Preparing a delicious espresso coffee depends, largely, on the state of the machine. In general, the espresso machine only works as well as you treat it. This is an inevitable reality for all espresso coffee makers, so it is always important to conduct thorough cleaning and descaling of your equipment regularly.
As you use your espresso machine, the natural coffee flavor gradually transforms into a strange taste that no one likes. This happens either because the coffee oil residues inside the machine go rancid or because of the calcium deposits that hard water builds up.
If untreated, the latter issue can effectively damage the equipment. Ensuring that your machine is always clean is good for the quality of your espresso coffee, good for your clients (if you’re serving others) and, ultimately, good for your pocket.
Here’s how to clean an espresso machine step-by-step.
How to clean an espresso coffee maker?
This is usually divided in specific time frames. Daily, weekly and monthly routines are distinct and all should be performed.
Cleaning your espresso machine daily is important not only to ensure that it is always in shape for business, but also to avoid unwarranted build up of oil that, ultimately, makes your coffee taste bitter or even rancid. At the end of each day, simply rinse, brush and wipe all the parts of the machine that went into contact with coffee oil, milk and sediments: portafilter, gasket, basket, dispersion screen and so on. Backflush the machine with clean water.
Pick a day in each week to do some soaking. Soak the steam wand, the baskets, the portafilter and the dispersion screen in a solution of hot water and coffee detergent. Let it be for at least 30 minutes. Scrub, if necessary. Use a coffee detergent to backflush the machine as well. This should remove residues from the groupheads. You can use white vinegar, instead of a coffee detergent, but this will leave a smell that you will have to get rid of.
Descaling, or decalcifying, is an absolutely vital procedure when it comes to the health of a coffee machine. Recognizing the need to descale your coffee machine can reduce maintenance costs with hydraulic circuit repairs and can increase its useful life span. It is typically recommended to descale a busy espresso machine every three to six months, but this depends on the daily workflow and water hardness (quantity of minerals on the water). It isn’t always clear when an espresso machine has to be descaled. Some machines exhibit flashing light signals when they need to be cleaned, but some don’t. Fortunately, it is not difficult to identify the symptoms.
Coffee machines produce high-pressure which, inadvertently, causes excessive build up of limestone in certain areas. You can identify a limestone accumulation when the machine produces less pressure or when the water flow is weaker. This means that the system is clogged, thus, your espresso machine should undergo cleaning and descaling. When there are no signals or visible symptoms you can rely on the taste of the coffee to judge whether or not descaling should be performed.
There are two ways in which an espresso machine can be descaled:
Thermal shock – The clash between a high temperature and a low temperature can break the limestone plaques that accumulate inside your coffee maker. Fill the tank with hot water and let the machine work continuously for one full minute. After one minute has gone by, insert cold water into the reservoir. The thermal shock should break the limestone plates. Note that the temperature difference cannot be too large, otherwise, you risk damaging the components.
Decalcifying products – The simplest and most recommended method is to use a decalcifying solution. Either professional products or homemade acid solutions (based on vinegar or citric acid) can be employed as decalcifiers. The exact process differs between different coffee makers, but the general guidelines are usually the same:
Mix the decalcifying product with warm water in a container;
Pour the solution into the water reservoir of the coffee machine;
Place a container under the steam wand;
Turn on the machine and leave it working until the water reservoir is empty;
Repeat the procedure with clean water to remove all the odors and impurities that may affect the extraction of your coffee cup. When vinegar is used as the cleaning agent, you may have to repeat this final step so that the original taste of coffee is never compromised.
1 – Don’t ever use dish detergent to backflush, soak or decalcify your espresso machine. Any residue of dish detergent will attack and break down all the oil it gets in contact with. Stick to approved cleaning solutions and follow their instructions.
2 – It is important to point out that espresso machines are designed to heat water and water only. If you ever try to heat milk instead, you may irreversibly damage the apparatus. Milk particles strongly adhere to the heated resistance hereby creating a chemical reaction that erodes the heated components of the machine.
3 – The specific steps and methods for cleaning and descaling for each machine can vary. These instructions are usually described in the machine’s instruction manual and should be followed.
4 – Counter-intuitive as this may sound, the less you use your espresso coffee maker, the more frequently it needs to be washed. Given that a busier machine is flushed more often, oils, calcium and contaminants have less time to adhered to the inner components of the machine.