You've heard your mother say it and with coffee it's just as true. Cleanliness is next to godliness! If you want your coffee to taste as good as it can, then you need to start looking after your machine better!
I've serviced my fair share of espresso machines over time, and I've seen machines that don't work simply because simple preventative maintenance steps haven't been taken. So here's the run down.
It's all about the water.
Water makes up somewhere between 85-99% of your coffee, depending on how you prepare it. So it's essential to have clean, filtered water to start. All the minerals in our tap water build up inside your machine and will eventually block a pipe leading to the unimaginable. You wake up to find you can't make your morning espresso. Cue gasps of anxiety, maybe an unmentionable word and having to drive to the nearest cafe or service station, maybe even the thought of reaching for that tin you haven't opened since you discovered real coffee......Let's stop there, bad memories or worst fears maybe taking over!
When you bought your machine, the manual it came with, (that 50% of us don't normally read! I'm talking to my fellow man here) should of mentioned replacing a filter every say 6 months. Make sure you do it, it may seem a hassle but remember the previous paragraph!
We'd even add to that putting filtered water into your machine to start with. Most of us use some sort of filtration at home anyway and it'll make doubly sure.
Back Flush Your Machine
This process cleans the shower screen that comes in contact with your coffee time and again and the group head it attaches to. Your coffee can't taste clean and delicious if you have old, stale coffee built up in there.
About once every couple of days would be a minimum requirement at our house, and using a tablet at least once a month to really clear all that build up. This would also be a good time to remove the shower altogether and clean it out and remove and remove and clean the filter basket and your portafilter.
Descaling your machine is still necessary even if you filtering your water. Most domestic machines have tiny pipes that block quicker then the one you see on show at your local cafe, so it's critical you descale regularly following the manufacturers instructions.
Clean Your Grinder
You may have never thought of this, but before you even get to the espresso machine your beans have already been in contact with possibly dirty, oily surfaces. The hopper (where the beans are stored in your grinder) needs to be cleaned regularly so the natural coffee oils that build up over time, don't taint the fresh beans we roasted for you last week. Again follow the manufacturers instructions and you'll be alright!
Just Clean Everything Else!
If you don't use and espresso machine, you still need to make sure everything is as clean as possible. Warm soapy water is fine for regular cleaning, just make sure it's rinsed thoroughly with fresh water before you use it again.
Your kettle will also need a descale regularly, for the same reasons as any machine. Those pesky minerals will attach themselves to the wall and taint any fresh water you add, leaving your coffee tasting that little less crisp!
All of these tasks are necessary at regular intervals to ensure that joyous morning ritual starts off on the right note! It backs up the thing your dad always told you 'prevention is better then cure!' Don't give him another reason to prove his point!