Chances are you regularly clean your countertops, appliances and dishes. Most people regularly clean the exterior and drip trays of their espresso machines. To keep your machine in working order and producing the best tasting coffee, however, you should also clean the inner mechanisms of the machine.
Why Cleaning Your Machine is so Important
During the process of preparing your espresso shot, your machine forces heated water through your coffee to extract the oils that make the coffee so incredibly tasty. Unfortunately those same oils are also incredibly sticky. As the layers of oils build up in and around the portafilter and brewing group, they begin to stale and every time you brew a new shot of espresso stale oil residue is being deposited into your drink.
No matter how high the quality of your coffee is, the dried residues will make for a bitter, stale or burnt taste. Depending on how often you use your espresso machine, you can extend the life of your machine and improve the taste of your espresso with regular cleanings.
Thorough, regular cleaning of your machine also allows you to examine the working parts for defects of cracks. These can result in more that an inconvenient water leak on your counter. The warm enclosed systems that run the machine can also create the ideal environment for mold or other bacteria.
Perhaps most important to note is that a dirty machine does not function properly. If the steam wand is dirty and malfunctioning, or if the water line pressure is insufficient, the machine may be unable to attain a temperature of 140 degrees. Anything under that is insufficient for killing bacteria, meaning those leftover oils are not only stale, they will begin to turn rancid. Essentially you may be getting a nice case of food poisoning with your shot of ill-tasting espresso.
Below are just a few steps for daily cleaning as maintenance. Of course, if you rarely use your machine, or only use it once per day you can perform these simple steps on a less regular basis.
- Purge steam wand,
- Wipe down portafilter and group
- Run a few ounces through the group
Whenever your machine experiences heavy usage or after every 20-30 shots, you’ll want to “backflush” the machine and soak the steam wand in detergent for approximately 15 minutes. The wand should be purged when it is replaced. Before you backflush the machine, however, you’ll need to check the manufacturer’s manual to avoid any damage to the unit.
If you aren’t using your machine excessively you can probably get away with performing a detergent cleaning and backflush once every three weeks or every month, provided you’ve performed the regular cleaning outlined above.
You’ll need to use a detergent specially designed for espresso machines to backflush and to soak your portafilters and baskets in. Remember to scrub and rinse them before replacing them.
Even filtered water leaves a scale of calcium behind, so you’ll want to use a descaler at least once a year. Calcium deposits can affect the taste of your espresso but more importantly, they cause damage to your machine over periods of time.
Certainly, espresso machines aren’t something you can pick up for $20-30, so chances are if you own one, you’re probably a bit of a coffee-snob. Regular or even daily cleaning can help protect your investment. Just as importantly, the taste for high-quality coffee that led you to purchase the machine in the first place won’t be disappointed by poor-quality coffee contaminated by calcium and stale oils.