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

Need help with equipment usage or want to share your latest discovery?

#1: Post by bigstu44 »

Hi everybody. Newbie here. Congratulations on a great site! Now, to my question...I've owned Miss Silvia and a Mazzer Super Jolly (new genuine burrs recently fitted) for a few months now. However, I have to say that overall I'm rather disappointed with shot quality.

I fully appreciate how massively important the Barista is. Believe me, I've spent many long hours researching this fine site and implementing everything. I may be over confident in stating this, but I reckon I've pretty much exhausted the technique side. I'm a very methodical person and I really have read everything here-honest :shock: That said, I'm completely aware that I may well still be the weak link. However, in the hope of saving more hours and countless beans, please allow me to separate that (for now anyway!) I'm not asking about technique here. I'm asking purely about equipment capability.

I know there's the argument of 'horse before cart' here regarding the separation of barista and equipment but I have seen posts from people who appear well informed questioning the capability of the Silvia. I'd rather find out now just what the Silvias limitations are. I promise, if the answer is well and truly positive in favour of Miss Silvia THEN I'll move onto technique! I'd rather save money anyway :oops: But one thing at a time....

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!

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

However, my suspicion is that, even with a PID (which I haven't got) these criteria just aren't going to be met by Miss Silvia. Am I right or wrong? I'd love to hear from ex Silvia owners who can separate the 'ease of use' question from the equation. Again, the most important questions to me are:

Does the espresso taste better and is this achieved more consistently?

Thanks in advance


#2: Post by japa_fi »

Disclaimer: I have silvia with PID and I'm not Ex-silvia owner.

1) PID makes huge difference!
2) If I had knew and had the money then, I'd bought isomac zaffiro (e-61). My friend got one and that machine (perhaps e-61 in general) seems to be very forgiving. I have my rituals with Silvia, get great results (90% thanks to pid, 10% to rituals). yet the same seem to come out from my friend's isomac without all the fuss.

If you are staying with silvia, save yourself from frustration and get the PID. It will rock.


#3: Post by ChrisC »

I believe the general consensus is, Silvia can pull as good a shot as almost any machine in the right hands. However, it is more 'finicky,' meaning it requires more effort and skill to get those results, and it will not put out those fabulous results as consistently as other, more high-end machines.

I also agree that a PID makes a huge difference, if you do stick with it. Seeing as you've already got Silvia, and you're only a few months in, I'd say stick with it for a while. With a good, regular cleaning routine, your resale value isn't going to drop, and you may discover that you're totally happy with it. And trust me, two months is nothing. I'm borderline OCD, and I was reading this site and CG about 6 hours a day for my first two months (let's just say it was slow at work), and I'm still making big leaps in my skills now, a year later.

User avatar
Team HB

#4: Post by cannonfodder »

My thoughts from another post...
cannonfodder wrote: My experience with the entry level machines is more limited than others, but a general observation I have made over time is as follows.

Beginner espresso machines are not, pro espresso machines are not. By that I mean you need to have near pro skills to use an entry level machine while a beginner can easily pull shots on a pro machine. In my opinion, what you are paying for in a 'high end' espresso machine is the machine's ability to reproduce a shot with ease and consistency. An entry level machine and grinder need constant tweaks and adjustments to reproduce the same shot two times. Simply reading a thread on the Silvia temperature surfing voodoo is enough to frighten even me. In stark comparison the routine on my A3 is blissfully simple and the $8K GS3 even simpler than that. Both entry and pro level machines will produce good shots, but how much work do you want to go through to pull that shot? I want to enjoy espresso making and not have it become a chore.
Will the Silvia make good espresso, by all accounts yes. Will it equal the shots from a pro-quality machine, no. I know someone that got rid of 2 PID'd Silvia's because they could not match the clarity of his other machine.
Dave Stephens

User avatar
Randy G.

#5: Post by Randy G. »

A few months with Silvia is a good introduction, but truly mastering a machine can take years. If you make four doubles a day, you are making about as many drinks in a month as a working barista makes in a day. It really does take time. So I agree with you in that that you are being over-confident and are not yet near, nor even close to exhausting the technique side. After seven + years (about 6½ with a Silvia) I am still learning little things that make a difference in the espresso.

Silvia is a finicky mistress. She is very sensitive to dose and distribution. These subjects have been covered on this site as well as on my own (see Chapters 92). One gram too much coffee can make the difference between drinkable and barely palatable.

Next, all machines in Silvia's class are not very good when it comes to temperature control or stability. However you want to look at it, the brew temperature can swing through a range of about 15 to 20 degrees depending on when you hit the brew switch in the heating cycle. You can read a lot about time surfing and temp surfing which are methods of controlling brew temperature, and after playing with those for a while you will see that temperature variance is probably the greatest weakness of the machine. This is why you see so many posts about adding a PID control to this machine. I recommend this for anyone serious about getting the most out of Silvia. If you can't piece the parts together yourself, try the MLG kits as they are of excellent quality, with all wires ready to install, with excellent instructions. I have a review on my website of these kits.

Is the Silvia capable of making espresso as good as some high end machines? Yes. Can it do it every time as well or consistently as a high end machine? No. Those are general answers because any machine is capable of making bad espresso. Silvia is an excellent starter machine because she is affordable and will force you to be vr7 deliberate over all the process. She also has good resale value and is easy to sell. Once you "master" her, what you have learned will transfer over to a more capable machine. Still, you will spend over twice as much to notice any real improvement, and over three times as much to step up to a commercial-quality, highly capable machine. Will that make espresso three times better? No. Welcome to the world of diminishing returns.

Now, the bottom line is the coffee. If you are not having luck with the coffee you are using, try something else for a while. What tastes good at a coffee shop may not mate will with your machine.

I would recommend that you invite a talented, experienced barista over for a dinner and get a lesson or two. When it comes to espresso, some very little changes can make a big difference. Be patient.
* 21st Anniversary 2000-2021 *

bigstu44 (original poster)

#6: Post by bigstu44 (original poster) »

Thanks for the input so far. Does anyone else have their 'bit' to add? Seems like the barista's getting the blame so far :oops:

User avatar

#7: Post by HB »

bigstu44 wrote:Does anyone else have their 'bit' to add?
I've commented a few times on the Rancilio, e.g., So, the silvia seems to have fallen out of favor?
HB wrote:...I informally think of espresso machines divided into different tiers: entry level, high entry level, prosumer / semi-commercial, commercial. Most of the angst around a purchase decision occurs when the price point of a machine straddles two tiers. Silvia is the case in point: At the peak of its popularity, there was a $400+ spread between its tier (high end entry) and the next tier, prosumer / semi-commercial. Now that spread has narrowed to $250-300. The aggravation of temperature surfing prompts Silvia owners to add a PID, pushing the price within $100 of an HX machine.

That's why I say Silvia hasn't really fallen out of favor, rather others have come into favor. I don't delve into specific comparisons of entry and high entry level equipment (Krups XP4020, Rancilio Silvia, Gaggia Classic / Coffee, Isomac Venus, etc.) simply because my knowledge of them is limited; instead, this site focuses on the prosumer / semi-commercial tier with occasional dabbling in the commercial tier.
And more generally to Randy's assertion that learning with Silvia is time well spent in The problem is on the handle side of the portafilter:
HB wrote:I will also disagree with the assertion that time spent on Silvia is well invested. Let's face facts: It's a fussy machine with a mountain of research behind it. But someone starting from scratch on the next level machine (essentially every machine reviewed to-date on this site except Silvia) would have better results in a shorter amount of time with less frustration.
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.
Dan Kehn

User avatar

#8: Post by mogogear »

No blame really Stu,

Just slow your expectations down a bit. All things that require muscle memory( edit: sorry I am lever head), flushing ,timing, development of routine and getting to know the specific quirks of your machine just take a while. Don't beat your self up-

The really great nugget in the other posts for me was to take a couple more months and slow down adjustments and then see where you are at. That will double your experience in the saddle and see where you are. There are so many things to change that you can't get a base line on what is having which effect if you are busily changing many minute details day to day.

So I would say don't spend any money yet. See if you can access someone to try out your machine - or reach out to someone near you and see if you might try their machine.... just a thought. All your learning on the Silvia- as has been stated elsewhere- Will be usable and helpful on almost any other machine.

Good luck and question the group more!
greg moore

LMWDP #067

User avatar

#9: Post by Bex »

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.
You'd have to get rid of all your experience to figure out why: the major drawbacks of these machines are not readily apparent. You have to immerse yourself in the information to find out beforehand.

When I first began to consider machines, a Silvia was very high on the list. It took a long time and a lot of surfing to realize that there was little point to it for someone like me. Luckily, I had only a tiny budget when I purchased my entry machine. By having a non-PID, huge thermostat swing machine already on my countertop, I've been better-able to evaluate all of this data and information.

Most people thinking about Silvia who get past the recommendations on Amazon will probably hit Mark Prince's temp surfing video next, which makes everything look very, very easy. It takes a significant amount of surfing after that to reach the review here of Alexia, which makes the drawbacks of Silvia very, very clear.

cannonfodder's quote is one of the best summaries of the whole mess. The entry level machines are not very good for the very people they are designed and marketed toward. I am honestly surprised that someone hasn't come out with an entry level machine with PID functionality standard. I suppose the high-end prosumer makers realize the threat this would pose for their business, and the low end makers don't really need to increase sales?


#10: Post by ntwkgestapo »

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.
Dan, that's EXACTLY the reason I didn't go with a Silvia! I was ready to get a VBM when the Gaggia Factory price break hit and made me decide that at that price point I could give the levers (the "dark side" :D) a try... IF I didn't like it, then I wasn't out that much!
Steve C.
I'm having an out of coffee experience!
LMWDP # 164