On the downside, coffee’s potent caffeine can lead to dehydration, jitters and poor concentration. Some studies show increased coffee consumption is associated with high cholesterol, rapid heartbeat and some forms of cancer. To be certain, it’s addictive, and many of us just refuse to go without.
But there’s a new danger that could be lurking in that steaming cup. A recent investigation in Europe revealed that espresso machines can release a high level of toxins, lead in particular, into coffee. Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment found this happens for days after an espresso dispensing machine is cleaned.
Consuming too much lead can result in a long list of health issues including poor muscle coordination, fatigue, stomach discomfort and loss of appetite. Persistent consumption can cause lead poisoning and related nerve damage, possible high blood pressure, hearing and vision impairment and reproductive problems. In other words, a host of possible health issues.
When the Federal Institute of Risk Assessment tested espresso machines they found that two-thirds were discharging high amounts of lead after being cleaned for limescale. Limescale is a residue left in kettles, pipes and hot water boilers that looks like white chalk. The concentration of lead in the water passing through the espresso machines after they were cleaned of limescale was one hundred times higher than the limits recommended by the European Union. A team tested machines a few days after they had been cleaned and discovered that lead levels were in many cases up to five times higher than the suggested limit.
Chemical detergents for cleaning espresso machines and standard coffee kettles come in different forms, such as powder and tablets. The cleaning agents are designed to get rid of residues and oils in the machine. Some can even prevent further scale build-up. The problem is that the limescale that accumulates on high-end espresso machines contains mainly calcium carbonate, which requires cleaning agents that clear calcium deposits. These types of agents come into contact with parts of the machine that release lead.
When investigators looked at espresso machines for home use as opposed to cafes, they discovered only small traces of the toxin. They do recommend that if you are cleaning your own espresso machine that you avoid chemical agents.
Household cleaning experts suggest one of the safest ways to remove scales from your espresso machine or standard kettle is with vinegar and lemon. The acid in lemon helps break through the crusty scales and the vinegar is known for cutting through oil and grease.
Baristas know all too well how important a good cleaning is. When espresso machines go too long without a thorough cleaning, blockages and build-ups can occur, restricting water flow. Oils can also build up, having a negative impact on the taste of your drink.
If you’re concerned about toxins from machines at your local cafe, Germany’s Federal Institute of Risk Assessment suggests switching back and forth between an espresso one day and a tea the next. When it comes to your home espresso machine, use a natural vinegar and lemon juice cleaning just to be on the safe side.