Rancilio Silvia Details Page – Details on the Silvia Espresso Machine

The Rancilio Silvia, Cheap but not Cheap!

I know this is a lot to spend on an espresso machine…but we need to put this in perspective. What it lacks, like all home machines under $1300 or so, is a separate steam boiler tank. You basically need to spend another $900 to take the next step up from the Silvia in home espresso machines, to light-commercial machines like the Pasquini Livia, Isomac, Wega, Exobar, La Marzocco, etc.

Check out the Rancilio Silvia M Espresso Machine in our Webcart

So I hate to say it, but $715 for the Miss Silvia is a good deal! You can start doing decent home espresso with the Gaggia Espresso at $219, but it doesn’t have this great stainless steel housing and the level of finish of the Silvia. The Silvia is a machine you really want to see on your kitchen counter, even when it’s not in use … and that does count for something. It’s one nice-looking box!

You need a good grinder! Don’t let anyone tell you there is a way to make great espresso without a high-quality grinder … it cannot be done. You can start with an acceptable burr mill like the Virtuoso, graduate to a true espresso mill like the Rancilio Rocky or a Compak, or go for the best, the Mazzer Mini. So you need to include a quality burr mill in your home espresso budget. The Miss Silvia in Stainless Steel, including the Rancilio accessory kit (measure scoop, plastic tamper (not a very useful tamper, but as you will see we take care of that!), single and double filter baskets, user manual with individual factory QC test slip.


Tested and Proven

Each Miss Silvia comes with an individual test slip from the factory to certify that the electrical components are powering up correctly. The Silvia is basically a hand-made machine. I have seen complaints in reviews that someone had a fingerprint on their Silvia when they opened the box … my thought is “So What!” Things you buy are made with the labor of others, with their skill and their hard work. Is there something horrible about a fingerprint that reminds you of this fact? I think you should pay extra for a Silvia with a fingerprint … I think the workers should sign each one! (Okay, I am kidding. Sort of. And actually I have never seen a fingerprint on a Silvia).

Results


Here is the shot that results from the  little movie of a Ristretto being made on my Miss Silvia. (This is a bit over-extracted, with the grind a tad too fine, as you can see by the long time it drips until finally, it starts to pour with the characteristic and desirable “mouse tail” appearance). But hey, it was a really good 1-ounce Ristretto! The coffee was our Monkey Blend, the grinder was my Ditting commercial mill. The crema was very compact, and lasted a very long time without receding …until finally I became impatient and had to drink it!

For espresso the question is always asked: What type of water? Like my regular coffee, I use quality spring water, good-tasting spring water, or filtered tap water … that’s it. Cleaning the Silvia: The Silvia is not a backflushing machine. So periodically you can clean the tank and the entire brew system by using Cleancaf. You do this by following the instructions on the Cleancaf box, adding Cleancaf to the water in the reservoir. You can use Cafiza to soak the coffee handle, filters, and other removable parts. But don’t run Cafiza through the tank.

Befriending Miss Silvia: 

When you master the true single espresso (a mere 1.5 ounces) and start to enjoy the tiny Ristretto (a very, very short espresso), you will become aware that very small differences in water temperature at the brew head affect the quality of the espresso. Like all home machines, the Silvia kicks on the boiler when it senses a low water temperature (the orange light on the front by the power switch indicates this). It is called a “dead band controller” with the “dead band” being the range in which the boiler is off. This temperature cycling between the low and high-temperature limits of the dead band produces varying brew head temperatures. Water temperature can range between 210 and 240, whereas you want something around 220 at the brew head for good espresso extraction. (Note that 220 at the brew head doesn’t mean you are extracting at 220, but there is a 20 degree heat loss through the “puck” of compressed coffee grounds.) The good news is that during the shot you only have a 2-4 degree range, so the idea is to start your espresso extraction at the right point in the cycle. There is a simple timing technique you can use with the Silvia to brew in the right temperature range every time. This sounds more complicated than it is. All you are doing is getting the machine to start its boiler cycle, then starting the shot at a prescribed time after that orange light comes on … that’s all. In a nutshell, here is how you do it:

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Silvia Espresso technique, Temperature Surfing

  1. Turn on the machine and let it get to full temperature. (Make sure the water tank is full! always leave it full from the previous session) Put the coffee handle in the brew head to heat it up during this time. My machine takes about 20 minutes to get really hot so that touching the bottom of the coffee handle (the spouts where the coffee comes out) is uncomfortable!
  2. Now, grind your espresso, dose it, tamp it, and load the coffee handle in the group head.
  3. With a receptacle under the steam wand, open the steam wand valve and flip the Hot Water switch. I have a 1 quart Mason Jar I leave under the wand permanently.
  4. When the orange light on the front comes on (meaning the boiler is starting its heat cycle), Do the following: start your timer, turn off the Hot Water switch, close the steam valve.
  5. After 1 minute has elapsed*, start your shot. Watch your timer for proper extraction time (I shoot for 20-25 seconds). Folks have experimented with varying times; 20, 30, 50, 50 seconds. I like 1 minute after the boiler light has come on, but almost everyone else seems to prefer 40+ seconds.The boiler light should go on for 1 minute to 1:30, so you can also do this without a timer by simply starting the shot as soon as the boiler goes off. *Note – I used to use a shorter interval, but after a lot of testing I like a longer 1 minute +, which according to my thermocouple allows the water to get up to true espresso extraction temperature.

-A variation: I actually do Step 2 during the 1 minute time after the orange light kicks on. I don’t like the coffee to sit in the portafilter any longer than it has to!
-Props to the alt.coffee folks who posted and refined this “temperature surfing” Silvia technique, starting with Greg Scace back in 2000. And Randy. This is basically what we used to recommend with the lever-pull Pavoni machines, and you can adapt this technique to work with other single-boiler home machines.

Hacking the Silvia

You can turn the Silvia into a monstrously good espresso machine by adding a PID (I am told it means either “Proportional, Integral, Derivative” or “Programmable Input Device”) to maintain brew head temperature. You don’t have to … you can use the more intuitive/primitive method above with the same results. But if you are a techie and like to customize, you may really enjoy the process, and the results, of a PID’ed Silvia. This will cost you about $150-$175 to carry out. There are numerous web pages describing this technique. But beware that if you hack the Silvia, you void its warranty! Here are some useful links for hacked Silvia – if you have another Silvia resource people would find useful, please let me know…

  • http://www.murphyslawonline.com/silvia.html
  • http://www.digidive.com/coffee/index.html
  • and Mark Prince’s elaborate, effective Silvia technique -awesome pictures
  • There’s a great user-info/FAQ Silvia page at http://homepage.mac.com/jrc/contrib/rancilio_silvia/
  • Terry Stockdale has advice on PIDing a Silvia as well as plumbing it to auto-fill with water and reset the thermostat.

We are an authorized Rancilio dealer, and provide service for the Silvia. We back up the machine with a 1 year warranty covering parts and repair in case of any malfunction due to defect in the machine. Treat her well and we will treat you well!

We also have a lot of information about making espresso in general on our Espresso Pages