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

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

#1: Post by d.f. »

I have never heard a more recommended machine that has been more panned than the Silvia. I am so confused! Please Help!

I have a local roaster in Cannon Falls where I live that gives me excellent, out of the hopper into the grinder into my big mouth fresh coffee. I am getting sick of the chain espresso (I drink it naked) and want to start at home. My wife does not share the same passion so spending $1000 for an espresso machine alone is out of the budget and question at this point. The Gaggia Classic and the Silvia seem to have the most quality parts for the price point. The Silvia has brass parts where the Gaggia has aluminum. I tried nespresso...yuck!

I am well aware of the finicky nature of the grind so will be purchasing a grinder within 3 months. In the meantime, I will use my Roaster and experiment with the grind.

I read home barista quite frequently but this is my first post. I fervently searched for an exclusive Silvia post and have yet to find one that can explain why this machine is so hated but still recommended.

HELP!

P.S. No, I cannot spend $1000 plus $399 for a grinder. I need to slide the espresso machine alone within that $600ish range. Am I O.L. for good espresso at home?

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Bushrod

#2: Post by Bushrod »

I loved my Silvia for straight espresso. I only upgraded because we got a kitchen remodel so I seized my chance.

Spending that much money on one and using preground is profoundly stupid.
Rich A

LMWDP #131

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BAEvans

#3: Post by BAEvans »

OK, I'll take a shot.
The Silvia (which I have owned and used for 6 months) is built of quality components, and at it's original price point of around $500 was a real deal. As the price rose, perhaps not so much.
The main problem is knowing and controlling at what temperature the coffee is brewing - the temperature control to the boiler has a wide "dead band" with swings of 20 degrees (F) or more between "heat on" and "heat off". In order to get a consistent temperature, it is necessary to use one of the "temperature surfing" techniques, such as waiting a specified number of seconds after the boiler heating light goes on after a flush brings cooler water into the boiler, or "reverse surfing" waiting a specific number of seconds after the boiler lite goes off after reaching its high set point.
A "PID" modification replaces the stock system with electronic temperature control, obviating the need for this process and rendering the machine much easier to use consistently, but raises the price above your limit unless you can find a good used PID'd Silvia. Searching forums here and other sites for "Silvia temperature surfing" will provide more details.
Secondly, the Silvia delivers high pressure brew water to the portafilter rather abruptly, giving the puck a bit of a shock. If the grind is not right, the distribution not careful, or the tamp not level, and if the portafilter is tapped or jarred after packing, the puck will fracture frequently, with fast sour pours and "spritzing" coffee due to channeling. Dose, distribution, and tamping technique need to be consistent and, perhaps, somewhat compulsive.
With experience, good espresso. High quality build. Professional portafilters and good steaming capability (with the limitations of a single boiler - waiting for temperature to come down after steaming before brewing another shot) without "froth aider" attachments. Good resale value for that reason. If you go with a Silvia, you will learn good barista technique and drink some good espresso.
At current prices, many recommending Gaggia as "serious" entry level now. I have no experience with those machines.

Bruce

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BAEvans

#4: Post by BAEvans »

One more thing:
You WILL need a decent espresso grinder. Check the coffee forums for advice about an adequate grinder for espresso. Just avert your eyes from the discussions about whether this $1000 grinder makes clearly better tasting espresso than that $750 grinder. Entry level ESPRESSO grinders or good used grinders adequate to this job definiately exist. I used a Rocky with my Silvia. Trying to dial the Silvia in without the ability to change the fineness of the grind based on the previous shot (i.e. using some quantity of pre-ground coffee)will be an exercise in frustration. Also, the flavors and crema will quickly disappear from ground coffee.
Save up until you can buy the grinder to have at the time you start with the Silvia (or a Gaggia) and you will be much happier.

Bruce

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Randy G.

#5: Post by Randy G. »

d.f. wrote:I am well aware of the finicky nature of the grind so will be purchasing a grinder within 3 months. In the meantime, I will use my Roaster and experiment with the grind.... Am I O.L. for good espresso at home?
With that plan? Yes! Silvia is hard enough to use (as is just about any single boiler machine) but without a quality grinder it becomes nearly impossible.

Blow the budget on a top-line grinder, and get something like an Aeropress, press pot, or similar to make coffee until you can afford a quality espresso machine.
Espresso! My Espresso! - http://www.EspressoMyEspresso.com
LMWDP #644

Beezer

#6: Post by Beezer »

Right now, it costs about $600 to buy Silvia. This is actually about $100 less than it cost just a couple of weeks ago, apparently because the stronger dollar has allowed merchants to get a better deal on European products. However, that's still a lot of money for what is basically a well built single boiler machine.

In my opinion, you'd be better off spending less on the machine and getting a good grinder right away. For the cost of a new Silvia, you can get a Gaggia Coffee or Espresso and a Rocky grinder, and still have money left over for a tamper, beans, etc. Buying a nice machine and not getting a good grinder until months later will only result in tears of frustration. Get the machine and grinder at the same time, or be prepared to suffer months of bad shots and aggravation.

Oh, and don't forget to get good, fresh beans. I know you said you have a good local roaster, which is great. However, you might also want to experiment with some of the artisan roasters that sponsor this site, just to have a point of reference. I like to sample a wide variety of beans so that I can appreciate how different types of roast and different blends can result in a very unique flavors in the cup. Experimentation is a big part of the fun of home brewing espresso. You may find that you like beans from Intelligentsia, Barefoot, or Coffee Klatch better than what you can get locally.
Lock and load!

d.f.

#7: Post by d.f. »

This has been extremely helpful. You all have given me enough information to change course. I am going to purchase an excellent grinder first and then the espresso machine 2nd. I currently have a drip, percolator, french press, and (hey, no laughing) a K-cup machine for the m-f out the door quick cup although I mostly use my own beans. I frequently use them all. Getting a quality grinder will greatly enhance all of these experiences. I don't have too much patience so fussing with the Silvia for months before getting a grinder will probably make me sell it. I currently use a Cuisinart burr grinder and will now be looking for a better grinder to get ready for my new espresso machine within a few months. ( I don't make payments on credit card so it will have to wait)

Thank you all for you expertise!

Dan

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Randy G.

#8: Post by Randy G. »

Sounds good, Dan. I can also recommend the "Aerobie Aeropress." Cheap, easy, and delicious coffee!
Espresso! My Espresso! - http://www.EspressoMyEspresso.com
LMWDP #644

Giuseppe21

#9: Post by Giuseppe21 »

I was just about to create a post about the quality of the Silvia and the fact that many people on this forum continually criticize it. Coming from another coffee forum where the Silvia is highly praised to this forum is like night and day. I'll begin by kissing up to the E61 snobs around here by saying yes your machines are almighty and nothing creates a better shot more consistently. Having said that, I will say that I am extremely happy with my Silvia.

One modification that the Silvia does need is a lower pressure adjustment. 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. 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. And I understand why Rancilio sends the machines out with higher than required pressure, it makes perfectly good sense as far as their sales and marketing, I just wish that I knew about the pressure effects sooner.

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. I give the machine a good 30-40 minute warm up, flush some hot water through her, good tamp and distribution technique, and I don't even fuss with temperature surfing. Considering my favourite espresso bar that I frequent when I am away from home has a LaMarzocco 4 group commercial machine, combined with a top notch commercial grinder, keeping the espresso machine on 8 hours a day for maximum temperature stability and my Silvia coffee machine combined with Gaggia grinder can attain 98% of the quality of the commercial setup is a testament of Silvia's capabilities. 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. The Silvia can satisfy a large percentage of consumers and that's why it is priced reasonably well. I'd love to own an E61 machine, but I don't feel like moving up to that price range any time soon, and the Silvia is providing a very satisfying product for me so I have no need to look elsewhere. I wouldn't enter the market with a cheaper machine than the Silvia, I've tried them and only ended up being very disappointed. The Silvia is a great starting point for people looking for a quality product.

Getting the pressure decreased really helps on this machine. Best tip I could give anyone that owns one.

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HB
Admin

#10: Post by HB »

Giuseppe21 wrote:I was just about to create a post about the quality of the Silvia and the fact that many people on this forum continually criticize it. Coming from another coffee forum where the Silvia is highly praised to this forum is like night and day. I'll begin by kissing up to the E61 snobs around here by saying yes your machines are almighty and nothing creates a better shot more consistently. Having said that, I will say that I am extremely happy with my Silvia.
I was also happy with the one that I owned. Below are the main reasons I'm less enthusiastic today:
  1. Price versus performance: The Rancilio Silvia represents the "knee" after which there are few espresso machine alternatives that will bring as significant an improvement to the cup. For many, the upgrade after Silvia is a keeper. Knowing that leads some previous Silvia owners to advise others to skip the interim step.
  2. Temperature control: The poor temperature control leads many to consider adding a PID controller. This additional expense brings the net cost within striking distance of the next class of espresso machines.
  3. Ease of use: Many recommend the Rancilio Silvia to new owners because of its performance, popularity, and good resale price, but it's widely recognized as not being newbie friendly.
I think the majority of the criticism from more experienced home baristas is because the Rancilio Silvia's overall price/performance straddles the divide between entry level espresso machines and the next major upgrade. One of my favorite quotable quotes related to this topic is from the Upteenth inexpensive grinder thread:
another_jim wrote:Newbies invariably attribute their inability to pull two identical shots in a row to the lack of sufficient equipment settings they can change between shots. The fact is that the entry level equipment used by newbies is much more unforgiving than the commercial equipment people buy after they decide they'll pursue home espresso. This creates a double whammy, the people with technique good enough to use entry level equipment have moved beyond it; and the people buying it will have their weaknesses mercilessly exposed. The upshot is that entry level equipment gets a lot of unfair criticism; and that newbies get a very long hazing learning to cope with it.
PS: For those following this thread, Rancilio Silvia with PID vs. competition on shot quality on this site and Machine advice - will I be happy with a Silvia / Why isn't the Rancilio Silvia getting a price drop? on Coffeegeek provide an exhaustive discussion of this topic.
Dan Kehn