DIY lovers are all into the idea of using lemon juice or vinegar to descale their machines, but while the latter will leave a nasty residue and we don’t recommend it for that reason, the former just isn’t concentrated enough to do as an effective job in as an efficient manner as a concentrated citric acid solution like Dezcal. This is what we find out from Gail, plus she makes freaky faces and it’s worth watching just for that.
Looking to soften your water a bit without completely removing the mineral content? Try out one of these in-take resin water softeners. Not only are they rechargeable, so they’ll last basically forever, but they easily fit on any machine that uses an intake tube to pull water from the reservoir into the machine — such as the Rancilio Silvia, any of the Quick Mill machines or the Saeco Aroma.
It’s not super sophisticated, but it will reduce the hardness of your water and, in turn, how fast it takes scale to build up in your boiler and related waterworks. You can recharge it by putting it in a glass with water with a few tablespoons of non-iodized and additive-free salt (like kosher) and let it hang out once a week.
A lot of folks want to know some of the similarities, differences, pros and cons of the heat exchange espresso machines we carry, so we asked Gail to walk us through several different models and give us the goods.
In this video, she discusses the Rocket Cellini & Giotto, the Quick Mill Anita & Andreja, the Grimac La Valentina and the Pasquini Livia 90. The latter two come in either semi-automatic or programmable automatic versions, while the first four are lever-controlled semi-automatic only.
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!
If you have an espresso machine with a three-way brew pressure release valve, you have an additional maintenance regimen on your hand: The backflush. We are sometimes asked if backflushing is necessary if descaling is performed regularly, and so we posed your question to Gail. In this video, she’ll describe the different procedures and talk about which espresso machine systems they target.
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.