When it comes to coffee, a lot of things are subjective. One thing that is not, however, is espresso machine maintenance. Keeping that machine running perfectly is top priority.
Okay, hands up if you rolled your eyes at that statement. Yeah, I get it, the coffee is the beautiful thing. Yet your espresso machine is the lifeblood of your bar. It’s the reason you can pay rent at the end of the month or take that trip to Hawaii. And on a more sentimental level, an espresso machine is like a Porsche or a well-loved musical instrument. This gleaming work of art deserves to be taken care of. I’m sure you understand—right?
Keeping your baby running smoothly requires more than just a wipe down at the end of the day. Just like with that vintage Porsche, it will need daily care and regular services to keep it in perfect condition. Don’t worry, though, because we’ve got you covered. Read on for our essential guide to taking care of your machine.
Note: Parts and service requirements vary for different machines and different brands. This guide will cover 99% of machines, but always check the manual to see if additional maintenance is required.
At the end of every day, you should be backflushing your machine. But what does backflushing even mean? Let me break it down for you (pun intended).
1) Run your grouphead and scrub out all loose coffee with your machine brush.
Some solid scrubbing action. Credit: Chad Aden Whitby @thestreetbarista
2) Put a spoon of espresso machine detergent in your blind filter and insert it into your group.
Espresso machine detergent: one of your best friends. Credit: Chad Aden Whitby @thestreetbarista
3) Run it for ten seconds on, ten seconds off. Do this four times.
Just look at that grime! Credit: Chad Aden Whitby @thestreetbarista
4) Leave the blind filter in the group for about five minutes (clean the steam wands and portafilters, and shine your machine etc. in this time).
Tempted to skip this step? Think again. These five minutes are imperative. They allow the detergent to loosen and eat away at the most stubborn oils and residue in a way that hot water just can’t match.
5) Remove espresso machine detergent and clear water flush your group (ten on, ten off) until the water clarity is perfect.
6) Repeat steps 1-5 until the water runs clean.
Have a busy shop? Then don’t limit this step to an end-of-the-day ritual. In the name of high-quality coffee (and a beautiful machine), do steps 1-3, minus the detergent, after every rush.
Every Three Months
Your machine needs a minor service every three months. Don’t worry, it really won’t take you that long to do this. You’ll need to:
1. Replace group gaskets.
2. Replace shower screens (a good opportunity to upgrade to VST or IMS screens if you don’t already have them).
3. Test group flow rates and temp.
4. Test all switches.
5. Test grouphead and boiler water quality.
Tools for a minor service. Credit: Chad Aden Whitby @thestreetbarista
Every Six Months
Now it’s time for a major service. This involves doing everything you did for the minor service, but also:
1. Rebuilding steam assembly.
2. Rebuilding water tap.
3. Replacing anti-suction valve.
4. Cleaning boiler level probe.
5. Removing body panels and vacuuming/cleaning any dust that’s built up.
Your tools for a major service. Credit: Chad Aden Whitby @thestreetbarista
By this point, you’re already on your second six month service, so you should be getting the hang of it. In addition to your major service, you should be doing the following:
1. Replacing your pressure safety valve.
2. Replacing your portafilter baskets (upgrade to IMS baskets).
3. Replacing the waste pipe (if needed).
4. Replacing the capacitor on pump motor and before solenoids.
5. Replacing the sight glass.
6. Replacing or servicing your non return valve.
7. Checking for steam or water leaks with a dentist’s mirror.
Getting hands on for an annual service. Credit: Chad Aden Whitby @thestreetbarista
Some items have a specific lifetime that’s unrelated to how often you service the machine. Other items might last forever, or they might need regular replacement, depending on the conditions of use. A café with poor water quality, for example, might have to change their filters and descale their machine twice a year. A café with great water, on the other hand, might only need to do this every two years.
The things you need to be careful with are:
- Changing of water filters.
- Replacement of pump.
- Replacement of switches and solenoids (electro valves).
- Descaling of machine.
- Replacement of pressure regulating valve.
- Replacement of elements.
- Replacement of worn down bells on groupheads.
- Changing or resetting pressure gauges.
Make sure you’re aware of the lifetime of these items (it’s always best to get the advice of a professional on this), and keep an eye on their condition to avoid unwanted breakdowns, damage to your machine, or decreasing coffee quality.
Getting serious with espresso machine maintenance. Credit: Chad Aden Whitby @thestreetbarista
For the Second-Hand Machine
If you’ve purchased a second-hand machine, you should get it fully overhauled. It doesn’t matter if the nice seller is your best friend from nursery and knows coffee inside-out—it’s just not worth skipping this step.
When overhauling an older machine, consider going that extra mile and respraying panels (with your branding, maybe?) Getting rid of chips and scratches looks that much more professional.
From there onwards, you can follow the service plan laid out above.
Does all this maintenance feel like a lot of effort? It’s true, espresso machine maintenance can be time-consuming or even annoying, but it’s necessary to ensure your espresso machine continues producing delicious coffee round the clock.
Schedule services in your calendar so the months don’t slip by without you realising. Be pre-emptive when it comes to replacing parts, since it’s better to spend a little more than be the coffee shop whose “out of order” sign disappoints its customers when they need their fix. And remember to always give your espresso machine the love it needs and deserves.
Written by D. Erasmus and edited by T. Newton.
Feature Photo Credit: Chad Aden Whitby @thestreetbarista
Perfect Daily Grind.