Despite their complex design, the technical problems that espresso machines succumb to usually boil down to one of a handful of causes.
In this article we are going to go through what the most common causes of technical problems with espresso machines are, as well as how to diagnose and fix them.
1. Coffee Dispenses out the Machine too Slowly
One of the most common problems that espresso machine users find with their machines is that they dispense coffee at a snail's pace.
This lack of pressure means that the coffee that comes out does not have the thick texture and crema that makes espresso what it is.
A single shot of espresso should usually take around 25-30 seconds to pull and the coffee should come out of the machine in a fairly steady stream.
If this is not the case, and if the liquid coffee comes out the machine much slower than this, then it is very likely down to one of two problems. These are:
- That the group head is blocked
- That the coffee grounds in the portafilter basket is ground too fine and packed too tightly
You can tell which one of these factors is causing the problem by how long it takes for a shot to be dispensed out of the machine.
If it only takes slightly longer than 25-30 seconds for the machine to brew a shot (say under 45 seconds) then too finely ground coffee is the likely culprit. Adjust the settings on your coffee grinder to fix this.
If it takes longer than 45 seconds for your espresso machine to brew a single shot then it's likely that your group head is blocked with coffee residue.
If this occurs then you will need to clean the grouphead by unscrewing it and scrubbing its internal parts with a degreasing solution. Standard kitchen surface cleaning spray works well here, but just make sure that you rinse all parts thoroughly afterwards.
2. Coffee Leaks Over the Rim of the Portafilter
If coffee leaks around the outside of the portafilter, spilling poorly extracted coffee and grounds into your cup and drip tray, then the likely cause of this is that your group seals are worn.
On most espresso machines, to remove the group seal you first have to unscrew the dispersion screen from the group head.
Once this is removed, you then have to pull off the group seal from around the group head. To do this you will ideally need a group seal pick to get between the seal and the group head (a flathead screwdriver will work here in a pinch).
You can find a video of someone removing and replacing the group seal here.
Once you have replaced the group seal, reattach the dispersion screen and pull a test shot. In almost all cases the problem will be solved.
If coffee is still leaking around the portafilter, then this is likely an issue with the portafilter itself and you will want to get this replaced.
3. Machine Will not Turn On/Heat Water
I have lumped these two problems together because they almost always have the same cause - a blown fuse.
Most espresso machines have two fuses - a power fuse and a thermal fuse.
If the machine cannot turn on at all then it usually means that the former has blown. If the machine can turn on but just cannot heat water then this indicates that the latter has blown.
The two fuses are usually located close to each other, however this can vary between machines.
If you suspect that a problem with your machine is caused by a blown fuse then you should consult your machine’s manual to find its location.
4. Your Machine is Leaking
If your espresso machine is leaking from its back or bottom then the likely culprit is either going to be a blocked drain hose or blocked internal pipe.
The first way of diagnosing the cause of a leak is by looking at the water that is leaking out.
If the water is noticeably murky then it's very likely that it's the drain hose that's leaking.
If this is the case then you want to remove the drain hose from the machine and clear any blockages from it. If there is a visible rupture in the drain hose then it will need to be replaced.
If the water leaking from the machine looks clean, then it will be one of the machine’s internal pipes that is leaking.
This is quite complex to fix and you will probably need to call in an espresso repair technician to do this.
Be aware that opening up the machine and tinkering with the pipes yourself may well void any warranty that you have on the machine.
If your espresso machine is leaking regularly, then it might be a better idea to replace the machine rather than have to have it repaired by an espresso repair technician regularly.
This article was written by Oli Baise, former barista and the Managing Editor of coffee blog Drinky Coffee.If you are interested in purchasing a new espresso machine, we would love to help. Please contact our team to start the process.