Filtering your water is essential if you plan on plumbing in your espresso machine to a direct water line in your location. Without this, you run the risk of scale build-up that can only be removed by a professional taking apart the machine and physically removing the scale. How quickly this occurs will depend on your location — we did have a cafe attempt to go without filtration for just a couple of months and their equipment completely seized up as a result. Clearly, they were working with very hard water, but it’s not a risk we recommend you take, at all.
For commercial locations, there are tons of filtration options that will address a wide variety of water source needs. If you’re looking at that kind of a setup, then you’ll need to install something a bit more sophisticated and robust that will be able to address the multiple appliances that will require water (such as drip coffee makers, ice machines, water fountains and your espresso machine) in a way that’s easy to manage. But for just straight espresso machine filtration, the Mavea Purity C filters are simple, easy to install and do an excellent job of filtering out what you don’t want in your espresso machine’s boiler.
Watch Gail as she walks us through an overview of how she installed a Mavea filter on our La Marzocco Linea.
Creating a silky microfoam can be a challenging enterprise: Even with the higher end prosumer machines we sell, it is arguably the most difficult skill to learn and sometimes takes more practice (and patience!) than folks expect from the outset.
The technique involves infusing the right amount of air and steam at the right pace to ‘stretch’ the milk, ultimately resulting in that wet paint texture that can be used in latte art, if you’ve got the skillz. You rest the tip of the steam wand on the surface of the milk and ‘ride’ it as the milk is slowly expanding with tiny air bubbles and coming up to temperature via the machine’s steam. You’ve got to keep a steady roll going, the bubbles to a minimum and eventually you’ll submerge the wand completely once you’ve achieved the amount of foam you want and need to simply bring it up to temperature.
Keeping your espresso equipment clean is essential to producing consistently excellent shots. Backflushing on the Rancilio Silvia and machines with the patented E61 brew group will definitely address the brew group and screen, but it’s still a good idea to take them apart every so often and give them a good scrub down. You’ll also need to know how to do this when replacing the brew head gasket, also an important part of regular care and maintenance.
Watch Gail take apart the brew head on the Rancilio Silvia:
Now watch her take apart an E61 brew head:
Look, we’re not joking. Yes, there are a lot of things we poke fun at and crack wise about, but scale build-up in your boiler is absolutely not one of them. And it will never be — oh no, we are deadly serious about this.
Okay, not really, but scale build-up is often underestimated by folks. They think that by using filtered or bottled water, they won’t need to descale their espresso machine, and this just isn’t the truth. While these waters may have other impurities removed from them, they often have the same mineral content (and, in the case of bottled water, it may even be significantly higher, depending on the source) as your tap water. Using distilled water, water put through a reverse osmosis or a commercial-grade water design system like Cirqua are the primary methods for keeping lime and calcium from building up in your espresso machine’s boiler and related water works, but it’s important to note that mineral content in water does play an important role: It contributes to the flavor.
So if you don’t like the way the water from these treatment sources taste, how do you think it’s going to make your coffee taste? We recommend using water you like to drink to make espresso, which will often involve a regular descale to keep everything working well. Scale build-up will symptomatically show up as failure or very slow to heat up, not enough steaming pressure and/or leaking out of the steam wand and the brew head. Here in the Seattle area, we have pretty soft water, but other areas of the country have very hard water — and if you’re pulling straight from a well instead of the municipal water supply, you likely have a high mineral content.
A few months ago, we received a Rancilio Silvia V2 that was a few years old on a trade-in. The owner lived in Southern California and had never descaled the machine, so the guys put it through a commercial level descale just to start it off — high intensity citric acid was pulled into the boiler and allowed to sit overnight. When they came in the next day and rinsed it through, the machine was still exhibiting signs of scale build up, so they decided to crack it open to see if it was something more than scale. What they found is in the pictures accompanying this post — yes, this is scale build-up that was not able to be dissolved by the citric acid over a 24 hour period. The guys cleaned it out thoroughly and now it’s working just fine — and, obviously, this is representative of scale build up using the municipal supply in Southern California and will differ by region — but if the original owner had continued to use it without descaling, eventually everything would have burned out. It was caught just in time, however, so now it has a happy home somewhere else.
Not sure how to descale? Watch Gail descale a Rancilio Silvia and give tips on how to do this on other types of espresso machines.
Over on our new resource website, Brown Bean, we have been working hard on putting up editorial reviews of all kinds of espresso machines. We’ll be eventually expanding the reviews to include other kinds of equipment — grinders, accessories, even coffee — but a big part of us being able to provide a full picture of a machine’s performance is to balance our editorial opinion with user reviews like yours.
If you have a Rancilio Silvia, we’d love it if you could take the time to fill out a review on Brown Bean. You’ll have the opportunity to share your experiences, talk about the pros and cons of the machine and indicate whether or not you recommend it.
We currently have a couple dozen machines listed and reviewed up there, so if you don’t have a Silvia and would like to review your machine, check them out to see if there’s a listing. We’re always adding to it, but if your machine isn’t listed, please email us with the make and model and we’ll promptly list and review it if possible, then let you know when it’s ready for your feedback.
Looking forward to learning more about your thoughts on your equipment!
Espresso machines often list 15 – 17 BAR pumps in their technical specifications, but the general rule of thumb for most espresso extraction is for 9 BARs of pressure. In this video, Gail talks to us about this pressure differential, what you’re looking for and talks a bit about the new world of pressure profiling in commercial/professional espresso.
A. Unfortunately, there is no standard setting for grinders and machines. Each grinder is going to be engineered a little bit differently, so while we could give you a rough estimate of the range, the best way to determine your grinder’s setting is to go through the calibration process.
To calibrate your grinder to your espresso machine, you need to time your shots. The standard timing for a double shot is between 25 – 30 seconds for two shot glasses filled to the 1.5 oz line. When you initiate your shot, you want the extraction to begin 7 – 10 seconds after, and then the espresso should run smoothly into the shot glasses until they’re full at that 25 – 30 second range. Note that this is for a standard shot and there are other shot styles out there (ristretto or luongo) that have shorter or longer extraction timeframes. For the purposes of calibration, however, we’ll stick with the standard.
Start with your grinder in a lower end setting — for stepped grinders, maybe start around 5 or 10. Grind and tamp and then time the shot: If it’s coming out too slowly, you know your grind is too fine and you’ll need to make it courser; if it’s coming out too quickly, then the converse is true and you’ll need to make that too-course grind finer. Keep an eye on your tamp because that could also being affecting it — too hard means too slow, too soft means too fast.
Continue to experiment until your shot extraction occurs within the standard timeframe. Once you have calibrated your grinder to produce a shot at the rate and consistency described above, make a note of it. This is something that will need to be tweaked regularly — especially if you live somewhere with extreme temperature fluctuations throughout the year, as the environment and weather will impact the nature of the bean. You’ll also need to recalibrate if you try different beans, as they will have unique grind requirements.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that calibrating and getting familiar with your grind is a crucial element to producing delicious espresso, so don’t be afraid to experiment or change it often! Espresso is as much art as it is science — tweak it to your individual preferences, regardless of any tenets you may read elsewhere…after all, isn’t that why you decided to make espresso at home in the first place?
We have a deep love for and commitment to the home espresso enthusiast, but as our passion for making excellent espresso at home has grown, we have been exploring commercial-grade equipment, too. Obviously, comparatively few of us can afford to drop $15k on an espresso machine for our homes, but if you’re looking to either upgrade your business’ existing setup or thinking about launching a new espresso-based business, we have a wide selection of machines that is going to continue to grow.
Currently featuring primarily La Marzocco and Nuova Simonelli and Rancilio commercial-class espresso machines & grinders, we’ve also included a few of the prosumer class of machines that could work well in a smaller-scale business that has espresso as a complementary service — such as a bookstore or an art gallery. We also have tons of quantity discounts on accessories and wholesale pricing on coffee and syrups so just ask.
We’re excited to venture into a new realm within the coffee world and look forward to talking with you more about it! This blog will also expand as a resource and start offering up information that may be of interest to cafes and other small coffee businesses, so stay tuned.