Some automatic coffeemakers can make a great pot of coffee. But did you know that the coffeemakers' success relies, in large part, on your partnership? For all your fancy coffeemaker does for you each day, do you give back? Do you listen to its needs? Do you, in fact, descale?
What now? That's right: water, though your friend and ally in all things life and coffee, can be a menace to any coffee brewer, affecting both flavor and performance as it leaves a slow buildup of deposits in the machine over time. (Residual coffee oils and residues, too, can hang around your filters, filter-holders, and coffee carafes—but let's stick to the water enemy for now. Cleaning coffee slime off of filters and out of pots can be done easily enough with gentle hands and gentle soap, but the inside bits of your $300 Technivorm are another matter entirely.)
Impurities in water, and use of harder waters, can result in calcification and buildup on interior components of your coffee machine that affect taste. Can't picture it? If you've ever used an electric kettle with a visible heating coil, over time, you'll have noticed a white, scaly build-up. Look like something you'd imagine tastes delicious? Not so much.
While each brewer may have its own recommended method for descaling, the principles remain the same. "I think everyday cleaning and upkeep is something that people are bad at," says Urban Eisley, manager at New York City's Joe Pro Shop. For those who use their automatic drip machines daily, Eisley suggests a thorough descaling once every six months to a year—depending on how much you brew and how challenging your water is.
Your easiest bet to do a good cleaning job is to use a commercially available descaling solution made just for this purpose. There are two popular brands on the market—Dezcal and Full Circle—both mysteriously made by the same company, and both rely on citric acid as their main ingredient.
Though age-old "home remedy" solutions like running vinegar through the coffeemaker are well-relied upon by many, the fact of the matter is that vinegar is going to leave its own residue as well—in taste and smell—for at least a few brewing cycles. A citric-acid-based cleaner will be more effective with less aftertaste.
Whether you prefer the consumer-friendly packets of citric acid or mixing your own solutions, an every-few-months citric-acid-based descaling holiday will do your coffee machine a world of good. Run a brew cycle of descaler-water solution, and then "flush" your machine by running repeated cycles of plain water through brewing cycles to make sure you've gotten rid of anything you were trying to remove in the first place.
Thank yourself later over a delicious, even-more-flavorful-than-before cup of coffee.
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is the creator of Nice Coffee Time, a book of photographs of the best coffee in the world, published by Presspop, is the New York City correspondent for Sprudge.com, and contributes to other outfits worldwide.