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Espresso Machine and Grinder Maintenance Recommendations

How do I take care of my espresso machine and grinder?

If you want your espresso machine to work properly for a long time, you are going to have to take care of them. preventative maintenance is actually the easiest part of the entire espresso making process. To start off, we will list the common tools that you will need for traditional espresso machines only. Please note that the guidelines offered in this article should always be considered supplemental to your manufacturer-issued user manual.

 

Required Maintenance Supplies

Any damp, lint-free cloth

Group Head Cleaning Brush

Cleaning powder /liquid  for machines with 3-Way Solenoid

Cleaning powder for machines without 3-Way Solenoid

Blank Portafilter Basket for machine with 3-way solenoid valve

Descaling Chemical NEVER USE VINEGAR

Properly treated water is recommended for any machine ( preferable reverse osmosis treated water )

 

Daily Cleaning

There are some simple steps you should follow after you are done brewing espresso for any extended period of time and immediately after frothing milk. Once you have brewed all the shots of espresso you intend to make in one setting, you should perform two quick cleaning tasks. First, "brew" water through an empty portafilter to help remove ground coffee from the shower screen and lessen the amount of coffee oil that adheres to the brew group, portafilter and basket. Performing this simple step requires only a few seconds but prevents coffee oils from literally baking onto the brew group and shower screen and extends the life of the brew group gasket. If you have just frothed or steamed milk for a latte or cappuccino, as soon as you pull the pitcher away from the machine, you must immediately crack open the steam valve briefly to blast any residual milk from the inside of the steam pipe. If you do not do this, the steam wand will eventually clog, and it is possible for milk to find its way to the boiler on many household espresso machines. You really don't want that last part to happen. Also, immediately after blasting out steam, you should take your damp cloth and wipe the dried milk off the outside of the wand. Use a suitably thick cloth to protect your hand from the burning hot wand.. Additionally, on most single boiler (dual-purpose) home espresso machines, you must also refill the boiler immediately after steaming. This is necessary to help prevent damage to the heating element.

 

Backflushing and Alternatives

If your espresso machine has a 3-Way Solenoid valve, you should backflush the brew group to clean the inner workings of built-up coffee oils. The 3-Way Solenoid opens its boiler-side port , when the brew switch is activated to allow water to move to the brew group and ground coffee . When the brew switch is turned off, the solenoid closes the boiler-side port and opens a pressure-relief port  to dump excess water pressure into your machine's drip tray. Backflushing is the process of "brewing" into a closed portafilter basket with about one half teaspoon of detergent . With the portafilter locked into the group, press the coffee brew switch and allow it to run for up to 5 seconds (note some machines have an automatic cleaning program  for this purpose) before shutting off the brewing process. As pressure builds, the detergent will swirl around the brew group and shower screen. When the switch is turned off, detergent-laden water will exit out of the solenoid into your drip tray. Leave the brew switch off for about 10 seconds, and repeat the process until clear and clean water runs into the drip tray. Espresso cafes that brew hundreds of shots need backflush daily . The typical 1 to 3 drinks-a-day home barista needs only to backflush with detergent every 2 to 3 weeks. If your espresso machine does not have a 3-Way Solenoid valve, attempting to backflush could damage the components, so you must go about cleaning the brew group in another way.

 

Descaling

The water you brew your espresso with, even when properly treated, will still include some minerals. Over time, these minerals will coat the metal parts inside your espresso machine, beginning with the heating element and including the steam valve. If you notice that your espresso machine takes considerably longer to heat up or you experience steam wand or brew group leakage, descaling should be your first troubleshooting step. To remove the minerals, you will have to use a descaling solution, which is typically made from citric and other acids. Do not use vinegar, and always use NSF-certified chemicals for food safety. The descaling process for single (dual-purpose) or double boiler espresso machines is simple, but it is much more complicated for Heat Exchanger espresso machines, which typically must be disassembled. For this reason, we strongly recommend using properly treated water (r.o) to minimize the frequency of descaling procedures. Follow the mixing instructions for whichever chemical is used and pour the solution into your water tank. Follow the manufacturer directions.

 

Periodic Maintenance

The most commonly changed gasket is the brew group gasket. This is the heavy rubber circle that is embedded in your espresso machine's brew group, and it circumscribes the shower screen. As with all rubber, it gets hard and eventually dries out and cracks when exposed to high pressure and temperature, both of which are plentiful in an espresso machine. Depending on how long you keep your espresso machine turned on throughout the day, you may replace this gasket twice a year or once every 2 years. If your machine leaks water down the outside of the portafilter when brewing, it's time to change the gasket. The other gaskets you may need to change are located in the steam valve. There is usually a heavy rubber gasket that seals off the steam pipe and one or more o-ring gaskets on the shaft of the steam tap. These should last a lot longer than the brew group gasket, but if you do not descale regularly, or if you crank down too hard all the time to close the steam valve, they will wear out more quickly.

 

Grinder

Espresso grinder maintenance is without question the most overlooked aspect of equipment care. There is typically no harm in doing nothing, but if you want the grinder to stay in like-new condition, follow these steps. Remove the bean hopper every so often (or whenever you notice beans sticking to the walls and not falling into the grinding chamber) and clean with warm soapy water. Always allow time for the hopper to dry completely before reattaching. Remove the upper grinding burr and vacuum out loose particles. Use a completely dry, stiff nylon brush (such as your brew group brush) to knock off stubborn coffee grounds. Vacuum the discharge chute and any loose grounds you notice between the grinding chamber and the outside case. Reassemble your grinder and recalibrate if necessary. 

 

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