3 Signs that it’s Time to Clean your Espresso Machine (and why it’s important to do so!)
There are many variables involved in creating the perfect shot of espresso, including coffee quality, water quality and equipment. Yet, something that’s often overlooked is the cleanliness factor. Here are 3 signs to watch out for that may indicate your machine is less clean than optimal:
- Your espresso is taking too long to extract
Your espresso inexplicably starts to get a funky taste
- You have your grind setting and coffee dosing all correct, but you are still getting a slow extraction.
Is your usual, go-to cup of coffee suddenly tasting off or even burnt?
- Your machine begins working inconsistently
Are you starting to get inconsistent results from your machine? Or maybe it’s even starting to make some funny noises during operation?
If you are experiencing any of these issues while brewing your espresso, a dirty machine may be the culprit!
Have you ever wondered what creates the rich, delicious crema on top of your espresso? Crema is a product of essential oils contained within the coffee bean. While these oils obviously have some great results on our espresso, they can unfortunately take a toll on our machines.
Overtime, coffee bean essential oils leave remnants behind on a machine’s water screen, filter basket and portafilter. These remnants will eventually create a film that plugs up the filter basket holes and leaves gunk inside the portafilter spout. If these oil remnants are left on your equipment, it won’t be too long before they go rancid and start to impact the flavor of your espresso.
While, great flavor is certainly important, another reason to practice proper maintenance is that it will help extend the life of your machine. Since an espresso machine is typically a big investment, taking the right steps to maintain it will further ensure that you will be enjoying good espresso into the future.
So, you have determined that your espresso machine is in need of some cleaning and maintenance, but where do you start? Follow our guide below and you’ll have your machine brewing optimally again in no time.
- Espresso Machine Cleaner (backflush detergent like Cafiza, PuroCaf or JoeGlo)
- Blank, blind or backflush portafilter basket
- A clean dish towel or rag
- A Scotch-Brite pad
- Metal or glass bowl deep enough to soak the portafilter in
Other optional materials:
- Group brush
- Steam wand brush
- Dairy cleanser
1. Flush and Scrub
This flushing sequence releases pressure that will force water and detergent through the dispersion screen and three-way valve. Consequently, essential oil and coffee grind residue will be washed away, which will help you machine to function optimally.
(Note: If your machine has a vibration pump with an overpressure valve, make sure you turn the pump off if the overpressure valve releases)
Begin by wiping the residue from your shower screen, and collecting your portafilter, backflush basket and flushing detergent. Make sure you thoroughly read the instructions on your specific detergent. Next, put the blind filter basket into your portafilter and add the appropriate amount of detergent per instructions.
Following your specific detergent instructions again, run the recommended flush sequence. For instance, JoeGlo detergent instructs you to run the pump 5 times in 15 second intervals. Lock your portafilter into place and start the pump following the appropriate sequence. When you turn off the pump, a path from the brew group to the drip tray is opened up and you will be able to hear the water as it flushes.
After you finish this flushing cycle with the detergent, loosen the portafilter and hold it in place against the brew head and engage the pump. Let the filter basket fill up will water until it overflows, then wiggle the portafilter back and forth. This helps to further clean residue from the group head gasket. Be very careful when doing this step because hot water will splash around!
If you are using a group brush, scrub the portafilter gasket, the shower screen edges and the group head threads that hold the portafilter (You can also use a dish towel). Once you have finished scrubbing, rinse the group head with water and make sure to wash away any residual detergent.
Next you will want to thoroughly rinse any residual detergent out the blank basket and drip tray. Once this is done, put the drip tray and portafilter back into the machine and redo the backflushing process using clean water to further wash out any remaining detergent from the brew group. Refer back to your detergent instructions to know how many times to rinse with clean water.
2. Clean the Steam Wand
Dampen a clean dish towel with clean water and wipe down the outside of the steam wand. If you are using a steam wand brush you can scrub the inside of the wand, although if you are properly cleaning your wand after each use this shouldn’t be necessary. After cleaning, make sure you purge the steam wand by opening the steam valve and venting it into a container for about 30 seconds.
3. Basket and Portafilter
First, wipe off the basket with a clean cloth and remove any residue. Then disassemble your portafilter and thoroughly scrub each part with your Scotch-Brite pad. Next, take your large container and fill it with enough water to cover the basket and portafilter. Add some cleaning detergent to the water, make sure it dissolves and then submerge the portafilter and basket. Let these parts soak for about 30 minutes, then remove and rinse them with clean water and dry with a rag.
(Note: It’s best to not let the rubber and plastic on the portafilter handleto come in contact with the cleanser as it could become damaged over time)
4. Clean the Machine’s Exterior
Now, that the insides of your espresso machine are all clean, wipe down the outside of the machine with a clean rag to remove any dirt and grime. Before you start brewing espresso again, it’s important to pull a “throw away” or “seasoning” shot. This is something you will want to do after every chemical clean just to ensure that all residues are flushed.
(Note: If your machine has a water reservoir, make sure you are cleaning it on a regular basis and replenishing it with fresh water at least every other day! )
How Often Should You Clean Your Machine?
Regardless of what type or brand of espresso machine you own, it’s important to develop a regular cleaning routine in order to ensure proper maintenance and that you are getting the very best espresso. Now, you don’t want to wait until your coffee beverage tastes foul before you get your scrub brush out, but just how often should you be performing different cleaning cycles?
After every use:
- Purge your steam wand
This prevents milk from being sucked back into the boiler.
1x per Hour (Commercial Use):
- Clean water backflush
- Rinse the dispersion screen
- Quick scrub of the portafilter & Basket
Did you know that the essential oils in coffee start to go rancid after just 45 minutes? If you have an espresso machine that is used throughout the day in a coffee shop or office setting, you’ll definitely want to perform a quick clean cycle once per hour to keep those oils from building up and souring your coffee.
1x per Day
- Backflush and rinse the machine with clean water
- Scrub the dispersion screen and gasket
- Soak steam wand in water & detergent, then wipe and purge.
1x per Week
- Backflush with detergent following the proper instructions. With an e61 Group machine, only do this once a month.
- Soak and scrub the portafilter, basket, dispersion plate and any screws holding the shower screen
1x per Month
- Check your water filtration system to make sure it’s working properly
Some inline filtration systems with cartridges are unable to handle high volume brewing, if your cartridges aren’t working properly they could add unwanted chemicals and calcium deposits to your machine.
1 to 2x per Year
- Descale your machine. Prevent limescale buildup in the first place by always using soft water less than 50ppm. If you do this descaling won’t be necessary or only rarely necessary.
Regardless of which water filtration system you use, calcium may still find its way into your boiler tank. Overtime, this calcium can build up and negatively affect your espresso flavor as well as cause damage to your machine.