It never fails: Whenever we service a commercial espresso machine and find it in generally good repair, we can tell that it came from a first-class establishment.
There’s very little more telling than that.
The proper maintenance of your commercial espresso equipment results in cost savings, for sure: if a machine has been well-maintained on site, we generally don’t see it as often either. But the more immediate reason to properly clean and maintain your machines comes down to taste.
You’re aware that espresso machines fill up quickly with resins from the oil in your coffee – the same oil that creates the wonderful flavors you sell. You’re aware that, if allowed to accumulate on critical parts such as shower screens and group heads, these oils will most certainly turn your espresso products bitter. You may not be fully aware that these oils can turn rancid in as little as 45 minutes.
Common cleaning procedures include:
Scrub, rinse, wipe. The key here is to be detail-oriented. Use coffee detergent and small scrubbing pads for cleaning the group heads. Use clean water to rinse the filter baskets and shower screens. Use separate towels to wipe each part to eliminate the possibility of cross contamination.
Don’t let any detergent come into contact with any internal part of the espresso machine. This can get into the espresso and affect the taste.
Soaking. The grouphead parts (filters, baskets and shower screens) as well as the steam wand should be soaked in a solution of coffee detergent and hot water, scrubbed and wiped. This should be done at least twice a week, and ideally each night after closing.
Backflushing. This loosens and eliminates contaminants from the lines where water is dispensed and from the brewing valves. Backflushing is only appropriate for machines with three-way valves. You should backflush daily (at least) with clean water, and weekly with coffee detergent.
Purging. Very important: after every cup, blow the remaining water and milk out of the steam wand. Once leftover milk gets drawn back into the boiler, it stays there forever. You don’t want the smell of continuously cooking milk coming from your espresso machine!
Descaling. You should be taking great care to use filtered water for your espresso. This isn’t just to preserve the integrity of your espresso; it’s to lengthen the life of your machine. Water that’s “harder” than 50 parts per million or 50 mg per liter will leave calcium and magnesium deposits – limescale – on every internal surface of the espresso machine.
Although a full descaling need only be done about once every three to six months if you’re using properly filtered water, it’s vital to do it. Many of the injectors in a typical espresso machine are the size of a pinhead. Even a small amount of mineral buildup will quickly alter the taste of your espresso, and will eventually kill your machine.
Keep in Mind
You might believe that a machine that you don’t use very often doesn’t need to be cleaned as often. This isn’t true; in fact, it’s the opposite. Oil that sits for a while will cook into the surfaces of the machine.