If you like using a machine that will force you to develop your barista skills, the Silvia is for you. Be prepared...she's seductive and will have you counting the minutes until the next time you touch her (just don't tell your wife that!).
Positive Product Points
A wonderful home machine that will allow you to prepare some high quality espresso shots. The superior build of the machine lends to durability. It's demands are not as quite as intimidating as has been sometimes noted by other users. Sure...you need to develop a consistent grind, dose, and tamp, but for me it brings out a lot of wanna-be barista fun. A little time and effort and this machine will be producing high-end, cafe-like shots for you. A recent addition of an Auber PID was a big plus leading to greater consistency. Additionally, the Silvia is such a popular machine that there is an enormous amount of information available along with all the spare and replacement parts you'll need for any future repairs.
Negative Product Points
The main negative point is lousy temperature control. Still, performing and perfecting various methods of temp surfing allowed me to pull really decent shots (especially with better beans like Black Cat, Counter Culture, etc). Adding a PID upgrades this machine tremendously and now I find myself more dissatisfied with cafe espresso (even when they're serving "the good stuff"). Making milk-based drinks (which is what I do most) takes a little time, but I love using the machine so much that I don't mind.
About a year ago after my Solis SL-70 apparently bit the dust (only to be resurrected with a little ingenuity), it was time to purchase a new, more sophisticated machine. The reputation of the Rancilio Silvia led me to immediately put it in first place. In fact, no other machine was really in consideration.
The Silvia's tendency to need some extra care with regard to honing your personal barista skills was more of an attraction to me that a hurdle to purchasing. Despite the fact that I make mostly milk-based drinks and that the Silvia might slow me down, I jumped at the chance anyway. To make sure that I was getting all I could from the machine, I also purchased a Rocky at this point.
Right out of the box, the Silvia made the Solis look like a toy...the heft and superior build were evident in even the 58mm portafilter. After a couple of immediate problems, my skills quickly progressed to produce a decent shot and a noticeable upgrade to the caps and lattes. The first problem I encountered was getting fresh beans. Fortunately for me, I found a new local roaster who, although not roasting the best of beans, roasts fresh. Despite not quite being able to dial in a great-tasting espresso with these beans, they were able to make a highly respectable cap and latte. The Coffeegeek forums were invaluable in the amount and depth of information.
Over the next few months, I experimented with various ways of temp surfing. Mark's popular YouTube video was the first of many "How-To's" I voraciously ate up in pursuit of the better shot. I also followed other various methods of temp surfing, including the reverse temp surfing method found in the CG forums. Ultimately, I basically settled on a method Mark mentioned on one of his podcasts...pulling the shot after frothing, waiting until about the point that the steam turned to water in the water-bleeding, cool-down process. This served me well. For the occasion when I would get some Black cat and wanted shots only, a traditional bleed & wait temp surf worked pretty good.
For the sake of not invalidating the 1-year warranty, I waited until recently to install an Auber deluxe (no steam control, no pre-infusion) PID. It was an upgrade well worth the approx. $150. I have now virtually eliminated the temp swings that was the most uncontrollable factor in the process. What an immediate improvement!!! Not only was I able to dial in my regular, fresh no-name bean for a superior cap or latte...but I was actually able to produce a decent and drinkable espresso during the short window of time after the beans de-gassed properly and before they turned stale.
The PID also showed me that I was starting my frothing way too early. By knowing when the steam light kicked off (thanks to the PID readout) I'm able to start the process just before this happens and have shortened my froth time in half. Another nice addition is that my latte-art has been enhanced now that the frothing is producing a better froth.
This machine is especially recommended if all you drink is espresso. Would I have been better served by an HX type machine considering the amount of milk-based drinks I make? Perhaps. But my love of making caps and lattes with this machine and perfecting my methods of extraction leave this apparent drawback as a non-factor for me. I don't mind the time I spend with Miss Silvia. She's worth it and then some to me.
1st Line was tremendous again and, considering the positive experience I had earlier with my Solis purchase from them, they were the only retailer I considered.