Background: We are 'weekend only' espresso drinkers, using a variety of coffee presentations with homeroasted beans throughout the week. I just can't be bothered with the espresso rigamaroll during the week. Work awaits.
I had done extensive reading just to learn about espresso makers and “knew” the product going into the purchase. (For a very good background read, take a look at Mark's “How to Buy an Espresso Machine” http://www.coffeegeek.com/guides/howtobuyanespressomachine). While I wasn't in the market for an espresso maker, when a lightly-used Silvia came available for a fine price on CoffeeGeek's Buy-Sell-Trade forum, I sprung into action. Boom. Hello Ms. Silvia.
Time to Learn:
1) Read. There is a ton of excellent posts/reading out there on the Silvia. I read a bunch of them. Do the same. It is worth it.
2) Be patient with yourself and Ms Silvia as you learn. Take you time and realize that this is not a 10-minute perfection process. Steady as it goes.
I gathered all the leftovers (I am a homeroaster) and blended them. Start playing with the right grind size and write it down. Tweek it. Make minimal adjustments and pull a shot. Keep making minor adjustments. I got lucky on about the 3rd attempt with my stepped Macap. Then it was time to learn the right tamp. 30 lbs, pressure, eh? Well, about a pound later, I had that voluptuous 2-ounce, crema laden shot, shimmering in the overhead light, shining down on a clear-glassed, first of many great coffee drinks from our newest Italian family member.
Suggestion? Get a pound of espresso whole bean from a good local roaster and learn your grinder, tamp, and machine. Learn to pour out bad shots without guilt. Practice, practice, practice. This is a learning process and be gentle with yourself and Ms. Silvia. It will get to the point where you can replicate, shot after shot, believe me.
And Then: I purchased a bottomless portafilter for the unit from Chris's Coffee. Do the same. Why the naked filter?
You will improve your shots immediately. With a bottomless filter, you can see when the espresso 'channels.' Channeling happens when water slips through weak point(s) in the tamped coffee. The naked filter helps you learn much more quickly. You can see the results of both poor tamps and successful tamps. Plus, it is ever so cool just to see when you finally nail it, and the coffee drips merging into one nice, colorful tiger tail as it slides down into the waiting cup. Heavens, it doesn't get any better.
Bean amount? With the Silvia, I use 17 grams of homeroasted beans, ground into a stainless steel milk frother. I then put a bottomless yogurt container into the portafilter, pour in the grounds and quickly stir it with a dissecting needle. This eliminates any clumping that may have occurred in the grinding. Result? 2 ounces of espresso with gorgeous crema, time after time, in 23 seconds. (Note: Count from the moment you push the button to initiate the cup until the time that the shot begins 'blonding.')
Pod Adaptor: As a homeroaster, I can't help here. No pods in this house.
Temperature Surfing: (See "1 year follow-up" below) I will be honest. More has been written about temp surfing with the Silvia than I care to read. As a household that consumes the shot within a latte (my Coffee Czarina's drink of choice) or a capp (mine), I find the temp surfing unnecessary. The frothed milk covers a multitude of sins. However, if you are a shot sipper, I would suggest you get up to speed, starting with Greg Scace's approach in the classic "Espresso My Espresso," ° (http://home.surewest.net/frcn/Coffee/HowToTemperature.html). If that isn't enough to sooth your frazzled caffeined nerves, read The Gospel of Randy Glass, 58th Chapter, Temp Surf or Time Surf °(http://www.espressomyespresso.com/). I use Randy's website as a beginning point any time I have a question with espresso.
For our household and the milked drinks, getting Ms Silvia to temperature is simple. I turn the unit on and wait about 15 minutes. Then, I mount the empty portafilter and basket and run a cup of hot water using the 'brew' button to warm up the groupead and portafilter. I pour out that cup and do a second one using the brew button. That cup is placed on top of Ms Silvia. Turn on the 'hot water' button and open the value to the frother/hot water stem, catching the hot water in a pitcher. Run a good 10 oz thru the unit. This warms all the interior parts of the unit while getting the boiler to recycle and bring the entire unit up to temp. Then, when the boiler light turns back on, bleed out the remaining water from the wand. To do this, put an empty pitcher under the frother wand and turn on the 'steam' light, opening the valve until all the water spits and sputters its way out of the line. You are now good to brew.
Frothing: Buy a small stainless steel pitcher and a thermometer with a nice large facial dial. Get a gallon of 2% and again, suck up the guilt meter and froth away (and dump). It is very difficult to work with Silvia's small wand in some of the larger pitchers out there.
Tricks that have helped me include:
° Using a smaller bell-shaped pitcher, 12-ounce. I have gone with the Toroid and love it: http://www.espro.ca/toroid/
° Stretch the milk so that it is light by keeping the tip of the wand just under the surface. Stretch the milk until 100* and then sink it.
° Don't go above 140 degrees
° Sink the steam wand at about 100 after the milk is stretched.
° Knock the pitcher of foam on the counter tap to break any large bubbles that remain.
° Good microfoam should be poured, not spooned (I am not quite there yet)
° Try, try, and try again
Cleanup? Simple. Make sure that you take the portafilter off from the grouphead as soon as you have finished making the espresso. Put a cup underneath the grouphead and hit the brew button so that residual oils and grinds don't linger. Take a brush to any remnants that remain on the screen and gasket. Wipe down the frothing wand, getting any milk off of it. Wash the drip pans, wipe Ms Silvia down, refill the reservoir, and shut it off. You are good to go.
Periodic Cleaning - I run a total of 4 doubles through the Silvia every week, using spring water. As such, I backflush with water after every session. Then, I backflush Ms Silvia only about every 3 months with Cafiza. After reading a ton, it was clear there is a debate out there re: to back flush or not to back flush Ms. Silvia. Rancilio says, "no." I (and many others) say "yes." You decide, but do so at your own risk. Warranty goes up in smoke if you do.
Tampers: There is only one thing that can complete your Silvia – a tamper from Les Albjerg. Think wood. Think beauty. I have one being handmade by Les over here at Thor Tampers. (http://www.thortamper.com/gallary.html). Mine is the 58mm for the Silvia. The piece of olivewood from which my tamper is being made arrived from Bethlehem on Les's front door stoop on Christmas Eve, December 24th. I captured a shot of it here: http://picasaweb.google.com/davidborton/ThorTampers/photo#5185813997007620978
Summary Thoughts: This machine is an absolute treat. It is a well-crafted, handmade, solid piece of equipment. It will last me for years and years. Perfect? Of course not. If you are brewing for a crowd, you will want a unit with a heat exchanger (HX) or a double boiler to keep things rolling. If you don't like to futz and putz with your coffee, buy an automatic espresso maker. But if you and a hands-on type and want rich coffee, as in oozing with crema that you crafted from scratch, look no further. Ms. Silvia is the ticket.
Credits: I can't take any credit for any of this. Just a ton of good advice from good people here on the Geek and elsewhere plus some time working over the controls of my Ms. Silvia. Oh, and special thanks to my Coffee Czarina who didn't wince at this or other coffee toys along the way. Life is good.