This is my first espresso machine. A barista from a local coffee shop in San Francisco recommended me the Silvia for home use since I had to move away to burbs and no longer be a regular customer.
I bought the Silvia from Whole Latte Love as part of a package with a Rocky grinder. After a week the boiler broke, but Whole Latte Love shipped me a new replacement Silvia for free. Construction and materials feels solid and if you compare it to some of the cheaper "plastic" looking machines you see on display at your local dept. store or Starbucks, you can tell the Silvia is an over-engineered product that is built to last. Proof to that is she still runs like a champ after four years of daily caps and espressos for myself and my wife.
In terms of usability, the Silvia has her challenges with brew temperatures. Assuming you give her time to warm up properly for 30 minutes, the stock brew thermostat is still terrible. The Silvia needs extra love since the brew temperature can swing as much as 40F over after the brew light goes off. Installing a PID temperature controller is the optimal solution to this problem, but it is an additional $100 (DIY) to $250 (pidkits.com) upgrade. You can still get decent results temperature surfing with a timer and even better with installing an inexpensive electronic temperature probe on the boiler. Before the PID, I bought a cheap Extech digital multimeter that was bundled with at Type K thermocouple for $25. Installed the thermocouple on the boiler like the DIY PID instructions. This gave me real-time temperature on the digital multimeter so I new when to pull the espresso shot based on actual brew temperature than guessing it based on time after the brew light went off.
As for multiple milk drinks back to back, the Silvia can only make two (one small steaming pitcher) at a time before you run out of steam. Good for personal use to pull a couple drinks at a time, but not good for dinner parties unless people are willing to wait. I found that steaming milk first before pulling espresso shots is the most efficient use of time since it is easier to cool down the boiler to brew temperature from cold reservoir water than waiting for the boiler to heat to steam temperature.
The steam nozzle is functional, although I wish it articulated up and down like the professional machines (which is a new feature for the V3 machines) so I can move a full steamed milk pitcher out of the way without having to tilt the pitcher and spill steamed milk all over the place. Right now I have to tilt the machine to the side and slide out the pitcher.
I recently fried the pump from accidentally leaving on the brew button during its daily morning warm-up I have setup with an automatic timer. I had the option of sending it to a local espresso machine repair shop in the Bay Area, but decided to do the work myself since there was a ton of blogs, youtube videos, and other internet content to do a DIY repair. The newer 52W Ulka EAX5 brass pump seems to run smoother and quieter than the original 41W Ulka EP5 plastic pump. Since the Silvia panels were still off, I decided to install a Watlow PID temperature controller for both steam and brew.
What a night and day difference a PID temperature controller did for the Silvia. I didn't really notice before how poor the espresso shots were with the stock thermostat since I drank caps exclusively. Since the PID install, I have switched to drinking espresso again. I built my own kit, which you can find my wiring diagram here Click Here (www.slideshare.net) . You can also buy an assembled kit from either pidkits.com or auberins.com.
Since the PID install, all I have to do is warm up the machine for 30 minutes and it will automatically get the Silvia to perfect operating temperature to pull an espresso shot. Before I would have to stand in front of the machine with my stopwatch and temperature gauge and guesstimate the best time to pull a shot.
Overall, I rate it a 7 due to the following:
Quality- 8 - The original unit was a dud, but my replacement has been a tank
Usability- 5 - The PID controller is a no-brainer upgrade to make it more usable. Without it, it is a PITA to get good shots
Value - 10 - We broke even in less than 6 months so it has been a great investment
Aesthetics - 5 - The machine is plain with nothing striking about its appearance
I am not sure why there are bad reviews of Silvia for pulling shots. She can pull good ones, but it does take proper technique and PID helps a lot. I suspect people are blaming the machine for user error.
It has been a great starter machine, but I finally moved on to a Giotto Premium which I can now fully appreciate the significant benefits of a e61 HX based machine.