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Rancilio Silvia - Mick Reynolds's Review
Posted: August 17, 2005, 2:36am
review rating: 7.3
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 1,676,168 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: 9.4
Manufacturer: Rancilio Quality: 10
Average Price: $629.00 Usability: 8
Price Paid: $425.00 Cost vs. Value 10
Where Bought: Private resale Aesthetics 10
Owned for: 4+ years Overall 9
Writer's Expertise: I live coffee Would Buy Again: Yes
Similar Items Owned: Krups Vivo
Bottom Line: Silvia rewards attention to technique with a great cup of espresso.
Positive Product Points

Solid, well built construction with industrial, yet easy on the eyes aesthetics.  
Ease of operation (as a former pro/am barista).  
Super fun to have a "real" machine on "my" countertop.  
Steam power is insane.
Everything's stainless, so it's easy to clean.
This model has been around for a while, but still sets the curve for home espresso.

Negative Product Points

It's a single boiler, so you have to sit around and/or bleed it to make successive milk based drinks.
Kind of a PITA to have to refill the water tank daily.
I'd like to see a tank level indicator somewhere on the front, maybe behind the steam wand.

Detailed Commentary

Silvia is INSANE!!!  After years of pseudoespresso out of my Krups, then taking a job as a barista while waiting for dental school to start (and finally learning some technique that got just barely decent shots out of the Krups, i.e. grinder, good tamping, homemade naked portafilter, etc...), having the Silvia on my countertop is a godsend.  The heft of the commercial style portafilter is simply reassuring after working behind the bar.  It just feels right.

OK, let's get to the details:
I bought Silvia from a previous owner who was travelling across the country for school and didn't want to ship too much stuff.  I know what you're thinking, "leave your wife, leave your kids, heck,  leave ANYTHING else, but for the love of God, man, bring the Rancilio..."  My thoughts exactly, but his loss is my gain.  He originally bought it from WholeLatteLove.com and was pleased with their service.  

Shot quality:
Seriously, read everything David Schomer or Mark Prince has to say about technique, from grind to tamp to temp to ... Schomer didn't become the uber-nerd of coffeedom for nothing; he's sheer genius and as soon as you can incorporate the basics into your repertoire, the better.  As far as Prince goes, CG is an amazing resource for anyone looking to get into the world of espresso.  His reviews are easy to read and understand, and it's clear he both knows and cares about the topic.

Silvia responds amazingly well to great technique, as shown by the difference between my shots and my wife's.  If you're new at this site, you probably expect me to be an insufferable coffee snob, but please realize I'm really just shooting straight.  If you get out your blade grinder and fill the portafilter with slop, turn the machine on and immediately pull a shot, you'll get a cup of crap, just like my wife.  I'm not really complaining, since she gave me the green light on the Silvia, but like any sensitive lady, she (yeah, still talking about Silvia, not my wife) requires some attention to detail.  I use a Mazzer Mini grinder set just a hair coarser than the factory setting and consistently pull two ounce doubleshots in the 25-30 second range.  At first, the shots started pretty nice but finished with a blonde to whitish crema, but with grind adjustment and proper machine warm-up, I'm getting nice reddish brown crema that sticks quite persistently to the sides of my cup.  My drink of choice is a double macchiato with a small amount of sweetener (I've been using Agave Nectar lately.  Sounds dorky, but I'm a diabetic and it's supposedly better for me than table sugar.) in the warmed cup before the shots go in.  My home version from the Silvia is never bitter, whether I'm roasting my own in a modified popcorn popper (pretty rare that I get to do this these days), or using the Bittersweet Blend from Blue Bottle Coffee in SF (www.bluebottlecoffee.net) and it's been predictably excellent.

I'm currently using a 57mm flat aluminum tamper (economodel) from espressoparts.com that leaves a little to be desired, and shows the dispersion screen screw impression in the coffee.  I've got a convex model on order, and  it'll be interesting to see if the screw impression is still there.

Technique:
My technique is basically the same as former Silvia reviewer Eric Larson, except that I grind, dose and fill my portafilter AFTER I've bled the machine.  See below:

1) Wait until the Sylvia is hot, ~30 min. When the spout on the portafilter burns my finger, it's ready.
2) Bleed the boiler through the steam wand with the hot water switch on until the light comes on.
3) When the boiler light goes off, start the second bleeding.
   When the boiler light goes on, simultaneously shut off the hot water switch and start the timer.
   For a 40 second delay I set my count down timer to 1:05, and remove the portafilter.
4) Grind, dose and tamp the shot, and lock in the portafilter.
5) With about 35 seconds left to go, I turn on the steam switch and shoot out a quick burst of steam to get the boiler going.  I then turn off the steam wand but leave the switch on.
6) When the timer hits 25 seconds, flip the brew switch to start the shot.
7) When the timer goes off, stop the shot.

I tried the Silvia Cheat method, but was spending too much time in front of my machine and not enough time in the shower or on the toilet, etc... in the morning.  The above method has been very very good to me.

Their are plenty of online references for proper steaming, i.e. Schomer, coffeegeek/kid, etc....  Suffice it to say, the single hole tip on the Silvia does a great job of creating microfoam, which, in the right hands (read: not mine) can make wonderful latte art.  I can usually get a bunch of lines with a line poured through them which only remotely resembles a rosette or heart but might be closer to a ribcage.  Note to self:  Great latte for halloween parties.  

Addendum:
In addition to the convex tamp, I've also ordered a naked portafilter, Pallo cleaning brush, blind backflush disc and Joe Glow cleaner from www.espressoparts.com  I'll let you know if anything changes.

Buying Experience

Fantastic, purchased used, via www.craigslist.com here in San Francisco.

Three Month Followup

Haven't succumbed to upgrade fever yet, but I'm looking at PID kits.  Still digging Silvia, using it 2-3 times daily.

One Year Followup

Added a PID and a V3 steam wand a couple years ago.  No more 'Sylvia Cheat Method,' and espresso is delightfully easy to produce.  I'm still using a Mazzer Mini grinder and at this point, grind size is the only adjustment needed.  I've had to replace the steam thermostat once, but that's the only thing that's ever broken down on my Silvia.

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review rating: 7.3
Posted: August 17, 2005, 2:36am
feedback: (1) comments | read | write
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