Cleaning and maintaining your coffee machine
Working with a clean coffee machine will not only make your machine look nice but it will also make a difference in the taste of your coffee. Unless you are using the purest water melted from an Icelandic iceberg and filtered to remove all impurities, you are going to have things in your water that are going to work against your machine.
If you are like the rest of us, you are going to be using tap water to fill your machine or at best, filtered tap water. Even water that has been, filtered is still going to contain trances of chemicals and elements that will build up inside the machine over time.
This is why you are going to have to put together some kind of cleaning regime for your machine.
A good way to break it down into different cleaning routines.
- Cleaning after every coffee you make
- Weekly coffee machine clean
- Monthly coffee machine clean
- Yearly coffee machine clean/service
Cleaning after every coffee you make
If you have a pod machine such as a Nespresso, this article is not for you. I will be making a separate article on cleaning and maintaining pod machines. For all machines that don’t use a pod, you should do a rise of the group head as used coffee can get stuck in there. After you pour your shot, empty the portafilter and rinse it using water from the machine. Do this by pumping some water. With an empty portafilter, mount it on the machine and unmount it a couple of times to loosen any ground that may still be stuck in the group head.
If you frothed any milk, you need to make sure that you clear the frothing wand of any milk. Do this by setting your machine to pump water through the steam wand. You can normally do this setting the machine to pour a shot and loosening the steam knob open. When you get uninterrupted, clear water coming out of the wand you can tighten the steam knob and turn off the pump. This process clears any milk that may still be in the wand.
Now make sure to wipe down the machine and clear any lose grounds on the machine. Finally, you may want to empty the water drip tray although this may be done as it gets full but you should not leave it for more than a day.
On a weekly basis, you should give the machine a proper wiped down. It’s also a good time to take the drip tray and give it a proper wipe. Spent coffee and water will eventually bind to the drip tray so it should be cleaned at least weekly to prevent it from doing so and smelling. If your water tank is removable, now is the time to remove it and give it a good rinse. If you have a knock box, now is a great time to empty it. Old used coffee can not only smell but can also develop bacteria and mould which can be a health hazard. Contrary to popular belief, you should not put the used coffee on your plants. In medium to large quantities, there is a good chance it will hurt your plants instead of helping. If you do want to use old coffee on your plants make sure it is broken down in a compost bin first.
This is where you do your biggest clean of the machine. For this, you will be needing some special cleaner designed for coffee machines. You are going to be backflushing your machine. Before you get started make sure that backflushing will not hurt your machine. Check the instruction on your machine before proceeding. For this you will need a blind filter. This is a special basket that you use with your portafilter. The only difference is in this basket there are not holes for the water to pass through. This forces the water to flush back into the boiler. When we do this with the cleaning agent it removes grind and coffee muck from the inside of the machine’s components. Instructions vary from machine to machine and also for each cleaning product but essentially, you backflush the machine about 5-6 times and the perform a really good rinse by doing all over again but with no cleaning product until the water comes out clear again with no frothing. The cleaning products available today are amazing and do a fantastic job at cleaning not just the machine, but also the portafilter and baskets and anything else that is made of stainless steel. At this point you should also clean the group head of the machine using a brush designed for cleaning coffee machines. If you are stuck without one of these you can use a toothbrush. Make sure you also clean the shower screen to loosen any coffee grounds in the shower screen.
This part of the cleaning process may be something you want to outsource to a coffee machine expert but if you are not afraid to get your hands dirty, then it is not too hard to follow.
Descaling your machine. This removes the build-up of chemicals like calcium inside the machine. Specially inside the boiler. How much of a problem this is for you, will depend on where you live and the quality of your tap water. Ideally, you want to do this regardless of the water you use in your machine. Doing this is simple. You will use one of many available products that you mix into the water tank and run the machine as specified in the instructions of your cleaning product.
This is also a good time to replace the shower screen of your machine as well as the group head rubber rings. Over the year, all the parts of the machine will be subject to heat and pressure. Because of this, most rubber seals, gaskets and o-rings tend to lose some of their softness and spring so replacing these will also make your machine “feel” nicer.
As part of this, you should include the normal procedure for a monthly clean and you will ensure that you extend the life of your coffee machine to its maximum. So now that you have a shiny and clean machine go make some coffee!