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Rancilio Silvia - Java Man (Espressopithecus)'s Review
Posted: December 11, 2001, 9:00pm
review rating: 5.2
feedback: (0) comments | read | write
Rancilio Silvia
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More About This Product
Arrow The Rancilio Silvia has 230 Reviews
Arrow The Rancilio Silvia has been rated 8.55 overall by our member reviewers
Arrow This product has been in our review database since November 30, 2001.
Arrow Rancilio Silvia reviews have been viewed 1,660,438 times (updated hourly).

Quality Reviews
These are some of the best-written reviews for this product, as judged by our members.
Name Ranking
Chris Clark 9.13
Ed Lawless 9.00
Joe DP 8.88
Dave Borton 8.67
Eric Larson 8.62

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Ratings and Stats Overall Rating: 8.0
Manufacturer: Rancilio Quality: 8
Average Price: $629.00 Usability: 6
Price Paid: $175.00 Cost vs. Value 10
Where Bought: Used Aesthetics 8
Owned for: 2 years Overall 8
Writer's Expertise: I love coffee Would Buy Again: Yes
Similar Items Owned: Not entered
Bottom Line: A fine machine for espresso hobbiests, but not particularly convenient to use.
Positive Product Points

It feels substantial and durable, comes in a beautiful stainless steel housing, produces a great shot with practice, has excellent steaming capacity and speed for its price range and size; and very useful for dinner parties with its fast recovery rate.

Negative Product Points

It requires a lot of practice to turn out consistently good espresso--OK if you use it daily as I do, but not for the casual user.

Some poorly-thought-out and flimsy features.

Water tank is too small.

It takes 15-20 minutes to warm up properly, but that can be overcome with a timer and a bit of planning.

Detailed Commentary

This is a solid, durable, machine that will give you years of reliable service.  Like other home espresso machines in this price range, it requires considerable practice to produce consistently good espresso.  Don‘t get one if you‘re expecting an appliance that does the job for you--Miss Silvia requires a knowledge of the art of espresso making.

UPDATE

This is an update 1-1/2 years after the initial review.

In the past month, I've been using the Silvia side-by-side with a Pasquini/Cimbali M27 commercial single group machine.  This provides a unique opportunity to compare Silvia with a much more capable machine.  It has heightened my appreciation of its strengths, but has also made its weaknesses glaringly obvious.

I still rate the Silvia as a very capable machine for the home user who wants to make very good espresso at home, but doesn't mind taking a little extra time to coax this small machine to produce its best.  It is a durable and attractive machine, and its footprint is relatively small.

But the Silvia has 2 major shortcomings, both related to its size.

First, the boiler's normal temperature fluctuation cycle ranges well above and below the optimum temperature range for making great-tasting espresso.  To overcome this requires either "temperature surfing" (timing the cycles and waiting until the machine reaches optimum temperature before pulling the shot), or installation of a PID controller (extra hardware that replaces the OEM thermostat with more precise, computer-controlled circuitry).

Second, the use of a dual purpose boiler for both steaming and brewing means a time lag is needed between pulling a shot of espresso and steaming for a milk-based drink. Trying to do both back-to-back means either very weak steaming performance (because the machine is in the temperature range best suited to pulling good-tasting espresso shots) or terrible tasting espresso (because the machine is in the much hotter temperature range required for steaming milk).  

Without a PID mod, there is no substitute for waiting until the machine is ready for the task at hand.  There are tricks one can use to heat the machine up faster (turn on the steam switch) or cool it down faster (express water through the steam wand, which has the effect of backfilling the heated boiler water with cool water from the reservoir).  But you can't take many shortcuts without affecting the quality of the finished product.

Properly handled, Silvia will make very good tasting espresso and will produce very high quality microfoam, pleasing to the tastebuds of  fussy "espressionados" and for latte art.

The shortcomings of the Silvia make it unsuitable (to me--YMMV) for making milk-based espresso drinks for a dinner party of more than 4 people.  Doing it right will take the operator away from guests for at least 10 minutes.

Despite moving up to a more capable (and expensive) machine, I am not sorry I bought a Silvia.  Coaxing the Silvia taught me a lot about espresso making, and improved my technique tremendously.  It's still a lot of machine for the money, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to make very good espresso at home, but isn't ready yet for the leap to a more capable, expensive machine that takes up more space on the kitchen counter.

Buying Experience

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Three Month Followup

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review rating: 5.2
Posted: December 11, 2001, 9:00pm
feedback: (0) comments | read | write
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