Frozen water vs. Espresso machine

In our coffee equipment service department we all too often take in equipment for repair that has been subject to improper storage.  This frequently includes espresso machines and coffee brewers that were not drained of water properly and were stored in a non-heated warehouse during our cold winter months.  We recently took in a La Marzocco FB/70 3 group espresso machine that was stored as such.  The FB/70 is the ‘fancy’ body style of the ever popular Linea.

All La Marzocco’s have at least two boiler tanks in them.  One of them is responsible for an auxiliary hot water faucet and for steam wand operations.  The other is dedicated to heat water exclusively for espresso preparation.  The boiler tank used for espresso preparation is completely filled with water and has no air gaps.   The water in the boiler tanks was not drained in this machine and it was put into storage last winter full of water where air temperatures in the storage area dropped below freezing.   As most of us learned early on, water expands when it freezes.   When the water in the dedicated espresso boiler tank of this particular machine froze, the expanding ice forced itself out of the hole were the center group head was bolted onto the tank.  A ‘group’ on an espresso machine in part consists of the arm that extends out from the boiler tank.  This arm, or grouphead, is where hot water passes through to brew the espresso through a portafilter assembly.  The portafilter is the espresso brewing basket assembly with a handle that a barista uses to lock into the group head so pressurized, heated water can pass through the ground coffee to produce espresso.  The boiler tanks are made of thick stainless steel making us even more aware of the force ice has as it expands.  The monetary damage to this machine caused by the freezing water was over $2000.  We have seen ice damage occur in the full hydraulic system of coffee and espresso machines.  This includes solenoid valves, flowmeters, and the copper tubing responsible for moving water throughout the machine.

The first photo shows some of the damage that occurred.  The perspective may be somewhat difficult to visualize, but the rounded, silver cast metal piece is supposed to be bolted cleanly onto the curve of the cylindrical  tank.  On the lower left of this same picture, the torn stainless steel is where ice forced itself through.  The fourth picture shows the inside of the finished, rebuilt machine with the groupheads properly installed.

We had the opportunity to buy this machine for ourselves at a salvage price.  Our choice was to take it apart and salvage parts off of it, or try to return it back to service.  Since to do full barista training in our shop, we chose to return it back to service as an additional barista training machine. The expense of replacing the destroyed boiler tank did not make sense so we chose to turn what was a 3 group machine into an extra wide 2 group.  We took the tank to Duff’s Welding and Repair in Bozeman who expertly welded a heavy stainless steel patch over the affected grouphead hole.  This hole happened to be in middle of the tank so we still had two functioning groupheads on each end of the tank.  While we had the entire machine disassembled we sent many of the body parts over to Midwest Welding and Machine for some nice new powder coating to add some fresh color.  We rebuilt everything from top to bottom including all new wiring and adding an electronic PID temperature controller.  Electronic PID temperature controllers are standard on all La Marzocco’s now, but we like to retrofit older models with them when we have the chance.   Since this was intended to be a training machine, we chose to put plexiglass on the sides so our barista students had opportunity to see what the inside looks like with a quick glance.  We built a custom bracket to hold the electronic control ‘brain’ panel which faces out so it can be seen through the plexiglass side.  We’re still working on getting better internal LED lights installed but put a temporary set it in to add some extra flair.

We love to work on La Marzocco’s.  La Marzocco has extremely solid support of not only their new machines, but support for machines that go many generations back.  We recently rebuilt several Linea’s that were close to 30 years old.  With a little bit of time spent on them, they can be returned to their former glory.

We sell and service espresso and coffee equipment throughout Montana as well as areas surrounding SW Montana.  Please see our Ghost Town Services page for more information.