Rancilio Silvia Dilemma - it's a love/hate thing! - Page 3

Recommendations for buyers and upgraders from the site's members.
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HB
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#21: Post by HB »

Ken Fox wrote: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 agree, and am neither offended nor annoyed by anything you said. I added an asterisk to your question for the caveat "Assuming a home barista having average skills."

The tricky part of offering advice or writing evaluations like this site's reviews is knowing whether the reader will be able to act on your recommendations. That's why the scores include a "morning after" score, which attempts to quantify the experiences of the early learning stage while the equipment at hand is still novel to the user. The home barista is more likely to realize their goal of good/very good/exceptional espresso with gear that scores well in this category; the "exceptional espresso" score assumes an experienced home barista and doesn't deduct for required machinations like the WDT, temperature surfing, etc.

Returning to the original topic, my beef with the Rancilio Silvia is that too many buyers won't realize its full potential until they've expended considerable time and frustration. My own experience echos those of many I've read: The average espresso on my upgrade was better than the majority of espressos I made in the years prior with Silvia and with far less effort.

This discussion reminds me of what I wrote years ago in the conclusion of one my first reviews:
Review of Mazzer, La Cimbali, Macap espresso grinders wrote:Objectively, there is certainly no "wrong" choice among these grinders. All are superb in grind quality and consistency, the two ultimate measures of a grinder's success. Ironically, I write this today after having upgraded grinders two times- three if you include my (*shudder*) whirly-blade grinder -and I wonder what recommendations back then would have been compelling enough to persuade me to spend the amount of money on a grinder that I ultimately did. It's probably true that no words would have convinced me [emphasis added] a grinder that typically resides in a café could find a place in our kitchen. And yet here I am today suggesting you consider a path I myself didn't follow.
Dan Kehn

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JackJ

#22: Post by JackJ »

Randy G. wrote: 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.
Some measured data on this: With the original OPV, my old model Silvia measured 11 Bar at the M6 fitting just above the grouphead while pulling a shot. I installed the new adjustable OPV this past Friday and before adjustment measured 10.5 bar. Loosening the fitting by 7/8ths of a turn has resulted in 8.5 bar.

Despite my best attempts at Stockfleths, Stockfleths for Dummies, WDT, etc, channeling occurred on most of my shots with the original OPV. Lowing the pressure 2.5 bar has made a significant difference in performance--channeling is greatly reduced, and shots are much more consistent.

Jack

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Randy G.

#23: Post by Randy G. »

JackJ wrote:....Despite my best attempts at Stockfleths, Stockfleths for Dummies, WDT, etc, channeling occurred on most of my shots with the original OPV. Lowing the pressure 2.5 bar has made a significant difference in performance--channeling is greatly reduced, and shots are much more consistent.
My point was that my Silvia was pretty much brewing at a "correct" pressure, so a blanket statement (as made by the OP) inferring that all Silvia owners should just give the OPV a turn is not good advice. The inference in that is: Rancilio's decision to put a user-adjustable OPV on a machine, which, based on reports, is evidently set too high at the factory, and then not installing a brew pressure gauge seems more like marketing hype, not a valuable feature for the end user.

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Marshall

#24: Post by Marshall »

I have a client outside the coffee business who is quite wealthy and a philanthropist (I know one presumes the other). He let me know one day that he was a daily home espresso consumer, so I asked what kind of equipment he used. He said the machine was very expensive and that he was profoundly embarrassed to let me know how much he spent on it. I finally dragged out of him that it was a $1,000 superauto commonly found at Williams Sonoma. I keep this in mind when people ask me for machine recommendations.

This forum often winds up being like a place where people considering a Taurus ask Porsche owners for advice. We are jaded by our numerous trade-ups and forget where we began. Your average consumer will think you have lost your mind, if you tell him to buy the kind of equipment that is considered midrange around here.

I also remember that, before Greg Scace and Andy Schecter did their temperature studies (could it really have been 2001????), the Silvia was pretty much considered one of the gold standards, if not the gold standard for home espresso. Mark Prince's Internet shrine to his Silvia had more to do with that than anything else, but people were still very, very happy with those machines, until Greg and Andy tested them. I had one for several years.

I also have to say I have seen skilled pros deliver some awfully nice shots out of those Silvias. So, no, I don't really think they are all that bad, and I think they are a pretty good starter for people who haven't plunged head first into this hobby, particularly if they can negotiate a deal on one.
Marshall
Los Angeles

d.f. (original poster)

#25: Post by d.f. (original poster) »

Marshall wrote:This forum often winds up being like a place where people considering a Taurus ask Porsche owners for advice. We are jaded by our numerous trade-ups and forget where we began. Your average consumer will think you have lost your mind, if you tell him to buy the kind of equipment that is considered midrange around here.
Marshall:
Excellent advice. I love Home Barista for the excellent expert advice on a myriad of coffee conundrums. I need to keep in mind that someone who owns a $1800 Expobar Brewtus III is not going to love a $ 600 Silvia. I used to love my $200 Martin guitar until I upgraded to a $2500 Taylor.

Thanks for the perspective.

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shadowfax

#26: Post by shadowfax »

Marshall wrote:This forum often winds up being like a place where people considering a Taurus ask Porsche owners for advice. We are jaded by our numerous trade-ups and forget where we began. Your average consumer will think you have lost your mind, if you tell him to buy the kind of equipment that is considered midrange around here.
This is a good quote, and I agree: we can sometimes lose perspective. On the other hand, why would anyone expect something other than what happens on these threads, and is it really a bad thing? I mean, it's one thing if a guy comes into a porsche forum and tells them all that he thinks their porsches are a waste of time, and likes his Taurus better--he's going to get told why the owners feel that their Porsches are better than his Taurus.

On the other hand, what's wrong with a Taurus-buyer asking for advice on a Porsche forum? Let's back out of the analogy--I don't think that it's a bad idea to ask E61 and double-boiler machine owners for advice when considering a $200-600 machine purchase. A lot of those folks started out in the same place, and remember it well enough. I think a communication breakdown that centers around definitions of what "good coffee" is can sometimes cloud online discussions about machines. As Dan mentions, this is a moving target that is constantly evolving for most of us, and most people beginning espresso making have little or no notion of the complexity of great coffee or the flavor characteristics that arise from different origins, processing, roast profiles, etc.

At this point there comes the question: How do you approach this hobby? Are you looking to refine your skills and palate, or do you want to just stay where you are, set a ceiling for yourself and not "waste" any time or effort trying to get past it. A lot of people are like this, and they wouldn't get much from posting on this forum.

On the other hand, if someone has the interest in coffee to seek this forum out and ask us a question, I like to think that they would like an honest perspective from people who have experience with the machine they're considering, as well as machines in classes above it, about what they can expect to get from the machine, and what they will miss by not breaking the bank and getting something nicer. In all honesty, this sort of thing seems run of the mill when you're considering purchasing an item: you want to know if it's worth the extra money over cheaper options, and if it's worth it to get something nicer. You gather lots of opinions, and you make your decision based on that. I think that Dan (d.f.) got some good advice here.

H-B is a community that is passionate about coffee. If you're not as crazy as us, you need to know to take us with a grain of salt, and I am pretty sure we'll all tell you that. I think the whole system works OK, with a few frayed ends here and there--nothing is perfect. :)
Nicholas Lundgaard

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Randy G.

#27: Post by Randy G. »

Marshall wrote:This forum often winds up being like a place where people considering a Taurus ask Porsche owners for advice. We are jaded by our numerous trade-ups and forget where we began.
But it does depend on the attitude of the Taurus owner, no? This portion of the thread was started when Giuseppe, in part, said, "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..." This based on a questionable beginning of his espresso kingdom ("I wouldn't enter the market with a cheaper machine than the Silvia, I've tried them and only ended up being very disappointed."), and then five whole weeks with Silvia.

I am not alone in this, but I will say that over the years I have spent many hours typing away answering the same questions and assisting home baristas in any way I can. Beyond the forums I often get coffee-related e-mail questions. A full 98% of them are appreciative of the help, but every now and then I get one from someone telling me how wrong I am about one thing or another. There is a big difference between,
"What makes your E-61 machine better than mine?" and, "Your E-61 machine is a waste of money compared to my..."

All in all, I think Giuseppe got off easy and the replies were very much constrained and civil concerning the level of ignorance and arrogance his post reflected.

Should we imagine the response it would have gotten on a.c.? :wink:
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GC7
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#28: Post by GC7 »

I was recently in the situation where I wanted to enter the home espresso arena for the first time after being an enthusiast who made what I considered really excellent French Press, Drip and Vacuum Pot coffee and dived into home roasting as well. I came to love the espresso I could get in good cafe's but did not have any idea of what I was getting into except for the fact that I know that once in I needed something that could at least compare with the cafe's.

I spent A LOT of time reading the archives here and CG and I probably like most starting out thought that the Silvia was a lot to spend on a machine and certainly more then I expected to spend. In the process of diving in I finally decided to skip the Silvia/Gaggia level and get a QM Anita (PID'ed no less) and the naked portafilter and the EricS temperature adaptor. The "Porche dealers" at home-barista played a huge role in this choice and at the end of the day I am totally thankful that I made the decision I chose. I also was skeptical that my Virtuoso grinder would not do for espresso. I tested the grind and uniformity as far as bringing samples into the lab to look under a high power dissecting microscope. I didn't appreciate the mantra of grinder first and small changes in grind are necessary to adapt to coffee type, age of roast and even humidity. Two weeks after Anita came I was on the phone with Chris Coffee and a Compak grinder was in the mail.

My point is that this site with all its knowledge from low end to Rolls Royce is a resource. I personally never thought I would drop $2K or more on espresso and without the new HopTop that will be my next toy (thanks Randy!) but education and knowledge allow us to decide in the end what the best choice is for our individual needs and budgets. Without this site I would have I think wasted my money on a machine that I doubt I would have mastered correctly or satisfied my taste buds.

So - keep advising and giving opinions. Big boys and girls with expensive toys should be able to digest it and use it how they choose and without getting insulted that others may have bigger and better toys. Hopefully we all just want the best possible drinks we can get.

Giuseppe21

#29: Post by Giuseppe21 »

Randy G. wrote:But it does depend on the attitude of the Taurus owner, no? This portion of the thread was started when Giuseppe, in part, said, "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..." This based on a questionable beginning of his espresso kingdom ("I wouldn't enter the market with a cheaper machine than the Silvia, I've tried them and only ended up being very disappointed."), and then five whole weeks with Silvia.

I am not alone in this, but I will say that over the years I have spent many hours typing away answering the same questions and assisting home baristas in any way I can. Beyond the forums I often get coffee-related e-mail questions. A full 98% of them are appreciative of the help, but every now and then I get one from someone telling me how wrong I am about one thing or another. There is a big difference between,
"What makes your E-61 machine better than mine?" and, "Your E-61 machine is a waste of money compared to my..."

All in all, I think Giuseppe got off easy and the replies were very much constrained and civil concerning the level of ignorance and arrogance his post reflected.

Should we imagine the respone it would have gotten on a.c.? :wink:
No one directed any critical comments to you or your machine so I'm not sure why you're so uptight. If you took the time to read the OP's question you would have realized that he only had so much money to spend on a setup. He's basically looking in the price range of a Silvia and a Gaggia. All of my comments related to my experience with my Silvia machine which probably meant more to the guy than some coment about brushing teeth. Some people out there actually do like the espresso they get out of their Silvia, and people can get consistent shots out of their machine. The OP has obviously picked up on the fact that the Silvia is treated like junk around here, and there are other opinions out there that might be helpful to the guy. He doesn't want to spend the money on a higher end setup, and I wanted to give him positive feedback on the Silvia. I certainly wasn't criticizing any other machine or stating that my Silvia was better than any other machine. I never stated that people with more expensive machines wasted their money, you fabricated that statement, so don't insert that into my reply. Also, it took me 5 months to get my Silvia producing shots the way I like them on a consistent basis, not 5 weeks. I thought 5 months was a long time, to experiment on one machine, but in the end I am extremely happy with it's operation. Not sure why that statement is so bothersome to you but I wanted to explain that. I've been drinking and making espresso for most of my life. I bought the Silvia 5 months ago after owning many previous machines. As a child I was dunking homemade biscottis in my espresso for breakfast while most kids were eating Lucky Charms (Albeit from a stovetop espresso boiler my mother owned). I really don't care about who has the biggest "espresso kingdom". What's so important about that ?, really ? , seems so shallow.

I'd trade my Silvia in for an E-61 any day of the week but my price point is the same as the OP's, and if my Silvia gives me what I'm looking for in a shot then I'm happy and I received value for my money. I believe that I should be able to express that point to people asking questions. If you were offended by any of my comments it's your own fault. At least I tried to answer the guy's question rather than giving him the typical auto-reply of recommending more expensive machines, grinders, etc...., in cases where the people clearly state that they want to spend less than $1k. Like the OP highlighted, I purchased the Silvia because it was highly praised in many circles. And like the OP I was very surprised at all of the negativity shown towards the machine on this forum, justly or unjustly. IMO you don't criticize people for being happy with their lower cost machine, and you don't talk down to people just because you believe that your palate is much more refined than theirs. If you don't want to discuss "Taurus" like machines maybe direct people to places where they do, and it'll give you more space to discuss the "Porsches".

Lastly why did I get off easy ?, all I was doing was giving the guy some feedback on the Silvia. I didn't criticize any person on this forum, I didn't criticize any machine, and I certainly didn't criticize you. Are you supposed to get punished for giving people your opinion on this forum ?. I don't recall reading that when I joined this forum. If it's listed in the fine print please point it out to me. Should I feel relieved that you took it "easy" on me ?. Being criticized on the internet really isn't that big of a deal in the overall scheme of things in my life, but thanks a latte for letting me off easy anyways. If for some reason I offended someone in my original reply please accept my apology, as that surely was not my intention. I know this reply doesn't benefit the OP but I had to clear up a few things which I found offensive. Speaking of offensive, why would someone purposely not brush their teeth for two weeks ?.

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HB
Admin

#30: Post by HB »

Randy G. wrote:Should we imagine the response it would have gotten on a.c.?
No thanks. Instead I recommend reviewing the site's Guidelines for productive online discussion as needed. I have done so in light of my recent not-so-helpful response in another Silvia thread. Overall this thread contains some very useful information; however, when the commentary turns to how person X responded to person Y's question or how person Z worded their question, it's time to move on.

PS: General questions/comments about site policy are welcome in the Suggestion Box. Thanks.
Dan Kehn