Commercial espresso machines are used in diners, cafes, bookshops and restaurants, but smaller machines are available for home use. These machines, however, are often less reliable than their commercial counterparts. Espresso machines can encounter a range of issues, causing them to produce substandard coffee.
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If your espresso machine makes a choking sound when turned on, there may be a problem with the unit's pump mechanism. You can prime the pump by opening up the steam valve inside the espresso machine. Leave the steam valve open for around 30 seconds and then try to again use the machine.
Clogged espresso machines will often not work efficiently and produce substandard drinks. The grouphead is normally the area of an espresso machine that gets clogged. The grouphead usually can be removed with a screwdriver, but check your manufacturer's manual if you are unsure. If you can see a blockage, run the pump without the grouphead. If the machine now works okay, clear away any blockage and soak the grouphead in warm water to remove any further build-ups.
The creamy layer at the top of an espresso coffee can often become watery or not appear at all if your espresso machine is not functioning properly. If the cream is coming out badly, make sure you aren't using burnt coffee beans and that your coffee grinder is not too coarse. Also make sure you are using quality coffee beans as poor quality beans may affect the espresso mechanism.
Problems with espresso machines can also be caused by a lack of pressure. To diagnose this fault, make a single espresso and time how long it takes. Anything less than 10 seconds or more than 30 may indicate a problem with your machine's pressure. Try the cleaning techniques listed above to remedy the problem. If these fail, you may need to purchase a new machine.