Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Emergency Espresso Repair

While I have blogged quite a bit about two of my favorite passions - Magic the Gathering and fantasy literature - there is one subject that I have been silent on thus far. And that, as you might guess from the title and picture, is espresso. Like my father, I am a true coffee-snob, preferring my own hand-crafted roasted espresso beans prepared fresh in my own grinder, extracted via an Italian made espresso machine, and enjoyed blended with hot milk.

But over the last week or so, the worst happened. My espresso pours were drastically declining in quality. Rather than the thick, luscious golden crema, my pours were little more than dark sludge. After some troubleshooting, I decided that my water pump must be going out. I began dreaming of the brand new machine I would purchase. Eventually, however, the price tag associated with my dream machine brought me back to reality, and I decided instead to see if I couldn't fix whatever malady had affected my machine.

After some research through my friend Google, I discovered that my problem was not uncommon. As it turns out, Gaggias are prone to a scale buildup inside the three-way solenoid valve that the espresso machine uses to limit the amount of excess water that runs through the group head. I soon stumbled upon a blogpost detailing the exact same problem I was having, as well as a step-by-step illustrated guide to cleaning out said valve.

Two screws later, and I was in.

Without much difficulty, I unclipped the proper hose, loosened and remove the nut and washer, and lifted off the magnet, exposing the brass valve in question. Said valve was, unfortunately, attached with two hex screws within a very tight space. Removing them was tough; getting them back on was nearly impossible. But eventually I was able to extract it.

If you look closely, you can see the mineral buildup inside the lower of the two holes in the valve. That's where the water passes through, and apparently it takes very little scaling to clog it up. Using a Q-tip, I cleaned out both holes, then somehow survived the arduous task of getting my massive hands to squeeze back inside the machine to refasten the valve with the hex screws, then put everything back together again.

Just to make certain all was clean, I purchased some descaling treatment especially for espresso machines, and made sure to run it through the entire system several times.

Then came the moment of truth. Had all my work paid off? 

Ah! Success!! While not my best pour ever, this is significantly better than anything I've been able to pull over the past week or so. In all my troubleshooting, I adjusted my grind several times, so it will take some time to get everything dialed back in correctly. I also refilled the tank with distilled water, which I will use exclusively from now own to help keep down the scaling. 

Even as I write this I am sipping my freshly brewed latte, and all is once again right with the world!

See you next time.

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