Keeping your equipment sparkling clean is just as important as the freshness of your coffee and dialing in your grind & tamp — in fact, without the former, the latter will be an exercise in futility. If we have to tell you that rancid coffee oils will adversely impact the quality of your shot, we’re sorry. But if we have to be the first, then we might as well do it right, right? So we asked Louie Poore, who specializes in educating professional baristas on proper equipment care for Urnex, to give us the rundown.
First, he introduces us to Urnex’s new Full Circle, sustainably-produced cleaning products — including a toe-to-toe comparison of Cafiza and Full Circle’s coffee equipment wash.
Finally, Gail shows us the newly arrived 1, 2, Brew Kit for Espresso Machines, which features the goodies you need to keep your machine in tip-top shape (plus a bag of Velton’s Coffee of your choice!).
Where do espresso machines and coffee makers go to die? Not in the landfill, if we can help it! At Seattle Coffee Gear, we launched a recycling program last year in an effort to keep as many fully assembled machines from landing in the trash. Many of these are pretty complex — they have circuit boards, electrical wiring and miscellaneous metals that are best kept out of our ground water supply.
Our partner in this venture is Uesugi USA, a Japanese company that (as luck would have it) have a US presence here in the Seattle-area. We pulled Henry into the mix and headed out to their facility to talk about what they do and see how they take these machines apart, break them down to their components and funnel them back into the commodity supply chain as cleanly as possible.
We often get asked whether or not a 4 hole steam tip is worth the upgrade on a machine like the Rocket Giotto Evoluzione. You definitely need to have more power to back up a multiple hole tip — as was seen on the first iteration of the Rancilio Silvia V3, the boiler size did not match well with the 3 hole tip and folks got very lackluster results. So it’s important to match the right tip to the right machine.
Gail shows us how each performs side by side and gives her assessment on their benefits/drawbacks.
Cleaning and maintenance is a hot topic in this neck o’ the woods, but some folks aren’t clear on which specific maintenance routines apply to the type of machine they own. This comes up specifically in regard to backflushing — do you or don’t you?
You do backflush if you own a machine with a valve system referred to as a three-way solenoid, brew pressure release, three-way valve, solenoid valve or any other combination of these phrases. Not sure if your machine has this? If your machine has an E61 brew group (such as those on Rockets, Quick Mills, Izzos or Grimacs), it has this valve system. Other models that feature this without the E61 are those made by La Spaziale, Pasquini, the Rancilio Silvia and Ascaso’s Uno Pro and Duo series. This valve system relieves pressure post-brew, which results in a drier puck, but it sucks a little bit of coffee and water into the system each time which can build up in there and adversely impact the machine’s performance. Backflushing forces detergent and water through the valve system, thoroughly cleaning it and maintaining the system. It also has the added benefit of cleaning up behind the brew head’s screen without taking it apart.
You don’t backflush if your machine doesn’t have this system — because you don’t have the valves to clean! Some machines that don’t need backflushing include the Saeco Aroma, Via Venezia, Sirena, models made by Breville, those from Francis Francis!/illy and Delonghi and Capresso semi-automatics. But since you’re not forcing detergent through the brew head, you will need to take it apart semi-regularly to clean up behind the brew screen.
The best way to determine if you need to backflush your machine is to read the manufacturer’s manual and the machine’s technical specifications to see if it has the valve system. If it doesn’t, you’re good to go; if it does, you should backflush once every 1 – 2 weeks, depending on how often you use the machine.
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:
If you’re anything like us, you probably used your gear’s user manual for one of three things:
- To ineffectively swat at flies, yet one day you accidentally killed one and couldn’t bear to keep the gut-stained book around.
- To prop up the uneven handmade bookshelf lovingly made by a friend/parent/spouse/sibling/child that never sits right on the wood floor.
- To start a fire in the fireplace to enjoy while sipping on a delicious glass of chai spiced wine. (Guilty!)
Or, maybe you just recycled it by accident. Whatever the case, the fact of the matter is that now you have no wisdom to guide you. We created our manufacturer manual repository over at Brown Bean to connect you with the source code. We have manuals for a lot of models both current and historical, so if you’re looking for tips on how to perform maintenance or need to find out what that error code means, check ‘em out.
Don’t see your model there? Leave a comment here and we’ll see if we can’t track it down and add it to the repository.
Seattle Coffee Gear’s monthly newsletter, The Grind, landed in an email box near you today — and if it wasn’t near enough for you to actually read it, you can do so here on the site or make sure you get up close and personal next month by signing up for future editions.
This month, we talk about the different functional types of espresso machines, include a recipe for Indochine Lemon, point you to our manufacturer manual resource on Brown Bean and introduce you to a few new products we have in the store. What you won’t see, however, is The Grind Special, which is for subscriber-eyes-only. Sign up to get that little bit o’ goodness every month.
Navigating the available options in the world of home espresso machines can sometimes be a little overwhelming. Functionally speaking, there are a few different basic variations:
- Manual/Lever: With these machines, you are the pump. You grind, tamp and control the pressure during the extraction. You also manage the whole steaming process.
- Semi-Automatic: Semi-automatics have 15 – 17 BAR pumps involved, which will settle down to about 9 BARs of pressure if your grind/tamp is accurate. You will grind & tamp, then initiate the shot on and off. Steaming is also up to you.
- Automatic: Still grinding, tamping and steaming on your own, but you can program these machines to dose out a specific amount of water, so it will automatically end the shot.
- Pressurized Portafilters: Automatic and semi-automatic machines can have a variation that includes a pressurized porftafilter. This makes the machine a little bit easier to use because you don’t have to be super particular about your grind and tamp.
- Pod-Friendly: Another variation of semi-automatic and automatic machines are those that allow you to use what is basically a ground coffee version of a tea bag. These single serving pods make for easy, mess-free brewing.
- Superautomatic: These machines manage the whole grind and tamp process for you, but on most of them you will still be required to steam your milk. Some of them (usually called ‘One Touch’) provide automated frothing and shot extraction into your cup at the touch of the button; others have an automated frothing system that will froth the milk separately and you can pour it into the cup after it’s automatically extracted.
- Capsule: Probably the most simple machine in terms of materials and labor, these guys use a proprietary capsule filled with pre-ground coffee and extract it at the touch of a button — no grinding and tamping. Some of them have automatic frothing options.
We asked Gail to talk to us about these different machines, why someone would want to buy a specific type and why perhaps they wouldn’t want to buy it. Hopefully, this video will function as a good primer for learning the basic functional differences and help you as you research which machine best suits your needs.