Health

  • Keeping You and Your Machine Healthy

    We've heard concerns from customers on whether or not they should worry about trace amounts of lead or metal poisoning within their machines' boilers and parts. So we're going to  break down the makeup of particular metals that are housed within your unit to ease your mind -- and your fears of  caffeine withdrawal.

    Water corrosion is where it all begins and understanding your machine and what conditions cause corrosion -- oxygen, water, metal and a catalyst -- will help you manage and maintain your espresso machine.

    Aluminum

    Used for some espresso machine boilers and stovetop espresso makers as it heats up the fastest, 'aluminum is protected from corrosion by increasing the amount of naturally occurring aluminum oxide (Aluminum + Oxygen) on its surface.'

    As a mixture of  metals, also referred to as an alloy, and under ideal circumstances, Sergio Louissant of LatteMaestro.com explains that this combination protects the aluminum but also has a quicker turn around time in breaking down the aluminum oxide causing the aluminum to corrode.

    Chloride in tap water wears down the catalyst that breaks the shield that is the oxide layer between the metal and boiler water, as stated in a piece in the JL Hufford Coffee Tea Supporter Forum. This causes damage to aluminum parts over time so it is best to use filtered water or to regularly clean and descale your machine to slow down the deterioration process.

    However, even though machines with aluminum parts are less expensive, that doesn't mean they're frowned upon. With its ability to maintain good resistance against corrosion, it just may take more of a closer eye and knowledge to understand the chemistry of it's maintenance and when its time to switch out parts to prevent the quick deterioration of this material. Because the connection between aluminum and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's is still unclear, many folks try to avoid aluminum as a precaution.

    Stainless Steel

    Very resistant  to corrosion, stainless steel can be found in Saeco, Nespresso and Capresso machines. But its downfall is being the life of the party when it comes to hosting bacteria for a longer period of time on its surface compared to any other metal.

    However, bacteria aside, since you won't be cutting, dicing or chopping any raw meat on or with stainless steel espresso machine boilers and parts, as long as you keep the stainless steel within your machine clean, this material is ideal for espresso machines as it provides excellent heat retention and assures rapid steam function.

    Brass/Copper

    Unlike stainless steel and aluminum, espresso machines that use copper/brass boilers and parts, such as Rocket, Rancilio, Quick Mill, Pasquini, LaPavoni and Francis Francis, not only act like a repellent to those grimy germs and retain heat longer, but they also are the most resistant to corrosion than any other metal.

    However, even with it's popularity in higher end machines, some users are still left worried about the lead content in brass boilers.

    While lead is added to some brasses, most manufacturers plate brass with nickel, such as Rocket Espresso, preventing any lead from leaching into water, reducing corrosion and acting as a barrier between brass and water.

    But taking extra care when it comes to lead in products, it was in October of 1999 that the California State Attorney General sued 13 key manufacturers and distributors over lead content, leading to the reduction of lead content to 1.5 percent from it's original 2 to 3 percent in products sold within that state. Following this action manufacturers were asked to reduce lead or to follow the requirement to warn consumers about lead content even if it didn't have the ability to leach into materials such as water.

    Hopefully this trend will catch up to the rest of the 49 states in the U.S. but for now, whether you choose a machine with aluminum, stainless steel or brass, taking precaution is key but knowing how your machine works and what it reacts well with will also keep you happy, healthy and caffeinated.

  • The ABCs of BPA

    Do you find yourself slowly backing away from your drip coffee maker or espresso machine because of all the hullabaloo about BPA (Biosphenol A) in plastics? As you have no doubt heard by now, there have been a wide range of reports regarding BPA -- an organic compound found in polycarbonate plastics -- examining how safe it is to have in containers from which we eat, drink, etc.

    A chemical that's been historically used to make a variety of items (from children's toys to food containers to water bottles to coffee makers), researchers have recently found that BPA emits toxins over time -- especially when it's heated. The long term affects of such leaching can cause health problems like cancer, reproductive abnormalities and neurological problems, just to name a (very nasty) few.

    But don't fret! Many coffee equipment manufacturers, such as Technivorm, AeroPress and Hourglass, have made a point to notify their customers or state on their products that they are BPA-free or that they've decided to switch to a safer alternative. As for Rancilio, Rocket, Delonghi, Saeco and Jura, we've searched high and low for some BPA-free facts, but have only received a verbal guarantee that they are BPA-free and FDA approved.

    Here  are a few tips on how you can make sure your java gear is safe and free of any dangerous toxins you don't want floating around in your cup o' joe:

    • Hard, Clear & Unbreakable: Plastics that are hard and clear are usually made from polycarbonate. Unless the manufacturer states that it is BPA-free, it's the BPA chemical additive that makes plastics clear instead of cloudy or opaque. Check on the manufacturing packaging for an explicit statement, otherwise skip it.
    • Too Hot to Handle: Heat accelerates the possibility of BPA leaching into beverages stored in plastics. Make sure your to go cups are stainless steel where your coffee touches it.
    • Unlucky #7: Take a look at your plastics and find the triangle stamp on or near the bottom of your product. Products consisting of polycarbonate should have the number 7 or sometimes the letters PC.

    However, not all plastics with the number 7 mean they contain BPA. The number 7 can also mean that that certain plastic is in the 'other' category. These plastics are usually soft and pliable, and are not made with BPA. Because some of their products contain components with the number 7 on them, Technivorm has tried to clarify this, also specifically listing which materials are utilized in those products:

    Although judged safe by most testing agencies and reports, a few misleading negative studies have identified plastics marked with recycling no. 7 as unsafe. Some -- but not all -- plastics with the recycling no. 7 are polycarbonate. -- Technivorm

    While a few of their components are a mixture of polycarbonate, they do meet FDA requirements. Technivorm hopes to get closer to being a totally BPA-free manufacturer by getting rid of the use of any polycarbonate in their current and future products.

    But if you're still worried about BPA in your coffee maker, just know that most coffee maker brew baskets are made of ABS plastic and polypropylene for their water tanks -- both of which are BPA-free plastics.

  • Health Watch: Aluminum Boilers & Alzheimers

    One of the more controversial topics within the discussion of Alzheimer's is whether or not aluminum has a causal relationship to the development of the disease. Since the first study in the 1960's that found higher concentrations of aluminum in the brains of people with Alzheimer's than in the brains of people without the disease, scientist have been exploring the influences and attempting to correlate the two, with contradictory results. To this day, there is not conclusive evidence one way or the other, and the medical community is still very uncertain about whether or not the aluminum found at the center of the plaques which they believe to be the cause of the disease are the cause of the plaques or simply a harmless secondary association.

    What does a discussion of neuroscience and disease have to do with coffee? Well, many people are concerned about the uncertain and contradictory information on this topic -- one that might be close to home to any of you with an espresso machine or stovetop espresso brewer with an aluminum boiler. Since aluminum is part of the earth's crust and used in tons of products, from toothpastes to antacids to cookware, it's difficult to avoid it altogether. But the amount of aluminum that might leach into your espresso during the brewing process is relatively minimal, if any, than you would intake normally, so it's likely not much of a concern.

    While the jury is still out on whether or not aluminum is a contributing factor to developing Alzheimer's, or just coincidentally happens to be along for the ride, you're probably pretty safe to continue enjoying your delicious espresso -- aluminum boiler or not.

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