A superb machine for the money. For those willing to spend time to get to know this equipment, they will be rewarded with wonderful espresso shots and espresso based drinks.
Positive Product Points
BUILD QUALITY - steel and brass. As appliances are generally plastic and aluminum these days, the difference is noticeable. SIMPLICITY – the buttons do the basic tasks of brewing, providing hot water and steam. The rest is up to the home barista’s artisan skills. LOOKS – nothing offensive about Silvia’s looks. This little lady would fit into any kitchen or dining room and is guaranteed to be a talking point with guests. OPERATION – once Silvia’s finickyness (is that a word?) has been overcome, she just delivers time and time again. Very reliable. MODIFIABILITY – this is almost like a classic car that can be modified/customized to meet the owner’s needs. From what I can see of other machines, this is still fairly unique.
Negative Product Points
FINICKY – this little lady takes a long time to get used to. Not for someone who likes things simple, quick and with no-mess (for the artisan and true geek, however, she’s a dream). WATER RESERVOIR – while the capacity is not bad, the lid doesn’t fit well and there’s no water level indicator. I tend to refill the reservoir during cleanup in order to ensure that I don’t forget and end up running the boiler dry. STOCK BASKETS – I just couldn’t pull a decent shot with the stock single or double baskets supplied. I upgraded to an LM double ridgeless basket and the quality/consistency improved significantly. DRIP TRAY – everyone says it and I agree that the drip tray is just way too small.
I have been a coffee geek for years. I was introduced to espresso while working in Paris, France about 15 years ago. Later, with the advent of Starbucks-type cafes, I regularly enjoyed cappuccinos and lattes. I purchased a Krups 4100 Programmatic espresso machine for home about 5 years ago and was fairly happy in my ignorance for a while. Late last year though (October 2005), I was introduced to the Rancilio Silvia and Rocky at a friends house and the comparison with my Krups was like night and day. I tried my best to reproduce on my Krups what I had tasted on the Silvia, but realized that the only way I was going to be satisfied, was to go out and buy my own Rancilio equipment.
EQUIPMENT AT FIRST GLANCE:
The first thing that hit me when I unboxed Silvia and Rocky was the weight and quality of the equipment. I have rarely purchased appliances that feel like they are in any way worth the money spent – the only other exception was from Apple Computers. I certainly cannot recall a time when I thought the goods were worth MORE than the money I spent, until I met Silvia and Rocky. Well worth every cent in my humble opinion. The only reason that the Quality score for me is an 8 rather than a 10, is that the edges of the stainless steel sheets used to fabricate the Silvia are a bit rough - particularly noticeable on the underside of the drip tray cover and on the corners of the drip tray that often catch the dish towel when cleaning up.
LEARNING TO PULL A SHOT:
I struggled for a couple of months with reverse temperature surfing and with the stock baskets provided. I could only get to the point where I was pulling a reasonable shot about 30% of the time. I read online about the LM ridgeless double basket and after getting one, increased the consistency of the shot quality immediately. After a little practice, I was fairly happy with my shots around 60-70% of the time. This has now increased even further with the addition of a naked PF which has really helped me to understand more about my tamping technique and best grind consistency for the beans I’m using.
MOVING ON TO MILK:
The steam wand is powerful and able to deliver a 20oz jug of steamed milk and microfoam (good for 2 cappuccinos) in about 1 minute. While three-hole wand tips are available, I think that the stock wand is just fine. With a little bit of research on the Internet and a fair amount of practice, my milk steaming has started to produce some amazingly rich and sweet microfoam. Significantly better than the majority of local cafe's.
While I would naturally sing my own praises in the quality of drinks that I produce, I have recently been commended by some neighbours who now pop over to the house as soon as the word ‘coffee’ is mentioned. They have reaslised that what I was producing was significantly better than any of the coffee shops in town. Yeah … and I don’t charge them, I know!
Now, having had the Rancilio equipment for about 6 months, I can safely say that I am still delighted with my purchase and am happily pulling two to three shots every day. Who knows if and when upgrade fever will kick in, but I can't see it happening any time soon.
UPDATE - ONE MONTH ON FROM ORIGINAL REVIEW:
I succumbed to upgrade fever and purchased a PID kit on eBay. Now I have full control over the boiler temperature which means much more control over the group temperature. I can make 1 degree adjustments depending on the beans that I am using and can now fine tune the machine to pull the best shots possible. No comparison with reverse temperature surfing which is still so unpredictable. Oh, and there's no feeling that I'm trying to jump onto a speeding train either. Now I can relax, enjoy the preparation process and just push the brew button when everything is ready and PF locked in place. Much less stressful and I can focus on the important parts - grind, dose, stir, level and tamp.
One thing that only hit home to me after the installation too - while the PID only controls the brew boiler temperature, it gives instant feedback on temperature of the boiler when preparing to steam. Now I can see when the boiler is fully heated up and ready to give me the most powerful steam that the machine can generate. The result is much more consistent microfoam, produced much more quickly, so the espresso doesn't have so long to sit and cool.
So ... for anyone contemplating a PID upgrade ... I would wholeheartedly recommend it.
I purchased my Rancilio equipment from a coffee shop in Singapore called Spinelli’s. They use commercial Rancilio equipment in their cafes and Ross, their master roaster, started selling a small line of home machines too. He was extremely helpful and met me personally to hand over the equipment. The price of US$ 625 (versus US$ 495 + shipping from sites like WLL) was very good when you consider the import effort and when compared with the branded super-autos available in the big electronic stores here - particularly when you look at the build quality and life expectancy. Ross also threw in a few extra items such as a kilo of freshly roasted beans, a knock-box and a set of demitasse cups and saucers.
I purchased a Watlow PID kit from Jim Gallt on eBay - who can now be found at http://www.mlgp-llc.com/PID/index.php Fantastic buying experience and great kit. Complete, well thought out and very detailed installation instructions. Don't do this if you are not comfortable with electronics though. While the job is not complex, it requires a lot of care, patience and double/triple checking. Get it wrong and you could fry your Silvia or yourself! The installation took me about 2 - 3 hours working at a very careful, steady pace, taking photographs along the way. Well worth the investment in time and money.
Three Month Followup
All of the comments in my original review stand. Having spent endless hours developing my espresso preparation technique, I firmly believe that in order to get the very best out of a Silvia, a PID is a must.
One Year Followup
Before getting to the 'One Year Followup', I actually sold my Silvia to a local CoffeeGeek in Singapore. I was quite sad to see her go. Initially, I had wanted to get enough for the deposit on a GS3, but just couldn't bring myself to writing the cheque. In the end, I ordered an Expobar Brewtus II. Three times more than the cost of a Silvia, but three times less than the cost of a GS3! I would still recommend the Silvia to anyone interested in a low cost solution to decent home espresso based drinks.