The Rancilio Silvia makes as great an espresso as you can find anywhere -- including Italy
Positive Product Points
Extremely well built for a home machine Produces the best espresso shot available Looks impressive in the kitchen
Negative Product Points
No water reserve indicator The grind and tamp must be just right
I have owned a number of home espresso machines; the Rancilio is hands-down the best. It is expensive and a little bit tricky to use, but once I bit the price bullet I have never looked back. It is absolutely necessary to have a good burr grinder to use with the Silvia, as the grind must be exact or you can easily get thin or over-extracted shots. I bought the Silvio Rocky grinder at the same time as the Silvia (and have never looked back).
The machine is formidable as far as home machines go, and is a handsome stainless steel box. At first I wondered why I needed such a large machine (and I still wonder sometimes), but I trust that the heavy-duty components require a substantial housing. The water tank is plastic and does the job, but I'm glad that it's hidden -- it's industrial ugly. The water is cycled by two plastic hoses that rub against the water tank upon its removal and insertion, but after many fills there has been no wear. I don't think that I will ever have to replace them, but if I do I doubt it will be difficult. The head and portafilter are well made and easy to clean. I have the early model portafilter which is coated brass. Over time there has been slight wear of the coating and I wish that Rancilio had chosen a color other than brown, since judging the cleanliness is difficult. The steam wand is just that: a wand. No gadgets or frills, and with the high pressure the results are excellent. The bottom grill and tray are both stainless so cleaning is easy. The Silvia is a no-nonsense work horse that I expect to have around for a long time.
My daughter lived in Florence for seven years, so I had the experience of drinking many shots right in the land of espresso. All were good, but some were exceptional -- those were the ones I wanted to emulate. Using home-roasted beans and being careful with grinding (15-16 setting on the Rocky) and tamping (about 30 lbs.), the Rancilio can produce as fine a shot of espresso as I could find anywhere in Italy. (I always use the "double" filter basket and never use the silly plastic tamper that cfame with the machine.) I use glass cups so I can watch the crema build: I usually get 1/2 to 3/4 inch per shot. Regardless of how attentive I am to the grind, a few fines always get through into the cup, but I don't care about that at all. In fact it seems to add to the autheticity of drinking pure, unprocessed, unfiltered coffee. I have not paid any attention to the steam and extraction temperatures; I just turn on the machine and let it warm up for fifteen minutes or so. When I make a (rare) cappucino, I steam the milk first then pull the shot. I get a little delay before the shot starts flowing but it hasn't affected the taste. I always run a blind shot before the first cup of the day to warm the portafilter, but that's the extent of any extra work I do (I'm lazy).
I have not had any regrets about the Silvia or the Rocky once I learned the parameters of creating the shot.
I bought this machine from Whole Latte Love. They have always been a great vendor.