Breville Cafe Roma

Fixing a Breville Cafe Roma.

Read the article below or skip to the end and just get the solution.

Owning a Breville Cafe Roma is not without its trials and tribulations. That is not to say that they aren’t really good appliances, I bought one nearly three years ago and I have made an ocean of coffee with it since then. Good coffee? Yes. The machine is a manual, and once you get the knack you can produce coffee that rivals the output of the best trained baristas on the best machines. As far as the $169 I spent on the Cafe Roma goes, the machine was a grade a solid gold bargain.

There are drawbacks though, but, unusually there are ways to fix the drawbacks. The Breville Cafe Roma is prone to blocking up and when it it blocked it is useless. But, the blockages are easily fixed. Here is how.

The Cafe Roma is an expresso machine. It pushes very hot water, under pressure, through coffee and through a very fine filter. All well and good. The thing is that the pump on a Cafe Roma is not really that powerful (which is why the machine is so cheap) which means that the whole machine is built around a neat engineering cheat. Instead of a big expensive pump forcing steam and coffee through a fine filter, a small affordable pump forces steam and coffee through a fine filter and a tiny hole. If you look at the pod (the small cup like thing you put the coffee into in your Cafe Roma) you will see what I mean.

cafe roma 1
Picture: The Small hole at the base of the coffee pod.

cafe roma 2
Picture: The inside of the coffee pod.

As you can see, the pod has a false bottom, rather like a smugglers briefcase. The steam is forced through the coffee, through the filter and then through the extremely small hole at the bottom of the pod. The system works well. The machine makes good coffee. Sadly the space in the false bottom of the pod fills itself with tiny coffee granules and eventually blocks up. When this happens the machine’s pump sounds strained, and no coffee comes out. This is bad.

If you are like me, you went to a shop and were sold “coffee machine descaler” at about $20 per 100mls. This stuff is to descale coffee machines. It is the wrong thing, but, with a bit of luck, it might actually help with your problem. The thing is, “scale” in coffee machines is bluntly, crap in your local water that adheres to the inside of the pipes inside your machine and makes them narrower thereby reducing the pressure the machine is capable of putting out. If you actually have this problem AS WELL AS blockage of the pod, and use descaler, you can boost the pressure the pump is putting out, force coffee through the blocked pod... and get coffee. Problem postponed. Eventually the pod will block again, and the descaler won’t work. I should know. I’ve put litres of descaler through my Cafe Roma.

The problem is the little hole at the bottom of the false bottom of the pod. I eventually worked this out for myself, and came up with the wrong solution. What can I say? I was in need of coffee and not thinking rationally. I got my electric drill and drilled the hole in the bottom of the pod larger. At 1/32nd of an inch, I doubled the size of the hole. It worked. Coffee came out. Problem was, the coffee tasted rough and had fine coffee granules in it. But, it was coffee and it helped me think. Amazingly enough, Breville will sell you a new false bottom pod for your Breville Cafe Roma. In Australia they cost about $13 and according to the people at Breville, they “sell a few of them” and “they are in demand”... I am not surprised. Do tell. The whole machine is, after all, built around the idea that the coffee pods are sure to block up. Anyway, once my brain started working and I rang Breville I found that they were all out of pods, for the next several months. I wasn’t happy, but my brain was working.

cafe roma 3
Picture: The new larger hole. This technique only half worked.

The false bottom was blocked. I needed to dissolve the fine coffee crap in the false bottom of the pod. I talked this over with my SO. When I got up the next morning I found the coffee pod soaking in nail polish remover. This is not recommended. Not only does it stink, it also does not work. I reasoned... coffee is acidic. One should try something strongly alkaline. Hmm.
“Caustic Soda” (also known as Lye) is a strong alkaline. The next afternoon the blockage was dissolved. In a strong mixture of Caustic Soda. The machine had been blocked, now it worked like new. It had not been descaled but it now worked. The answer was and is, Caustic Soda.

When you are using Caustic Soda always use thick rubber gloves. Keep all exposed skin covered. Wear proper eye protection. Caustic soda can easily give you a very bad acid like burn. Always read the label. Keep the stuff away from children and pets. Use a bowl or a deep china dish. Never use hot water. Never use galvanised utensils. Ignore these safety instructions (and any on the package) at your own peril. Be very careful. This stuff is dangerous. Please don't try to use me as a reference if you are planning on trying to win a Darwin Award.

Here is how.
Get a small china bowl. Add a tablespoon full of caustic soda to half a cup of cold water. Use a plastic utensil to stir it to dissolve the granules. Carefully add the coffee pod so that the false bottom is submerged in the mixture. Leave overnight or for about eight hours. You will now notice that the water/caustic soda mixture has turned brown. (If your pod was blocked that is) Carefully take the pod out and rinse it in a large quantity of cold water, being careful not to splash yourself, or your dishes, or the children or pets. Put the remaining mixture of water/caustic soda down the drain. It is a drain cleaner, so it will do the pipes good. Next,

Run two full tanks of water through the newly cleaned pod. Then, make coffee. This is very important. Caustic soda is a drain cleaner and will not do the pipes inside you any good at all.

There you go, all done.

If all this didn't work you might want to talk to Breville.