Espresso

Rancillio Silvia Espresso Maker Review!!

Makes great espresso and offers plenty of control over the brewing process.

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Introduction

The Rancilio Silvia is a favorite of espresso enthusiasts, as it makes great espresso and offers plenty of control over the brewing process.

Design Overview

The Silvia has an old-school approach to design, offering big clicky switches and large dials rather than LCD screens or touch buttons. But it isn’t some ugly piece of industrial machinery: it looks smart enough to fit nicely into a modern kitchen.

Front

Front Photo

Sides

Sides Photo

Top

Top Photo

Controls

Controls 1 Photo

Water Reservoir

Water Reservoir Photo

In the Box

In The Box Photo

As well as the espresso maker itself, you get a bean scoop, the portafilter and two filters, one for a single shot and one for a double.

Performance Overview

Excellent performance overall, producing great espresso with plenty of crema and nicely steamed milk with good foam.

Espresso Speed

The is a little slower than some other machines: we found that it took about 47 seconds to produce a single or double shot. That includes the time to tamp the coffe grinds, place the portafilter, start the machine and wait for the shot to be produced. More on how we test the brewing process.

Espresso Quality

The produced excellent espresso from our reference espresso beans, with good color and a nice thick, fine layer of crema on the top. It does require some work to get this quality, though, as the brewing process is very dependent on things like tamping the grinds correctly. The bottom line is that this is an espresso machine that rewards patience and practice, with the best result coming from trying different approaches and determining which works best for you.

We don't judge the taste of the espresso (that depends on the beans and is a matter of persona preference), but we do look at the strength of the shots by testing the percentage of TDS (Total Dissolved Solids). The higher this percentage is, the stronger the shot is, and we score on the range of strengths that each espresso maker can produce. We found that the was capable of producing a good range of strengths, from a strong 7.1% TDS single shot down to a much weaker large shot with a 3.2% TDS. This means that this machine can produce a good range of strengths of espresso to suit the taste of the user. More on how we test the brewing process.

Espresso Shot Photo

A double shot brewed by the Rancilio Silvia

Espresso Quantity

Because this is a semi-automatic machine, it can produce any quantity from a single shot to a triple shot. The size of the shot is determined by how quickly your turn off the boiler control, and it will keep going for as long as you want if you leave it turned on. You could even take it further and leave it running to produce up to two liters of espresso, but we wouldn't really recommend it. More on how we test the brewing process.

Milk & Foam

The includes a steam wand that can be used to steam and foam milk. Unlike most espresso makers, this does not include a foamer (the device on the end of the steam wand that injects air to help create the foam), so you have to use it the way your barista does by using the steam wand on the surface of the milk to get the foam going, then pushing it deeper to create the rolling boil of milk that makes the microfoam (the foam with small bubbles that is needed to make drinks like lattes). This takes some practice, but it produces better results in the long run by producing more consistent microfoam than a foamer. So you can get better foam out of a steam wand like this, but it takes more thought and practice than other models. The dial on the front of the machine allows you to control the amount of steam, from a small gust up to a raging torrent.

Related content

There are things that you should watch out for here. Firstly, the steam wand has a tendency to spit out a quantity of hot water when you first turn it on, so you need to be careful and run it for a few seconds before you start using it on the milk. It is also noisy, making a noise rather like a banshee on a battlefield while you are steaming the milk.

Foam Photo

A latte macchiato brewed by the Rancilio Silvia

Usability Overview

The Rancilio Silvia is not an easy machine to use; it requires practice and thought.

Cleaning & Maintenance

Cleaning & Maintenance Photo

The requires regular cleaning; you have to clean out the filter after every use, and wipe the hot milk off the steam wand as well. Neither process takes a long time, but it does involve more work than the fully automatic espresso makers. You also have to keep the water reservoir filled, but that is less of a problem as it is so large.

Customization

Although there are few controls on this machine, you can customize it. The dial of the steam wand allows you to regulate the steam and hot water flow, and the manufacturers provide instructions for the serious user who wants to open the machine up and increase the pressure in the boiler. There is also a thriving community of people who hack their Silivas, adding new temperature controllers and other features.

Other Features

Other Features 1 Photo

Hot Water - The can dispense hot water as well as steam from the steam wand.

Comparison Overview

This is an interesting comparison between the automatic (the Gaggia Platinum Vision) and the manual (the Rancillio Silivia). Both approaches have their pros: the automatic Gaggia is much easier to use and would be great for casual drinkers, while the Ranciilio Silvia produces a better shot and milk overall. But they both have their downsides too: the Gaggia is double the price of the Rancillio, and the Rancillio takes a lot longer to clean up before and after use. Really, the decision comes down to which approach is more suited to the user.

Comparison Overview

Here we have an old-school manual espresso maker (the Rancilio Silvia) and a new pod-type machine (the illy). The illy is much more convenient than the Rancilio, needling less cleaning and preparation. It is also cheaper, being half the price. At least up front, that is: the pods that the illy uses are more expensive than the ground beans used by the Rancilio. However, you would need to drink a lot of espresso to make up the different. Really, it all comes down to the final result, and we found that the Rancilio was superior here, producing better espresso and doing a better job of foaming milk.

Comparison Overview

The Capresso Cafe is by far the cheaper espresso maker: priced at about $150, it is less than a third of the price of the Rancilio. But that saving doesn't count for much if the coffee it produces isn't much good, and that, unfortunately, is the case with the Capresso. It just isn't as good as the Rancilio, so if you can afford it, go for the more expensive machine.

Conclusion

The is not a beginners espresso machine: you can't just plug it in and pull a great shot. It needs practice to get the most out of it, but it rewards this with great performance and a killer shot of espresso. It doesn't have fancy features, but it has a boiler big enough to produce plenty of hot water and steam (although the single boiler does mean that you get some hot water with your steam). Overall, we were very impressed with the performance of this espresso machine, but that does come with a caveat of having to spend some time to learn how it works and how to get the best results.

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