Chris' Coffee says: Don't descale!

Water analysis, treatment, and mineral recipes for optimum taste and equipment health.
josemolina

#1: Post by josemolina »

I have a new E-61 espresso-only machine purchased from Chris' Coffee and was surprised to find the following passage in the store-written owner's guide:
Chris' Coffee Service does not recommend descaling by the end user. Often times home descaling can cause more problems than it solves. Various home descaling agents can react to the minerals and foam over ruining electrical components. If the solution is too strong it can cause the chrome plating inside the group to flake off and get in the coffee or if it's too weak it can dislodge minerals and cause a blockage. For liability/warranty reasons we strongly discourage descaling and will not provide any instructions on the process. Please seek a qualified service technician to properly descale your machine.
In the original, the bold portion is highlighted in yellow.

I got in touch with Chris about this and found that he feels, if anything, even more strongly than the manual suggests. He warned me that descaler is "acid and it eats away at the metal." Rather than descaling, he recommends taking whatever steps are necessary to make sure nothing but soft water is used with the machine. As he put it: "Using hard water and having to descale your machine is like banging your car into things and having to keep taking it to the body shop. Learn how to be a better driver and you won't need to fix it."

This all makes a certain amount of sense to me, but I was under the impression--from years of reading knowledgeable posts here--that running Dezcal through a machine on a regular basis was standard procedure.

Can anyone advise me?

brianl

#2: Post by brianl »

Mostly I like calcium in my espresso water. I think illy even said the calcium extracts better than say sodium (cation softened water). I would definitely keep the water around 50 to 150 ppm hardness. Chris suggests the low side but I get acidic water doing that (I mix distilled and tap)

I think it's mostly intended for the non coffeegeek that doesn't know how to do it properly

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cebseb

#3: Post by cebseb »

I'm with Brian on this one. I think Chris aimed that more towards a typical end user that hasn't learned from past mistakes, has years of experience, or have done it under professional supervision before.
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baldheadracing
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#4: Post by baldheadracing »

Descaling should be a last resort, and certainly not a regular thing to do - unless circumstances force you to use water that is not good for your machine - or your espresso.

The idea is to use the right water, and then you won't have scale, and you will have good espresso.

rpavlis has posted extensively on this, e.g.,

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csepulv

#5: Post by csepulv »

As others have noted, descaling can be an involved process, so CCS advises you to avoid scale in the first place. You might want to read through Jim Schulman's Insanely Long Water FAQ to read about water, taste on espresso, scale and tips for avoiding scale.
Chris

DaveC

#6: Post by DaveC »

josemolina wrote:I got in touch with Chris about this and found that he feels, if anything, even more strongly than the manual suggests. He warned me that descaler is "acid and it eats away at the metal." Rather than descaling, he recommends taking whatever steps are necessary to make sure nothing but soft water is used with the machine. As he put it: "Using hard water and having to descale your machine is like banging your car into things and having to keep taking it to the body shop. Learn how to be a better driver and you won't need to fix it."

This all makes a certain amount of sense to me, but I was under the impression--from years of reading knowledgeable posts here--that running Dezcal through a machine on a regular basis was standard procedure.

Can anyone advise me?
I have a similar view to Chris. I think descaling is to be avoided, it's really a cost of failure, the failure to use the right water for espresso machines. Hard water and descaling is the root cause of most espresso machine faults and problems.

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Randy G.

#7: Post by Randy G. »

Using the correct water is prevention. Descaling is the cure for the disease you get from not practicing preventative "medicine."
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brianl

#8: Post by brianl »

Since water has come up. Can anyone vouch for the taste of Potassium bicarbonate ? I always thought it tasted like stake alkaseltzer.

solo

#9: Post by solo »

For all intents and purposes, it sounds like Chris is essentially saying if you do descale it yourself, and you screw anything up, your warranty is null and void. This makes sense for the warrantor, although it's hard to imagine needing to descale before the warranty period expires. I used an E61 Hx machine for 9 years, and never descaled the machine. Maybe that's why it broke, lol. Only used purified, minerals-added, softened water though. The Breville Oracle I replaced the Hx machine with actually features an automated descaling procedure, has descale access valves for draining/flushing the boilers before, during, and after the process. Curiously, the machine automatically prompts you to replace the water filter (based on water hardness), or run a cleaning cycle (every 200 shots), but is mute on the frequency of descaling. I emailed Breville to see what they recommend. Curious what they'll have to say.

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Peppersass
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#10: Post by Peppersass »

I've owned my GS/3 for over five years and have never descaled it.

I bought the machine from Chris Coffee, and had the same conversation with Chris before I took the machine home. I've also done a lot of reading on the subject.

The water from our well usually measures about 120-150 ppm hardness and 140-170 ppm alkalinity with 150 ppm %TDS (yes, it's not always the sum of the hardness and alkalinity.) Every water-boiling appliance we've used has eventually formed scale inside. Right from the start I was determined not to let that happen to my GS/3.

I started out with the professional cation softening system sold by Chris Coffee. It works very well, reducing the hardness to 0 ppm while leaving the alkalinity untouched. I have never tasted the sodium in my espresso, and have never had water-related extraction problems. My theory is that the calcium carbonate responsible for the alkalinity, and perhaps other minerals in the water, do a pretty good job of coffee extraction.

For about 18 months I used an Everpure Claris system. I set the bypass for about 70 ppm hardness. Frankly, I couldn't detect any difference in the espresso. Eventually I became concerned about reports of low pH produced by the Claris system under certain circumstances. Sure enough, the pH of the output water measured below La Marzocco's recommendation, so I switched back to the cation system.

Descaling scares the heck out of me. There are a lot of different metals in these machines, and it takes a materials expert to know just how much damage might be done by any given concentration of acid using for descaling. Further, the danger that bits of scale can flake off during descaling, fail to dissolve completely and jam a critical valve or pathway frightens me even more. So, I think scaling should be avoided whenever possible.

I also think the arguments for using water with scale-producing levels of hardness to get better extraction don't, er, hold water. :lol: