Getting a good shot from Silvia?

Beginner and pro baristas share tips and tricks.
dmorgen

#1: Post by dmorgen »

I've been homeroasting for about 6 months, and have owned a Rancilio Silvia & a Rocky for about 4-5 months. I'm still having problems pulling a decent espresso shot!

A few weeks ago, I read the article here "Dialing in a new espresso machine, a step by step guide", and have found it to be very helpful. By the end of my first "dialing" session I was pretty close (I thought). I was using Sweet Maria's Donkey Decaf Blend, which I had roasted. I was using a naked portafilter with triple basket, which I had purchased from Chris Coffee. I was tamping at 30 lbs according to a bathroom scale ... today I realized the 30 included the 4 lbs the scale indicated the PF weighed, so was really a 26 lb. tamp.

I temperature surfed ... turn on the hot water until the heater light comes on. Start the pull when the heater light goes off.

My last attempt had Rocky set to 8, and 20g of coffee. Everything looked good, except the pull was slightly fast. It had my best crema yet, but still not a lot. The taste was my best yet, but slightly sour.

Today was my second session. I was using Intelligentsia Decaf Black Cat Blend, which was roasted 7 days ago (by Intelligentsia). They say they roast at Full City, but this looked, smelled & possibly tasted like a much darker roast (as did their El Diablo blend I bought at the same time, but tried after about 3-4 days from roasting ... it tasted burnt to me). I used a real 30 lb tamp. My final attempt had Rocky set to 7, and 20g of coffee. The pull was just the tiniest bit fast. But it looked very good ... no blonding, no channeling. I stopped it at about 3 oz., which took about 20 seconds. It looked ok, although not much crema. But it tasted bitter.

So I ran an experiment ... I used the same parameters, but swapped cups each 5 seconds or so, so I could taste the espresso at each stage. I let it go 25 seconds:

#1: Little crema, good flavor, far too intense for me. It was pretty good as a heavily diluted Americano.

#2: Some crema, but bitter.

#3: Some crema, slightly less bitter.

#4: No crema, thin, very bitter.

#5: No crema, thinner, almost as bitter.

Then I intentionally pulled a shot with the water much too hot (I steamed first). This was by far the worst tasting espresso I've ever encountered ... just brutal. The bitterness seemed to sizzle on my tongue! And I thought I had already pulled some fairly bitter espressos!

Finally I pulled my first Cafe Crema. I used the double basket & PF, which came with Silvia. I used 12g of coffee (with 14g I couldn't come close to tightening the PF), but at 12 there were no indentations, although the top of the puck did look slightly messed up when I checked. It had been smooth when I installed it. Rocky was set to 18. BTW, my first attempt had a minor problem ... after tamping at 30 lbs & polishing, I turned the PF upside down over the sink to get rid of loose ground ... the grounds immediately fell from the PF, which had not been happening ... maybe it was the coarse grind. I pulled 5 oz. in 20 seconds. It wasn't bad, with good flavor, but slightly too strong (which a little extra water took care of). Unfortunately, it left a bitter aftertaste.

Any idea what I could be doing wrong?

Any chance the problems today were my choice of bean?

Thanks for your help!

Dave

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bdbayer

#2: Post by bdbayer »

I am fairly new the Silvia, but I have been working on similar problems for the 6 months I have had it. Just this weekend I tried opening the steam wand for 2 seconds, just as the shot begins. I'm not sure if it is preinfusing the grounds or just reducing the pressure of the extraction, but it took away all the bitterness. After reading your post I went and tried it again just to be sure. It was good.

I also found a while back that if I wait for 60 seconds after the light goes out the shot tastes much better.

I can finally drink straight espresso, not just milk drinks.

Hope it works for you.

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HB
Admin

#3: Post by HB »

dmorgen wrote:I stopped it at about 3 oz., which took about 20 seconds... I pulled 5 oz. in 20 seconds.
Lungo and double lungo? A double espresso is usually closer to two ounces in 25 seconds. Intelligentsia recommends pulling Black Cat as a ristretto to emphasize the sweetness and intensify the flavors (1.5 ounces and closer to 30 seconds). Decaffeinated coffees present their own challenge with bitterness...
dmorgen wrote:So I ran an experiment ... I used the same parameters, but swapped cups each 5 seconds or so, so I could taste the espresso at each stage.
Good experiment, and your results are reasonably consistent with Jim's description in Home Barista's Guide to Espresso:

Image
bdbayer wrote:I also found a while back that if I wait for 60 seconds after the light goes out the shot tastes much better.
Welcome to temperature surfing, the rite of passage for Silvia owners and birthplace of a cottage industry of espresso machine PID conversions. You should peruse the site's how-tos and the FAQs and Favorites ("Silvia and Rocky"). While Silvia may be a fussy espresso machine, there are literally mountains of documented experience to draw upon.
Dan Kehn

JimG

#4: Post by JimG »

Dave -

I consistently get what I consider to be excellent espresso from Silvia. But I have never been able to pull a decent shot using decaf. I have used both of the beans you refer to (Black Cat decaf and home-roasted Donkey Blend). I preferred the Black Cat, but it still wasn't very good to be honest. I'd suggest getting some good, freshly roasted caffeinated beans just to see if the decaf is the issue.

Jim

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luca
Team HB

#5: Post by luca »

jggall01 wrote:I'd suggest getting some good, freshly roasted caffeinated beans just to see if the decaf is the issue.
Couldn't agree more! The other thing that I was thinking is to go to a good cafe, have a shot there and see if you can buy some beans right out of their hopper. That way, you get a frame of reference. Starting home roasting AND extracting espresso at the same time is really giving yourself a challenge! If you really want to start home roasting ASAP, why not buy beans for espresso and home roast for french press or something?

For temperature surfing, what tended to work for me was running water through the portafilter and into the cup until the element light went on. Then I'd wait until the light went off and wait a minute or two.

Hope that helps,

Luca
LMWDP #034 | 2011: Q Grader Exam, Brewer's Cup #3, Australian Cup Tasting #1

dmorgen

#6: Post by dmorgen »

bdbayer wrote:I am fairly new the Silvia, but I have been working on similar problems for the 6 months I have had it. Just this weekend I tried opening the steam wand for 2 seconds, just as the shot begins. I'm not sure if it is preinfusing the grounds or just reducing the pressure of the extraction, but it took away all the bitterness. After reading your post I went and tried it again just to be sure. It was good.

I also found a while back that if I wait for 60 seconds after the light goes out the shot tastes much better.

I can finally drink straight espresso, not just milk drinks.

Hope it works for you.
It sounds like what you're doing (certainly the 60 sec wait) is cooling the water temperature. Some of the other suggestions accomplish the same thing. I'll play around with that. Thanks for the suggestions.

Dave

dmorgen

#7: Post by dmorgen »

HB wrote:Lungo and double lungo? A double espresso is usually closer to two ounces in 25 seconds.
For the triple espresso I was aiming for 3 ounces in 25 seconds, but the flow tended to be a little faster than this.

The Cafe Crema was an attempt at something I've read about & sounded like I'd really enjoy. A very fast pull of a large volume in a short time, using a very coarse grind. I still think I'll enjoy it, once I can do it right! :D
HB wrote:Intelligentsia recommends pulling Black Cat as a ristretto to emphasize the sweetness and intensify the flavors (1.5 ounces and closer to 30 seconds).
I didn't realize this. Is that 1.5 ounces using a double basket? Presumably I should use a very fine grind?
HB wrote:Decaffeinated coffees present their own challenge with bitterness...
When I first got the naked portafilter, I played around with it using caffeinated coffee. I got so wired, I couldn't sleep that night, despite the fact I drank all this by mid-afternoon! :( So I decided decaf was the way to go for experimenting! The problem with now roasting some of my own, either decaf or caf, for espresso, is I have to wait 3-4 days for it to rest. Then I have to finish it within a few days, so it doesn't become stale. I do currently have some SO's rested 3 days, but they are relatively light roasts ... Mexican, Sumatra Blue Batak & Costa Rican decaf. Do you think any of these are worth trying as espresso? But, I don't want to use them in a mode where I'm very likely to dump the cup!
HB wrote:
Good experiment, and your results are reasonably consistent with Jim's description in Home Barista's Guide to Espresso: Welcome to temperature surfing, the rite of passage for Silvia owners and birthplace of a cottage industry of espresso machine PID conversions. You should peruse the site's how-tos and the FAQs and Favorites ("Silvia and Rocky"). While Silvia may be a fussy espresso machine, there are literally mountains of documented experience to draw upon.
I've already done some reading on the subject, but I guess it is time for more.

Thanks for your help!

Dave

dmorgen

#8: Post by dmorgen »

jggall01 wrote:Dave -

I consistently get what I consider to be excellent espresso from Silvia. But I have never been able to pull a decent shot using decaf. I have used both of the beans you refer to (Black Cat decaf and home-roasted Donkey Blend). I preferred the Black Cat, but it still wasn't very good to be honest. I'd suggest getting some good, freshly roasted caffeinated beans just to see if the decaf is the issue.
Jim
You're right this is worth a test. But if I can't use decaf for espresso, it's really going to restrict my espresso drinking, since it's usually later in the day I'll have the time, energy, and clear mind to make some! :)

Dave

dmorgen

#9: Post by dmorgen »

luca wrote:Couldn't agree more! The other thing that I was thinking is to go to a good cafe, have a shot there and see if you can buy some beans right out of their hopper. That way, you get a frame of reference. Starting home roasting AND extracting espresso at the same time is really giving yourself a challenge! If you really want to start home roasting ASAP, why not buy beans for espresso and home roast for french press or something?
I've actually been having pretty good, though inconsistent, results roasting for FP, Chemex, etc. ... and I think I'm getting better.

I have tried buying some Terroir beans for espresso, and I did get some good shots among the awful ones. But this was much earlier in my espresso play, when my results varied more widely. Now I'm consistent ... including consistently poor taste! BTW, I did drink some espressos at a Terroir open house ... very good! So I know it's possible!
luca wrote:For temperature surfing, what tended to work for me was running water through the portafilter and into the cup until the element light went on. Then I'd wait until the light went off and wait a minute or two.

Hope that helps,

Luca
I'm definitely going to play around with my temperature surfing. Thanks.

BTW, has anybody else found the Intelligentsia roasts to be extremely dark, well beyond Full City?

Dave

JimG

#10: Post by JimG »

dmorgen wrote:It sounds like what you're doing (certainly the 60 sec wait) is cooling the water temperature [snip]
Actually, the 60 second wait is probably increasing the temp. Because of heat stored in the element, the boiler temp continues to rise for a minute or so after the heater shuts down (i.e. light goes off).

When Rancilio switched to the lower temp brew tstat, I think some of the old temp surfing info became outdated. The testing I did on the new Silvia suggests that shots pulled near the peak of the temp cycle give about 195F temperature at the puck.

So I agree with the suggestion on the 60 seconds, but for a different reason ;-)

Jim