Your first big step towards the elusive quality of espresso perfection
Positive Product Points
The Silvia is a pleasure to operate; it has a simplicity and refinement, which for the price is impossible to beat. While it conforms to a stylish and functional modern aesthetic, it is the artistry of its espresso shots which make it stand out. One has to try hard to make a “bad” coffee. I have had it for over three months and it reliably delivers espresso better than ninety percent of cafes in Sydney.
Negative Product Points
The machine is let down by (as everyone who has one bemoans) the small drip tray as well as its flimsy group holder and lid which does not always sit flush.
Why a Rancilio…?
I have been an unadulterated espresso drinker (no sugar or milk) for as long as I have had a taste for the bean. Living in the inner city of Sydney, there has never been a shortage of decent cafes around my place. However I have always suspected that the profusion of cafes in Sydney (some of them very good) and the fact that so much time is spent in them by so many people, has given this City the illusion of a café culture, when, perhaps the most appropriate description of it is a “café society”. This might sound like a pedantic dichotomy but for me it encapsulates a certain truth: A café society exhibits the superficial appurtenances of a coffee loving environment; the stylish designs of the cafes, the music, the furniture, the perve factor, however the taste and quality of the actual coffee is secondary, and when you pay upwards of $3.00 a shot this lacuna can piss you off. Especially when you get sick of hurting the feelings of the 19 year old English backpacker who is pulling the shots because you have to keep sending back you warm brown water. On the other hand, a café culture (the Italian grundnorm) has a deeper, almost anthropological connotation to it. It suggests a culture infused with a shared historic passion, artistry and indeed language of coffee which defines perfection, scorns imperfection, and where the primary focus of the café is the quality of its coffee not its Bang and Olfsun wall mounted 10 stack CD player.
If you were to have a point of reference for the coffee sublime, for me (like many of my friends and doubtless a shit load of people around the world) that would be Café Sant Eustachio in Rome. I have pilgrimaged there many times (even when on a 2 hour stop over at Rome airport). It is the elusive espresso hit which in our own countries we search for in vain. Even schlepping kilos of the stuff half way around the world and using it your mate’s Bezzerra still can’t recreate it. But that doesn’t matter. It is the elusive quality of perfection which motivated me to by a Silvia and to at least attempt to approach that sublime…
…That and the fact that my folks had just bought a weekender in a place called Killcare (a beach village on the Central Coast of New South Wales, about an hour north of Sydney) where the coffee is as bad as the weather is warm. I considered the fact that I would be spending much time there and with the absence of a decent espresso it was necessary (and seemed like a good time to start) to invest in the conditions of the possibility of the above mentioned coffee perfection.
After much research and relying heavily on the researches of my friend who had just bought a Rancilio and whom I suspected at the time (as it coincided with breaking up with his girlfriend) was having an affair with someone called Silvia. He had become hermetic, he would not leave his apartment saying he was not alone, he had just cleaned his Silvia, turned her on, primed her and was ready for a profusion of crema. My friend began (what I thought at the time) was an unnatural relationship with an espresso machine. One week later I had bought the same machine (with the Rocky grinder) and developed a similar attachment, easily recognised by a wide-eyed, shaking obsessiveness and the unmistakable neurotic monomania of those who have just fallen in love.
I mention this only to demonstrate the sense of loving devotion people seem to bring to this machine which I have not seen emulated in other friends who have bought Bezzerras and Pavonis, (although that may say more about me than a Bezzera or Pavoni).
For the last three months my Rancilio has gone from strength to strength, as my ability to master it improves. It consistently makes a great espresso with many different types brands and grinds of bean I have been experimenting with. The machine is easy to clean apart from the drip tray problem, which is easily overcome by putting a bowl under it. What I am thankful for is the fact that it is so simple to use, especially as I am extremely un-technical. What improved it substantially was buying a better group head, a larger basket which for some reason (which no one who has recommended it can explain), improves the quality and mechanics of the Silvia, and a heavy stainless steal tamper from coffeeparts.com. Another friend of mine who has a Bezzerra makes an excellent coffee, but with a $1500 price difference, there is really no major corresponding quality difference. I actually don’t understand how the Rancilio Company can make much profit off this machine, because what you get for the price seems to rival the components of a more expensive machine. Unless, as I like to suspect, it is Mr Rancilio’s goodwill towards espresso lovers.
I unhesitatingly recommend the brilliant Coffee and Things in Randwick to buy your machine. The lovely owner (whose name I have embarrassingly forgotten) is a true coffee aficionado. Although running a busy store, she provided me with 2 hours of advice, instruction and freebies, way beyond what you would get anywhere else, and it was done, I am sure, for the love of the art. Especially if you have never bought a machine before, she will put you at ease. If you live in Sydney you are an absolute fool to go anywhere else for a Silvia (or Rocky, or any other machine, or part they stock).