A Clean Espresso Machine Makes Better Coffee
Cleanliness will improve your quality of your espresso, but it shouldn’t ruin the experience.
By Dave Bise
First thing’s first. Making coffee at home can be messy. Water, oils, heat, tiny grounds everywhere—that combination of things can lead to a lot of untidy situations that can ultimately end up in your espresso. Think of ways you can keep the process clean from start to finish—using clean towels, drying wet surfaces, keeping a brush on hand, etc. Establishing and maintaining clean workstation habits can help you develop a routine where cleaning your machine isn’t an obligation—it’s something you look forward to.
To learn more about this, we sat down with Dave Bise, Director of La Marzocco Home to learn more.
Why does a clean machine make better coffee?
It’s really about the coffee oils and their build-up over time. The oils from your coffee start to become rancid, creating off-flavors in your espresso, which can affect the taste of it. Even if you craft your worfklow, buy great equipment, and put incredible coffees through your grinder, if your machine isn’t clean, you’re seriously lowering the ceiling of what your espresso could taste like.
Even beyond taste, though—leaving your machine dirty can clog up or film over your screens, baskets, dispersion screw, and any other small orifices in/around the machine. Keeping these areas of your machine clean means the only thing you’re extracting into your demitasse is freshly-ground coffee and everything it has to offer.
You’re already wrestling with multiple variables, don’t let a dirty machine limit the quality of espresso you’re making on it!
What *is* a clean machine? How clean are we talking here?
If you are asking then it’s dirty 🙂
Obviously joking a bit, but…just keep your eye on it. If you see oils or ground on things that touch coffee, or even sitting on your counter, wipe them off or purge them. And remember, just because you can’t see dirtiness doesn’t mean it’s not there.
What are some things I can do to keep my machine clean?
Establish a weekly routine of backflushing and soaking your portafilter, basket, screen, and dispersion screw. Think of those as pillars, or benchmarks in keeping the machine in a clean state.
Then, fill in the gaps. A simple way to check to see if your parts are dirty is by looking at the bottom of your portafilter baskets and screens to see if there are any oils present or residue left over. If you see gunk, or grounds, purge the grouphead and rinse the screen off. Take your barista towel and run it inside the bayonet ring (alongside the gasket) and see if there are any oils or coffee grounds stuck up there. Pop your basket out and give it a quick rinse. All of these things combined will keep your machine in a constant state of clean.
How do I backflush my machine?
Backflushing is super easy and takes about 10 minutes to do. Schedule this into your weekly routine and you’ll wake up feeling good about your machine. Plus, a steady routine of backflushing makes it easier to keep your machine clean and tasting great.
What I do? Every time I dial in a new coffee, I backflush my machine and fill my reservoir. This amounts to about once a week, but more than anything, I’ve found that it builds my machine cleaning into something I’m already doing, keeps my accountable. Two years in, and it’s worked like a charm.
We put together a little guide to help you through the process. Check it out here.
A few quick tips to remember…
Rinse your portafilter and basket under the grouphead after a shot to purge the group while using that water to clean any fresh oils off your basket/portafilter.
Clean your steam wand with a damp rag – never use a dry rag or think “I’ll clean it later”
Establish a towel system—try to use different towels or different parts of towels for these three things: portafilter, steam wand, and bar/counter towel
Don’t leave your puck in the group – always knock it out. “A buck a puck!”***
It only takes a few minutes to clean your machine inside and out.
Get regular with your cleaning schedule.
*** A little back story on “Buck-a-Puck.” When I was a Barista in DC, we used to play a game where if you got caught leaving a puck in your station, you lost a dollar into Buck-a-Puck cup. At home, you can play the same game, just put a dollar into a cup and use it for your next coffee purchase.