Cleaning a filthy espresso machine

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cupojo

#1: Post by cupojo »

Hi,

We have a Faema machine at work which noone seems to clean or maintain. I am trying to find out why it makes such poor espresso because it seems to be quite a good machine and the lack of cleaning seems to be a good possibility.

When you lock in the portafilter there is a round mesh directly above the portafilter through which the pressurised hot water is pushed. I think it is called the shower screen. I have looked at this screen while pressing the dispense button without a portafilter locked in place and it seems to me water should come out through all the holes in the screen. But in this case only about 10 mesh holes let out any water above the puck and I reckon this means we are getting very poor distribution because the mesh is clogged.

Does this sound like a good reason for why the espresso tastes sour and weak with minimal short-lasting crema and a slight sour stink to it? Anyone know how to remove this screen for cleaning? Since it is not my machine I don't want to break it. There is no obvious way to remove it.

thanks a lot!
-cupojo

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jesawdy

#2: Post by jesawdy » replying to cupojo »

Uh, oh... where to start... :roll:

Well, first welcome to HB, and thanks for checking in. Hopefully we can get you on your way to better espresso.

Your lackluster espresso could be a result of many things, machine cleanliness included.

Your bad espresso may first and foremost be the result of bad coffee. If you have old, stale coffee, you'll never get much more than what you've described. Preferably, the coffee should be a whole bean espresso blend, no older than 4 weeks post roast (most will say 2 weeks). It should be ground per order, meaning you only grind enough beans to make the drinks that were just ordered. Coffee grinds sitting there stale very quickly, losing precious volatiles and taking on or giving up moisture.

The grinder needs to be an espresso grinder, hopefully you've got one.

The machine should be cleaned. You'll need some espresso machine cleaner to do this, like Cafiza, JoeGlo or similar. For machine cleaning, see Espresso Machine Cleaning Digest, the Article Espresso Machine Cleaning - Why, How, and When and the Article Comments. Here's a helpful video in How to Backflush an Espresso Machine [video by TerryZ].

The round mesh you describe is the dispersion screen. You may be able to remove and clean it, but you may need to replace it and the gasket that is likely holding it in place. Since you see no obvious way to remove the dispersion screen (like no center screw), it probably removes like an E61 dispersion screen, see How to clean E61 dispersion screen, How to change an E61 group gasket, and Easy E61 grouphead gasket removal. Unfortunately, you might damage the screen and/or gasket in doing this, so get some spares first.

If you're serious about improving things, have a gander at the site's Recommended Reading in the FAQs and Favorites Digest to get you started.
Jeff Sawdy

cupojo

#3: Post by cupojo »

Jeff,

Thanks for the reply.

You are right, it's probably an E61 group head as it looks just like one.

I'm fairly sure the problem is not the coffee or the grinder. The grinder is a commercial grade Bregant burr grinder. The thing weighs about 40 lbs. I bought the beans recently from a local roaster after drinking espresso made from this blend at that roaster and it was excellent. I only grind for the day although I will save any extra for the following day.

Could anyone confirm the hot water should shoot from all the holes in the dispersion screen? I see water coming from maybe 20 holes. If that is normal I'm on the wrong track.

As far as the espresso - it's not terrible, just fair. I do get a crema but the flavour is not great and the crema disappears too quickly.

By the way I am making a single shot, filling the portafilter to the top before leveling with my finger and tamping hard to try for 30lbs finishing with a twist not under pressure. The amount of coffee used for the shot is around 15 grams. Using only 7-10 grams seems like very little coffee in the portafilter.

thanks
-cupojo

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mogogear

#4: Post by mogogear »

Jeff will be one of your best guide on this. There are many hints that you give to indicate many things that can be "adjusted" I will leave them to a more experienced Barista than myself - like Jeff-

To answer your question about the holes in the dispersion / shower screen- Yes all the holes should be open - even though the force of the water will be more concentrated in the center.

Go back and read the link he provided to you about "How to back flush" If this machine is really neglected- it may take many cycles to get the blockage / buildup removed- It also may be so blocked that the screen has to be removed in order to clean- and you may then need a grouphead seal for that operation. :shock: While you are at it soak that PF abd basket too!

So clean , clean clean and see if you improve the open holes noticeably.

After that there will be all sorts of "next step" questions - and I bet the ""days" worth of ground coffee in the doser will be commented on somewhere in the conversation. :wink: :wink:

I am just glad you are interested in the process enough to ask and be curious! Good for you and the customers you serve.

Edited:

Cupo' Jo indicated to me that he is not serving customers with this machine- He is tinkering on it for his own amusement and interest

We all seem to love projects don't we :wink:
greg moore

Leverwright
LMWDP #067

cupojo

#5: Post by cupojo »

Greg,

Thanks for the reply.

I should clarify a couple of things. This machine is not being used to pull espresso shots for sale to customers, thankfully. This is in an office building. It and the grinder were bought by an employee who no longer works there and he left the machine when he moved on. It seems to me the machine is not getting any maintenance.

I only started making espresso two weeks ago although I've been buying espresso shots for years. I've become obsessed with making better espresso. I just discovered this forum a few days ago, so I've done a lot of reading in the last few days.

Unfortunately upon further investigation it doesn't seem to be an E61 group head, but instead appears to be a Faema Compact group head:
http://espressoparts.com/category/03.01.faema.01/

The machine is similar to this:
http://tinyurl.com/2xx8wv
except it does not have a run lever like that but instead a button to push to turn on the flow.

The key thing is just like on the E61 group head there is no screw to remove the dispersion screen as there was in the video Jeff posted the link to. However I will try to find the backflush block off plate and purchase a gasket to pop off the dispersion screen to clean it.

thanks a lot for the info.

-cupojo

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jesawdy

#6: Post by jesawdy »

cupojo wrote:I'm fairly sure the problem is not the coffee or the grinder. The grinder is a commercial grade Bregant burr grinder. The thing weighs about 40 lbs. I bought the beans recently from a local roaster after drinking espresso made from this blend at that roaster and it was excellent. I only grind for the day although I will save any extra for the following day.
OK, that sounds good. Just grind enough coffee for a drink or two at a time. Don't use grinds that have been sitting for a long time.
Could anyone confirm the hot water should shoot from all the holes in the disperion screen? I see water coming from maybe 20 holes. If that is normal I'm on the wrong track.
Water should come from all over the shower screen. It will sometimes form a cone into one single stream or several smaller streams, so you won't usually see it pour like a showerhead in your bathroom.
By the way I am making a single shot, filling the portafilter to the top before leveling with my finger and tamping hard to try for 30lbs finishing with a twist not under pressure. The amount of coffee used for the shot is around 15 grams. Using only 7-10 grams seems like very little coffee in the portafilter.
The shot size (single/double) is determined by the basket used and amount of coffee used (dose). Most singles basket struggle to hold more than 10g of coffee, so you may be using a doubles basket. The picture below shows the bottom of a singles basket. Notice that is has a small surface area where the basket is perforated.

Image
Faema style single basket

For a blind filter, you can use a solid steel blind basket, or a rubber blind disk that sits in the regular basket. You might could make one out of a piece or inner tube, rubber mouse mat or similar material.

You should have a very capable set up there. I am sorry if I came off a bit harsh at first... I thought this was a machine serving customers. In any case, I'm glad to help.

Some helpful tips:
  • Get some espresso machine cleaner.
    Clean or replace the shower screen and group gasket (spares of both are good to have).
    Make a concentrated HOT solution of cleaner and soak the baskets (removed from the portafilter) and the portafilters themselves in the cleaning solution. Sometimes this is detrimental to the handles, so only soak the metal portion. If you get the showerscreen off in one piece soak it too. When you remove the basket, you'll have an idea if it is clean or dirty.
    Backflush the machine a few times with cleaner and then just hot water.
    The machine may need to be descaled, but you can check that out later if you like.
When using the machine, allow an hour warm up time before you try to make coffee.

If you are using a doubles basket, 15 grams is a great place to start. The doubles basket is generally easier to use than the singles basket.

The machines should be a heat exchanger machine, so read through the recommended reading (in particular the HX Love article) I mentioned before and you will be making great coffee in a very short time.

Post some pictures (or a video) if you are so inclined (here's how - pics, video).... and ask any questions you'd like.
Jeff Sawdy

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Psyd

#7: Post by Psyd »

cupojo wrote:
I only grind for the day although I will save any extra for the following day.

I've become obsessed with making better espresso.
Following Jeff's advice to grind on an 'as needed' basis would be the first step in that obsession. General rule of thumb, coffee goes stale after fifteen days or fifteen minutes, depending on whether it has just been roasted or just been ground.
If you remove the dispersion screen, set it on the gas stove and let the stove burn the old coffee oils off of it. Heat it up til it starts to get orange. You may get some smoke, and a bit of flame off of it, depending on the buildup, so be prepared for that. Once the oils are all corbonized, it should be fairly easy to (after it gets cooled) to take an old toothbrush and clean it. It's a way to get new performance out of old kit while waiting for shipping. Or, just getting the new performance instead of waiting for new parts.
Flames make the metal hot, hot burns, don't be an idiot, and all those other disclaimers...
Espresso Sniper
One Shot, One Kill

LMWDP #175

cupojo

#8: Post by cupojo »

Jeff - Thanks again. I think I know what to do now.

Psyd - Since it's not my own machine and many others need to use it I might just try to order a new dispersion screen and gasket. Thanks.

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Psyd

#9: Post by Psyd »

Psyd - Since it's not my own machine and many others need to use it I might just try to order a new dispersion screen and gasket. Thanks.
Sure, but since there is nothing to lose, burn the crud off the old one and keep it around as a hot (no pun intended) spare.
Espresso Sniper
One Shot, One Kill

LMWDP #175