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.
The most used component of any non-superautomatic espresso machine is the portafilter — it gets poked, prodded, pounded, grabbed, tweaked and occasionally tossed a little too far. We know that it’s nothing personal, and no reflection on your sentiment toward your machine, but these little suckers do bear the brunt of the espresso extraction process.
Picking up a replacement portafilter before you need one means you can keep the java flowing, even if you got a little too aggressive in your morning coffee ritual. We have a variety of replacement portafilters for several of the machines that we carry, and we recently reworked our Rancilio Silvia portafilter product to make it a little easier to customize it with different baskets and/or spouts.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Backflushing the Rancilio Silvia is an essential element of it’s cleaning and maintenance routine. In fact, we say this about all machines that have a three-way solenoid/brew pressure release valve — such as machines with the E61 brew group, the Pasquini Livia 90, Ascaso Uno Pro and Duo series or the La Spaziale Vivaldi machines, among others.
This release valve system serves two purposes: It relieves pressure in the brew head (so you don’t have an exploding portafilter) and it also sucks up a little bit of water from the coffee puck (so you don’t have soupy grounds). As you can imagine, this action will take water and a little bit of coffee with it each time, a residue that can build up in the system and eventually damage the machine. For a long time, Rancilio didn’t recommend doing this out of concern for proper customer education and the belief that these home machines didn’t get enough use to merit such maintenance. Over time, however, they have adjusted their opinion — it is something they do recommend on their commercial machines — and they are proponents of educating home baristas to properly care for their equipment.
While we demonstrated the procedure on the Rocket Giotto in one of our very first videos in 2008, we received many requests for demonstrations and tips on how to perform this on the Rancilio Silvia. At long last, here it is!
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.
As we recently wrote about, Rancilio released a ‘pleather’ version of their much beloved Silvia semi-automatic espresso machine. It’s got all the joy of the original, with a little more sass. In this video, Gail shows us this cute little number up close & personal.
If just making really great espresso isn’t enough for you and you’re a bit of a show pony (it’s okay, we still love you), then Rancilio’s saucy lil’ limited edition minx may be the lady for you.
Wrapped in faux burgundy leather (completely synthetic and animal-friendly), this special model has all the awesome features of the regular Silvia Version 3, just in a prettier package. Durable stainless steel casing, brass components and copper tubing for excellent temperature consistency and a commercial-grade steam wand that produces silky microfoam for your lattes and cappuccinos are just a few of the Silvia’s lovable features.
We only have 9 of these available, so if it melds with your style and you’ve had your eye on a Silvia for awhile, now’s your chance!