Maurizio Marcocci of Service Sphere shares common espresso machine errors, and provides simple solutions to avoid panic and costly downtime.
Your machine has thrown a wobbly in the middle of service. There’s a line of customers outside your hole-in-the-wall window ready to grab their coffee-to-go, and docket orders keep piling up. This is not the time, you think. You should always have a backup plan in case of a fault, but before you hit panic mode, let’s run through my list of the top 10 common faults found in espresso machines. Nine times out of 10, faults are a result of poor maintenance, care, and user error. So before you blame the machine and call a technician, let’s see how you can work through some common problems and get your machine back working in tip-top shape.
1. FAULT: MACHINE NOT HEATING AND NO STEAM
Cause: On/off switch is in the wrong position.
This is a classic example of how something so simple can be so detrimental. Ask yourself, have you tried turning your machine on and off Most machines have power switches that can be set in more than one position. This may be indicated with two different switches or one switch with different positions. For example, on a CMA Machine (Wega or Astoria) you will have positions 0, 1 and 2, whereas on a La Cimbali or Rancilio machine, you may have two different switches. The first switch (or position 1) will turn on all functions in your coffee machine, excluding your heating circuit. This function is used mostly by technicians when diagnosing problems and servicing your machine. The second switch (or position 2) will activate the heating circuit in your machine and allow your machine to heat and function normally. Many times, customers are unaware of the on/off switch and its different functions.
The switch can easily be altered depending on the location, for example:
• A barista cleaning the steam arm can accidently flick the switch on the back panel of machine
• A barista wiping underneath the drip tray may accidentally click the switch under the machine.
Solution: Ensure the switch is in the correct position.
2. FAULT: MACHINE NOT DISPENSING COFFEE OR DISPENSING VERY SLOWLY
Cause: Grind setting is too fine or the barista has overdosed the coffee
Solution: Take the handle out of the group head and press a volumetric key. If the water runs OK, then the coffee grind has been set too fine or the barista has overpacked the handle with too much coffee. Adjust your grind coarser and refine your dose into your basket. However, if you press a volumetric key and the water shows signs of irregular running or just a drizzle, then this is one instance a technician would be happy to assist with what’s seemingly a bigger problem at hand.
3. FAULT: COFFEE DISPENSES TOO QUICKLY
Cause: Grind setting is too coarse or not enough coffee has been dosed into the handle.
Solution: Adjust your grinder to make the coffee finer or increase your dose. Ensure you use fresh coffee to set the grinder. If you are using stale coffee to set the grind, then once fresh coffee is added the barista will witness irregular shots, either too fine or too coarse. By utilising fresh coffee, the shots will be more consistent and your grinder will require less adjustments.
4. FAULT: COFFEE MACHINE LEAKING FROM UNDERNEATH
Cause: Blocked drain.
Solution: Most times, when the question is asked: “Is the water leaking clean or dirty?” the response is dirty. This is an indication that the drain hose has been blocked, usually due to excessive amounts of milk, coffee grinds or chocolate being poured down the drip tray. To alleviate the problem, ensure the drain hose is not jammed or kinked. If the drain hose is blocked, unblock it either using hot water or a degreaser solution. It is good practice to pour a solution of dissolved espresso cleaner into the drip tray for an efficient and quick fix.
5. FAULT: GRINDER IS ON BUT WILL NOT GRIND COFFEE
Cause: Grind setting too fine.
This is an indication that the barista has set the grind setting so fine that the blades are touching and the grinder will not operate. Everyone wants to achieve that ‘perfect’ espresso extraction, but if you can’t even dose the volume of grounds you need, then there’s little hope of getting that liquid gold in the cup.
Solution: Set the grind coarser and the motor will begin to operate. Watch, and grind. Simple.
6. FAULT: NO WATER DISPENSING FROM GROUP HEAD
Cause: Group head blocked.
Usually due to lack of cleaning. Ask yourself: ‘When was the last time you cleaned your machine? Ideally, you should be cleaning the machine daily. A dirty machine can lead to all sorts of issues, those obvious, and others beneath the surface.
Solution: Ensure you are back flushing your machine daily so that the solenoid does not malfunction.
7. FAULT: WATER WILL NOT STOP DISPENSING OUT OF THE GROUP HEAD
Cause: Continuous pour button is on.
Most machines will have a continuous pour button for scenarios when the touchpads on a machine fail. Baristas can utilise the continuous pour button to manually dispense coffee. However, sometimes baristas may turn the continuous pour button on and not release it. It can be deceiving as it looks similar to an On/Off switch.
Solution: This one’s simple – turn off the ‘continuous pour button’.
8. FAULT: WATER SPRAYING TO THE SIDES OF GROUP HEAD
Cause: Dirty shower filters.
These are such an easy thing to miss and its repercussions, while not critical to your coffee-making ability, is highly annoying and inefficient.
Solution: Once again, it comes down to cleaning. Backflush your machine regularly to clean out any specks of dirt rather than let it build up to a volcano erupting with dirt lava splattering everywhere.
9. FAULT: GROUP HANDLES POP OFF WHEN DISPENSING
Cause: Overdosing coffee in group handles.
This may be a result of a barista over packing the handles to dose a certain amount of coffee (for example, 21 grams). Generous, but not effective nor necessary. Solution: Purchase bigger baskets or adjust your grind setting so that you are not overdosing your handles.
10. FAULT: NO PRESSURE IN STEAM ARM
Cause: Blocked steam arm.
Solution: Clean the steam arm and purge the machine after every use for a minimum of three to five seconds.
The above are just a few general pointers for common problems found with espresso coffee machines. Like sales commercials would say, ‘if problems persist, see you healthcare professional,’ and the same goes for your espresso machine.
Many of these problems are easily addressed with regular care, cleaning, and preventative maintenance schedules. But, if you’re still not seeing results or you’re concerned there’s a larger underlying issue, call your trusty (and certified) coffee machine technician.