An espresso machine, like every other kitchen appliance, is bound to break down at some point during usage. However, unlike other appliances that stop working, an espresso machine seizing up could be a lot more frustrating, as the ones who use these machines in their homes are typically people who need their coffee first thing in the morning. When these coffee lovers do not get their daily shot of caffeine, things can go really bad.
Common coffee machine issues include the machine not turning on, not producing adequate steam, having group handle issues, etc. Proper cleaning and care, using the right kind of water and milk, and ensuring proper power supply should remedy or mitigate most of these issues.
Keep reading to learn more about the common espresso machine troubles you may have to put up with and what you could do about them. These issues and their solutions can be applied to espresso machines used in coffee shops as well.
Espresso Machine Stops Running
When your coffee machine stops working cold turkey, any of the following could be the cause:
- The machine’s on/off switch, or power cord has gone bad
- The valve could have been closed due to clogging
- Clogged tubes
If the switch or cord has gone bad, get it replaced by a professional. Do not attempt the fix by yourself as an improper redressal or replacement could lead to potential safety hazards. If you cannot get hold of a technician or the manufacturer isn’t offering proper service, you may have to buy a new machine altogether (of course, not from the same company).
A clogged valve can be addressed by fishing out the built-in debris using a toothpick. The calcium-clogged tubes, on the other hand, could be taken care of by running vinegar through the coffee machine, followed by a couple of batches of water to ensure the vinegar is completely cleaned out.
There are a couple of power-related problems that cannot be fixed: heating coil failure, and heat-sensitive switch fail. It is so because getting the right replacement parts for them could be quite challenging.
Espresso Machine Has Little/No Hot Water From the Machine
At times, your coffee machine may have trouble dispensing hot water. It could give out steam instead. This could be due to your machine not being able to draw water from its tank, and that could be because air might have trapped inside the machine, blocking water supply in the process.
There may be several reasons why this could be an issue. The major cause being the water tank not properly placed in the machine. If your machine has a front-mounted water tank, make sure you properly insert the tank and fully push it in.
If trapped air is the cause, follow these steps:
- Turn the machine off.
- Empty the tank and take out the water filter.
- Fill the tank with water and put it back in place.
- Switch on the machine.
When the coffee machine gets heated up, choose hot water in the settings and dispense some hot water – ideally two to three cups. This should most likely remedy the situation.
Espresso Machine Has Clogged Filter Basket
If your dark coffee has a funky flavor, a clogged filter basket could be the culprit. The reusable filter you use in your machine should be regularly cleaned as it could routinely get clogged up with coffee’s essential oils, causing a funky-tasting or weak brew as a result. To clean your filter after you are done brewing for the day:
- Rinse the filter in soapy, warm water thoroughly; or
- You could let the filter run in your dishwasher’s upper rack
Either way, wipe the filter with a clean, damp cloth after the cleaning. For deeper cleaning, soak the filter in water and distilled mixture (1:2 ratio). Let it soak for a few hours. It would be better if you could leave them soaking overnight. If you don’t have time to spare because it’s the only coffee machine in your house or shop, use a scrub brush with some baking soda instead.
Baking soda comes in handy with pretty much all forms of cleaning.
Espresso Machine Group Head Does Not Dispense Water
A coffee machine’s group head usually won’t dispense water if it’s blocked. And the blockage is typically due to no or improper cleaning. Most people at home do not clean their coffee machine as regularly or religiously as coffee shops do. A dirty machine could lead to a plethora of problems and not just group head issues.
To address this issue, make sure you backflush the machine every day, so there is no solenoid malfunctioning. Backflushing is essentially cleaning out the brew group, shower screen, and the three-way valve. To backflush the machine, follow these steps:
- Remove the filter basket from the machine’s portafilter and place it in the backflush disc.
- Put some backflush cleaner (approximately 0.5 teaspoons) into the basket.
- Place the portafilter back in the brew group. Now switch on the pump.
- In about 20 to 30 seconds, the pump would go extremely quiet. This is due to the pressure building up within. When enough pressure has built up, or the pump has gone noticeably quiet, switch it off.
- Right after you turn things on, the cleaner would blow up in the brew group – marked by a distinct “whoosh” sound – via the three-way valve and ending up in the drip tray. Do this multiple times till the foam releasing into the dray is clean.
If you would like to learn about backflushing an espresso machine, check out this video below:
Kindly note, backflushing can be done only if the coffee machine has a three-way valve.
Espresso Machine Group Head Doesn’t Stop Dispensing Water
If the issue with the group head is the exact opposite or the water continuously pours out of it, the machine’s continuous pour button could have been left on.
Most coffee machines come with a button for continuous pour to tackle different situations – for instance, if the machine’s touchpad stops working suddenly. The pour button could be used to dispense coffee manually. However, at times the button could be turned on and not released. The solution for this is pretty straightforward – just turn off the button.
Another similar issue with the group head could be water spritzing to the sides. Dirty shower filters are likely the cause of such erratic sprays. Overlooking a dirty shower filter is not that difficult, which could lead to major headaches. Though it isn’t critical to your machine’s coffee-making ability, it could be quite annoying and also reduce the efficiency of your coffee maker.
The solution once again boils down to regular cleaning of the machine. Backflushing the machine regularly would ensure a spick and span appliance, instead of causing a buildup of dirt and letting that erupt like a volcano and splattering dirt lava everywhere.
Espresso Machine Handle Popping Off
The group handle popping off could be due to the handle being overpacked with coffee. You don’t need generous amounts of coffee for a proper brew. If you want more cups per handle, simply do not overdose the handle. Instead, buy larger baskets or a handle that’s capable of packing in more coffee. Also, modify your grind setting so that the handles do not get overdosed.
Espresso Machine Milk Frothing Issues
Milk frothing is aerating the milk, creating a heavy and thick foam to be mixed with coffee. There are different reasons your espresso machine may have trouble frothing milk, which includes:
- Low or slow steam pressure
- Blocked steam nozzle
- Quality of the milk
- Re-frothing boiled milk
At times, milk may just not froth, and there could be multiple reasons for that. The presence of monoglycerides, diglycerides, and free fatty acids could be partially the reason. These compounds form when bacteria or enzymes in the milk attack the milk’s fat content. This process is called “lipolysis.”
If steam pressure is the cause, check whether the boiler pressure is right. Some other things you could do to rectify the problem is:
- Remove the steam nozzle and thoroughly clean it
- Try a fresh batch of milk
- Make sure the milk jug is completely clean before you attempt re-frothing with fresh milk
Espresso Machine Doesn’t Heat or Release Steam
An espresso machine usually doesn’t get hot or give out steam when its power switch is not in the right position. If you face this issue, try turning the machine off and on again. Most espresso machines come with power switches that could be positioned in multiple ways. This could be denoted by a single switch with varying positions or two unique switches.
On an Astoria or Wega machine, for instance, there will be positions from 0 to 2. A Rancilio or La Cimbali machine, on the other hand, could come with two individual switches. The first switch, which denotes position 1, will power on all the functions of the machine, except for the heating circuit. Technicians typically use this function when diagnosing issues or while servicing the machine.
The second or position two switch activates your machine’s heating circuit so that it could heat and function as it should. Quite often, espresso machine users – particularly those who use these machines at home – are not aware of these different switches and their functions.
These switches could be easily altered without you intending to – for instance, you may accidentally:
- Turn on the switch on the machine’s back panel while cleaning the steam wand
- Click the switch beneath the machine while wiping below the drip tray
Espresso Machine Has Slow or No Coffee Supply
When your machine is dispensing coffee slowly or supplying no coffee at all, its grind setting could be at fault. Most likely, it would have been set to too fine. Overdose of coffee could be another reason. When you encounter this problem, take the handle off the machine’s group head and hit the volumetric key. Either the grind setting or coffee overdose could be the cause if the water is running fine.
In this case, alter the grind coarser and fine-tune the dose that goes into the basket. But if pressing the volumetric key leads to the water exhibiting signs of just a drizzle or irregular running, the issue could be a bigger one, and you may have to call in a technician to look into the matter.
Espresso Dispensing Too Quickly
The coffee could dispense at an increased pace from an espresso machine if its grind setting has been set too coarse or the machine’s handle hasn’t been dosed with enough coffee. To rectify this problem, increase your dose or adjust your machine’s grinder to ensure finer coffee. Make sure you put in fresh coffee when you’re trying to set things right.
If you use stale coffee for the grind set up, the shots will be irregular – either too coarse or fine. Fresh coffee will ensure more consistent shots, and the grinder would need fewer adjustments too.
Espresso Machine Leaking From Its Bottom
A blocked drain is the primary reason why a coffee machine starts to leak from underneath.
If leaking is an issue with your machine, the next question on your mind should be, “Is the leaking water clean or dirty?”. If the leaking water is impure, it pretty much means the drain hose may have been blocked. The reasons for this blockage could be excessive quantities of milk, chocolate, or coffee grinds poured down the machine’s drip tray.
To address this issue, make sure the drain hose isn’t kinked or jammed. In case there is a drain hose blockage, use a degreaser solution or some hot water to unblock it. For a quick and efficient fix, it’s recommended you put some liquefied espresso cleaner down the trip tray.
Grinder Turns On but Does Not Grind
Grinder turning on but not grinding could be due to the extremely fine grind setting. You could have set the grind setting so fine that the machine’s blades may be in contact with each other, resulting in the grinder not functioning as designed.
To get the ideal espresso extraction, the volume of coffee grounds you dose the machine with is vital. Otherwise, the likelihood of the right fluid consistency flowing into the cup is pretty minimal.
To remedy this situation or make the motor function again, increase the coarse level of the grinder. Also, unblock and clean the funnel. To ensure you do not face the issue again, do not spill or pour water into the container of the machine. As a preventative measure, clean the funnel once every week.
No Steam Arm Pressure in Espresso Machine
At times, the water temperature and pressure could be fine in the group heads, but the steam may have zero pressure. A blocked steam arm could be the reason the steam arm may have no pressure. Cleaning the arm and purging the coffee machine after each use for at least three seconds should address this issue. But before you do that, make sure:
- The steam nozzles have no blockage
- The pressure gauge is displaying the right pressure
- The steam knob is not broken
Kindly note, some coffee machines could take some time to produce steam – usually 10 to 20 minutes. This is because the boiler usually takes time to heat.
Espresso Machine Troubleshooting and the Extraction Process
Before you get into your machine and try to fix its different problems, learn how to get started with the troubleshooting. Here is how you must approach your machine when there’s something wrong with it.
Properly diagnose the problem to ensure a proper fix and not break the machine any further. If you cannot detect the issue, you might end up resorting to a lot of guesswork. To ensure a proper diagnosis, pull a coffee shot, taste it, and see if you could answer the following questions:
- Is the shot dull and bitter (a sign of over-extraction)?
- Is the shot sour and acidic (indicates under-extraction)?
- Is it excessively intense or concentrated?
- Does the coffee taste weak?
To know the correct answers to the above questions and also ensure proper espresso troubleshooting, you should know how espresso extraction works.
The extraction typically happens in the following order:
- Bright, flavorful, sour acids get extracted.
- Sugars, aromatic oils, and most flavors follow.
- The bitter tannins and lower notes show face.
A “perfect” extraction is aromatic, flavorful, and perfectly balances deeper bitter notes and bright acids. The flavors would be in sync with each other. This proper harmony can only be achieved if the right levels of oils, solids, acids, etc. are extracted.
If the grounds do not contribute much to the overall taste, the outcome will be an overly dull and bitter coffee. This phenomenon is called “over-extraction.” To mitigate this scratchy bitterness during the next brew, you must extract less.
Creating a Cleaning Routine for Your Coffee Machine
Regular and proper cleaning is, at times, the only thing you need to do to mitigate possible coffee machine failures. A simple everyday cleaning routine would ensure longer runs and maintain the quality of the coffee.
An espresso machine has multiple components. The cleaning should, therefore, be modular in nature. There are basically three coffee machine cleaning approaches.
Cleaning After Every Shot
Clean the machine after every shot. Here are the steps:
- Rinse the portafilter and wipe it dry to ensure it is totally free of grounds.
- Run the filter through water so that there are no stuck grounds.
- Use a clean rag to wipe down the dispersion screen.
At the end of each day, there are a few ways in which you can clean the machine.
If your coffee machine is equipped with a three-way pressure valve, perform a backflush. This should clean all the pipes and the entire system.
- Insert an empty portafilter (zero holes) and turn on the water for a few seconds.
- Dump and rinse the filter. Repeat the process four times.
- When running the water the fourth time, wiggle the empty portafilter.
If your coffee machine doesn’t come with a three-way valve, which is usually the case with most budget coffee machines, refer to the machine’s user manual for its cleaning instructions.
Every few days, treat your coffee machine to a dedicated coffee machine cleaner. The espresso detergent will help break the oils and eliminate coffee grounds with relative ease. To use the espresso cleaner, follow these steps:
- Soak the dispersion screen and portafilter in the detergent solution for 10 minutes.
- Rinse the soaked components and wipe them dry with a clean rag.
If your coffee machine has a three-way valve, perform a backflush using the cleaner in the empty portafilter.
The following are coffee machine components that require special attention while cleaning.
Clean the baskets in hot water every day. It’s recommended you soak the baskets in some detergent, such as Puly Caff Plus espresso machine cleaner and hot water. Though regular detergents could do the job, it is not advised to use them since they are not made to clean coffee machines.
Puly Caff is a cleaning powder made specifically for coffee machines. It could be used not just to clean the filter basket but pretty much every other coffee machine component.
You may let the soaking in the detergent solution to happen overnight so that the deposits dissolve more effectively, particularly when they are trapped in those fine holes of the filter. If these holes are not cleaned regularly, you would likely have to put up with limited filtration. Not to mention, your coffee’s taste would go for a toss too.
Watch this video to learn how those filter basket holes could be cleared and the cleaning items you would need for the job:
Clean the group head every morning. Put a teaspoon of Puly Caff or a group head cleaner of your choice in your portafilter’s filter basket. Stick the group head and portafilter together. Turn the coffee machine delivery switch on for some 10 seconds and turn it off for three to four seconds thereafter. Turn the switch on again and turn it off one more time. Do this four times.
Take the portafilter out and rinse it thoroughly. Put it back on the coffee machine and turn on the delivery switch again for some 10 seconds. Detach the portafilter, rinse it, put it back, and turn on and off the switch four times. You could also do this without the detergent throughout the day.
Kindly note this cleaning operation should be done only if your coffee machine has a three-way electro valve, which permits portafilter backflushing to the coffee drip tray, via the group head. In other words, you cannot backflush coffee machines unless they have the E61 group head equivalent.
Steam nozzles must be kept clean always. When milk frothing, the steam wand is almost certain to have some milk stuck to it. Using a clean wet cloth or kitchen sponge can help wipe the steam wand. When done with the cleaning, defenestrate the wand with steam so that the tip is completely cleared off milk.
If the damp cloth doesn’t seem to work, use some acid – some plain vinegar or lemon will do. You may supplement the regular cleaning process with a more intense and thorough cleaning once every week using a coffee machine detergent. Do not perform the acid and detergent treatment at the same time as they could both be harsh on the surface of the components and hamper their function. Do them alternatively and at least a week apart.
If the water in your place is hard, you need a water filter. Water softening is a critical coffee machine maintenance exercise. Hard water’s mineral content, which includes calcium carbonate, calcium sulfate, magnesium carbonate, etc. could consolidate and become solid. Scale buildup in a coffee maker could be a big, expensive problem. If left untreated, these particles could become large enough to block things off or choke your machine.
When an espresso machine is choked, it could encounter pressure problems or heat issues that could pull in other components of the machine and cause them to malfunction. When a particular area in your machine has limescale, it’s a warning sign that indicates the whole water network, and several connected parts are plagued with the same issue. This could cause a host of issues and lead to costly repairs.
The best way to mitigate such problems is to always use soft water. It is economical and also a lot easier to prevent limescale buildup than figuring out how to eliminate the chemical buildup. Even the most capable coffee machine repair professionals cannot guarantee a complete cleanse.
Remember, a clean coffee machine would serve you better and for longer.
The aforementioned espresso machine issues are not exhaustive by any means, but they do represent the most common problems. If you take good care of your machine, or regularly clean the device and keep up with its preventative maintenance schedules, you can be almost certain of not facing any trouble with your coffee maker.
If you encounter any of the problems listed above, their respective solutions should do the trick. If things don’t work out, contact a professional or touch base with the manufacturer if the machine is still in warranty. Just do not discard an espresso machine and replace it with a new one unless an expert advises you to do so.