I waited a few months to write this review for two reasons:
1. I wanted to wait until I had a higher quality grinder (rocky)
2. I wanted to wait until I had the skills necessary for using this machine.
The Rancilio Silva has been, so far, an amazing home machine, with many more positives than negatives:
Quality of product 10/10: I feel that the Silvia's construction is top of the line for a home machine under 500 dollars. The machine is nearly all metal, with very durable parts. The group and portafilter are commercial-grade, employing tons of weight (for a home machine) that ensure maximum temperature stability in a single-boiler machine. The steamwand, while not a no-burn (pardon the double-negative) steamwand, is very functional, and doesn't include any froth-aiding gizmos/gimmicks. Rancilio has really designed this machine with the high-end home barista in mind.
Usability 7/10: The Silvia's quality is amazing, and has the capability of delivering amazing shots. However, because of the commercial parts in a single-boiler home machine, the Silvia is a very finicky machine. Silvia's dispersion screen screw sticks out below the screen about 1/4 cm, making overdosing nearly impossible. The screw also makes an indention on the puck during brewing (although, I don't really know how this affects shot performance). The Silvia doesn't have any preinfusion system, therefore making her an unforgiving machine: If the grind/dose/distribution/tamp is off by even a little bit, any shot can be ruined. Steaming with the Silvia is amazing, to say the least: I've had a very easy time producing consistently "latte-art worthy" microfoam with her single-holed steamtip. However, it takes some practice (measured in gallons, not time ;-) and lots of patience. I would not recommend any of the multi-holed aftermarket tips: simply put, Silvia canít support more than one hole.
My typical routine goes as follows:
- Turn on the machine and wait until the boiler light indicates that the boiler is fully heated.
- Turn on the brew switch (with empty pf/basket locked in group) and brew a blank shot into cup for preheating (this preheats the cup and heats the group/pf to operating temperature). The blank shot is complete when the boiler light turns on again.
- Empty cup and wait until boiler light indicates that the boiler is heated, again. (this is usually the time that I pour milk into the pitcher, if Iím making a milk drink)
- Pull another blank shot to continue heating group/pf/cup (Iím starting with a cold machine ;-) ). At the same time, grind beans into small container (or doser, if you have one).
- When the heating light turns back on, remove and dry the portafilter. At the same time, turn on a countdown timer set at 1 minute, 25 seconds (youíll have to experiment with this: it will be different with different coffees) Pour ground coffee (or dose) into the pf. Distribute, tamp, and load. At 25 seconds, begin the shot.
- At 12 seconds, turn on steam switch (this ensures that temperature will not be lost). If you are having a straight shot, turn off both the brew/steam switches when the time expires. Otherwise, leave on the steam switch and turn off the brew switch when time expires.
- Remove the pf, knock puck, and clean pf basket. Insert pf back into group. If you are having an espresso, rinse grouphead/pf by running another blank shot into drip tray (or receptacle, if you wish). Turn off machine, empty drip tray, and clean any dirty parts on Silvia. I would recommend using a group brush with every use of the machine. If you are having a milk drink, leave pf in the group for now.
From here on out, instructions are for milk drinks:
- After cleaning/drying pf, purge the steam wand/ boiler by opening the steam valve and letting wet steam out of the machine into a reservoir (I use a krups steaming pitcher: thatís the only thing itís good forÖ lol!). After 5-10 seconds of bleeding, close the steam valve.
- At this time, I take out my steaming pitcher from the refrigerator (that already has milk in it). After 20-30 seconds after closing the steam valve, reopen it, letting all wet steam enter the reservoir. After another 5-10 seconds, close the steam valve again and wait another 20-30 seconds. After waiting, open the steam valve briefly, to ensure lots of dry steam is ready.
- Froth your milk, making sure that the boiler light is still on, indicating that the heating element is in action! Stretch until the pitcher/milk is just above room temperature (unless youíre using the machine in an igloo! 90-100 degrees F is best), then swirl the milk until the pitcher is too hot to touch (155 degrees F, and I use a counter-clockwise swirling motion). When the milk is ready, shut off the steam valve and turn off the steam switch.
- Pour your BEAUTIFUL latte art, and empty remaining milk into sink (or if you have children, into their throats ;-) [after letting it cool some] ) Press the brew switch and run a blank shot through the group/pf into the same reservoir as before. Lots of steam/very hot water should come through the pf spouts (or through the pf basket if you have a naked pf), so use care not to hurt yourself (or others). Turn off the brew switch when the boiler heating light turns on. Wipe out pf/ group and empty the drip tray. Turn off the machine and clean up everything. (if you donít want your spouse/s.o./roomate/parents to be angryÖ).
Cleaning: I would recommend buying a blind pf basket and backflushing at least once a week. Use Cleancaf to descale at least once a month. To descale: place one packet (2 tbsp.) of descaling solution into the tank. Turn on machine, and immediately turn on the brew boiler. After 10 ounces, turn off brew switch and wait until heating light turns off. Then run several blank shots through the machine into a large reservoir. Also run some water through the steamwand by turning on the hot water switch (not at the same time as the brew switch, however). When the tank is empty, turn off the machine and rinse/fill the tank with purified water. Then, run a full tank of fresh water through the machine/steamwand. If at all possible, use purified, softened water at all times with the Silvia (or any espresso machine for that matter). I spray a little bit of Windex onto a paper towel to remove fingerprints every so often.
Cost vs. Value 10/10: I think that the Silvia's materials, build, and overall fit and finish definitely justify the money spent. Virtually every online store sells the Silvia, and more often than not, have sales/discount coupons available to lower the price of the Silvia even more. Also, the resale price of the Silvia keeps very well compared to most of the other home machines available in her price range. Always keep in mind that a quality grinder should always be a part of the espresso-bar budget, and with the Silvia especially, a good grinder is not a novelty, but a necessity.
Aesthetics 10/10: The stainless steel construction, along with the utilitarian looks fits very well with our other stainless appliances. A lot of people think that the Silvia is an ugly machine: I think that functionality and professional-grade looks are more beautiful than cutesy colors and curvy designs will ever be.
Overall 10/10: Yes, the Rancilio Silvia is a finicky machine, but when given a good amount of learning time, the Silvia can consistently deliver amazing performance. The Silvia gets my 10/10 because it ensures that I'm on top of my game every time i use the machine, plus, when taken care of, will last (and will continue to treat me) for many years to come!