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Quick Mill Silvano Review

Postby HB on Wed Feb 20, 2013 9:25 pm

Along the continuum of espresso machine choices, the Quick Mill Silvano is not easily categorized. It's priced less than other espresso machines capable of brewing and steaming at the same time, thanks to its innovative design. For the first-time buyer, it may well solve the dilemma for those who want to prepare espresso and cappuccinos back-to-back, but aren't willing to stretch their budget to a semi-commercial choice. I'll return to this point after a quick reminder of the "five C's" for those new to the home espresso scene.

UPDATE: Read the final writeup Quickmill Silvano Review.

Summary of the five C's

If you're an espresso lover who has decided to buy your own equipment, the first question you probably asked yourself is "How much am I willing to spend?" After some initial investigation, the next question you asked was probably "Does an espresso machine really cost that much?!?" While the cost of quality espresso gear may come as a surprise to the newly initiated, it's worth understanding why it may be worth increasing your budget. For the purpose of the reviews you'll read on HB, the main considerations are the five C's: Capability, Consistency, Convenience, Capacity, and finally Construction.

What initially distinguishes the class of an espresso machine is its basic capability, namely can it brew espresso and steam milk at the same time. Entry-level espresso machines typically have a single boiler that serves as both brew and steam boiler (the so-called "single boiler, dual use" espresso machine); such espresso machines have a switch that controls whether the boiler is brewing (approx. 200°F) or steaming (approx. 255°F). The next class of espresso machines, prosumer or semi-commercial, can brew and steam at the same time for small groups, say 4 to 6 people. Commercial equipment represent the third class of espresso machines; they have the capacity to brew and steam rapidly enough to serve a line of latte/cappuccino/espresso lovers.

Before returning to the Silvano, if you haven't already read it, I recommend skimming How to choose an espresso machine and grinder at the "right" price the better understand the decision criteria underlying this review.

Quickmill Silvano at home

With that brief introduction, we finally reach the requisite "at home" photo:

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Quick Mill Silvano evaluation model courtesy of Chris' Coffee Service

The Quick Mill Silvano is well-proportioned for modern kitchens; allow approximately 22" of counterspace for the espresso machine and grinder. If you have extra space, the steam wand extends to the right for conveniently maneuvering it into the milk pitcher, but you can also position the wand forward if space is tight. The Silvano fits easily under standard cupboards with enough clearance for cups. Depth-wise, the Silvano demands very little, requiring a mere 13" for the machine itself and a few more inches for the portafilter handle when in use.

Operationally, the three toggle switches on the right are where the action starts:

  • Top switch - three positions are 0 (off), 1 (pump only) and 2 (normal operation). Position 1 is handy for the first-time setup since it powers the pump but not the boiler, assuring that you'll correctly fill the boiler without risk of burning out the heating element. The green light next to it glows when the switch is in position 1 or 2.
  • Middle switch - brew switch for the pump. Left = off, right = on. The amber light next to it flickers as the heating element turns on/off. Expect it to be on continuously for a few minutes when the machine first powers up, then blink every few seconds thereafter as the electronic temperature control (PID) operates.
  • Bottom switch - steam switch for the thermblock and dedicated steam pump. The Silvano's thermoblock steam unit is unique; I'll cover it in detail later in the review. Left = off, right = on. The amber light glows when the thermoblock is heating. Expect it to turn on for 20-30 seconds after steaming.
The display on the upper left is the brew temperature controller, frequently called a "PID". The machine is off in the photo above, otherwise it would show the current brew temperature. The ease of temperature management and forgiving nature of the Quickmill Silvano showed itself on the first day. Below is my second espresso pulled on it using the same grind setting as for my usual kit, the La Marzocco Strada. Although I fumbled for the camera while the espresso's crema sank, it tasted as good as it looked (well, actually it tasted better).

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Not bad for a second attempt, despite poor photography skills...
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Postby HB on Thu Feb 21, 2013 9:04 pm

Although the new review format will be streamlined, I didn't skip calibrating the Silvano using a Scace thermofilter. By calibrating to a known standard, comparisons between two espresso machines are more meaningful. Below is the start temperature and finish temperature, according to the PID display (red LED) and Scace thermofilter (LCD):

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Idle temperature of brew chamber is ~184°F

The start temperature of 205°F shown on the PID was the "out of the box" setting from Chris' Coffee Service. Notice how the temperature setpoint of the PID controller differs from the actual brewhead temperature (205°F vs. 199°F):

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Temperature of brew chamber at the 20 second mark is ~199°F

It's not unusual for a PID-equipped espresso machine to need initial calibration; they have a built-in offset so the actual measured temperature by the boiler sensor can easily be translated into the brewing temperature (i.e., the boiler is typically hotter since heat is lost along the way; the PID offset is subtracted from the actual boiler temperature to yield the expected brew temperature).

The discrepancy between the PID display temperature and the actual brew chamber temperature during the shot was discussed in Quickmill Silvano PID Shows Temperature Drop While Pulling Shot. Generally speaking, the boiler's PID readout is meaningless once the pump switches on because the probe may be intentionally mounted near the water inlet on the boiler to improve response time. However, the brewhead temperature should rise rapidly to the target brew temperature and then shouldn't drop much at all. Most espresso machines I've tested with a similar technique idled between 165°F and 185°F. This point was demonstrated by Chris Nachtrieb in this video:


Silvano Test from Chris Nachtrieb of Chris' Coffee Service

My readings confirm the behavior demonstrated in the video above.
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Postby HB on Fri Feb 22, 2013 8:06 pm

A brief note about test methods and how they may affect the early days of the review. Below is a snapshot comparing the stock Quickmill double basket and the VST 18 grams basket:

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Quickmill double basket, VST 18 grams double basket

Over the years, I've collected baskets in many shapes and sizes. As Jim demonstrated in How filter baskets affect espresso taste and barista technique, characterizing basket performance isn't easy. So rather than attempt to scientifically analyze the basket(s) that happen to accompany a given espresso machine, I initially use the same basket for the test candidate as I do for my regular setup. Since VST baskets are readily available and demonstrably consistent unit-to-unit, I chose the 18 gram ridgeless model for initial testing. Later in the review, I'll return to the stock basket.

For consistency's sake, I also weigh every dose when testing:

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Tare and weigh each dose

To get a better feel for the "forgiveness factor" a less circumspect newbie might experience, I do some sessions dosing by eye. Finally, to conclude the review, I invite some local espresso enthusiasts over for hands-on experience, taste testing, and comparisons with other equipment if time allows.
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Postby HB on Sat Feb 23, 2013 3:45 pm

As part of the streamlined review format, I plan to include more videos than in the past. Below are two extractions using two different baskets. The first was pulled to typical double brew ratios, the second was a tight ristretto.


Extraction using VST 18 grams basket

The above shot probably should have been cut off a few seconds earlier; I was a little distracted by the extra steps required for video production. Video critiques aside, the extraction started with nicely even beading and showed minor signs of channeling starting around the 23 second mark.

For the next video, I switched to a larger Faema-style basket. They're rounded towards the bottom and are known for being tolerant of dosing variance. This was dosed at the same 17.5 grams as the previous shot; you can see that it beads more slowly due to the extra headspace and also pours more slowly. While the first was firmly in double espresso territory, the second is a ristretto as evidenced by the slower development, longer overall pour time, and lower final volume.


Extraction using Faema-style 20+ grams basket
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Postby HB on Sun Feb 24, 2013 10:57 pm

Today's efforts were towards video production for the "newbie introduction to espresso" series instead of the Quickmill Silvano. In the first video, Newbie Introduction to Espresso - Taste Appreciation, the espressos were made using the La Marzocco Strada and Compak K10. But the second video below featured the Quickmill Silvano paired with the Baratza Vario:



Phillip had no trouble producing a solid espresso on the first attempt. :D
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Postby HB on Mon Feb 25, 2013 9:02 pm

As noted in the first post, one of the five C's is Capacity. Whether casually called "party mode" or "running flat out", capacity refers to the maximum drink-preparation pace an espresso machine can support while maintaining brew temperature stability and steam pressure. This characteristic is what typically separates the latter two of the three classes of espresso equipment (entry level, prosumer, commercial); this separation is especially noticeable in steaming performance.

The Quick Mill Silvano has a single boiler dedicated to brewing; it has a thermoblock fed by a separate vibratory pump for steaming, thus enabling it to brew/steam simultaneously. I haven't used many thermoblock steamers; from my limited experience prior to the Silvano, they steam more slowly and the steam is wetter than the steam from a boiler. My first impression of the Silvano's steaming was that it was indeed slower compared to prosumer equipment, but it was fast enough for many buyers who are serving one, two, or maybe three drinks in succession. Additionally, the steam seems as dry as typical espresso machines in the entry-level class.

For a reference point, the table below shows a range of consumer-class equipment excerpted from one of the site reviews:

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    (*) Seconds required to heat water from 40 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (boiler pressure of 1.0 bar). The Silvia timings are representative of most semi-commercial machines with low volume tips; the Andreja timings are representative of most semi-commercial machines with stock tips; the Elektra A3 timings are representative of most commercial machines with +3.5 liter boilers.
This morning I quickly measured steam time for 8 ounces and how much water was added to the steamed liquid. The Silvano required 75 seconds to steam 8 ounces to 160°F; it added 54 grams of condensed water, approximately twice that of the best-in-class La Marzocco Strada. Judging from the above table and today's results, the Silvano does steam more slowly than its top-performing peers, but its time is within the range of its class.

Tonight's post to this thread wraps up my first impressions of the Quick Mill Silvano. After an intermission to allow for comments/questions/corrections, I'll take a closer look at its espresso performance and schedule a group session to gather feedback.
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Postby mariobarba on Tue Feb 26, 2013 1:40 pm

I don't have a Silvano but I do have a hybrid thermoblock for steam machine similar to the Silvano. The steaming, while mostly adequate for my needs, is somewhat variable in that the strength of the steam will change depending on: where in the heating cycle is the thermoblock, if both pumps are being used, and if the cappuccino gods are happy. Also with the on/off nature of the steam thermoblock I usually bleed a couple of seconds of steam off before immersing the tip into the milk. The first seconds seem to be the wettest.
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Postby Beezer on Tue Feb 26, 2013 2:44 pm

Thanks for all your hard work on this review. If this is an example of the new "shortened" review format, I have to wonder what you did before on the old, long reviews! :shock:

The Silvano seems like a good machine for the money, especially if you don't need to do a lot of milk steaming. I'm guessing the PID controlling brew boiler makes it very competitive with much more expensive double boiler machines like the Vivaldi, Duetto, and Double Domo, at least for pulling straight shots.

I noticed you weren't doing any warmup flushing before pulling shots. Is a warming blank shot not necessary with this machine? I usually do a quick two ounce blank shot before pulling shots on my Duetto, but maybe it's not necessary on this style of machine.

Also, any reason you didn't use the timed grind feature on the Vario? Seems like it would take the guesswork out of dosing for each shot.

Thanks again for posting this.
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Postby LaDan on Tue Feb 26, 2013 5:42 pm

Thank you for the review, Dan.

Can you clarify the part about the calibration of the PID?? What did you do?

Also on the same subject, you show a 184F for idle, and 199F for brew. But what does the 184F even means? It is well known that a grouphead (in non HX machines) is at a lower temperature and that therefore an heating flush is required. But I didn't see anything mentioned about that. Have you done a warmup flush, or did you just start pulling the shot on the 184F head? If you can clarify that part. Thanks.
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Postby HB on Tue Feb 26, 2013 8:24 pm

mariobarba wrote:I don't have a Silvano but I do have a hybrid thermoblock for steam machine similar to the Silvano. The steaming, while mostly adequate for my needs, is somewhat variable in that the strength of the steam will change...

That was true for a thermoblock steamer I used years ago, but not for the Quick Mill Silvano. Its steam is steady. Before wrapping up the review, I'll post a video showing it.

Beezer wrote:I noticed you weren't doing any warmup flushing before pulling shots. Is a warming blank shot not necessary with this machine?

The brew temperature of small boiler espresso machines is easily perturbed by warmup flushes immediately before the shot, so instead I flush prior to dosing/tamping (this step was edited out to keep the video < 15 minutes). That gives the group more time to restabilize.

Beezer wrote:Also, any reason you didn't use the timed grind feature on the Vario? Seems like it would take the guesswork out of dosing for each shot.

If I was pulling shot after shot of the same coffee, I might take the time to set a timer dose. Obviously that wasn't the plan for this video.

LaDan wrote:Can you clarify the part about the calibration of the PID?? What did you do?

Digital temperature readouts aren't 100% accurate. Since I compare two espresso machines side-by-side, I adjust the PID offset so their displayed temperature = actual brew temperature.

The Silvano's owner's manual says the offset should be set to 25 (i.e., the location of the boiler's sensor is 25°F warmer than the brew temperature due to heat lost along the way to the brewhead). Using a Scace thermofilter, I changed the offset to 28°F. If you want the displayed temperature = actual brew temperature, this sort of calibration step is necessary for all espresso machines (e.g., my La Marzoccco Strada offset was off by a couple degrees directly from the factory).

LaDan wrote:Also on the same subject, you show a 184F for idle, and 199F for brew. But what does the 184F even means?

The brewhead is 184°F when it's been idle; the boiler setpoint is 199°F. Soon after the pump starts, the brewhead temperature rises to the boiler setpoint temperature.
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