Cleaning and descaling your espresso machine regularly will not only help you make the machine last longer, but will also make your coffee maintain its fresh taste. Coffee beans used in making espresso have a lot of essential oils I it, and these can accumulate over time, giving off a rancid taste that could you’re your cup of espresso. Cleaning it would help you prevent these oils from being deposited into the machine and clogging up some of the parts, and will also ensure that you have a fresh tasting cup each time. You would also have to consider that the water you use would always have impurities and minerals in it, no matter how soft the water in your area is. Every time you use your machine, it heats up the water to high temperatures that would eventually produce scales. These scales may be small, but having them accumulate inside your espresso machine will cause a lot of clogging, and will also give your coffee that bitter taste. Of course, descaling is done more often the harder the water in your area gets.
Cleaning is done more often than descaling. Wiping the milk wand with a damp cloth and releasing some steam every time you make coffee should help you remove leftover milk and prevent any blockage in the nozzle holes. If you will not be using the machine throughout the day anymore, make sure you empty the filter basket of coffee grounds, rinse out any remaining coffee from the spouts using water, and wipe it down with a damp cloth to prevent the coffee grounds from sticking into the machine.
If you are using a machine with a professional group head, clean it out with a cleaning tablet or powder at least once a week. You can put the cleaning tablet or powder into a blind filter, which you will insert into the filter handle. Run some water through the group head and jiggle the filter handle at the same time. This will rinse the water around the shower screen and the seal on the underside of the group head. You can then use an angled brush to clean out the underside of the group head from coffee grounds. Soak the filter baskets and handles in a bowl that contains dissolved cleaning tablet or powder, and use a stiff nylon brush to remove any coffee residue that might be sticking. Make sure you rinse them thoroughly before putting them back. For milk residue from the steam wand, you can use a fine pipe brush.
Descaling your machine should be done every 3 to 6 months, depending on the quality of water that you use. The harder the water, the more often you should do the process because there is a bigger chance of minerals and pollutants from the water building up in pipes, valves and the boiler. Although a mixture of vinegar and water is traditionally used, you can also use a citric acid based descaler. The vinegar mixture has always been effective, but it tends to leave a lingering taste and smell that will not be easy to remove, and will definitely affect the first few batches of coffee that you will be making after cleaning it out. The descaler will not leave any similar smells or tastes, and does not leave any harmful traces after the process.
If you plan on descaling your machine, make sure that it is not freshly used. Empty out the water reservoir and put in the needed amount of descaling solution. Run the descaling solution through the group head and the hot water wand, and you can also use the backflush procedure (as explained above in the weekly cleaning process) to descale the pressure release valve. Leave the machine on for about half an hour before replacing the descaling solution with clean water. This time, do the same process, but using water this time, to remove any traces of the descaler. You can repeat this process once or twice, depending on how confident you are that the machine has been completely cleaned.
If you think these steps can be time consuming, replace that with the thought that these steps can help you maintain your espresso machine in perfect working order for a long time. This would also ensure that every time you use your espresso machine, it will be producing great tasting coffee without any of the stale taste that comes with poorly maintained machines. Remember that a perfect brew takes a lot of hard work, and does not come automatically. Poor maintenance will cause your espresso machine to die an early death, something that you would have to prevent especially if it has always served you the best tasting espresso you can find.