Top 5 Tips to Get the Most out of Your Automatic Espresso Machine
Getting a new espresso machine can be an exciting time - one filled with daydreams of enjoying amazingly aromatic and nuanced espresso or indulgent cappuccinos whenever you’d like, in the comfort of your own home. But, whether you decide to go with a Saeco, Jura, Breville or Gaggia automatic espresso machine, once you get it home you’ll want to make the most of your machine (and keep those tasty espresso drinks flowing!). Find out how with our Top 5 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Automatic Espresso Machine!
Top 5 Tips to Get the Most out of Your Automatic Espresso Machine
Whenever we’re helping a customer choose the right automatic espresso machine for their needs, there is one question that almost always comes up: “So, how long do these machines last anyways?”. And, rightfully so - if you’re going to be investing in a new espresso machine, you’ll want to get the most mileage out of it as possible! It’s funny then to see the reactions when our response is always “Well, it depends on how you use and take care of it!”. Just with any tool, appliance, or machine, there are ways to prematurely kill your new investment - and, ways to make sure that it lasts you as long as possible.
Here are our tips to help you get the most out of your espresso machine.
1) Avoid Oily Espresso Beans
Oily espresso beans can be a death sentence for an automatic espresso machine, plain and simple. As one of the most common (and damaging) issues we encounter, helping people understand the dangers in using oily espresso beans in their automatic machine is something we regularly encounter.
So, what are oily espresso beans?
Put simply, oily espresso beans are just than - roasted coffee beans that are slick and greasy to the touch. This oily texture is most common in dark roasted (and often over-roasted) espresso blends, and is a byproduct of the roasting process itself. Once a coffee bean is roasted past a “medium” doneness it will exude oil that then accumulates on the outside of the bean, creating a glistening, shining texture.
Why this is terrible for espresso machines?
Many of the issues that arise from using oily espresso beans in an automatic espresso maker start with the machine’s integrated grinder - one of the features that distinguishes automatic and superautomatic espresso machines from their manual counterparts. The slick texture of oily espresso beans quickly creates a buildup inside of the machine’s bean hopper - this buildup will start as a visible sheen inside the hopper, and will quickly turn into thick puddles and trails of sludge so thick that they can start to “glue” your beans in place. This oil buildup is then tracked down through the unit’s burr grinders, through the brew unit and eventually through the pathways that dispense the finished espresso. As this residue accumulates throughout your machine, it starts to clog and block anything and everything it comes into contact with, resulting in a whole slew of issues.
Common problems associated with oily bean damage:
Blocked grinder: Residue from oily beans will eventually clog your grinder. As oil builds up in the machine’s burrs, it mixes with beans in various stages of grinding and locks them into place, ultimately clogging the grinder to the point that it’s no longer able to move. If your machine gets to this point, the only way to fix this issue will be to take it into a technician for the grinder to be disassembled and professionally cleaned (a costly repair not covered by warranty).
No Brewing/ Dry Grounds in the Dredge Drawer: As an automated system that grinds, dispenses and brews espresso at the touch of a button, espresso machines rely on internal sensors to monitor activity within the machine and determine the series of actions required to complete the brew cycle. Unfortunately, the residue buildup from oily espresso beans block these sensors - especially the sensor that monitors the movement of ground espresso into the brewing chambers. If this sensor is blocked, even if your ground espresso beans are able to make their way through your system, the machine will not pick up on them - this results in your machine thinking there’s nothing in the brew chamber, dumping your dry (and still perfectly good) ground beans into the dredge drawer without extraction.
- Clogged Brewing Unit: The heart of an espresso machine, the brewing unit is where the magic happens! While it’s normal for small amounts of coffee oil to build-up in the brew unit overtime, the sludge created from oily espresso beans will drastically increase the speed of this, resulting in (you guessed it!) your brew unit completely clogging up.
How to prevent/ avoid oily bean damage
Given just how damaging oily beans can be on an espresso machine, it’s really best to just avoid them full stop. But what if you really, really like the flavour of super-dark-almost-black-as-night intense espresso? Fret not! There are super flavourful, strong espresso blends designed to give you this flavour without the oil - the trick just comes down to finding the blend that works best for you. We ourselves carry our own Super Intenso espresso blend, specifically designed for use with automatic and superautomatic espresso machines, or you can check with your local roaster to find something that works well for your tastes while also protecting your machine.
If you do find yourself with some oily beans, or have some small buildup in your grinder from using oily beans in the past, we recommend using drier, light roast beans to help dry out the excess.
2) Descale Regularly
Easily one of the most important steps in routine espresso machine care and maintenance is to descale the unit regularly. Scale buildup is a natural occurrence that results from the mineral deposits in water reacting with and building up on the internal parts of an espresso machine. Thankfully, descaling is both quick and easy!
Most units available on the market today are able to be calibrated based on the water hardness in your area. This then allows your espresso machine to monitor scale buildup over time, and notify you when it’s time to descale.
How you descale your unit, and what you need to complete the process, will depend on the type of machine that you have. For Saeco espresso machines, you’ll need to use some of the Saeco liquid descaler, which you can usually find individually or by the case. For Jura units, you’ll need to grab their descaling tablets. Once your machine lets you know that it’s time to descale, simply follow the directions on the descaler packaging and you’re done!
Avoid “alternative” or DIY descaling!
Unfortunately, we occasionally hear “horror stories” about customers trying to descale their units with do-it-yourself processes such as lemon juice or vinegar - even just yesterday I was speaking with someone who had once tried to descale with CLR! While these methods can work wonders for other small appliances such as some electric kettles or drip coffee makers, they are NOT a good idea when it comes to your espresso machine! This is simply due to the larger number of internal parts and more complicated systems of an espresso maker. At best, a DIY method will leave your machine smelling funny for weeks on end and still in need of re-descaling with the proper solution. At worst, you can degrade your machine’s internal system and kill your brew unit.
If you have any questions about the descaling process, or what descaler is best for your machine please never hesitate to contact us!
3) Use distilled water and a water filter
Since scale is the natural build-up caused by minerals in the water, the easiest way to reduce this build up and increase the time you can go between descaling is to minimize the presence of these minerals. To do this we recommend using the proper water filter for your machine (such as the Saeco Intenza filter or the Claris White or Claris Blue filters for Jura machines), and/or use filtered or distilled water with an ounce or so of tap water mixed in. Why the tap water? The water tank sensors in many espresso machines available today use an electronic signal to detect ions found in water to determine if the tank is full or in need of refilling. By using distilled water with a little bit of tap water mixed in, you’ll ensure that your tank will still have enough minerals (and thus ions) for the sensors to work properly, while drastically reducing the amount of scale you’ll build up over time!
4) Clean Brew Unit Regularly
As mentioned above, the brew unit is the “heart” of an espresso machine and where most of the magic happens! This means that it’s important to take care of your brew unit with some regular care and cleaning - what this looks like will depend on what type of espresso machine you have.
Saeco units are designed in such a way that their brew units are easily accessible and removable - on almost all models you can find the brew unit behind a panel on the side of the machine. Having this feature of a removable brew unit means that cleaning and caring for your Saeco is as easy as sliding out the brew unit and rinsing it under some running water - we recommend doing this about once every week.
Jura units, on the other hand, do not have a removable brewing unit, meaning that it requires the Jura Cleaning Tablets to clear the unit out. These tablets will not only clear out your machine and keep it running smoothly, by removing old coffee oils and residues it’ll keep your espresso drinks tasting great as well!
5) Clean Milk Frother/ Milk Circuit
As with the steps above, cleaning your frother or milk frothing circuit is important to prevent buildup from forming and clogging your machine - and, in this care, to prevent possible bacteria from forming in the old milk residue (gross!). How you’ll go about cleaning your milk system will depend on if you have a machine with a manual milk frother (like Saeco’s Moltio Focus), or have a “one touch” machine with an automatic frothing option (like Jura’s F8). For a manual frother, you’ll want to “purge” the frother by passing clean hot water through the wand once you’re done with your milk - this will help clear out any milk that might be left lingering. If your machine has a plastic panarello style steam wand, you’ll be able to take it apart by unscrewing it and rinse it under some running water to clean everything out.
Most one-touch units available today have an automatic cleaning cycle built-in to their milk process. Much like purging a manual frother, these one-touch units will automatically send clean hot water through the system to rinse everything out once your drink is done. As with manual frothers, you’ll want to make sure everything (carafe and tubing) is rinsed out regularly. Jura also offers Milk Frother Cleaner to help the cleaning process and to remove any small buildups or residues.
So, there you have it! Most of these tips and tricks come down to making sure you take the time and care to properly clean your espresso maker - by doing so you’ll reduce build-up, lengthen the lifespan of your machine, and get better tasting espresso drinks out of the deal too!
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