OK you have your nice shiny machine for making espresso, there are a few tips that will help you protect that investment. In general here I am referring to "E61" machines or machines with an E61 bottom group. It’s best to start with the principle enemies of these machines, the things that subject them to the greatest stress in daily use.
* The operator….yes that’s right, you!
* The water you use…(mainly lime scale problems)
* Old age….the machine (not you)
The operator is one of the biggest causes of machine failure, through either incorrect operation, or more usually, opening the machine up and making adjustments, with little or no knowledge of how it works. The best way to avoid these errors is use the “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” approach; this is especially valuable if you know nothing about how it operates. The other approach is RTM, that’s read the manual, read information available in forums and Wikis. Learn how to use your machine properly.
Operator Problems that can usually be avoided:-
* Rapid snapping movements of the controls
* Water being poured inside them
* Showing the machine just how strong you are when locking the portafilter into the group
* Keeping the portafilter tightly locked into the group when not using the machine (especially true if you leave it on all night)
* Never cleaning the group and gasket of old coffee between shots, or groups of shots
* Backflushing rarely or never
* Leaving the machine on all the time, especially all night, it’s totally unnecessary
* The second biggest enemy of your machine is the water you use - unless you live in a very soft water area.
This is because water contains “rubbish” to use a non scientific term. This “rubbish” is what you never intended to drink and the manufacturers definitely don’t design the machines to take into account the fact that, most of our water is full of it. Lime scale (the espresso machine killer) even if you use soft or softened water gums varnishes and sediments don’t help things. Luckily most de-scalers when run through a machine do a reasonable job of stripping gums and varnishes from internal valves etc. as well. Just remember when descaling, not to be too aggressive, descaling more often is better than very infrequent, but aggressive descales (for the simple reason that scale doesn’t always deposit evenly, so exposed metal areas are subjected to very strongly acidic solutions). Some commercial preparations are far too powerful for domestic espresso machines and some are really for drastic remedial action on machines that haven’t been descaled for a very long time. Manufacturers recommended de-scalers, or citric/tartaric acid based de-scalers are potentially the safest to use. If you leave the machine too long between descales, rather than dissolving lime scale, the process causes it to break up and small and large bits can remain. This can actually create blockages and problems, where there were none before. Often this necessitates another descale (of course a blockage in a small pipe/hole is quite difficult to clear once scaled!).
The last bit of good advice, you paid a lot of money for your espresso machine….unless you absolutely have to, don’t use it as a kettle. Oddly enough kettles work far better as a kettle than expensive espresso machines and cost less than £20. There are a few reasons for this;
* It wears out your machine quicker (the hot water valve, the pump, the autofill solenoid, the pressurestat, the heating element, all work harder and the harder things work, the faster they wear out).
* You have to descale more, if you don’t use it for hot water, you may only need to descale the Hot Water/Steam boiler every 6 months to 1 year. The brew path you will of course need to descale more often.
The machine simply doesn’t last for ever, although most of it will last a very long time, other parts have a shorter life. Common parts and typical lifetimes are shown below
* Group Gaskets – about 6-12 months depending on the abuse (and lack of cleanliness) you give the machine
* Shower screens (many years, if you keep them clean)
* Vacuum Breaker Valves (3-7 years)
* Pressurestat (3-7 years)
* Vibe Pump (3-5 years, they also weaken with age)
* Heating element (3-10 years)
* E61 group, but 3-5 years before service or re-build
* Electronic 3 way solenoid valves (about 5-7 years, unless you let them scale up and burn out!)
* Gicar/Giemmie control Boxes (and similar) about 5-7 years
* Water and steam valves (conventional type) a long time if you are gentle (3-7 years), the no compression ones eventually wear as well and have a similar lifetime. Replacement of the conventional ones is the usual remedy as they are very inexpensive.
You might be forgiven in thinking that you will have built a complete new machine every 7-10 years, but this is not true, most of these parts are very cheap and easily replaced. The major expense components of your machine, if properly looked after should last a “lifetime”, if you’re very young, then make that a really long time.