After the learning curve, despite the fiddle factor, you'll be making slam-dunk hot-shot espresso drinks every time.
Positive Product Points
Professional product, reliable results, consistently provides "the real thing" espresso, once you've learned the basics. The first shot I pulled was very good. And that was probably the worst shot I ever pulled.
Negative Product Points
"Fill the boiler". No automatic boiler filling for steamer. Be ready for the fiddle factor. Like a European sportscar, this machine requires alot of messsing around and cleaning. Making a cappuccino requires some serious up-front learning to do it right consistently and care for the equipment. Over time, I'm getting used to the pieces, and can produce killer shot after shot.
While having had this product for only 2 weeks, the number of pucks in the garbage shows me that I'm moving alot of beans through this rig. It's become much more than just a "morning grind". So I'm absorbed in roasting, grinding and pulling the perfect shot.
Having owned an espresso shop for a short time in the past, and then making my own cappuccinos on Krupps steam and pump machines for about 10 years now, I decided it was time to see what real home espresso is all about. I've been totally delighted with what I did. (Except for the caffiene hangovers for the last couple weeks, which I hope to get a handle on).
It doesn't take much reading to see that the Rancilio Silvia is by far the preferred home barista machine. People say it's the best machine for under $1,000 and so I decided to go with a package deal with the Silvia and the Rocky grinder.
Most of the last 2 weeks has been spent wondering if I'm doing it right. But now, I sit here on a Sunday afternoon, staring out the window and enjoying a wonderful blend with a creamy head (excellent crema), and feeling like I got it working now.
Don't think I'll PID. First I agonized over this, reading all the stuff about the perfect cup and how to temperature surf. But at this point, I've gone with temp surfing and it's good enough for now. After all, I didn't start this journey to become an espresso perfectionist, just to know what a good cup of "caffe" is all about, and to be able to control the variables to get it right. Knowing my machine a little now, I like temp surfing. It's part of the journey.
My routine: First I pick my blend and my grind. Right now, I'm using either Espresso Vivace or Malabar Gold, both available in green bean form. (I'm learning to roast with the i-Roast as well, because it seems like the best way to ensure fresh beans. Also very exciting but that's another story.) So I grind to give me a double shot (2 oz) in 20 to 30 seconds. Some say that After 30 seconds, you're pulling bitter stuff from your grinds. So a 30 second max is my goal with the grind.
Machine warming: I try to warm the machine for an hour if possible, but I find that running some hot water through it will also warm the grouphead if I'm late for work.
Got the Espro 30 lb. tamper from 1st-Line as part of the package. A great addition to my bar. The Espro tamper provides 30 pounds of pressure with every tamp, taking that variable out of the mix when shooting for repeatable results.
Here's my latest find - warm the cup with hot water. Once locked and loaded and machine warmed, I run hot water out the steam wand into my favorite cappuccino cup, which does 2 things: It starts my temperature surf, and gets the cup warmed up for the shot. I'm using these little Italian cafe cups that are nifty and heavy. I thought leaving them on top of the Silvia would warm them up when I got them. But they're so dense, that even afer an hour the cups are still lukewarm on top of the unit. So running hot water into them keeps my shot hot longer.
When my 5 oz. coffee cup is full of water, I know the boiler light will be on within a few seconds plus or minus. I start my timer when the light comes on and wait 40 seconds. In the meantime, I'm getting ready to dump the cup of water.
At about 37 seconds on the timer, I get my cup under the little spouts, zero the timer and pull.
Having made a visual note of where 2 ounces is on the caffe cup, I pull until it feels right. Currently I go for about 2 to 2 1/2 ounces of total shot volume at roughly 30 seconds or less. The espresso takes a few seconds, then it dribbles out, and generally produces a lovely crema. That's the shot.
"Fill the boiler" and steaming milk. Funny, the Rancilio instructions don't say how to do this. They just say "fill the boiler" after you steam the milk. Fortunately, 1st-Line.com provides their own instructions for Miss Silvia. They explain that when you steam milk, you need to first empty or "bleed" the boiler, then steam the milk, and then fill the boilder again to prevent burning it up. this is one thing that I sure wish was automatic. Who'd have thought that steaming milk could be such an involved process. So here's my modified process for steaming milk:
Steaming milk process:
After the coffee is done, I steam milk. To me, whole milk comes out like a milk shake when steamed right. Lowfat is less exciting, but either one works fine. Bleed the boiler by putting an empty cup or something under the steam wand, hitting the steam button, and running off some water. (I keep a tall stainless cup under the steam wand all the time, for running water and steam into). I go until ther's mostly steam coming out. I figure a little blast of water now and then in my steam is not gonna hurt. I then close the steam valve, but I leave the steam switch turned on, and wait. In just 10 to 20 seconds, you can hear the boiler in Miss Silvia popping and creaking a bit. She's building up a good head of steam. If I just wait up to 30 seconds, I get enough forceful steam to do all the frothing I want. Then of course, I "fill the boiler" with water again. To do this I: turn off the steam and close the wand valve, Turn on the hot water switch, and open the steam wand into my "hot water catcher" cup.
Since I got the Rancilio, I use a lot less milk than I used to. Using premium beans and the right pull, there is no harsh taste to cover up with milk. I never thought I'd say this but: who needs a latte? Too much milk literally drowns the tast of the coffee. Now I drink alot more straight shots than I ever thought I would, or just a little milk to even it out.
My favorite drink right now is in a 5 oz. cup: 2 shots of my favorite espresso, the rest steamed milk, and just a half teaspoon of nice sweet cocoa powder. Now that's a coffee drink!
Fortunately, 1st-Line.com provides their own instructions for Miss Silvia. The manual from Italy provides only basic information, and specs. Plan on reading alot online, or buy from 1st-Line.
Haven't had any support issues yet, but I have emailed 1st-Line. com on more than one occasion with order details. I bought alot of stuff from them, and my Silvia was delayed on a "boat from Italy", and so I was anxious to find out when it was coming. Both emails were answered by Jim over within a couple days.
Shipping type varries with order method: When ordering online, 1st-Line includes 2nd day FedEx on most items. When purchasing by phone, you'll get UPS ground instead.
Three Month Followup
I Use this device every morning and more on weekends. I have simplified my daily routine. I don't "temperature surf" any more. I turn on the box when I wake up, and by the time I'm done getting dressed for work, I'm ready to make my moring cup. The machine has been completely reliable, except the frothing tip drips all the time. I'm constantly shutting off the steamer valve. I leave my frothing pitcher under it to catch the drips. It constantly comes loose, and I've accepted this as a small quirk of the machine. Maybe I need to report this to 1st Line. Otherwise, this is a completely professional and reliable machine.