Seeking to enjoy drinks of the highest quality, coffee connoisseurs are always keen to delve deeper into the subtleties of coffee brewing. More often than not, their passion ultimately results in them deciding to try and assume the role of a true barista by purchasing an espresso machine for their home. If you’re still reading, you’re probably one of these people.
If we had to guess, we’d say you have more than likely read through a number of articles and watched numerous videos on how to brew delicious coffee. You’re being careful when choosing which coffee beans you’re going to purchase, you’re trying to tamp your coffee properly, you’re watching water temperature and dispensing time like a hawk and you’re only satisfied when your crema is adorned with some beautiful tiger stripes…
What do delicious coffee and proper maintenance of a coffee machine have in common? Well, according to specialists engaged in barista training, cleanliness of a coffee machine is related directly to the flavour of the resulting brew: you can invest in coffee beans of the highest quality and be a true virtuoso of coffee brewing in general, but if there’s some old coffee residue milling around inside your machine, the quality and taste of your drinks are bound to suffer. Not only will your coffee have an unpleasant, “unclean” aftertaste, but the impurities inside the appliance will prevent coffee from being extracted properly and will likely undermine all of your tireless brewing efforts.
So, as you can probably see already, a well-maintained, clean machine is one of the crucial conditions for a cup of delicious, masterfully brewed coffee. We can put you at ease though: cleaning an espresso machine is actually very simple. All you have to do is remember to perform certain procedures regularly. What are those procedures, you wonder? Read on to find out!
Cleaning an Espresso Machine
Just like all other coffee brewing devices, espresso machines must be cleaned regularly. You’ll have to perform some procedures every day, but a frequency of once a week or even once a month will be enough for others. Let’s look at these procedures in more detail.
Recommended Daily Maintenance
Rinse the brew group. Before and after brewing a serving of espresso, rinse the brew group. All you have to do is dispense some water without putting the portafilter on. This will successfully wash away any used grounds stuck onto the mesh inside the brew group. Hot water will also warm up the group and keep your coffee from getting more acidic as it brews.
Don’t leave used coffee grounds in the portafilter. After each serving, shake the used grounds out of the portafilter and clean it with a dry paper towel or cloth. The longer the grounds stay inside the portafilter, the harder it is to get every bit of them out. Don’t forget that used grounds are full of water too, which turns them into an excellent breeding ground for bacteria.
Clean the tamper. If your coffee machine boasts a built-in tamper, make sure that there are no grounds in it left over from the last time you tamped coffee before preparing another serving. You should only tamp a new batch of coffee if you’re absolutely sure that there’s nothing stuck to the tamper and its surface is even and dry. If you disregard any of these details, you’re guaranteed to feel it in the resulting cup.
Maintain the steam wand. Before you start frothing milk, release some steam into a cloth. This will help you get rid of any milk residue or condensation hidden inside the wand. Once you’re finished frothing, clean the wand with a damp cloth and release some steam once again. When you’re done brewing coffee for the day, immerse the wand in a milk frothing jug filled with water and leave it to soak overnight. You’ll prevent milk and other impurities from sticking to the wand in that way. To make these impurities easier to remove, use a special milk system cleaner.
Make sure that the outside of your machine looks clean too. The brewing process might result in some splashes landing on the body or grate of your appliance. We recommend cleaning these splashes off right away — once they dry out, it’ll be a lot harder to do. Sure, this won’t affect the flavour of your coffee, but a clean coffee machine is synonymous with proper respect paid to the brewing process and the drink itself.
Use several different cloths. We suggest keeping a couple of different cloths next to your coffee machine. Use one of them when cleaning the body, grate and working area around the appliance, and reserve the other one (this one must be damp, by the way) for cleaning the steam wand. It’s a good idea to wash the second cloth as soon as you’re finished brewing milk-based drinks for the day. When cleaning the portafilter, use a paper towel or napkin to get rid of both coffee grounds and accumulated oils.
Recommended Weekly/Monthly Maintenance
Depending on how often you brew coffee, you should clean your machine more thoroughly once a week or at the very least once a month. Professional baristas working in cafés do that every day, but you’re highly unlikely to brew so much coffee at home as to require maintenance that frequent.
Backflush procedure (used to clean the brew group)
- Remove the portafilter and clean the inner edges of the brew group with a brush. If you’re surprised by the amount of grounds you find in there, take it as a sign that you need to perform this procedure more often.
- Replace the mesh inside the portafilter with a so-called “blind” filter with no holes in it (you’ll find it in the full set of your coffee machine).
- Put a special cleaning tablet into the blind filter.
- Run the backflush program. If there’s no such program in your machine, you’ll have to do it manually. Start dispensing water and keep doing that for 10 seconds. Then stop and wait for another 10 seconds. Repeat 5–10 times.
- Remove the portafilter and rinse the brew group by simply releasing some water. You can rinse the portafilter under the same water too.
- Put the portafilter back into the group (with no cleaning tablet this time around). Repeat the rinsing and pausing cycle for 5 more times to ensure proper hygiene.
- Once the system’s been rinsed, brew a serving of espresso, but make sure to pour it out instead of drinking it. This guarantees that the next serving you brew will be absolutely safe (and perfectly delicious) to consume.
Thoroughly clean the portafilter and meshes. Pour warm water into a container and dissolve a cleaning tablet in it. Immerse the portafilter meshes and the portafilter itself (up to the handle) in this liquid. Leave them to soak for 15–30 minutes. Afterwards, scrub the portafilter and the meshes with a sponge, then rinse them thoroughly.
Clean the brew group mesh. As water travels towards your coffee, carefully ground and tamped, it has to soak through the brew group mesh. If this mesh is dirty, old coffee residue is guaranteed to find its way into the drink you’re brewing, resulting in an unpleasant, “unclean” aftertaste. If coffee oils clog the mesh, this ruins the extraction process, making it inconsistent and once again negatively affecting the taste of your coffee. To avoid this, unscrew the mesh once a month, clean it thoroughly with a brush, then soak the mesh overnight in some warm water with a cleaning tablet dissolved in it.
Clean the steam wand. Use a thin metal instrument of some sort (like a paper clip or a safety pin) to clean the holes of the steam wand. If you soak the wand in some water every night, you’ll only have to do this on rare occasions.
Water and Limescale
While roasters are bending over backwards to discover the best way to help you obtain a perfectly buttery coffee texture, their efforts are easily nullified by something as simple as hard water. By clogging the machine’s internal system, it can end up seriously damaging both your coffee machine and the flavour of the drinks it brews. To avoid beverages with a body so dry that it makes your whole mouth shrivel, we recommend buying an original water filter or using filtered, soft water.
When it comes to coffee machines, limescale is one of their arch-enemies — which is why you’re guaranteed to find the instructions on how to perform the descaling program in the user manual of every espresso machine out there. Because descaling procedures of different models often differ from one another, we suggest you read these instructions carefully. It’s best to use a special coffee machine descaler when performing this procedure.
If proper descaling isn’t ensured, a thick layer of limescale ultimately covers the inside of the appliance — and by that point, not even the strongest descalers or the most advanced descaling programs can help. That’s why taking some time to prevent limescale from accumulating on the inner surfaces of your coffee machine is definitely worth it.
As you can see, cleaning an espresso machine is actually quite easy and not time-consuming at all! A few minutes spent cleaning your appliance every day and some more time dedicated to thorough maintenance once a month will be enough to markedly improve the quality and flavour of the coffee you brew. A well-maintained coffee machine will also serve you a lot longer. You’re welcome to visit the Coffee Friend’s online store: in addition to delicious coffee, we have excellent coffee machine maintenance products on offer!