Rancilio Silvia vs. high end espresso machines... what is the truth? - Page 2

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Randy G.

#11: Post by Randy G. »

HB wrote:Furthermore, I'm puzzled by the popularity of a PID'd Silvia as a first-time purchase. It may make sense for those who already have one and wish to free themselves of the temperature surfing routine, or for those willing to put a kit together themselves on the cheap. But dropping $600 on a Silvia and then investing even more for a PID kit when the total cost is within a hair's breath of an entry level E61 heat exchanger espresso machine? I don't get it.
When the PID's were becoming widely popular, the Silvia was more affordable and surplus or used PIDs were readily available on eBay on the cheap. With the dollar falling fast enough to put an eye out, and the cost of putting together a PID setup (or buying a ready-made kit) your assertions are correct.

But we are dealing with a lot of variables-
SAYS: "Well, dear, the Silvia is held in high regard and has a good resale value, even though it costs more than we planned."
THINKS: 'I can just add the PID later... huh huh.' :wink:

My best advice to new Silvia users: Taking for granted that a quality grinder and quality FRESHLY ROASTED coffee is being used, is to grind, one click at a time, finer until it chokes the machine. Then grind one click more coarse, tamp with a 5-10 pound tamp, lock the portafilter, remove the portafilter, and if there is only the slightest mark from the screw, then you are half way there.

As I have said, if espresso was easy, Starbucks could do it... :P
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jesawdy

#12: Post by jesawdy »

bigstu44 wrote:Just in case, let's take me out of the equation so there can be a crystal clear answer to my question. In the right hands, is a Silvia/Mazzer Super Jolly really capable of making espressos as good as more high end machines? Remember, we're taking the variables out-no 'depends on this' or 'depends on that' responses please!
My current daily morning set up is the Silvia (with PID) and a Mazzer Super Jolly. Yes, I think it is capable of good espresso.
I realise the Silvia is finicky. And I realise that many have upgraded for an easier life rather than an infinitely better coffee. However, I'm happy to follow a little finicky procedure if it fulfils two criteria:

1. It is consistent
2. The coffee tastes great
Here's my little finicky routine that I think works quite well:
  1. Use a high quality fresh roast (my preference is for lighter roast espresso blends),

    Use a deeper basket than the stock Rancilio double. I prefer the 18g 'Synesso/LM' ridgeless basket. This particular basket requires the use of a bottomless portafilter as it is too deep for the uncut one. The 14g 'Synesso/LM' ridgeless basket is a good second choice,

    Grind and dose your coffee. I typically go 16g in that 18g basket. You may want to dose less in a smaller basket. The idea is to have an increased headspace,

    For Silvia, I also usually do the WDT. On other machine combos I find I can skip the WDT with this class of grinder,

    Pull your shot and stop on blonding,

    Adjust grind and/or dose to affect shot extraction time and to adjust to your personal taste preference.
Jeff Sawdy

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Psyd
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#13: Post by Psyd »

cannonfodder wrote: Will the Silvia make good espresso, by all accounts yes. Will it equal the shots from a pro-quality machine, no.
Jeesh, CF, I really hate to argue with you. but what commercial machine will you be using when I put my (non-PID'd) Silvia up against it? Granted, I've been pulling shots off here since I killed my third steamtoy what, eight, nine years ago?
I own a $7800 two-group and a Silvia (and now a lever, but that's just bragging...) and I was spending most of my time pulling shots on each every other day. Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings from the Silvia, Monday Wednesday, and Friday from the Astoria. I'm pretty set on how the Silvia differs from the pro kit. I still say that I can pull shots out of her that would rival 95% of the pro baristi in their home shops. I say that because Nick, Bronwen, James, Heather, well, I'm not about to name the five percent of the American baristi that can kick my butt without question, and a large portion of the rest have the problem that they have to work in a busy environment and have to work repeatability and speed, while I have the luxury of all of the distribution and dosing techniques and patient dosing and flushing techniques that I want to.
If I were to be in a shop, I'd take that number to 75%. If we were to discount anyone using a superauto, I'd take that number to 40%, but you get what I mean.
If two Silvias were used, one to to pull shots only, one to steam, I'd be willing to bet that you could put them in a well known shops and after dialing in and getting the knack, they could fill orders and get at least as many compliments as complaints. You'd need one to pull shots, and one to steam (and probably one to fill reservoirs!) but they'd do just fine. It'd be hard, but the shots would be up to it.
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bigstu44 (original poster)

#14: Post by bigstu44 (original poster) »

I'm getting some great encouragement here-thanks guys. One thing that seems to run consistently throughout everyone's ritual is the use of a different basket to the stock Rancilio double. Am I right? Are there any of you that still consistently use the stock double?

I've played around with what I think is the LM ridged double but actually find that my shots, although still not good enough, are considerably better on the stock basket. Of course, that's very likely my technique rather than basket. I'm going to be working hard at bringing my technique up to scratch-that's a given in any further questions. So, with that in mind, should I stick with the stock double basket or move onto another?

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Compass Coffee
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#15: Post by Compass Coffee »

Psyd wrote: If two Silvias were used, one to to pull shots only, one to steam, I'd be willing to bet that you could put them in a well known shops and after dialing in and getting the knack, they could fill orders and get at least as many compliments as complaints. You'd need one to pull shots, and one to steam (and probably one to fill reservoirs!) but they'd do just fine. It'd be hard, but the shots would be up to it.
That's a bet you'd lose. As a previous Silvia owner of 4 years, the last year with PID, past couple years Bric' at home and recently Linea at our Kafe, previously ran a small cafe with San Marco HX, I'll say impossible for multitude of reasons. First, any goal or business model of striving for at least as many compliments as complaints is a business model for failure. Word of mouth advertising is the most powerful method, negative experiences related 10:1 over positive.

Regardless two Silvia's couldn't even begin to keep up with my single group prosumer Bricoletta let alone a decent multi-group or even single group commercial machine. You cannot pull immediate back to back shots with Silvia, must wait for boiler recovery between shots. (Doesn't matter if PID'd or not). Pulling a series of shots the shot temp will rise ~12f by shot six with the same boiler temp. Again doesn't matter if boiler PID'd. This is caused by the group finally coming up to temp stability. Doesn't matter if Silvia has been on for hours, the group idles ~12f under production group temp. So much for consistency. Let's talk coffee shop reality in America. At least half the espresso beverages will be steam, Silvia steam power is anemic. Steaming for a 16oz double shot latte takes ~12 seconds with my Linea, IIRC 45 seconds or more with Silvia. So now not only waiting for shot boiler to recover for not shot but have to wait for steaming to complete and then have to wait for steam boiler pressure to build again.

Can Silvia pull decent to very good shots? Yes. Consistently? Yes & no, with qualifications both in copious experience on the handle side of the PF and in limited slow paced use. Can Silvia's best shots match the best shots of even high end prosumer machines? No.
Mike McGinness, Head Bean (Owner/Roast Master)
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Randy G.

#16: Post by Randy G. »

Psyd wrote:Jeesh, CF, I really hate to argue with you. but what commercial machine will you be using when I put my (non-PID'd) Silvia up against it? Granted, I've been pulling shots off here since I killed my third steamtoy what, eight, nine years ago?..................

If two Silvias were used, one to to pull shots only, one to steam, I'd be willing to bet that you could put them in a well known shops and after dialing in and getting the knack, they could fill orders and get at least as many compliments as complaints. You'd need one to pull shots, and one to steam (and probably one to fill reservoirs!) but they'd do just fine. It'd be hard, but the shots would be up to it.
Even ignoring the inability of such a small boiler to keep up, and giving the Silvia all the recovery time she needs to perform properly, a Silvia is just not capable of the consistency that a better machine can achieve. To begin with, she has a very narrow margin of acceptable parameters to produce quality espresso. She is quite finicky as to dose, distribution, and grind, and the brew temperature range from the button thermostat just cannot compare with a machine of "commercial" quality. Another problem with Silvia (and all such single boiler machines) is that the pump starts the flow with such vengeance against the coffee that it does not give the coffee the chance to "settle in" as the pull begins.

Having used a Silvia daily for just over 6½ years and then having switched to the VBM D.S. for the last 6 months or so, I can say that there is no way that a Silvia can produce as consistently as the VBM- no way. With no disrespect intended, I would say that if your non-PID'd Silvia can produce shots as good as your two-group commercial machine, then there is something wrong with your two group. Now, it could be that your technique lends itself to the Silvia better than the two group, or your coffee works better with the temp and flow of the Silvia, or some such factor- I don't deny that your findings are correct, but I just don't know why.

On a day-to-day basis, my $1600 VBM beats the ovaries out of a Silvia, and my Silvia was PID'd.

As far as putting two Silvias in a shop and waiting for customer comments, this isn't much of a test unless folks are ordering straight shots, and even then, since most shops couldn't pull a decent straight shot if their Probat depended on it, it isn't much of a contest. You might as well say, "My Silvia can pull shots as bad as [__fill in coffee shop here__] any day of the week."
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bigstu44 (original poster)

#17: Post by bigstu44 (original poster) »

Hmmmm...the truth starts revealing itself! The previous two posts, whilst 'debating' psyd's point, have perhaps indirectly answered my question as clearly as I had hoped for. With the best intentions possible, my original question has been somewhat clouded by the 'get your technique right.' Not that I'm complaining-this has cemented my realisation of the importance of technique and has been very helpful-thank you all. The importance of technique has been well and truly driven home-promise :wink:


However, I can't help getting the feeling that, even with great technique and a PID, the Silvia just isn't going to meet my expectations. I appreciate the PID makes a BIG difference, but from what I've read it seems that it will still be quite a bit off machines that don't cost a whole lot more than the cost of Silvia and a PID combined. Remember, for me (and most others I would assume) taste AND consistency are important. I'd like a machine that gives me a great shot as consistently as possible (I'm not naive enough to expect perfection all the time)


I was kind of thinking of splashing out on a PID but now I think that I'd probably end up upgrading anyway at a later stage. Perhaps the fact that so many have done this already is saying something! Moreover, these people seem to, without fail, be delighted with their choices.


It would be more costly to get the PID, and then sell anyway. If I thought the PID would have been the complete answer I would probably have gone for it. But it doesn't appear so. My budget, at the moment, can't quite 'go that extra little bit' required to pay for a better machine after selling Silvia. So, rather than throw money away, I'll keep her just now-unmodified. However, unless some new evidence comes to light, I'll be getting a better machine as soon as my wallet allows. Two positive points will come from my wait and what this topic has taught me:


a) My expectations will now be more realistic

and

b) My technique will continually improve!


I'm still very open to dissuasion though...it would save me money!

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JimG

#18: Post by JimG »

bigstu44 wrote:I'll keep her just now-unmodified.
Maybe you should think about adding a thermometer. This will keep your additional investment to a minimum, and should help quite a bit with getting more consistent brew temps.

click here for link to CoffeeGeek discussion

Jim

bigstu44 (original poster)

#19: Post by bigstu44 (original poster) »

Looks like a great, inexpensive option, Jim-thanks. Correct me if I'm wrong:


1) This will bring about a level of temperature control, perhaps not quite as accurate as a PID, but a hell of a lot better than nothing. And still pretty good to within a degree or two?

2) It'll be 'manual' instead of automatic? In other words, I'll obviously still have to surf but it will bring that all important accuracy?

In conclusion, it'll not be as hassle free as a PID but will have the ability to make shots as good and as consistently as a PID'd unit?

If I'm right, sounds great. As I said at the start, I really don't mind a bit of finickiness if I can get consistently great results

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Psyd
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#20: Post by Psyd »

Compass Coffee wrote:That's a bet you'd lose. First, any goal or business model of striving for at least as many compliments as complaints is a business model for failure.
Can Silvia's best shots match the best shots of even high end prosumer machines? No.
Uhm, I wasn't exactly proposing a new business model, I was predicting the result of the (obviously flawed) experiment of replacing a modest cafe's kit with a pair of Silvia's. I meant a two to one Silvia to Group ratio. While I would never suggest this other than a theoretical exercise, it was meant to be an illumination, and the predicted results were included so that you wouldn't misunderstand me and think that I would suggest that the Silvia's would be as good as the pro kit. So much for that. Note to self: The issue with didacticity isn't cured, keep working.

While Silvia may not be able to match the product of the high end prosumer machines (the GB5? Which?) there are maybe five in a hundred espresso drinkers that could tell the difference between their best shots on a Silvia and their best shots on a GB5. While they may be able to tell the difference between your best shots on a GB5 and their best shots on Silvia, unless you're coming to their house on a daily basis, it's probably a moot point.
I was addressing the difference between purchasing starter like Silvia and a closer towards the GB5 machine in the $1.5K to $2K range. As far as most users go, the difference is how hard you have to work to get the same shot, and how steep the learning curve is, and how difficult it is to treat more'n two folk at a time to milk drinks with a single boiler machine.
They may eventually be able to pull better shots on better kit, but the bigger difference is how long they are going to be pulling similar shots on a machine that costs three to four times as much.
The biggest difference between kit (with remarkable exceptions) is the amount of input required from the barista to get to exceptional and repeatable shots.
Of course, painting with a brush this wide, there will be things included that shouldn't be, and things that aren't included that should, but it's a fair general statement.
Just in case: Never replace your pro kit in your shop with Silvias, that would be silly. Never open up a shop with a pair, or even four, Silvias and hope to succeed.
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