Despite a great reputation, I was unable to get a consistently decent shot from this finicky machine.
Positive Product Points
Great build and aesthetics; excellent steaming power; heats up quickly (in contrast to HX machines).
Negative Product Points
Inconsistent shot quality; huge deadband in brew thermostat; high brew pressure necessitates fine grind (over-pressure valve factory set to 11-12); very finicky about hitting proper brew temperature and grind quality; no water reservoir level indicator.
I previously owned a Gaggia Synchrony Compact (a super-auto) and was in the market for a semi-automatic machine to improve the quality of my espresso and to get more involved in the process. After reading all the wonderful reviews of Silvia on this site as well as alt.coffee, it seemed clear that it was the best reputed single-boiler machine with a commercial style portafilter and a real steaming wand (i.e. without frothing attachments). So I ordered a Silvia and Rocky from 1st-Line, having also read all the great reviews about the company.
First the positives: Silvia is a very well built and good looking machine. The boiler heats up to brew temp quickly (under 3 minutes) and unlike HX machines it is possible to actively bring all the other elements up to temperature in 5 minutes (or 15 minutes passively), which is a plus. In addition, the machine has ample steaming power so frothing is a breeze.
However, Silvia really disappointed me in the most important respects – shot quality and shot consistency. The deadband on the thermostat is huge, so that pulling a shot at the lower end resulted in a sour shot while pulling a shot at the top of a boiler cycle (right after the boiler light has gone off) produced an astringently bitter shot. I've read much of what has been written about both Silvia and factors/variables in espresso on CoffeeGeek, Home-Barista, and alt.coffee, but much as I tried to adjust variables (e.g. dosing, tamping, pull time, working the shot, temperature surfing) I could not produce a decent shot with the Silvia. Although my pull times were in the proper range (20-30 sec), the shots were either sour or astringently bitter (i.e. burnt tasting) and only a few were inoffensive. Jim at 1st-Line was very kind and spent several nights on the phone with me answering questions and offering advice, but there was little improvement in the quality of my shots. I’ve had experience with both a Gaggia super-auto as well as a Starbucks Barista, so it was very surprising to me that I could not get a shot out of Silvia that would exceed the quality of those produced by the other machines. I’ve read that it takes some people a while to find the sweet spot on Silvia, but after two weeks of unsuccessfully adjusting variables I’d had enough and decided to send her back. 1st-Line accepted the return without any questions or problems (and considering they had spent a few nights on the phone with me by this point, it just goes to show that the company is genuinely interested in making sure their customers are happy). I am now looking for a machine that will require less work to get a good shot and will be more consistent in shot quality.
I bought this machine from 1st-Line. They were fantastic. Exteremely customer-oriented company and very prompt service. The manager even spent several evenings on the phone with me helping me troubleshoot what was wrong with my espresso. Because of their excellent customer service, I will buy my next machine from them.