Rancilio Silvia is a beautiful machine that almost has her own personality and must be treated a certain way to produce espresso YOU consider excellent (aka “god shot”). Shot to shot with Silvia is most pleasurable if you use fresh beans, a grinder and are able to maintain her temperature. There are some negatives that I will mention.
Silvia is beautifully made by hand (to some extent) in Italy. The exterior is brushed stainless steel and the interior is mostly commercial grade brass components. The exterior is easily maintained with any type of stainless steel cleaner (try Zeps). General maintenance (descaling, backflushing) is important for many fine espresso machines.
Some people lament about what is included with the Silvia purchase. I bought the machine for the machine not for the tamper, scooper etc. Toss the tamper that came with Silvia and pick up a 58mm tamper (i.e., Reg Barber, Ergo). Toss the Rancilio filter baskets and get a ridgless double filter basket (see David Trunbull’s discussion of the aforementioned on alt.coffee.)
Also toss the instruction manual and go to alt.coffee and search, search, search, read, read, read as much as you can. This newsgroup has been a significant resource for all things related to espresso. Here, many people discuss everything about coffee from the time it is harvested to the dribble into your demitasse.
I have made my purchases (Silvia, Rocky etc) from Jim Piccinich at www.1st-line.com This is a great company to deal with for all your coffee needs. They offer a really good maintenance kit for Silvia that includes the ridgeless filter basket, 2 replacement gaskets, steaming pitcher, cleaner, blind filter, and group head brush.
Some people experience that Silvia temperature gets a bit high from shot to shot. If you are planning to purchase Silvia after the date of this review you most likely will receive it with a 100-degree thermostat (as compared to the 110 thermostat in older models).
To ensure that each that shot I make has relatively the same temperature and to avoid blowing steam through the group head (into packed coffee) I bleed any steam from the steam wand by turning on the hot water switch and steam knob prior to pulling a shot. After this procedure I normally let her sit for 20-30 seconds before pulling the shot. I also perform this procedure (bleeding steam) just before I shut down Silvia for the night.
SILVIA NEEDS A MATE
Yep. Silvia does not like to be alone. I learned this the hard way (sorta). I bought Silvia before a decent grinder. As Silvia is quite sensitive to the coffee grind I had some difficulty finding a local roaster who can grind properly for Silvia. Someone suggested bringing Silvia to the place where you purchase the beans and test a couple of shots on their grinder. I also tried some pre-ground coffee without any notable success. Another alternative as suggested is to pick-up a decent grinder before upgrading your espresso machine. Do as you wish. I eventually purchased a Rocky Rancilio (USD $240). This combination has allowed me to consistently produce tasty espresso with reddish hazelnut brown crema.
It seems that “upgrade fever” is always going around. It has yet to hit me for I generally produce less than 10 espresso shots a day and and have limited space. Machines priced higher than Silvia may offer, not necessarily better espresso shot pulls, but improved temp stability, convenience of simultaneously steaming milk and brewing espresso, self-priming, and 24/7 operation. However, these additional functions are generally offered at a high cost and most useful in satisfying high volume demand as opposed to home use.
This may not be a Silvia specify issue but one of the operator's. For what it worth, I generally do not receive an even flow of coffee from the double spout Rancilio stock portafilter. This often occurs when I pull ristretto shots where a finer grind is required. Another factor may be the evenness of the tamp. In any event, this may be more of an operator issue but I feel that a slight design change to the portafilter would solve this problem. Also, a quick note to those considering switching to a single spout PF. The double spout on the stock Rancilio portafilter usually gets damaged during the removal process (Jim Piccinich at 1st-line). It is worth noting that the stock portafilter is commercial sized (requires a 58mm tamper) chrome plated brass that allows for great heat retention.
Silvia large brass boiler contains an internal heating element (that’s why it is best to maintain a full boiler) which helps provide consistent brew temperatures and steam power. The three-way solenoid valve is great for it allows you to backflush and not worry about blowing grinds all over after a pull.
DRIP TRAY & RESERVOIR
As the drip tray is a bit shallow you may need to keep your eye on it to avoid overfilling (if pulling many shots). If this does happen, no need to worry. There is a small hole beneath the drip tray to prevent flooding the machine. But it is worth noting that the drip is stainless steel unlike most other machine in Silvia’s category.
The water reservoir is also a bit small. With temp surfing and pulling a few shots you need to refill the reservoir frequently (if pulling many shots). It have been nice if Silvia had a water level indicator would.
Silvia has a passive cup warmer, which means that the heat the machine generates indirectly heats the warming tray. As such, it is typical that such a set-up does not warm cups adequately. As I like the cups very-warm to hot, I use hot water from Silvia’s steam wand (while temp surfing) to heat the cups.
Silvia is extremely well priced for it provides. HOWEVER, once you tack on a decent burr grinder such as a Rocky Grinder, demitasse cups, cleaners, brushes, coffee storage receptacles AND your weekly supply of coffee beans, the bank account takes a beating. Good coffee does not come cheap. On average, I spend approx. 10 USD per pound of decent to very good roasted coffee beans. A pound normally lasts me one week. And in my opinion, worth every penny.
As you may see, Silvia needs a little (or a lot) of TLC. So if all this is a bit much to satisfy your coffee needs check out the many super autos on the market. (Automatic Espresso Machine Co sells a highly regarded line of Jura super autos. Ask for Ron. Here is their link: http://www.hotncold.com . )
Personally, until I acquired Silvia I never thought it was possible to produce espresso bar quality espresso at home. Now it is difficult finding better espresso anywhere else. If you are in the market for an at home espresso machine priced 300-500 US$: STOP. Look no more ….pick-up Ms. Silvia.