Espresso machines are one of the most coveted kitchen appliances amongst coffee aficionados. They look nice in any kitchen, they bring joy (and much needed energy) in the morning, and can wow any guests with delicious lattés.
One could say an espresso machine is an investment – in the long run it will save you money if you buy specialty coffees every day on your way to the office. That is, of course, if your machine doesn’t break down prematurely.
To avoid expensive repair bills, properly cleaning your espresso machine is essential. Yes, this is probably a boring chore to most of you, but it’s part of being a barista. Here is what could happen if you ignore maintaining your machine:
- Degraded espresso shots
- Milk system blockages (or worse, finding chunks of stale milk in your coffee)
- Limescale build-up inside your machine’s components which could result in blockages and expensive repairs.
Thankfully, maintaining and cleaning your espresso machine is not as daunting as it seems.
Here is how, let’s get started!
Table of Contents
Recommended Daily Maintenance
Daily maintenance and cleaning should be incorporated into your coffee brewing process. Doing so will make a habit of cleaning your machine every time you pull an espresso shot and save you time.
Doing the following tasks should only add 1-2 minutes to your coffee preparation time, and will improve your coffee drink quality. So there is little excuse for ignoring them!
Rinse the Brew Group
Before pulling an espresso shot, rinse the brew head. To do so, simply run some water, as if you were to pull a shot, but without the portafilter. You will notice for the first few seconds that the water coming out will look brown. This is because coffee grounds tend to get stuck in the group head screen.
That brown water has stale coffee flavor, which could ruin your shot!
As a bonus, rinsing the brew group will help heat up your machine’s components, a must for the perfect espresso shot.
Purge the Steam Wand
Before and after making a drink, release some steam into a damp cloth, clean the wand, and then release steam again.
This only takes a few seconds but could save you from a very unsavory experience: finding old chunks of milk in your cappuccino. That would be enough to put someone off milk for life!
Clean the Portafilter
Before making coffee, rinse the portafilter using hot water to dislodge any coffee ground remains. Once squeaky clean, dry it with a clean towel and place into the brew group.
Once you’re done pulling your espresso shot, immediately remove the spent coffee puck from the portafilter using a knockbox. Rinse the portafilter with hot water ensuring you remove all coffee grounds, then dry with a soft cloth.
Clean the Outside of your Machine
Making espresso drinks can be a messy process. So it’s common to find splashes of coffee and milk on your machine’s panels.
Before you turn off your machine, take a damp soft cloth and clean any stains you see. These stains will not impact the performance of your machine, but if you ignore them, they could permanently stain your machine’s body!
Long Term Maintenance and Cleaning
There are other maintenance and cleaning tasks such as backflushing and descaling that take a bit more time to do. Thankfully, you only need to do these seldomly.
Washing the Water Tank
It’s very important that you thoroughly wash your machine’s water tank at least once a week. Remember that coffee is mostly water, so the water must be pristine! If you don’t clean the water tank regularly, your water tank’s surface will become slimy and stained.
Simply remove the water tank, give it a good wash with some dishwasher soap. Make sure you thoroughly rinse it to remove any soap. Nobody likes soapy flat whites.
Cleaning the Steam Wand
At the end of every day, check if the steam wand’s holes are clogged. If so, unclog using a pin or paper clip.
After removing any milk residue, soak the steam wand in water overnight.
Note that some home automatic espresso machines do not come with a steam wand. They come instead with built-in milk frothers that can be disassembled into various pieces for thorough cleaning. If you have such a machine, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Scrub and Clean the Brew Group Shower Screen
The brew group shower screen will often come in contact with coffee grounds. So it is important to the screen be scrubbed and cleaned (once a week for home espresso machines).
Unscrew the shower screen, and with a nylon brush dislodge any particles you see. Once done, soak it overnight in a solution of water and coffee cleaning liquid (or tablets). Once done, don’t forget to thoroughly rinse the shower screen before placing it back into the group head.
Backflushing Your Espresso Machine
As the name suggests, backflushing your espresso machine consists of reversing the water flow to clean the machine’s tank and other components.
This is achieved with a “blind” basket. These do not have any holes compared to regular portafilter baskets. The intricacies of backflushing your machine depends on the model you have, but typically this consists of running the “clean” or “backflush” cycle in your machine, after adding the blind basket and descaling powder or tablets.
Once done, clean the portafilter and put it back into the brew group. Pull an espresso shot but discard it. This is to ensure the innards of your machine have been fully rinsed of any potential descaler particles.
How often you need to do this depends on factors such as your local water hardness and how often you use your machine. Typically, home espresso machines need to be descaled every 2-3 months. Some fancier espresso machines even come with a touchscreen and tell you exactly when your baby needs some cleaning!
There you have it! Cleaning and maintaining your espresso machine is not that hard or time consuming after all.
Doing these tasks is well worth it because the result is superior-tasting coffee drinks, and a happy espresso machine that will last for years to come.