Whether you want a burst of energy in the morning or a relaxing latte after work, an espresso machine is a convenient, affordable luxury. If it should break down, follow these simple steps to get it perking again.
Before trying an ambitious repair project, be sure to troubleshoot your espresso machine first. If your machine is not working at all, your problem may be as simple as a disconnected power supply. Check the owner’s manual to locate wires and fuses, and inspect them for problems, a quick once-over is enough to test your wiring for frays and breakage, while a blown fuse can be tested with a voltage meter. If you have water leaks, check the gaskets in your machine and replace any that are loose, cracked or stiffened.
Cleaning the Machine
If your machine is working, but producing bitter-tasting espresso or brewing slowly, you may simply need to clean it. To clean the interior, you need a commercial cleaner specifically formulated for espresso machines, or a homemade combination of three ounces of white vinegar with twenty ounces of water. Pour the cleaner into your water intake, run it through, then repeat the process several times with pure water to keep the flavor of your espresso fresh. You may also need to descale your machine, removing sediment that has built up from using tap water or well water. Dissolve descaling agent, such as citric acid or commercial solutions, into the full reservoir of your machine, then run a cup of water out of the steam wand. Let it sit for twenty minutes, then run a quarter of the reservoir out of the steam wand and another quarter out of the brew head. Give it another twenty minutes after that, then repeat the process for a scale-free machine.
Fixing a Vapor-Locklf your machine has stopped during or immediately after use, it may be vapor-locked–a situation where superheated vapor from the boiler puts pressure on the water pump and renders it unable to work. To solve this problem, let the machine cool down, refill the reservoir and open the steam wand knob. After two minutes, turn on the brew button; after four, turn the brew button off but keep the steam wand open. After six minutes total, the pressure in the espresso machine should be equalized and the vapor lock gone.
Replacing the Fuse
If your espresso machine has blown a fuse, then your repair will be simple and inexpensive. Just unplug the machine, and find the fuse. It should be labeled in your owner’s manual, but you can also find it by looking along the metal parts of the boiler. Look for a small, glassy bulb in a plastic tube. Make a note of its temperature rating, which should be printed on the side of the fuse. Once you have found the tube, use an ohmmeter to measure electrical resistance by tracing wires back from the fuse to their point of connection with the rest of the machine. If the ohmmeter does not register any electrical activity, your fuse needs to be replaced. Just unscrew the clip that holds the fuse, pull its plastic socket away, and cut the wires leading from the fuse to the machine. Replacement fuses are available at most hardware stores, be sure to buy replacement fuses with the same temperature rating, plus crimping connectors to join the new wires with the old ones. Hold the new fuse wires and the old ones closely together, close the crimping connectors around them, and use pliers or a specialized crimping tool to seal the connection. Replace the plastic tube, making sure no metal is visible on the new fuse, and tuck the fuse back into place.
It’s helpful to schedule monthly maintenance to clean and inspect your machine, so you can stop problems before they start. Many minor problems get their start from erratic maintenance; leaks, for example, can often be traced to failing gaskets, built-up coffee grounds, or loose connections. Many problems with the taste and texture of your espresso can also be solved by fine-tuning the texture of your grounds. Grounds that are too fine or tamped down too firmly create a slower brew with a more bitter taste, while grounds that are too coarse result in a weak brew and gurgling in the machine. While espresso machines are complex and finely tuned, most of their problems are surprisingly easy to solve on your own.