was able to convince. Once he came over, it was a lot easier for the owner to acquiesce.

As far as what the tech did, we weren't around when he was taking it apart, so I have no idea what was done. The owner had us read about coffee outside the patio, while the repairs were taking place.

I did however get to speak with the tech, and he seemed technically knowledgeable and down to Earth. It was nice, because I consider myself the only true coffee geek at the job, and for the first time, I was talking to someone who actually knew beyond basic barista duties, such as the technical/mechanical side of espresso. Afterward, he asked the owner if he could teach me how to change gaskets and perform other periodical maintenance duties on his next visit. I thought that was a really cool gesture.

The other night, the owner bumped up the temp 5 degrees - as suggested by Synesso - and the machine worked wonderfully again. That said, I'm gonna need more consistency to deem this issue 100% resolved. If it gets bad enough, I guess we can always get the low flow steam tips, which Synesso also recommended for steaming small quantities of milk.


Brady said:

Hey Andy,

Sorry to be such a jerk. I've recently had issues with my job being made harder by over-confident new guys on bar, and I was lumping you in with them.

Yes, a sightglass clear full of water is a good indication that there is a machine problem. Sounds like that tech call was warranted... though if that was the case I'm surprised that took so much convincing to get your owner to agree to have it serviced.

Any time you bring a possible machine issue to us, the more specifics you can detail the better. Pressure settings, sightglass observations, etc. Also, if you have any details as to what the tech did (he probably left a copy of his work order) that will help us. You did provide a good bit of detail, and its good to get Ricky's thoughts on your situation.

Do you notice a difference in machine pressure between times when it works properly and times it doesn't? How about water level in the sightglass?

If it were happening on only one side, I'd suspect that you had a steam valve issue. Happening on both sides rules that out to me.

As far as the boiler water level thing, that is controlled by an autofill circuit. Overfill situations are usually caused by mineral buildup on level probe or a fill valve (auto or manual) leak. If the water gets too high, the steam will get wetter and wetter, and will just shoot out pure water once the level gets too high. I'm not sure why the owner would take apart the steamwand due to water "buildup".

This is a puzzle. Let us know what you find out.


Andy Kwon said:

Thanks Brady,

I understand what you're trying to say.

As far as the LM Strada is concerned, I never once felt the machine was faulty. I just felt that I hadn't fully figured out the texture it produced. Latte art is all about timing. You need to figure out how the milk is gonna react with the espresso. Once you get the timing down, it's a lot easier. I never really got to try out many pours on the Strada, unfortunately. The opportunities just weren't there. My last training session with the Strada however, I felt I figured out the timing, but then again, I only poured one cap... that said, I never got the feeling the machine was faulty.

As for the Cyncra, the tech was called because the sight glass was full of water. There was too much water buildup, and the steamer was gushing out water, as opposed to dry steam. You have to realize that I'm not the owner. I don't get to call the shots. If I spot a problem, I need to convince my trainers and owner. Not quite sure what kinda system you're envisioning here. It's like any other place. One new employee doesn't get to decide when there is and isn't a problem. If a tech is called, it's because everybody - including experienced baristas and the owner - unanimously agreed.

It's the same deal with the Cyncra's inconsistent steaming. One hour, everybody's making great latte art. The next hour, it's fizzy and jagged-edged. Again, if it's just me, I'm the one with the problem. But when everybody else - including experienced baristas - agrees that there's something going on with the Cyncra, I think it's worth considering.

I know how these posts may come off. I seem a bit neurotic and questionable. I'm just really obsessed about my craft, and if you got to work with me, I think you'd understand. I'm sorry my posts rubbed you the wrong way.

So yeah... I went in this morning, and the bubbles are back.

I was there with one of the guys who trained me, and it was ironic, 'cause he was able to create really nice microfoam.

Yet when I steamed the milk, it was giving me bubbles. It was very confusing for a while. I asked him to demo for me a few times, and here's what I realized...

When he steams milk, he doesn't completely purge all the water out of the steam wand. He does a split second purge, whereas I purge for a good 1 or 2 seconds to get the steam as dry as possible.

With my method of purging, you get bubbles.

With his method of purging, you get smooth microfoam. According to a Synesso tech, some water will actually mask microfoam issues.

Unfortunately, I wasn't around long enough to convince him that it wasn't technique, but the purging disparity. By the time I figured it out, my shift was pretty much over...

Again, I don't understand why there are certain days where the steaming is perfect, and then days where you need to try to mask the issue by not fully purging the wand... it's really inconsistent and frustrating.

BTW, the bubbles are not around when you steam larger quantities of milk in a 20 oz pitcher. It's just with the 12 oz pitcher... I don't quite understand the science of it. All I know is that Synesso sells a flat tip, low flow tip for a reason.

Hey Andy. Just to step aside the mink steaming part of your topic for a second, you mentioned that the right steam arm would get caught half way through the action. Next time you work on the machine, take a look if the side panel (and the arm) get pushed out while pulling down the arm. Saw it before that the bolts were loose and the arm would catch.

Okay, back to steaming.

Thanks Troy, yes, that was exactly the problem.

Fortunately, it's already been fixed. I didn't see the repair myself, but now that you break it down, I'm assuming they tightened up the bolts.



Troy J Mallett said:

Hey Andy. Just to step aside the mink steaming part of your topic for a second, you mentioned that the right steam arm would get caught half way through the action. Next time you work on the machine, take a look if the side panel (and the arm) get pushed out while pulling down the arm. Saw it before that the bolts were loose and the arm would catch.

Okay, back to steaming.

Update...

So the low flow tips arrived promptly, and the owner luckily replaced the preexisting high flow tip with the new low flow tips.

I've only tried steaming on two separate shifts, since the change, and so far, so good.

There are some employees who actually preferred the older, high flow tip - because it steamed faster - so they reverted back to the high flow tip for one of the steam arms. Best of both worlds. It's fine by me.

Glad that worked out. I like that setup, since it gives you the capability of perfectly steaming 3oz for a capp OR 10 oz for a couple of lattes. Plus it keeps one side from getting all of the action.

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