If you can't justify the price jump to the next level of machines, then you can do no better for the dollars.
Positive Product Points
Good looking machine that delivers what I have been looking for - a great cup of coffee! Head and shoulders over the department store machine.
Negative Product Points
The relatively small water reservoir with no auto prime or auto cut off has caught me out more than once.
The Silvia is rather fussy about correct grind and tamp. Crappy badging on some models released in some markets detracts from quality of build, and what's with the crappy plastic tamp?
I bought a Silvia a few weeks ago following years of procrastination over an ECM Giotto after seeing the rebadged E61 Rocket in New Zealand.
Finally the price difference and the positive reviews of the Silvia prompted me to bite the bullet and buy one from Coffee for Connoisseurs in Melbourne, Australia.
My first impression was "Hea-vy!". The machine certainly look nice sitting on my kitchen counter. I had read the Cheating Miss Silvia article on Coffee Kid and set about trying to prompt a cup of coffee from the machine.
I have a one year old Solis 166 grinder that has served well for my stove top espresso but alas may not be up to the grind fineness required for the Silvia. I have used it on the finest couple of settings since I bought it so the burrs have done some work.
My extractions are extremely variable. They are usually short, a common problem when starting out I am lead to believe. I have managed to get some modest crema so far.
A more troubling problem is a blow out where the water finds a fast path through the coffee grinds causing back wash in the bottom of the portafilter. I often find myself with poorly extracted coffee rushing into my cup as well as down the handle of the portafilter through a notch in the rim of the portafilter in line with the handle.
One likely reason for blow outs is the plastic tamp which appears to be about 55mm in diameter whereas the baskets are 58mm. This makes tamping a bit fiddly. I have ordered a 58mm stainless steel tamp from Espresso Parts.
The double basket doesn't really hold two shots of coffee very well as the top of the coffee presses against the screen in the group and leaves no room for the water to build an even distribution across the face of the coffee. Bit of a shame since I am a double shot drinker.
Depending on what you have been doing in terms of pulling shots and steaming milk, the water pressure coming out of the group head can vary from a hot shower to a gush of steam. I'm not sure what the median point is as the higher the pressure the more likely I am to have a blowout.
So far I have tried Columbian, Espresso LAC and Mocha Harar coffee beans from Coffee for Connoisseurs in the Silvia. The Columbian was excellent with strong, full mouth flavour that lingers for ages after you finish your cup.
My wife and I currently take our coffee flat white, though I'm keen to explore espresso once I get my extractions more even. The machine has enough pressure to steam more milk than you can fit in a pitcher that fits under the steam wand. So far my milk frothing technique is getting better every day with many compliments from friends and family for my microfoam efforts. Still a long way to go, but oh what a journey!
My Racilio Silvia is going to be a beast I wrestle with for a while I suspect but once tamed should serve me well. I have managed to make the best coffee I have tasted anywhere to date with my Silvia and I am confident things can only get better!
Alan Frew at Coffee for Connoisseurs unpacks each machine and burns it in for 24 hours, runs a shot through it before repacking it and sending it off to its new owner. I even got a digital photo of my machine in action! The price was $765AUD shipped to my door with a couple of bags of beans to sample.
Great service and great advice.
Three Month Followup
The blowout problem has been resolved. It was caused by having the steam switch on for too long while still pouring shots, resulting in the water being too hot and with too much pressure.
I've knocked a point off my original score for usability because this machine does require a fair amount of manual intervention. With some careful handling I have made wonderful coffee with the Silvia. Everyone who has had coffee from the machine has marvelled at the wonderful flavour and body. Unlike others I have found the Solis 166 grinder to be satisactory for the time being. At this point I am reaching the next limitation which is using good beans. Thankfully Alan Frew continues to produce CONSISTENTLY well roasted beans. I emphasis that word because I have been trying the same variety of beans from a number of suppliers with mixed results, generally inferior. I can only surmise that roasting is a skill that requires a lot of dedication and focus.
I'll probably look at a new grinder at the end of 2003, perhaps the new mini mazzer without the doser. I also have a poster of the ECM Giotto hanging on my wall...