Espresso is rich, complex, and pulling amazing shots is exhilarating. Brewing this stellar espresso requires that you take care of your actual home espresso machines as well—but you shouldn’t look at this as a chore.
You’ve invested a decent amount of money into your machine, now it’s time to protect that. If you fail to clean and maintain your machine, well, you may face some issues down the road…
- Shots not pulling right, flavor seeming ‘off’
- Inconsistent steaming from the steam wand
- And worst of all, calcium scale causing blockages in pipes and filters
- Expensive repairs and espresso downtime
Here’s the good news: caring for your home espresso machine isn’t expensive or difficult.
By incorporating just a few simple steps into your weekly and monthly routine, you can extend the life of your machine by years—decades maybe even.
Let me show you how.
What To Do After Every Single Shot
It’s tempting to sit down, sip your shot, and then move onto other things, but there are a couple things you need to do first—and they only take like 10 seconds.
These simple tasks leave your machine ready for the next shot, meaning you can jump right in and not have to worry about old grounds hurting the flavor when you’re ready for another boost.
- Knock out the spent puck immediately. Don’t leave it in the machine or the portafilter for long. The oils and grounds will get stuck to the filter screen and portafilter basket.
- Rinse the portafilter for 2-3 seconds. This starts to clean off the filter screen and the portafilter. Next, wipe the filter screen and portafilter with a clean rag to finish the process.
- Don’t let any milk hang around. Wipe off the steam wand immediately using a clean, damp rag. Unattended milk will dry and solidify quickly, so do this immediately after you steam.
At the end of every shot, you should have a clean filter screen, a clean portafilter, and clean milk wand and pitchers.
And here’s the thing: espresso is way too hot to really taste immediately when it comes out. By going through these quick steps, you give the shot a few seconds to cool so that your tongue can actually interpret and enjoy all the delicate flavors it holds.
And no, espresso shots don’t “die”, so you shouldn’t feel weird about letting it sit for a few seconds while you clean up.
The Weekly Task You Should Never Skip
That post-shot cleaning routine works wonders, but it doesn’t get everything. You need a deeper clean to really free your machine of the most stubborn oils and grounds.
Cafes do this every single night, but you really just need to do it once a week. It takes a few minutes, but this is the process that’ll keep your machine from tainting the flavor of your shots in the long-term: the deep clean.
If Your Machine Has A Valve System
If your espresso machine has a valve system (three-way solenoid, brew pressure release, three-way valve—or any combination of these words), you need to do what is called a ‘backflush’. Essentially, grounds and oils get stuck back in the inner valves of the machine and you need to flush them out. Here’s what that process looks like:
- Replace the portafilter basket with a blank screen and add espresso cleaner
- Insert the portafilter into the group head and run the water for ten seconds
- Turn the water off for five seconds
- Repeat three times
- Turn on the water and wiggle the portafilter in the group head to dislodge gasket grounds
Once you’re finished wiggling, you should see some rogue grounds in the water in the portafilter. This is a good sign because it shows that you’re getting out that extra gunk.
If Your Machine Doesn’t Have A Valve System
Espresso machines geared towards newcomers sometimes don’t have valve systems. Dehlongi, Gaggia, Breville, are among brands that often don’t. Here’s the deep cleaning you need to do:
- Take out the portafilter and unscrew the dispersion screen
- Use a damp rag with some espresso cleaner mixed in to scrub around the group head
- Then rinse with a lot of clean water
That should do the trick.
Either Type Of Machine, Do This
No matter what kind of espresso machine you have, you should make sure to soak your portafilter, dispersion screen, and steam wand in a water/coffee cleaner solution for 10-15 minutes. Then rinse them off really well with clean water and give them a thorough wipe with a rag.
All in all, this weekly routine shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes—a small price to pay for years of delicious espresso and a healthy machine.
Descaling Your Machine
Whether you’re using tap water or a specialized water filter for your espresso, you’re eventually going to need to clean out the calcium scale that builds up inside. This affects your espresso pressure, causes shots to pull inconsistently, and, in the worst case scenario, creates complete blockages in pipes that are expensive to fix.
And preventing all of this is so easy.
Here’s how: put a descaling agent through your machine.
Some people swear by vinegar. It works, but in our experience, it tends to taint the flavor of your espresso for a few shots afterwards (even if you rinse it out pretty well). We suggest sticking to a dedicated descaling agent specifically designed for home espresso.
Every machine needs this, but they all need it in different ways. Look at your machine’s manual to see exactly how and how often to descale.
Cleaning your machine isn’t hard, it can seem a bit tedious, but it’s always necessary. A clean machine will brew you better coffee and last for years longer than non-cared for machines—and that can mean thousands of dollars in savings over the long-run.
To maximize your espresso routine and enjoyment, take the time to clean your machine, remember to savor the experience, and only use freshly roasted, specialty-grade coffee beans.
Our Coffee Club sends you beans from some of the best, most sustainable coffee farms in the world. They’re diverse, delicious, and we only pick beans that work for home espresso and regular black coffee.