At the core of every single home espresso machine, no matter how complicated, is a very basic and very familiar baseline of components. These components, no matter how different they may seem, can be cleaned with these BASIC and UNIVERSAL CLEANING TECHNIQUES.
If you follow these simple steps that anyone can do on ANY espresso machine you will GREATLY improve your coffee’s flavour and extend the lifespan of your machine.
So let's break these steps down to EVERY COFFEE, EVERY DAY, EVERY WEEK and EVERY MONTH.
NUMBER 1: PURGING - EVERY SHOT
Before and after you run your espresso shot, press the “go” button and purge the water for a second before putting your portafilter in. The main goal here is to get rid of any grinds and gunk stuck on the dispersion screen. Just by running the water for a second before and after your espresso shot will do wonders to keeping your machine clean.
NUMBER 2: CLEANING THE SURFACE - EVERY SHOT
It may seem silly to add such a simple thing to this list however it runs deeper than you think. As you run your clean cloth over the sleek stainless steel surface of your emotional investment make sure you are also wiping down the inside of your portafilter and even your basket. Just a simple wipe or a rinse can do wonders in keeping these parts clean and will also keep them in better condition for longer.
NUMBER 3: BLACK FLUSH - EVERY DAY
Depending on the machine you have, you should have a BLIND BASKET. This could be a stainless steel basket or a little rubber plug that sits in your portafilter. Regardless of what your one looks like they’re all used for the same job, backflushing. Pop in your blind basket and put your portafilter in the machine and run a shot. The water will hit the basket and won't be able to pass through, forcing the water back up into the grouphead. This helps clean out any grinds, oils or gunk trapped up inside of the machine. When you have full pressure, you can “crack” the portafilter out slightly and you will see all of the grinds and gunk spew out the sides. Do this over and over until you have completely clear water coming out.
NUMBER 4: CHEMICAL CLEANING YOUR TOOLS - Weekly/Fortnightly
This is the step that so many people choose not to do. Be it out of ignorance or laziness, so many machines never get their parts cleaned with chemicals. This step is crucial to keeping a clean machine and getting great tasting coffee, without it the oils from your coffee will sit, fester and go rancid. Let me show you how you can do this on ANY coffee machine in just a few steps.
First up, get yourself a tub of CAFETTO Cleaner. This cleaning powder works much better than the tablets that come with your machine, and are also 10x cheaper. A large tub of Cafetto will cost you around $20AUD and will last a home user years (1.5g dosing spoon with 500g of powder).
Next up, place your blind basket into your portafilter and add one little scoop of cafetto into it (I tend to only use half a scoop even). Place that into the machine and run a shot. This will do exactly what the backflushing step is doing, however this time the added help of a cleaning agent makes short work of oils, grinds and other nasties lingering up in the pipes of the machine.
After you have done this, place your regular basket as well as your portafilter into a jug (your milk jug if it fits), add in a scoop of cafetto powder and fill it with hot water so just the metal parts are underwater. Leave overnight and rinse off in the morning and it will clean your tools back to the stainless steel. Portafilters are not like cast iron, they do not taste better with age and they do not add to the flavour with every coffee. Keep it shiny and your coffee will taste delicious.
*NOTE* Rinse off everything after soaking it in chemicals, then run a dummy shot through the machine just to get rid of any lingering chemical tastes and residue.
STEP 5: THE DISPERSION SCREEN - MONTHLY
The dispersion screen is the little screen that sits at the bottom of the group head. This screen is responsible for the spread and the flow of water going onto your puck and can get absolutely riddled with grinds, oils and other gunk. When you pull an espresso shot, you are extracting the coffee at 9 atmospheres of pressure and when the shot is done it creates a vacuum above it and shoots all of the oils and grinds back at the dispersion screen. Even more reason to clean it!
Every machine is slightly different, however the principle here is the same. This screen will usually be held in place by either an allen key, a flat head screw or a phillips head screw. Some even don't have any screws, they have a pressure lock system that you can just slide out (like the Ascaso machines).
Whichever machine you own, grab whichever tool is needed and remove the screw and the screen. I like to pop this screen in when I soak my basket and portafilter, and give the machine a simple backflush without the dispersion screen in it. After soaking, put it all back together and your machine will be factory new.
It doesn't matter what coffee machine you own. These methods are UNIVERSAL and will make the coffee being made that little bit better!
There are more specific cleaning methods, like descaling and other major services, however if you follow these steps you will greatly increase your espresso taste as well increase the lifespan of your machine.