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Rancilio Silvia - Dean Palmer's Review
Posted: January 3, 2010, 7:29am
review rating: 6.7
feedback: (1) comments | read | write
Rancilio Silvia
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More About This Product
Arrow The Rancilio Silvia has 230 Reviews
Arrow The Rancilio Silvia has been rated 8.55 overall by our member reviewers
Arrow This product has been in our review database since November 30, 2001.
Arrow Rancilio Silvia reviews have been viewed 1,667,690 times (updated hourly).

Quality Reviews
These are some of the best-written reviews for this product, as judged by our members.
Name Ranking
Chris Clark 9.13
Ed Lawless 9.00
Joe DP 8.88
Dave Borton 8.67
Eric Larson 8.62

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Ratings and Stats Overall Rating: 9.0
Manufacturer: Rancilio Quality: 9
Average Price: $629.00 Usability: 9
Price Paid: $400.00 Cost vs. Value 10
Where Bought: Sips Coffee Tampa Aesthetics 8
Owned for: 1 year Overall 9
Writer's Expertise: I love coffee Would Buy Again: Yes
Similar Items Owned: Older Krups
Bottom Line: Excellent machine that produces espresso as good or better than professional cafes, or even pro/expert machines costing much more. Very impressed with Miss Silvia.
Positive Product Points

Excellent machine with commercial-grade components. Easy to use for anyone, and can make a shot of espresso better than most cafes, and can do it right out of the box. Operation is completely straightforward. Good sturdy construction.

Negative Product Points

Lack of a plumb-in option can make filling the rear reservoir a bit inconvenient if you use it under low cabinets, but really a minor point.

Detailed Commentary

I started doing research many months ago, and first thought that the Silvia was going to be the machine for me. Then after reading reviews on different websites, reading online forums, it seemed like the only machines that produced good consistent espresso and could make milk drinks in a reasonable time were around $2k. I decided that I couldn't justify such an expense, and decided to give up looking rather than buying a machine not capable of doing as good as the local cafes.

On a whim I called the only espresso machine shop in the area to find out if they had a showroom and some machines to look at. They had this like-new Silvia version two for a decent price. They assured me for what I really needed, this machine would produce quality shots as well or better than any cafe could. Glad they were correct!

Got it home, filled it up, plugged it in, warmed it up, and ran through the first brew checklist quickly. Couldn't be easier. Ground up some freshly roasted beans that I picked up from CCM Coffee Mill on the way home and ground them on the "8" setting of our Kitchenaid Pro-Line burr grinder. Filled the portafilter to the top, leveled, tamped, and then pulled the first shot. Perfect ~2.5oz in ~25 seconds and it tasted great with perfect crema as well. Why didn't I just buy this machine in the first place?

To froth some milk you have to let it warm up the boiler for a minute or two, but that turned out to be a very minor wait, and this part seems to be greatly exaggerated in some online reviews. I almost thought I needed a bigger heat exchanger or double boiler machine if I expected to make decent milk drinks, but Silvia comes through. I don't expect that you'd want to use this for continual production of milk drinks, but with a little timing and some common sense you could sure knock out four cappuccinos in short order. Just run a few shots then froth the milk, or do the opposite, froth all your milk and then run some water through the head to cool/stabilize the temp for brewing and pull the shots last. It has a very short recovery time between pulling espresso shots and is ready to go again before I can get the portafiler reloaded.

So... the machine is very capable, so no worries. My next concern was the temperature stability, and with all the talk about PID control for the boiler I was concerned that I'd have to do some strange ritual to get a good shot. Also not a concern. I have now followed the process for "temperature surfing" and also just pulled shots one after another. Both processes worked just fine, and there were no off-flavors or critical flaws that I could find with either method. So don't believe that you have to do something special to get a good shot from Silvia. That said, the complaints about temp variation in the Silvia you will read about are valid. The control this machine uses from the factory may not produce a tight temperature range, and that can be the difference in your results. in my case there does not seem to be a temperature variation issue that affects my espresso to the point where it is noticeable to any tasters. I have not had to pour a shot down the drain for any reason, even when testing different coffees, different grinds, and different methods. Do you need a PID controller to make good espresso with Silvia? No, you don't, and don't stress over this point until you find that you need it from your actual experience with the machine and your own results.

Is this machine perfect in every way, of course not, but it has no flaws that should affect the normal daily user. I have found that Silvia likes a different grind for some different beans. That seems to be common and not specific to Silvia. I'd like to see a plumb-in option, but I can reach under my cabinets with a small container to fill the reservoir easily. The stainless construction is good, and the steel frame sturdy, and looks great. We love the look of Silvia on the counter and I wouldn't change a thing. If you want to choose a machine on looks, either spend a lot more $$, or expect to get a machine that is not capable, but looks great.  A longer frothing wand would be nice, but it works perfectly with our 20oz pitcher, so no real complaints.

I should have bought this machine when I first decided it was the one for me. Too much reading of the information written by folks who are really deep into the technology of the machines may make you think that you need a much more expensive machine, but you don't. Silvia fits the bill for most users, and produces what might be the best espresso shots that some people may ever drink.

Buying Experience

Excellent experience with Sips in Tampa. Walked into the shop and felt instantly welcome. They train baristas and have a fully equipped bar area for this purpose as well as serving coffee drinks at any time. They also had a number of machines on display, mainly commercial gear but they carry some excellent consumer units such as the Silvia.

Three Month Followup

No real Issues to report after 3 months. The only annoying thing is that the unit vibrates enough to shift the cup around while pulling a shot. Have to watch the cup and sometimes hold it in place to make sure it doesn't move out of position. I'm going to take the back off the machine and check the pump mounts, but truly minor as you should be there watching your shot anyway. Positive point is that I've measured the water temp inside the portafilter with a thermocouple and it has been a constant 205F, and that is not after some cheat or trick, but just with a fully warmed up machine. The biggest variable seems to be coffee grind and the grind as the coffee ages. We get coffee from a commercial roaster that is at most hours out of the roasting machine itself, so it seems to go through changes that require the grind to be adjusted to keep with a perfect shot profile. We are using a Baratza Vario, so the tweak is easy after a shot starts to run too freely. I'm using a bottomless portafilter to watch the shot, so all errors are evident and the variable is truly the coffee, not Silvia or the tamp. We've tried a number of popular coffee brands as well as fresh roasted local, and as you can imagine the fresh local roast has been superior to anything bagged in the shelf of a retail store, even the best retailers with the biggest names. As for the machine itself, it has been a pleasure to wake up every morning and have excellent coffee. We have her on a simple timer and it works great. The wife likes cappuccino, so I go through the whole process, and it is really fast and easy to pull a few shots and then froth the milk with the SIlvia. Lots of steam and only a bit more than a minute to go from the last shot to steaming the milk. If I were to be serving more than two people regularly I could really see the need for a HX machine, or a double boiler as I had originally looked at, but for the two of us, and the occasional guest, Silvia does the job perfectly. I may upgrade in the future, but it will have to be justified as the quality of the shots I get now are exceptional by anyone's standards.

One Year Followup

After a year of nearly constant use, the Silvia still shines. No issues, no problems, just perfect espresso. For most of the time I have been using it with the Baratza Vario grinder for great results. The variability in this machine depends greatly on the coffee and grind. Get consistently fresh coffee and you'll love it. Buy too much coffee and let it get old and your grind settings will have to change to pull great shots out of the Silvia. Please be clear on this, it is the coffee, not the machine. The machine is consistent, and will brew great shots with even questionable coffee if you tune the grind to what the machine needs. As the coffee ages, or you get old coffee, the machine likes a finer grind. With a good grinder and some experience you start to make this small tweak after you get a shot that runs faster than normal. When brewing, I use a digital timer, and a 2.5oz glass measuring cup to ensure that all parameters are correct. I have also used a bottomless portafilter for most of the year to get a clear picture of the performance of the shot. Not much more to say. The machine is a clear bargain for what it can provide, and it has kept me from wanting a certain $2300 double boiler machine :-) I can say that this machine will provide world-class results if you put in the time to learn to use it, and that really doesn't take much, and it is fun. Properly brewed espresso is the pretty much the same regardless of what machine you use, if the machine is capable, and the person using it has taken the time to learn to use it. Although this machine will make acceptable espresso for 99.9999% of everyone on the planet, it can really make excellent espresso for those few people with critical tastes and you don't have to spend over $1k.

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review rating: 6.7
Posted: January 3, 2010, 7:29am
feedback: (1) comments | read | write
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