Rancilio Silvia Dilemma - it's a love/hate thing! - Page 2

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
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ddr

#11: Post by ddr »

One thing you might consider is buying a used grinder off of Craig's list. I took a look and see this one: http://minneapolis.craigslist.org/bfs/940437286.html

It is a higher price than I would like to pay, but if it is in good condition that type of grinder can last a long long time (mine is much older and is great). I would keep my eye on Craig's list for a little while and see what pops up.

Take Care,
Dan
Dan
LMWDP #242

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Randy G.

#12: Post by Randy G. »

Giuseppe21 wrote:One modification that the Silvia does need is a lower pressure adjustment.
Which Silvia? New models? Old models? Every one sent out from Italy? My old Silvia (sold about 18 months ago) was checked and was very close to the proper brew pressure from the factory.

If there is one adjustment to be made, it is most definitely a brew temperature adjustment. The original button thermostats make the user do a dance to get brew temp consistency that would make Michael Flatly jealous. Those cheap thermostats are an insult on a machine of that price and quality, IMO.
I've had mine for about five months now. It has been a bit of a challenge to get consistent espresso shots but I've got all of the variables down now and it brews and exceptional shot. I am at the point where I can get consistent shots all the time now.
Five whole months... And already perfectly consistent shots... :roll:
The biggest difference was after I lowered the pressure of the machine by turning the OPV down by one turn. That was all that was really needed to go from a good shot to a perfect shot.
PERFECT!? How many "perfect" shots have you tasted outside of the home? The sort of shots that make you not want to brush your teeth for a week. The deep, rich, sweet, lingering taste that makes you weak at the knees. That make your eyes roll up and hear angels sing? Come on... I have had two or three perfect shots (if you can even define such a thing) and with all my experiments and use, and time spent, and even PID'd, Silvia never came close to perfect shots.
Nonetheless I can get my home espresso shots to be within 98% of the quality of the shots that I get from my favourite espresso shop. This is from my Rancilio Silvia combined with a Gaggia MDF grinder, and using freshly roasted beans from a local supplier/roaster.
Uh huh..... That sounds more like a condemnation of the coffee shop than a glowing tribute to Silvia.
People can go on all day about how great their E61 machine works, producing shots with a hint of berries, caramel, chocolate, tobacco, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...... . Attaining that extra 2 % in quality of shot (based on my experience) is minute in the overall scheme of things.
based on that statement, I think you are on the wrong forum. You have very little experience from what we can gather from your post, and if Silvia is the best machine you have used personally then I think you need to tone down your condescending attitude based on what little knowledge and experience you possess. If you think Silvia makes that great of an espresso that is fine for you, but beyond that you really do not have the knowledge or experience to make the sort of statements that your message carries.

I had 6½ years of experience with Silvia and a good part of that it was PID'd and the brew pressure was checked. That machine NEVER came even remotely close to the flavor and consistency of my Vibiemme Domobar Super. NOT EVEN CLOSE. From the first day, using the VBM with the same grinder I used with the Silvia, the difference was DRAMATIC. Not a little, not a flavor nuance, not sort of better... DRAMATICALLY better.
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shadowfax

#13: Post by shadowfax »

Giuseppe21 wrote:People can go on all day about how great their E61 machine works, producing shots with a hint of berries, caramel, chocolate, tobacco, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...... . Attaining that extra 2 % in quality of shot (based on my experience) is minute in the overall scheme of things. You can get a great shot out of a Silvia and that's all you need to know.
I'll take exception to this. Why did you buy Silvia? You were unhappy with "lower end" machines than Silvia, and upgraded, right? Anyway, your numbers don't make sense to me--I feel like you exaggerate the improvement from Silvia over Gaggia type machines, and downplay the improvement from E61s over Silvia. Imagine if I said, 'The Gaggia espresso machine, once you learn technique on the machine, can consistently pull shots 90% as good as my local café. People can go on and on all day about how great their Silvia works, producing shots with nondescript chocolate, unidentified fruitiness, blah, blah, blah ..... Attaining that extra 8% in quality of shot (based on my experience) is minute in the overall scheme of things.' I certainly agree with you that there are diminishing returns on machines as you spend more and more money, but it seems pretty well-documented that E61s and other machines in the $1000-$2000 range deliver a very significant improvement in the cup.

The fact that "you can get a great shot out of Silvia" is most certainly not the whole story. What's your definition of "good" or "great?" Saying that your Silvia shots are about as good as a local café that pulls shots on a La Marzocco 4 group and a top end grinder is not necessarily helpful to me. Such a setup is somewhat rare, but I can tell you that I've been to more than one shop that pulled coffee that resembled fireplace ash more than espresso, using the setup you described. Heck, a few years ago, most Starbucks cafés had that setup. I don't think that listing a setup is not an adequate shop resumé. My point being, I don't think any of us knows what your local shop (or local beans) are like. And likewise, I wonder if you've ever used an E61 setup? I don't understand why you speak so condescendingly of people who are good at describing the flavors in their coffee, and feel justified in upgrading from Silvia.

Another question: how much trouble do you have to go through to get a great shot of espresso? How consistently great is it?

Just food for thought...
Nicholas Lundgaard

d.f. (original poster)

#14: Post by d.f. (original poster) »

ddr wrote:One thing you might consider is buying a used grinder off of Craig's list. I took a look and see this one: http://minneapolis.craigslist.org/bfs/940437286.html
I looked at it and it looks too tired for the price. I'm going to order a Rocky by Monday unless I find something used.

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HB
Admin

#15: Post by HB »

shadowfax wrote:The fact that "you can get a great shot out of Silvia" is most certainly not the whole story. What's your definition of "good" or "great?"
If the poster's experience is like mine, the definition of "great" changes over time. The thread What does your typical espresso rate? describes my working definition. My typical espresso is a 3.0 to 3.5 (good to good+) with occasional 4.0's (very good).

BTW, the tone of some the posts above is a bit rough. When in doubt, refer to Guidelines for productive discussion. Thanks.
shadowfax wrote:Another question: how much trouble do you have to go through to get a great shot of espresso? How consistently great is it?
That's a good question. I find it very difficult to crack the 4.0 barrier. If I had to pick the largest contributor to improving consistency, it wouldn't be the espresso machine, it'd be the grinder.
Dan Kehn

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BAEvans

#16: Post by BAEvans »

Don't disagree with the above comments.
As a relative beginner, I certainly hope that with time my palate will improve, and what tastes very good now (I have no basis for 'great') will be revealed to be merely good.
It's all part of the journey.
On the other hand, with my current palate and technical ability, I noted a big step forward in taste and especially consistency from Rocky to Macap MC4, and a dramatic step from my PID'd Silvia to my Alex Duetto.
I enjoy 9 of 10 straight shots now, and the 10th is better than 50% of my Silvia shots. Much more enjoyable trying different coffees and discerning the differences, and getting reasonable results from some difficult coffees like Vivace Dolce.
What fun!

Bruce

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shadowfax

#17: Post by shadowfax »

HB wrote:BTW, the tone of some the posts above is a bit rough. When in doubt, refer to Guidelines for productive discussion. Thanks.
...
That's a good question. I find it very difficult to crack the 4.0 barrier. If I had to pick the largest contributor to improving consistency, it wouldn't be the espresso machine, it'd be the grinder.
[edit]Sorry about the tenor of the original post. I re-worded it and toned it down a bit. I hope it gets my feelings across without being rude now.[/edit]

I agree about grinders. If I had to choose between giving up my Vetrano for a Silvia or my Robur for a Rocky/Mini, I think I would keep the Robur, not the Vetrano. Temp surfing may be annoying, but it's not as annoying as doing everything right and still getting oddball extractions without warning.
d.f. wrote:I looked at it and it looks too tired for the price. I'm going to order a Rocky by Monday unless I find something used.
Good thinking. That grinder is not worth anything like $400. It's the older style SJ (smaller motor), and obviously extremely beat up. The only Mazzer SJs worth $400-500 are the ones that are gently used and recent.
Nicholas Lundgaard

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Psyd
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#18: Post by Psyd »

shadowfax wrote: Heck, a few years ago, most Starbucks cafés had that setup.
Heck, a few years ago, Starbucks, you cold find a Starbucks that didn't suck!
I've hit the top shops in the country that I could. Murky, Vivace, Victrola, Barefoot, Blue Bottle and a vast plethora of lil shops where a flagship of the Third Wave wasn't available, just to tell my palate what 'good' was. While I'm not pulling the quality of shot that they are but once in, say, a coupla hundred, I can recognise it when I do. I have pro kit at my house, and a Silvia and a pair of Rockys at the GF's house. I take the same coffee to both places, so I have a great way to compare the two. Technique-wise, product-wise, forgiveness-wise, and ease-of-use-wise.
The pro kit is easier and far more forgiving. Silvia isn't called the Stainless Steel Taskmistress fer nuthin'. Techniques I used with Silvia and Rocky were sometimes wastes of precious time on the Majors and the Astoria. Sometimes, techniques I developed with the two-group got me into trouble at Silvia's feet. Occasionally, there'd be something that both machines like.
Silvia needs all of her ducks in a row, a good grind, and for you to hold your mouth just so. She is unforgiving of mistakes, and quick to chastise you fro your laziness, inattention to detail, or just plain ignorance. She is. She just is.
If, however, you're willing to go to school, and suffer under the lash, and hear, again and again, "WRONG! Do it again!" the result will be a remarkably decent cuppa. And occasionally you'll get something that you'd be proud to serve to Nick Cho, or Andy Newbom. Or even Jim Hoffman. Can you do it time after time, day after day, with the ease of an E-61 machine? Probably not. Can anyone other than ten percent of the posters here tell the difference? Probably not.
An analogy is the 240 mph Ferrari. One can espouse the virtues of that machine's speed all they want to, or cornering ability, or acceleration, even, but dollar for dollar, a Ford Fiesta will still kick it's butt in cross-town traffic.
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shadowfax

#19: Post by shadowfax »

Psyd wrote:Heck, a few years ago, Starbucks, you cold find a Starbucks that didn't suck!
[...]
Can anyone other than ten percent of the posters here tell the difference? Probably not.
[...]
An analogy is the 240 mph Ferrari. One can espouse the virtues of that machine's speed all they want to, or cornering ability, or acceleration, even, but dollar for dollar, a Ford Fiesta will still kick it's butt in cross-town traffic.
Honestly, I started getting into coffee about the time Starbucks started dumping the LMs and Mazzers (I actually got one of their Mazzer SJs for around $100!), So I've not had the 'pleasure' of experiencing a not-crappy Starbucks. Alas...

10% of the posters here? :shock: Seriously? Wow, you're a cynical man, Chris! :lol:

For your analogy to hold, either Silvia has to be the car with no power steering that won't shift unless you double-clutch, and whose engine overheats after driving for a few minutes, forcing one to stop driving and "temperature surf" the engine or flush the radiator (but at least it has a special valve on the radiator for pressure relief so that you don't get sprayed if you take the cap off while it's hot! ;)).... OR your analogy of "cross-town traffic" must map to "getting caffeinated." Silvia is really not a cheap machine. $600+, in the grand scheme of things, is not that much less than $2000. There's no arguing that Silvia is a luxury item. Most people's jaws would drop if they heard you dropped a nearly a grand on a Silvia + Rocky setup, never mind $2000 for an E61 and a Mazzer Mini.
Nicholas Lundgaard

Ken Fox

#20: Post by Ken Fox »

I am going to offend almost everyone who has posted on this thread.

I for one find this sort of thread to be extremely annoying. Now why would I say such a thing?

The reason is that it is like I dropped in on a cooking forum whose participants were great chefs and all they could talk about was reheating frozen macaroni and cheese in their microwaves, and which was the best brand of microwave oven for performing this (mundane) task? Nowhere in this discussion have I read word one about coffee or what it is that anyone here wants to get as an end result from all the efforts they put out in this great hobby we call home espresso preparation.

Equipment discussions often descend to this sort of level, but it is important to remember that what we are trying to do is to make high end espresso beverages that taste like the coffee from which they are made.

Cutting to the chase, what is it that I hope to achieve with all the coffee equipment that I have in my house, which spans everything from a commercial sample roaster to a couple of espresso machines and more grinders than I would like to admit that I own? For me, all I really seek is the ability to make straight espressos that taste like the coffee that I went to the trouble to roast and to grind and to extract into espressos. I leave out cappas and other milk drinks because you can hide a lot of sins in milk and quite honestly the bar is lower for the espresso component that goes into them. But I digress.

The real question should be, what is the minimum level of equipment that one can own that will allow one to taste most everything that is in the coffee we use to make our espresso beverages? I will leave out the roasting component although I have previously stated here in other threads that I think that many home roasters overestimate the quality of their home roasts. Let's just assume that you are starting with really good roasted coffee. So what do you need to own in the realm of espresso equipment in order to be able to discern the differences, to appreciate what your coffees have to offer?

Let's dispense with the espresso machine first because it is the easiest. I've never owned a Silvia but I owned several machines just below that level before I went for my first Cimbali Jr., in 1995. You don't need a Cimbali to be at this level but I do think you need something a bit above a Silvia. I rely on my friend Jim Schulman's view that the Silvia muddies the flavors and can't express the best that fine coffees have to offer. With that as a given, I'd reject that machine, in favor of an "inexpensive" heat exchanger, and in this price range you should get an E-61.

As to the grinder, it is more complicated. You can get by with a small planar grinder like a Mazzer Mini or a Cimbali Jr. (or other planar grinders having burrs of at least 56mm in diameter, 64mm are however better). With a grinder like this you will need to accept the reality that every day you will toss shots down the drain and need to readjust them constantly. BUT, you can get good shots out of them if you are patient.

In order to get consistent worry free shots with few shots pitched down the drain, and little need to fiddle daily with grind settings, you need a planar grinder with huge burrs (80+mm diameter), a hybrid Cimbali Max planar/conical, or a commercial conical, the cheapest of which is probably the Compak K10 WBC. With a grinder, the length of the cutting surface (e.g. the "knives") is all important, and these larger grinders simply have a much larger cutting surface and hence are simply "better." This is one of the few things that anyone who has had first hand experience with this stuff will simply take as a given, such as the fact that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west . . . .

I drink 3 or 4 straight double espresso shots every day, in addition to my morning cappa. I do not judge these shots on some sort of imaginary scale of "goodness" versus some fake sort of "ideal" shot. Rather, if the shot is truly bad, which is obvious before one would even try to drink it, then I pitch it down the sink. This happens very rarely these days with my equipment except maybe when I change among hugely different coffees in a given grinder. Otherwise, the question for me is, "can I taste the coffee and can I evaluate it, independent of slight variations in the extraction?" I am not saying that there is not variation in quality among the shots I pull, but rather, given a certain level (which I normally exceed) can I taste the coffee well enough that I can evaluate it, can I make allowances in my mind for the inevitable small variations in shot quality? Normally, the answer is "yes." In that case, I'm totally absorbed in tasting the coffee itself, evaluating how I roasted it, looking for flaws in the roasted beans, etc. The last thought that enters my mind is, "gosh, this was a 3.8 shot and I was expecting a 4.2" The focus, always, is on the coffee and not on "the shot."

In the end this is all about the coffee. It is not about getting "perfect" shots or shots that merit a certain point score out of some mythical total. If you are not thinking about the coffee, which is the whole reason for bothering with this, to taste the special differences among the various coffees out there, then you are simply wasting your time and should go find another hobby where the equipment is the endpoint, rather than what you can accomplish with it. Otherwise, you are reduced to being like the wine drinker who concentrates only on his wine glasses and not on the wine he is drinking out of them.

ken
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