Silvia is INSANE!!! After years of pseudoespresso out of my Krups, then taking a job as a barista while waiting for dental school to start (and finally learning some technique that got just barely decent shots out of the Krups, i.e. grinder, good tamping, homemade naked portafilter, etc...), having the Silvia on my countertop is a godsend. The heft of the commercial style portafilter is simply reassuring after working behind the bar. It just feels right.
OK, let's get to the details:
I bought Silvia from a previous owner who was travelling across the country for school and didn't want to ship too much stuff. I know what you're thinking, "leave your wife, leave your kids, heck, leave ANYTHING else, but for the love of God, man, bring the Rancilio..." My thoughts exactly, but his loss is my gain. He originally bought it from WholeLatteLove.com and was pleased with their service.
Seriously, read everything David Schomer or Mark Prince has to say about technique, from grind to tamp to temp to ... Schomer didn't become the uber-nerd of coffeedom for nothing; he's sheer genius and as soon as you can incorporate the basics into your repertoire, the better. As far as Prince goes, CG is an amazing resource for anyone looking to get into the world of espresso. His reviews are easy to read and understand, and it's clear he both knows and cares about the topic.
Silvia responds amazingly well to great technique, as shown by the difference between my shots and my wife's. If you're new at this site, you probably expect me to be an insufferable coffee snob, but please realize I'm really just shooting straight. If you get out your blade grinder and fill the portafilter with slop, turn the machine on and immediately pull a shot, you'll get a cup of crap, just like my wife. I'm not really complaining, since she gave me the green light on the Silvia, but like any sensitive lady, she (yeah, still talking about Silvia, not my wife) requires some attention to detail. I use a Mazzer Mini grinder set just a hair coarser than the factory setting and consistently pull two ounce doubleshots in the 25-30 second range. At first, the shots started pretty nice but finished with a blonde to whitish crema, but with grind adjustment and proper machine warm-up, I'm getting nice reddish brown crema that sticks quite persistently to the sides of my cup. My drink of choice is a double macchiato with a small amount of sweetener (I've been using Agave Nectar lately. Sounds dorky, but I'm a diabetic and it's supposedly better for me than table sugar.) in the warmed cup before the shots go in. My home version from the Silvia is never bitter, whether I'm roasting my own in a modified popcorn popper (pretty rare that I get to do this these days), or using the Bittersweet Blend from Blue Bottle Coffee in SF (www.bluebottlecoffee.net) and it's been predictably excellent.
I'm currently using a 57mm flat aluminum tamper (economodel) from espressoparts.com that leaves a little to be desired, and shows the dispersion screen screw impression in the coffee. I've got a convex model on order, and it'll be interesting to see if the screw impression is still there.
My technique is basically the same as former Silvia reviewer Eric Larson, except that I grind, dose and fill my portafilter AFTER I've bled the machine. See below:
1) Wait until the Sylvia is hot, ~30 min. When the spout on the portafilter burns my finger, it's ready.
2) Bleed the boiler through the steam wand with the hot water switch on until the light comes on.
3) When the boiler light goes off, start the second bleeding.
When the boiler light goes on, simultaneously shut off the hot water switch and start the timer.
For a 40 second delay I set my count down timer to 1:05, and remove the portafilter.
4) Grind, dose and tamp the shot, and lock in the portafilter.
5) With about 35 seconds left to go, I turn on the steam switch and shoot out a quick burst of steam to get the boiler going. I then turn off the steam wand but leave the switch on.
6) When the timer hits 25 seconds, flip the brew switch to start the shot.
7) When the timer goes off, stop the shot.
I tried the Silvia Cheat method, but was spending too much time in front of my machine and not enough time in the shower or on the toilet, etc... in the morning. The above method has been very very good to me.
Their are plenty of online references for proper steaming, i.e. Schomer, coffeegeek/kid, etc.... Suffice it to say, the single hole tip on the Silvia does a great job of creating microfoam, which, in the right hands (read: not mine) can make wonderful latte art. I can usually get a bunch of lines with a line poured through them which only remotely resembles a rosette or heart but might be closer to a ribcage. Note to self: Great latte for halloween parties.
In addition to the convex tamp, I've also ordered a naked portafilter, Pallo cleaning brush, blind backflush disc and Joe Glow cleaner from www.espressoparts.com I'll let you know if anything changes.