What's that smell?

  (268 pts)

So. You have been enjoying great espresso with your new machine for a few weeks and now you are starting to wonder what you need to do for regular cleaning.

semi-automatic On your new semi-automatic espresso machine you’ve been rinsing and cleaning the portafilter and basket and the drip tray.
super-automatic Those of you who have a new super-automatic have been rinsing the brew group and emptying the dregs-drawer.

You all have been cleaning the frothing wand and wiping the beautiful new machine down to keep it shiny and new but now you’re thinking about regular and long term care, and wasn’t there something in the manual about decalcifying the brewing system, cleaning the milk system, and cleaning the grinder? Great! You’re on the right track!

Although it sounds fussy and over-the-top, we advocate getting into a habit of a regular cleaning regimen that removes impurities during and after every brewing session, and more thoroughly on a daily and weekly basis. Daunting? Not really. Your machine has been designed for ease of maintenance and the designers have tested and worked hard to make cleaning as painless as possible. Just keep in mind that keeping your equipment extraordinarily clean will reward you time and again with great tasting espresso. And that’s what you wanted all along.

Coffee beans contain hundreds of compounds, among them essential oils. Those oils help give body to the CO2 gas micro-bubbles that create a great hazel colored créma on your drink. By nature any oil is perishable and starts to decay if exposed to coffee beansair and heat. Coffee oils are especially volatile and start to breakdown after 45 minutes. The process of grinding and brewing the beans always leaves a slight film of emulsified coffee oils on everything that comes in contact with the grounds. If not cleaned off regularly that oil will start to decay and destroy the taste of the next cup of coffee, regardless of how expensive or good a brand of coffee bean you are using.

grinderGrinders are not "self-cleaning" and can harbor spent oils that taint your espresso. If you have a super-automatic machine with a built in grinder, be sure to follow the instructions in the manual and clean that grinder as recommended. Also clean it when switching from one type of coffee bean to another to avoid cross contamination. If you use a separate grinder for your semi-automatic or drip machine be sure to follow the grinder manufacturers recommended procedure for cleaning. Just be aware that ground coffee left in the grinder burrs and chute for a long time will taint the next grind and you won’t be happy.

Typically after every use of the steam wand for frothing or heating milk there are deposits on the wand and after every brewing cycle there is coffee residue and oils on the shower screen. You will want to purge and wipe off your steam wand after every frothing session to prevent milk from coagulating and contaminating the system. Run a water shot through your machine and wipe off the shower screen with a moist cloth at the end of each session.

If you have a pro-sumer machine with a 3-way solenoid valve perform a clean water backflush every 10 to 15 shots and at the end of every session as part of your cleaning routine. And if possible remove and rinse the brew-group after every session. (This is usually very easy on a super-automatic machine).

(Note: Please check your machine's owner's manual before attempting a backflush. Even though your machine may have a 3-way solenoid valve the manufacturer may tell you not to backflush as that may damage the machine. This is the case for the Gaggia line and the Rancillio Silvia. There may be others that can't be backflushed as well, so be sure and check your manual or call our Tech department.)

Typical Daily Procedure for a semi-automatic machine

  • Brush and wipe the dispersion screen and gasket.
  • Clean with scrubby pad, rinse and wipe the portafilter.
  • Wipe down the machine with a damp cloth.

Typical Daily Procedure for a super-automatic machine

  • Run the daily rinse cycle as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Wipe down the steam arm and clean any milk residue. Remove the Pannarello arm and clean thoroughly.
  • Wipe down the machine with a damp cloth.

You will want to do a weekly cleaning that is a little more involved and you may need a few items to adequately perform your weekly tasks:

  1. If your machine can be back-flushed: Espresso machine cleaner (back-flush detergent such as Urnex Dezcal),
  2. Depending in the type of machine, a blank, blind, or back-flush portafilter basket (different names for the same item),
  3. A clean kitchen towel, dish detergent and a dishrag,
  4. Some kind of non-metallic scrubby pad,
  5. Metal or glass bowl or container deep enough for the portafilter to soak in.

Optional specialized items may include:

Z brush
  1. Group brush (like the Rattleware 7.5" Zig Zag Group Brush),

  4. Steam wand brush (like the Pallo Steamy Wanda),

  7. Dairy cleanser (such as Urnex Rinza).
wand brush
  • Soak your portafilters and baskets, for at least ½ hour, in a solution of coffee detergent and hot water and then scrub, scrub, scrub.
  • Disassemble and submerge the steam wand in hot water and detergent, letting it soak for 15-20 minutes. Wipe and purge after soaking. Make sure to carefully dislodge any crusty milk from the steam tip holes.
  • If you have a milk system, disassemble and soak the components using a dairy cleanser like Urnex Rinza. Follow the directions and rinse everything twice in clean water.

Check your water filter and replace if needed. Clean water is paramount for good brewing. If you are using an inline water filtration system, the kind that uses cartridges, check to make sure they still work. Some cartridges are not designed for high volume output and will start adding undesirables to your water supply instead of taking them out. This will not only give your espresso a chemical flavor, but can also add calcium deposits to your machine.

Every 3 to 4 Months
Decalcify your espresso machine every 3 to 4 months or when your machine indicates its time to decalcify. No matter how good your water filtration may be, you're still getting calcium in your boiler tank. While small amounts of calcium won't alter the flavor of your espresso too much, over time that small amount will grow into a large amount causing a very bitter flavor in your cup and eventually causing damage to your machine.

If you follow these guidelines or make up a schedule of your own, you will be rewarded with the type of coffee drink that you acquired the machine to make time after time for many years to come. Oh, and always after detergent cleaning or replacing a filter, don’t rely on just a visual check of the water quality. Taste it! That’s right, run a clear shot through the system and taste it. You’ll know immediately if you have performed your cleaning tasks well!

Happy brewing!

(Checkout the proven cleaning products from Urnex who have been cleaning coffee machines since 1936.)




The passion and energy for customer satisfaction here at Whole Latte Love fits my life philosophy and is very inspiring. I am a husband, writer, web developer, architect/builder, woodworker, gardener, fisherman, sailor, and coach.

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