Rancilio Silvia spitting out some black specks

Equipment doesn't work? Troubleshooting? If you're handy, members can help.
icrashbikes

#1: Post by icrashbikes »

Hi everyone! I'm new here but no stranger to the forum life. So nice to see the mania extends to coffee! As is to be expected, a problem precipitated my first post here. I have a Rancilio Silvia, a later model based on the braided stainless line from the pump to the boiler.

Wait. Let me first say that I LOVE coffee. From diner coffee to Starbucks to Dunkin to some select outstanding coffee shops that I've collected, I can appreciate quality and familiarity. It's rare that I find a cup of coffee so offensive that I won't drink it. And some objectively terrible coffees out there have wonderful memories attached to them so I enjoy their awfulness from time to time. That said, a really, really good cappuccino is pretty much heaven in a cup. Now that I've gotten that off my chest..

Lots of years ago I bought this Silvia after having some unbelievably amazing cappuccinos at a friend's house. They were like face-meltingly delicious. So I got the same machine and worked hard at dialing in a decent shot. I won't lie, I never made anything as perfect as what I had at that friend's house, but I tried at least. Some while later the pump stopped pumping and, due to an utter lack of time and energy, I went back to the french press. That went well enough until yesterday when I broke the single cup french press and ordered a replacement pump for the Silvia (largely based on what I read here thanks very much). The pump came today, I put it in and buttoned the machine up and it seemed to be working fine. I started with hot water from the steam wand just to get the air out of the system and start flushing it. The water came out clean. Then I flipped the coffee switch and went to flush the group head (terminology?). I ran LOTS of water through. There was definitely some color to the water initially, which I expected, and it cleared up quickly. There was also some sort of black sediment in the water. I went through at least 4 full water reservoirs and still, every time the same amount of black stuff. It didn't lessen at all. Let's make with the photos before we go any further.

I don't know where the Tinkerbell magnet came from, but you don't mess with tradition.


What IS this??


Lousy photo, but the overflow was crankin too. Is that normal?


There was also a little bit of black stuff in the overflow tray. In case that helps.


So I can't really get started until I sort this out and I figured the fastest way to do that is come directly to the professionals. Any ideas? I'd really love to get the machine back in service and maybe even up my espresso game so I can wow myself with the coffee at home. Any insight would be appreciated and I look forward to learning whatever I can from you fine people.

BodieZoffa

#2: Post by BodieZoffa »

Likely just needs a bit of backflushing with detergent to really clean things out. Doesn't take much buildup to clog areas and can cause the 3-way solenoid to hang open and divert excess to the drip tray. You would be surprised to see how much buildup can occur around the dispersion disc/block (group) even with regular flushing. I do a plain water backflush every day and use PulyCaff every 2.5-3 weeks to keep things as clean as possible within reason. Also, break down the group (screen, disc, jetbreaker, screw) and soak in detergent as well as the basket and portafilter regularly or this type of thing will never totally clear up. Keeping things clean will also maximize espresso quality as in taste, texture, etc.

icrashbikes (original poster)

#3: Post by icrashbikes (original poster) »

Thank you! I spent more time with the machine today than.. maybe ever? I did the backflush with detergent. Then I opened up the group and cleaned everything thoroughly. The screen clearly looks to be the source of the little black specks. I ordered a new one, which is coming with a gasket so I'll change that out as well. I'm very much looking forward to getting it back together and trying it out, I'm sure the clogged screen was a part of my difficulty pulling consistent shots. While I was ordering parts, I picked up a knock box and some other little things for kicks. Might as well dive in right?

Since the machine has been sitting so long, is there any other maintenance or cleaning you'd recommend? I've run a lot of water through it, but is there any cleaning solution I should be pumping through? The water from the steam wand has been crystal clear, but I figured it's worth asking.

BodieZoffa

#4: Post by BodieZoffa »

With the cleaning, etc. you're doing I'd use it if all appears to be fine. As long as you have good flow rate from the group, steam wand and of course during an extraction I'd call it good. Of course scale can become an issue with machines sitting unused awhile IF the water used is in question, but I wouldn't worry much about descaling unless you think there is probable cause.

icrashbikes (original poster)

#5: Post by icrashbikes (original poster) »

I appreciate your help. Everything looks good so far so I'll let it be.

MatGreiner
Supporter ♡

#6: Post by MatGreiner »

BodieZoffa wrote:Likely just needs a bit of backflushing with detergent to really clean things out. Doesn't take much buildup to clog areas and can cause the 3-way solenoid to hang open and divert excess to the drip tray. You would be surprised to see how much buildup can occur around the dispersion disc/block (group) even with regular flushing. I do a plain water backflush every day and use PulyCaff every 2.5-3 weeks to keep things as clean as possible within reason. Also, break down the group (screen, disc, jetbreaker, screw) and soak in detergent as well as the basket and portafilter regularly or this type of thing will never totally clear up. Keeping things clean will also maximize espresso quality as in taste, texture, etc.
All the advice here so far is dead on.

If you are not familiar, find a temperature surfing routine that you can make a habit of. CoffeeGeek's YouTube shot walkthrough is the way I used my Silvia.
LMWDP #716: Jeez, kids! Don't swing on that!

icrashbikes (original poster)

#7: Post by icrashbikes (original poster) »

Sooooo I got a little deeper into it.



I backflushed it, front flushed it, did all the flushing I could and was getting no reduction in the black junk. So I pulled the boiler and opened it up to see what was going on. I found the source of the sediment.



There it was, all sitting in a pile. On top of that, the deposits inside the boiler were pretty substantial. I spent some time soaking the parts and cleaning them. I may have gotten a little carried away..



That was maybe halfway through. I kept saying it was clean enough... but then I kept going. I also like that the group head is a big block of brass and I thought it might look nice without that cover if I cleaned it up. The casting texture comes off easily enough and I got it about half polished yesterday. It's not a ton of work so I'll see what it looks like without the chrome cover and if it's janky I can always put the cover back on.



*a side note: the image hosting on this site is so odd. no outside images allowed.

I'm no scientist but I think the source of the black sediment must be inside the boiler. It's not coffee, and the water reservoir, pump, and tubing are all clean or new. While browsing for some replacement parts I found the updated boiler with the stainless heating element. I think that's a good investment considering the risk of the boiler internals making more black sediment. I ordered one along with a few parts I don't think I can clean to my satisfaction. At this point I'm also considering making new wire harnesses, this wire feels dry and brittle and I really dislike the connectors. I use some sublime silicone wiring for RC car builds and that would be a nice upgrade. I might replace some screws too because I'm in this deep and I despise Phillips head screws. At least I'll be starting over with a clean machine. I just want a decent cup of coffee at home!! But this is fun too.

User avatar
HB
Admin

#8: Post by HB »

Glad you figured it out! It's yet another example of how ignoring water treatment can cause troubles down the road. But it could have been worse...


From Rancilio Silvia Descaling Pictures in 2008
icrashbikes wrote:*a side note: the image hosting on this site is so odd. no outside images allowed.
Not odd at all, when you consider this site has been around for more than 16 years. How many of the image links from Photobucket, Imgur, Flickr, etc like the one above from 13 years ago would be "dead" now? From Posting images on HB:
Prior to the native image upload capability on this site, members used off-site image repositories. We've found that many offsite images are moved/deleted/renamed/abandoned, leaving HB pointing to invalid links. For this reason, members are strongly encouraged to upload to this site so the context of the thread's images will be available to future visitors. Inline photos also encourage more active discussion, especially for those using mobile phones. This is important given the increasing number of websites adopting image expiration policies.
Dan Kehn

icrashbikes (original poster)

#9: Post by icrashbikes (original poster) »

Wow that's gnarly. At least now I know how the machine works and I can keep up with cleaning and maintenance to avoid this in the future.

And that makes great sense in terms of image hosting. I haven't seen a forum require hosting its own images before but it's a solid solution to that problem with old photos being unavailable. Now I wish other sites had the same policy. I know all my old photobucket pictures are long gone after they pulled that subscription stunt and there's exactly zero chance I'll make the monumental effort to replace them all.

baldheadracing
Supporter ♡

#10: Post by baldheadracing »

My guess is it is coffee buildup caused by a malfunctioning 3-way valve.