An In-Depth Look at the Newest Rancilio Silvia Model
List Price: $649.99
Sale Price: Click here for best price
Availability: Click here for availability
I finally had a chance to sit down and conduct a thorough review of the current incarnation of the Rancilio Silvia home espresso machine, the V3. I have been using the Rancilio Silvia for over five years now, so when I sat down with the V3, or version 3, I primarily focused on the recent design changes to the machine over past versions.
As you’re likely aware, the Miss Silvia model has been a very good seller for Rancilio over the years since its first release and it has been a tremendously successful addition to the company’s product lineup. While many of their machines are commercial-grade, the Rancilio Silvia filled a very hot niche for the company. The machine blends many no-nonsense commercial features with the size, affordability, and user friendliness that so many home espresso enthusiasts demand.
What’s So Great About the Rancilio Silvia V3?
For starters, the machine is widely considered the absolute best in class for home espresso machines under $1,000. It comes housed in a no-frills stainless steel case which gives the machine a commercial look and feel.
The machine hits the scales at around 35 pounds which is primarily due to a solid internal steel frame and a heavy duty brass boiler. The boiler in the Rancilio Silvia places it squarely head and shoulders above other units in this price range. Additionally, the pump within the current V3 is extremely durable and should require no maintenance over the long haul.
The Rancilio Silvia is a very straightforward machine. Its focus on quality espresso extraction over bells and whistles eliminates many components which require replacement and maintenance. Most repairs, when and if necessary, can be carried out at home for those with a little mechanical inclination, but if you’re not handy with a screwdriver and light electronics there are authorized repair facilities throughout the country.
With the latest version of the machine, Rancilio made three primary changes: an enhanced ergonomic steam knob, a redesigned ergonomic portafilter handle, as well as a commercial-style articulating steam wand. Having used the V3 as well as the model produced prior to it, I can say that the articulating steam wand is by far the most valuable upgrade. The ability to shape the wand to fit frothing pitchers of various shapes and sizes is tremendously helpful when producing milk-based drinks. While the new portafilter handle and steam knob are visually pleasing and a nice touch when the unit is on your kitchen counter, they don’t add much functionality to the unit.
In terms of size, for a unit which produces coffee house quality espresso (or better depending on the coffee house), the Rancilio Silvia is a very space effective machine. After measuring the machine, dimensions are approximately 13.5 inches high, 9.5 inches wide, and 14 inches deep.
What’s Not So Great?
First, if you’re interested in a “pretty” machine with lots of chrome to impress your friends, the Rancilio Silvia isn’t for you. This unit focuses on producing great espresso and keeping the bells and whistles (and thus the price tag) to a minimum. Additionally, for a machine without lots of features, Miss Silvia does have a learning curve and takes some time to get used to. Our site is full of helpful tips and guides on using the machine and will hopefully help you to reduce this learning curve somewhat.
Also, because the Rancilio Silvia incorporates a heavy duty brass boiler and group head, it does take some time to warm up. Don’t expect to flip the power switch and have crema-rich espresso within five minutes. It is advisable to give the machine 20 to 30 minutes to properly warm. One way around this is to use a simple outlet timer and set it to power the machine on about 30 minutes before you plan to use it. NOTE: If you decide to use an outlet timer, ALWAYS make sure that only the power switch is activated and not the brew or steam switches. If your timer goes on and you’ve accidentally activated both the power and brew switches, your machine will turn on along with the pump and it will run dry.
- Commercial quality for under $1,000
- Heavy duty brass boiler
- Powerful pump unit
- Stainless steel construction
- Very durable
- No-frills look
- Takes time to warm properly
- Requires time to learn to use properly
A Recent Review of the Rancilio Silvia on Amazon:
“I’ve now had the RS for two days, and my wife and I are in love with it. I did a lot of research into espresso makers before deciding on this one. What caught my attention were comments from people who had owned the unit for many trouble-free years. Previously we tried different semi-automatic makers and got good coffee but found the units to be unreliable (notably the Cappresso Ultima). This time, we wanted barebones simplicity and reliability. So far, we feel we’ve got that with this maker.”
Housing: Stainless steel
Drip Tray: Stainless steel
Boiler material: Brass
Boiler type: Vibratory
Boiler Wattage: 952 watts
Boiler Volume: 12 ounces
Brew Group Material: Brass
Burn Out Protection: High limit switch
Portafilter Style: Commercial
Portafilter Material: Chrome plated brass
Basket Diameter: 58mm
Filter Baskets Included: Single and double
Water Reservoir: Removable 2 quart
I’ve debated for a while on whether or not it was appropriate to write an article on how to properly backflush the Rancilio Silvia. If you are not familiar with this cleaning and maintenance technique, it is essentially a way of removing oils and loose debris from the inaccessible areas of the brewing path within the Rancilio Silvia, most notably the brew head. This technique is somewhat debatable as to whether or not it is safe for the Rancilio Silvia and the manufacturer specifically states not to use this technique for regular cleaning and maintenance. However, I find it a necessary step in my regular maintenance schedule for my Rancilio Silvia and have used this method with no issues. In my opinion, it’s a very good procedure for prolonging the useful life of your machine and for producing quality espresso.
So What is Backflushing?
Backflushing involves using a cleaning agent and a “blind” filter basket or backlflush insert to force hot pressurized water and cleaner back up into the brew head of the Rancilio Silvia or any other machine with a 3-way valve. It’s important to understand how to carry out this technique properly and what cleaning agents and tools are necessary to backflush your machine.
Let’s Get Started
If you’ve decided to follow suit and rid your machine of lingering debris and oils, we’ll take a brief look at how to conduct proper backflushing with your machine. First, you’ll need a few materials.
Cleaning agent: There are several cleaning agents available for espresso machines, however, for backflushing you need a good, strong cleaner which is suitable for this purpose alone. These cleaners are not to be used in the water reservoir or run through the machine itself. I am currently using Urnex Cafiza for backflushing my machine and it has worked very well. Again, the product states that it is not for use in the water tank.
Backflush insert: This is a necessary tool for proper backflushing and is relatively inexpensive. It’s basically a portafilter basket with no holes for water to pass through, therefore it creates the backpressure necessary to clean the brew head. Espresso Supply sells a 58-millimeter backflush insert that fits in the Rancilio Silvia portafilter.
Grouphead brush: If you currently own a Rancilio Silvia or another home espresso machine, you may already have a favorite grouphead brush. I’ve been using the Rattleware 7-inch brush for a couple of years now and it works well.
Here We Go!
1. Remove the shower screen and let it soak in a small bowl with the cleaning solution for a few minutes by itself. You can give it a scrub with the grouphead brush as well.
2. Using your grouphead brush and a small bowl of cleaning solution, clean the brewhead and gasket. You don’t need to spend a great deal of time scrubbing, you just want to remove as much of the loose debris and residue as you can to prevent it from traveling back into the machine during the backflushing process.
3. Rinse the shower screen well and reinstall it into the grouphead.
4. Power on and warm the machine.
5. Insert the backflush insert into the portafilter.
6. Mix some of the cleaning agent in hot water and pour a small amount into the backflush insert. Lock the portafilter into place in the grouphead securely.
7. Hit the brew switch and let the pump start only for a few seconds. I find that the pressure is sufficient after about 5 seconds or so. Turn off the brew switch.
8. After about 10 seconds, repeat this process. I typically repeat these two steps until there are a few suds from the cleaning solution dripping out of the portafilter, which tends to happen after 5 or 6 cycles.
9. Let the machine sit for about 10 minutes
10. Empty the backflush insert, rinse the insert and portafilter, and fill with a little clean water and repeat 2 or 3 cycles of the previous steps, using clean water in place of the cleaning solution.
11. Remove the portafilter and take the backflush insert out. Rinse the portafilter thoroughly.
12. With no portafilter in place, place a small bowl below the grouphead and run clean water through the machine by turning on the brew cycle for 30 seconds.
13. Next, I typically pull a throw-away shot to ensure that my next espresso is free of any remaining cleaning agent.
And that’s it. Backflushing is a good way to ensure that the oils and loose grinds from regular usage don’t build up and contaminate your espresso. Proper cleaning and maintenance of the Rancilio Silvia are critical to ensure that your machine keeps producing great coffee for years to come.
The primary impetus for purchasing my Rancilio Silvia and learning to make good espresso at home was to have control over my coffee and the process. Several years ago, after getting familiar with my Rancilio Silvia and learning proper espresso techniques, I had an interesting thought. The home espresso experience really only focuses on the tail end of the coffee spectrum. We purchase roasted beans and use our technological tools and technique to produce the end result: great espresso. However, after a two week trip to Tanzania during which I was able to witness coffee production literally at its root, I began wanting to at least take a small step up the coffee chain and add one more element of control over the process: roasting.
If you own are considering purchasing a Rancilio Silvia, you’re obviously serious about good coffee at home. Through home roasting, you can add some influence to the end result and begin to enjoy what is really a fun hobby. Home roasting can be made as elemental or complex as you prefer as there are several different methods of roasting coffee beans.
To be honest, I began with two of the simplest methods of roasting espresso to use in my Rancilio Silvia: the HG/DB technique and popcorn roasters. The HG/DB technique is also referred to as the “heat gun dog bowl technique” because, well, you roast the coffee in a dog bowl with a heat gun. Simple enough, right? I am apparently slightly allergic to burning coffee chaff that blows off during the process, so for me standing right over the roast and manually stirring wasn’t the greatest idea in the world. After this discovery, I started going to thrift shops and purchasing old popcorn poppers which can be wonderfully modified and used to roast small batches of espresso at home.
If you’re interested in trying home roasting for your Rancilio Silvia or other home espresso unit, there are many resources online to get you started. Regardless of whether you choose to go the thrift store route or start off with a dedicated home roasting unit, which I have done, it’s not a bad idea to start with one of these two elementary methods to learn about coffee roasting technique. Additionally, you’re probably going to ruin a couple of batches in the early days and these two methods allow you to do that in small quantities as opposed to scorching a pound of green beans at a time.
After learning to roast coffee in small quantities and deciding that I really wanted to begin roasting larger batches, I subsequently moved on to the IRoast home coffee roaster. I looked at several different models and read loads of reviews and finally settled on this unit as it roasts just enough espresso to get me through a few days and has several terrific built in programs, including a cooling cycle.
There are a few benefits to roasting at home. The first is that you always have fresh espresso. To get rich, crema-laden goodness from the Rancilio Silvia you need freshly roasted beans and after realizing that I was spending $30 a month for beans online, I decided it was actually more economical to at least roast some coffee at home. Additionally, as mentioned above, it gets you involved in the process. And if you’re a tinkerer, it’s a natural step in your coffee geek progression.
If you’re serious about great espresso and are interested in getting a little more involved in the process, consider doing some research on roasting your own beans at home. It’s a great way to enhance your home espresso experience and always have freshly roasted beans on hand for your Rancilio Silvia.
One of the most popular aftermarket modifications for the Rancilio Silvia is the PID kit. The PID, or proportional integral derivative, unit is an electronic device which can be installed on the Rancilio Silvia to offer added control over the boiler heating element within the machine.
Once installed, the device will adjust the boiler temperature within the machine in small calculated increments, which achieves a predetermined temperature referred to as the set value. Essentially, the micro-management of the internal boiler temperature provides the user with incredibly stable temperatures and thus, better espresso. In a previous article, we discussed the inherent temperature range of the stock Rancilio Silvia as well as the reasons why a more stable boiler temperature increases the quality and flavor of the coffee.
The stock Rancilio Silvia controls the internal boiler temperature through the use of a mechanical thermostat and this out of the box unit actually allows the temperature within the boiler to swing by up to 40 degrees, which is a massive amount of fluctuation. The PID can generally maintain temperature stability within 1 degree and sometimes even less. Not bad, is it?
There are actually several additional benefits to installing a PID unit on your Rancilio Silvia as well. Many users believe that the increased temperature stability can decrease wear and tear on the machine and extend its useful life. This makes sense, as the stock temperature swings require the heating element and the boiler itself to undergo many large heating cycles. This brings up another benefit: energy usage. With the addition of a PID unit and the temperature stability it brings, you’re actually using less electricity. The heating element uses quite a bit of power to bring the boiler up to temperature during each heating cycle.
Some PID users also note that they need to descale their Rancilio Silvia less, since the boiler does not reach incredibly high temperatures which can lead to mineral scaling. Less scale within the boiler can extend its life as well.
But what about the real reason for considering a PID: better coffee? Consistency in temperature eliminates one of the largest variables in making good espresso. With a consistent and stable temperature, you can turn your focus to bean selection, grind settings, and tamping technique to refine your home espresso production. Aside from the brewing pressure, temperature is one variable which doesn’t rely on user technique, but machine function.
So how difficult is it to install? With the advent of Rancilio Silvia PID kits and their widespread availability through online vendors over the last few years, installation is relatively simple for the mechanically inclined. Generally, the kits which are available on the market come with excellent detailed instructions which include in-depth photos to aid you in the process. Most users who have carried out the installation themselves state that it’s about a 3 hours process to have the PID installed and functional.
If you’re serious about making great espresso with your Rancilio Silvia and are a tinkerer by nature, check out the PID kits online and think about taking that next step to the perfect shot!
While I may never be invited to give the keynote address at the commencement ceremonies of Latte Art University, I have been practicing what vaguely resembles latte art with my Rancilio Silvia for several years now. As you know, the Rancilio Silvia is an outstanding machine for producing steamed milk and with several other key variables lined up just so, it can churn out very fine and consistent microfoam, which is required for etching your latte art creations.
For those who aren’t aware of just what we mean by “latte art”, we use this term to refer to the process of pouring steamed milk into brewed espresso for a latte beverage, while simultaneously pouring from the frothing pitcher with a technique that leaves an intricately laced design in contrasting brown and white tones atop the cup. Achieving latte art with your Rancilio Silvia is completely within reach, but it takes loads of practice. When I first began, every latte turned out with a unique result and I never lost the opportunity to exclaim to my wife that the blob sitting atop her latte cup was a “cloud” or an “apple that had fallen from the tree onto a concrete sidewalk, thus flattening one side”. One tool that can help with latte art is a properly shaped frothing pitcher. I am currently using the Rattleware 12 ounce latte art pitcher. I have found it to be a very manageable size and it’s relatively inexpensive at around $17 new.
Let’s take a look at the technique involved so that you can start producing your own beautiful sidewalk apples.
To pour latte art, its necessary two begin with two key ingredients: proper espresso and milk which has been consistently steamed to a silky microfoam texture. We’re assuming here that you’ve had plenty of practice with these two ingredients. Generally, it’s best to have pulled your espresso shot into a wide-mouth cup, preferably 6 to 12 ounces. This is of personal preference, but as you practice, you’ll undoubtedly gravitate toward the size which you find the best to work with. A nice wide mouth will give you room to pour while also watching your technique as it unfolds.
1.Beginning with your espresso and cup in your non-dominant hand, tilt the cup slightly up in the back so that the front of the cup is lowered and nearest you (about 30 degrees).
2.Grasp the frothing pitcher in your pouring hand and slightly lift from the elbow to begin pouring into the center of the cup. It may be helpful to begin with the frothing pitcher resting on the rim of the cup.
3. As the cup reaches one-half to three-quarters full, you need to begin to swing the pitcher slightly back and forth from side to side, rotating from the wrist. As you pour and swing at the same time, keep the pour relatively close to the center of the cup, allowing the “leaves” of the milk to float outward away from your pour.
4. As you come toward the end of the pour, begin to tighten your swing to allow less side to side movement and gradually draw the mouth of the pitcher back toward you and to the side of the cup.
5. At this point, you want to raise the pitcher slightly and take it straight across the cup (away from you) to the opposite edge of the cup. This draws the final “stem” through the leaves which have formed from your side to side swing of the pitcher.
6. Drink up.
You may find it helpful to begin this process by practicing with water so that you don’t waste gallon upon gallon of milk. However, with practice and a steady hand, you’ll be producing fine latte art from your Rancilio Silvia in no time.
If you’ve been reading this site for any amount of time, you’ll understand that my affinity for the Rancilio Silvia is unparalleled with respect to nearly anything else relating to coffee. However, in all fairness I though it was time that we took a look at possible alternatives to the Rancilio Silvia, meaning home espresso machines under $1,000, to discuss what other machines are currently on the market and how they stack up. The Rancilio Silvia is an amazing machine, but it may not suit everyone. Let’s take a look at three of the current top sellers in the sub-$1,000 range and how they compare to Miss Silvia.
Nuova Simonelli Oscar
Nuova Simonelli’s first model was produced in Italy by Orlando Simonelli in 1936 and since then, the company has had many hits, including the Oscar. While it’s current price is right at $1,000, it does offer a few notable features that make it a worthy adversary to the Rancilio Silvia as well as a few drawbacks.
First, the Oscar utilizes an HX (heat exchanger) boiler, which is the gold standard found in most commercial espresso machines. Essentially, as the boiler approaches its optimal temperature, it is filled with one half hot water and one half pressurized dry steam. As the water passes through a pipe that is enclosed in the horizontally-seated boiler housing, it is flash heated to the predetermined brewing temperature, thus coined the “heat exchange” method. This method provides expectational temperature stability and offers unlimited steaming capabilities. Steam is constantly available by opening the steam wand (as opposed to the necessity with the Rancilio Silvia to turn on the steam function), and you can even steam and brew simultaneously.
One of the drawbacks of the Oscar is the lack of a hot water dispenser. Additionally, while its plastic housing allows for you to choose from trendy colors, it doesn’t command the respect and authority of the stainless steel housing in which Miss Silvia is draped. For full specs on the Nuova Simonelli Oscar, click here.
Pasquini Livietta T2
Pasquini tends to specialize in high-end home espresso machines, but the price is right with the Livietta T2 at around Just over $1,000. This stunningly beautiful machine does come housed in steel and has a similar look and feel to the Rancilio Silvia. It has many of the same features, although interestingly enough it uses a 57mm portafilter basket.
The Livietta incorporates dual thermoblock heating elements and is therefore know to be an absolute heat demon. The company claims that it’s ready for brewing in as little as 2 minutes after start up, although it would be wise to allow time for a proper heating. This does make the availability of steam more plentiful than with the Rancilio Silvia. It also comes standard with a 15 bar pump which provides stable and consistent brewing pressure. For additional specs and features of the Livietta T2, click here.
Gaggia Baby Twin
Gaggia has long been a staple producer of sub-$1000 home espresso machines with several major hits, including the Classic and the current incarnation of the Baby series, the Gaggia Baby Twin.
The Baby Twin comes in stainless steel construction and its key selling point is the namesake dual boilers. One boiler retains hot water for espresso brewing while the second boiler produces steam for frothing. There’s no need to flip a switch and wait for steam to come up to temperature while your espresso gets cold. The Baby Twin also incorporate a nifty iPod-esque touch ring control panel for a hint of modern European flair which also allows for adjustable programming. For a full list of features on the Baby Twin, click here.
The Bay Twin comes with a standard 58mm portafilter, class-standard 15 bar vibratory pump, and 3-way solenoid valve as with all models in this range. Its current price is very budget friendly at just under $600.
So there you have it. While the Rancilio Silvia may be the top-selling sub-$1000 home espresso machine, the field is filled with contenders to meet your unique home espresso requirements.
In our previous article, we discussed choosing a frothing pitcher to pair with your Rancilio Silvia and we’re going to continue the accessory discussion by exploring the importance of choosing a tamper. The tamper that comes with the Rancilio Silvia is a thin, plastic model which you should discard as soon as you open the box. For a proper tamp, you will need something with more weight, good shape, and a comfortable handle. Let’s take a look at what goes into choosing a tamper for use with your Rancilio Silvia.
First, the size…
Tampers are sold in different sizes according to the diameter of the head (or base surface) of the device. This size will indicate the amount of surface area which will be used to place pressure on the coffee puck. Ideally, you want a tamper which fits into the portafilter basket with as little room between the tamper surface and the basket rim as possible, but you don’t want it so tight that you can’t fit the tamper all the way down into the basket.
For the stock Rancilio Silvia portafilter basket, the proper size in most tampers is 58mm. Be aware that slight variations in the machining process among manufacturers can also cause minute variations in diameter. I once order an inexpensive 58mm tamper that was actually slightly over 58mm and consequently did not fit all the way down into the basket. However, with reputable tamper makers, 58mm is a very common commercial size portafilter basket and as such, if you spend a little extra on a nice tamper, it should fit your basket.
Base shape…up for debate.
There are several variations of base shape that you can select from when purchasing a tamper for your Rancilio Silvia. However, the two fundamental shapes which all of the others provide a variation of are flat and curved. Essentially, the curved base leaves a slightly deeper impression in the center of the puck to provide some room for the initial extraction pressure to build and force outward through the puck. The flat base, well, I shouldn’t have to explain this in detail. It creates a consistently smooth surface across the top of the puck.
You could take the debate between flat and curved tamper bases to the Barista Supreme Court and you are unlikely to find a judge who will stake their career on one being better than the other. The general consensus is that it is not of particular significance. I prefer using a nice flat base as I can see how even the tamp is with a quick look and I believe that generally it creates a puck less prone to channeling. The flat base is a good place to start.
Bases come in different metals, too!
You can choose from a variety of metals of which your tamper base is constructed as well. Common bases are made from aluminum or stainless steel, but you can also find them in brass and copper construction. Obviously, these all sell at different price points. I prefer something inexpensive with a bit more weight, so I’ve always opted for stainless steel.
Now for a touch of style…
The final consideration when choosing a tamper is the handle. This is where you can have some fun and add a touch of personalization. Handles vary in size, shape, and construction, with tamper handles available in all types of metal and wood. You may also elect to add a personalized logo or engraving on the top of your tamper handle. No discussion on tampers would be complete without alluding to Reg Barber, the tamper king. On the Reg Barber website, you can customize to your heart’s delight.
Although it may not be the most critical espresso accessory, choosing the right tamper for your Rancilio Silvia is an opportunity to add a personal touch to the accessories that sit on your home espresso bar.
If you own or have used a Rancilio Silvia, you’ll already be aware that the machine is capable of producing outstanding microfoam in the right hands. When it comes to milk-based espresso drinks, the Rancilio Silvia (all versions, really) can produce top-notch lattes, cappuccinos, and, my personal favorite, machiattos. The crux of steaming milk properly, however, lies in a combination of technique and equipment. And as far as equipment goes, there is only one tool needed: the frothing pitcher.
Although it seems simple in function and design, certain elements of the frothing pitcher which you select can have marked impacts on your ability to produce fine microfoam for your beverage of choice. We’ll soon be posting an article in proper frothing techniques in which we’ll also have some fun introducing the basic methods for latte art, however, we first need to explore frothing pitchers, both is size and shape.
Generally, users of the Rancilio Silvia (myself included) produce very small batches of espresso beverages. Let’s face it: this is not designed to be a machine which can crank out a dozen various drinks for a post-dinner party treat. Miss Silvia is really meant to be fired up a couple of times a day for two or three drinks at a time.
Size Does Matter…
You very well may elect to use a smaller 12 ounce frothing pitcher if you’re only producing one-off drinks. I typically prefer the macchiatto, and as such can get by with a very small pitcher in which I tend to stretch the volume of the milk quite drastically. The general rule of thumb with pitcher size is that you need enough room to allow the volume of milk within the vessel to double and also a bit of room to spare so that you prevent spillage when tilting under the stream wand. For my machiatto and any other milk-based rinks, I use the Rattleware 12 ounce Latte Art Pitcher. It’s a great all around pitcher for making one or two beverages at a time and is pretty inexpensive at around $17. My experience has been that the larger the pitcher you use, the more difficult it is to get proper microfoam. If you’re just starting out in learning to properly steam milk, I would recommend a small pitcher and an ideal starting point is 12 ounces.
…But Shape Matters Too!
The second critical element in selecting a frothing pitcher to pair with your Rancilio Silvia is the shape of the vessel. There are several shapes available on the market, with the most common basic shapes being straight and bell-shaped. Generally, the straight-sided pitcher is a great starting point. While the bell-shaped vessels accommodate more swirling within the pitcher, I have found the straight-sided vessels to create more consistent microfoam throughout the milk and additionally, they are easier to pour from.
Secondly, the shape of the spout can vary and have an impact on your drinks. As far as spouts go, I would recommend that you choose something more pronounced. This gives you much more control over the pour and down the road once you’re ready to start your latte art journey, this can give you more precision and control over pour volume and rate.
Frothing pitchers are actually rather inexpensive in the grand scheme of coffee obsession, so if you’re undecided on what might work best for you, try a couple out. While it seems like such as simple decision, this straightforward piece of equipment can have a drastic impact on the quality of espresso beverages from your Rancilio Silvia.
As you’re no doubt aware by now, the Rancilio Silvia V3, or version 3, has been on the market for some time now and I finally had a chance to test one out while visiting a friend for SXSW a couple of weeks ago. No, I don’t own it yet, but it’s an absolutely beautiful redesign and if you don’t already own a previous version of the Rancilio Silvia and are in the market for a new machine, you’re lucky to have waited until this version was available. If you’re looking for a great price and free shipping, be sure to visit Amazon. Currently, the machine can be found there for as low as $649 and there are also several packages which include accessories such as tamper and frothing pitchers.
So what’s the deal? Why is the Rancilio Silvia V3 a great redesign from previous versions?
Rancilio has had a strong historical track record of listening to its customers suggestions, complaints, and desires. This feedback driven engineering process has been responsible for some of the most important feature redesigns in the history of Miss Silvia, such as the inclusion of the adjustable pressure valve in the 2005 redesign. Obviously, this is a very durable machine that has all of the makings of a commercial grade product scaled down to home usage, so only relatively minor tweaks have been required over the years to build on the existing loyal customer base.
First, the new steam wand…
The commercial articulating steam wand was previously only available as an aftermarket upgrade to the tune of about $65 USD. This new steam wand is now standard on the Rancilio Silvia V3 and allows for an extended range of movement. I tested it out and found this to be an absolutely joyous addition to this new model. Now the steam wand can be flexed and rotated into position to accommodate nearly any shape of steam pitcher. I did find that it’s a bit more difficult to reach the bottom of larger pitchers with this wand, but for me that isn’t really a big drawback as I tend to almost always utilize smaller pitchers for one-off lattes or cappuccinos.
Let’s face it, the steam knob is pretty sweet, too…
Ok, so this is largely a cosmetic enhancement, but I have no doubt looked at the cheap black plastic knob on my own Rancilio Silvia and wondered…”really?” At one point, I actually wanted to fabricate a new knob from an 8-ball for customization. However, the new silver, contoured steam knob adds a touch of coffee shop commercial flair to the machine that won’t leave you in the basement with a power drill, some hardware, and a 1968 Chevy shifter knob.
The portafilter…might as well
So when I saw the new portafilter, I was actually surprised that they made the decision to upgrade to an ergonomic shape and styling as I rather prefer my existing model a littler better, but it is an aesthetically pleasing feature. I can’t say that I handle mine enough to really need it to be shaped to fit in my palm, but it is a nice touch that enhances the overall look of this beautiful machine.
For a full list of new features and reviews of the machine, click here.
If you’re currently in the market for a new machine, you are definitely in luck. The Rancilio Silvia just seems to keep getting better and better as the years roll on and with the V3, you’ll have a newly redesigned unit that should keep you happy for a long, long time.
The last article in our perfect shot walk through series for the Rancilio Silvia is here. In this article, we’re going to focus on proper extraction timing as the last step in getting a great shot of espresso from your Rancilio Silvia.
Why is Timing Important?
Generally, when you pull a shot of espresso, the timing of the actual pull will dictate the flavor profile of the finished product. If the shot is too short (meaning water passes through the coffee too quickly), you will not extract enough flavor from the espresso. When the shot is too long, it will result in a bitter flavor profile in the cup.
The optimal time of extraction for great espresso is around 18 to 23 seconds per ounce of espresso yielded. Obviously as with all things coffee, this is a matter of personal taste, but this gives you a good starting point. Some espresso enthusiasts prefer the ristretto, or restricted, shot which produced a powerfully sweet flavor profile when done properly. Others may opt for the lungo, or long pull, which produces more water content within the espresso and a slightly more bitter taste.
How to Get it Right
Unfortunately, timing espresso extraction properly with your Rancilio Silvia is perhaps one of the more difficult achievements. The simple reasoning behind this is that all of the other factors which we’ve discussed leading up to this point have a direct impact on this component. You can flip the brew switch on for 18 to 23 seconds very easily, but the product which is produced is at the mercy of your choice of blend, grind setting, dosing, tamping, temperature, and pressure. Quite honestly, it just takes experimentation. And you will have to go through calibration shots just about every time you switch beans.
It simply boils down to practice. To get the perfect 1.6 ounce shot of espresso in 18 to 23 seconds without blonding or channeling, you’ll simply need to experiment with your blend, dosing, tamp, and grinder settings. Think of this as the grade which is applied to all of the rest of your barista techniques. If you have lined everything else up correctly, you’ll get your A+ as a reward.
By incorporating all of the steps we’ve outlined within this perfect shot walk through series, you’ll be a professional home barista with your Rancilio Silvia in no time!
The next step of our perfect shot walk through for the Rancilio Silvia hinges on getting proper brewing pressure from your machine. In its past, the Rancilio Silvia has had some notoriety for the excessive amounts of pressure it produced. The correct pressure for good espresso extraction should be at around 8.5 to 9 bar of pressure. This creates the ideal environment for flavor extraction from the coffee itself, which when coupled with temperature, sets up a great shot of espresso.
Prior to some modifications made around 2005, the Rancilio Silvia often tested out at pressures of around 11 bar. This obviously forces the water through the puck too forcefully and created havoc with shots and quite a bit of channeling as the espresso was drawn. However, during the modifications in that year, Rancilio incorporated a newly designed pressure regulator which worked wonders. Now the Rancilio Silvia comes out of the box with the more appropriate 8.5 to 9 bar as it continues to today.
There is, however, still some variability in the pressure produced. If you own a newer model Silvia and want to really dial in the pressure which the machine produces, there are some options to do so. The newer models of the Rancilio Silvia come with an adjustable OPV, or pressure valve.
Here are the basic steps for modifying the pressure on the Rancilio Silvia:
- Be sure to shut off the machine and unplug the power cord.
- Take out the plastic water tank and remove the top panel of the machine by loosening the screws.
- Find the pressure regulator, which is a brass colored cylinder with an elbow that leads directly into the boiler. The locknut at the end closest to the plastic tubing is the adjustment mechanism.
- Using a small crescent wrench, you can turn the adjustment mechanism to vary the pressure in the regulator. By tightening the nut, you are increasing the spring pressure and subsequently increasing the pressure. By loosening, you’re going to take tension off of the spring in the regulator and reduce the amount of pressure.
- Be sure to check that you haven’t loosened the adjustment nut too far and created a pressure leak.
- Put the top of the machine back in place, tighten the screws down, and replace the water tank. That’s it!
As you can see, with later model units, there really isn’t much to adjusting the boiler pressure. If you would like to test the pressure, there are calibration units available which lock into place on your group head and give you an indication of brewing pressure. By taking a little time to experiment with the adjustable pressure valve, you’ll sometimes notice big differences in the taste of the espresso you make with your Rancilio Silvia.
Once again, we’re continuing our perfect shot walk through tour and this time we’re going to take a look at how to maintain a proper boiler temperature with your Rancilio Silvia. The temperature within the boiler of your Rancilio Silvia is crucial in creating a perfect shot of espresso and there are a few methods for doing this which range from low-tech to super-geek, so let’s look at a couple of these and you can evaluate how you are going to approach achieving a consistent temperature with your Rancilio Silvia.
First, a look at why temperature is important…
Believe it or not, the temperature of the water which is used during the extraction of your espresso can have a tendency to accentuate and elicit certain strong flavors from the coffee. Generally speaking, a high water temperature tends to being out bitter flavors while a low temperature accentuates the more acidic range of the coffee’s flavor profile. Thus, to produced a balanced flavor from your origin or blend of choice, maintaining a suitable and stable temperature is critical. Generally, the widely accepted starting point for proper espresso extraction from most blends is 228°F, or 109°C.
How the Rancilio Silvia manages temperature…
Miss Silvia employs a single brass boiler which incorporates a simple thermostat. The heavy-duty brass boiler is capable of incredibly consistent heat management, however, the thermostat range varies by quite a few degrees. Essentially, once the machine is turned on, the heating element is activated and brings the boiler up to the top range of its temperature cycle. Once the boiler temperature reaches the lower end of the range, the thermostat kicks the heating element on and brings the temperature back up.
How you can manage temperature with the Rancilio Silvia…
Now, the temperature range from one machine to the next can vary somewhat, but straight out of the box, Miss Silvia tends to range from 210°F to 240°F (99°C to 116°C). This is a huge range of fluctuation. Since we want to brew at about 228°F (109°C), we need to find a way to manage the temperature of extraction. The simplest method of achieving the proper temperature is known as temperature surfing. In essence, we’re simply trying to start the brew cycle at the appropriately timed point in the boiler’s temperature cycle itself, or as close to 228°F (109°C) as we can get by guessing. Here are the steps involved:
*Let the machine warm up fully. This should take 20 to 30 minutes.
* Tamp your ground espresso into the portafilter and lock it into place in the group head.
*Place a small bowl or cup under the steam wand and open the valve completely. Flip the hot water switch on (not the brew switch). Once the orange light turns on indicating that the boiler is beginning to heat again, shut off the hot water switch and close the steam valve.
*As soon as the orange light comes on, activate a timer or stopwatch that indicates seconds. I use the stopwatch in the clock app on the iPhone for this.
*When the timer or stopwatch reaches 60 seconds after the heating element has turned on, it’s time to brew your shot. Follow the rest of the steps in the perfect shot walk through for proper extraction time. Generally, the orange light stays on for around 60 seconds, indicating that the light (and heating element) will shut off right at about 1 minute, however, I still like to time it as it can vary depending on how long the machine has been on.
Since the top end of the boiler cycle tends to hover around 240°F (116°C) and you’re going to lose about 20°F as the water moves through the machine and into the portafilter, this is going to put your temperature in the portafilter very close to 220°F (104°C).
If you’ve spent any amount of time reading about the Rancilio Silvia on the internet, you’re probably aware that there are electronic methods of stabilizing the temperature within the boiler to a range of less than +/-1F. Many vendors online offer what’s known as a PID kit for the machine (proportional, integral, and derivative controller). This unit essentially manages the intervals of the heating element’s on and off cycle to maintain and stabilize boiler temperature and allows it to stay on for several sections or even a fraction of a second depending on what is required to maintain the stable temperature. Temperature input is managed by an electronic unit mounted in the face of the machine and you can experiment with various temperatures for your origin or blend of choice. These units vary in price, but tend to go for around $300USD. They’re relatively easy to install and well worth the investment if you’re serious about proper home espresso extraction.
So there you have it. Proper temperature is critical to a great shot of espresso from the Rancilio Silvia, but with a little practice (or $300), you can mitigate this variable and produce excellent espresso every time.
As the next step of our perfect shot walk through for the Rancilio Silvia, we’re going to explore proper tamping methods. This is an often overlooked element of home espresso production, however, getting your tamping technique right is absolutely critical to pulling a good shot with your Rancilio Silvia.
Tamping refers to the technique by which you apply manual pressure to the coffee grinds in the portafilter to produce a nice, even pellet of coffee through which the heated and pressurized water will travel. A good tamp will create a perfectly even puck of coffee grinds through which the water extracts an optimal amount of flavor. It’s really a fine line. If you tamp too hard, you’ll choke the machine, your shot will take too long to pull, and you’ll end up with an uneven flavor profile. Tamp too lightly and just the opposite occurs. Too much water runs through the coffee too quickly and you end up with a watery shot with no flavor. Getting your tamping technique down is thus a key factor in tasty espresso from your Rancilio Silvia.
After you’ve dosed your coffee grinds into the portafiler, you’re going to have a heap of loose coffee. The trick is to distribute that coffee evenly throughout the portafilter, right up to the edges, so that the water has nowhere to travel but nice and evenly right down through the puck.
The first step is to lightly even out the grounds without pressing at all. Try to distribute the loose coffee throughout the portafilter by smoothing it with the edge of your finger. After you’ve done this, you can start your initial tamp. Placing the portafilter on a hard surface like the kitchen counter, place the base of the tamper in your palm. Keeping your wrist straight, apply an initial light tamp of about five pounds of pressure. If you want to be really precise (and I’d recommend trying this a few times even if everyone else in your household thinks you’ve lost your mind), try placing an empty portafilter on a scale and press down until the scale reads five pounds. After you do this a few times, you’ll get a feel for the proper amount of pressure for the initial tamp.
At this point, you’re going to have coffee ridges protruding up around the edges of the portafilter. With the base of the tamper, give the portafilter a gentle knock to loosen these grinds so that they fall back on to the surface of the coffee puck.
The last step is the finishing tamp. Again, place the portafilter back down on the counter, hold the base of the tamper in your palm with the tool perpendicular to the counter surface, and on this tamp apply an even 30 pounds of pressure. Again, using a scale to get a feel for this is a really good idea prior to tamping your espresso. At the end of the second tamp while continuing to apply pressure, apply a polishing technique by rotating the tamper surface in two complete circles. Essentially, you are creating a nice finished surface on which the heated and pressurized water will come into first contact with the coffee.
The two keys here are to apply pressure evenly while using the tamper and not to rush the process. Take your time with this. If you apply pressure unevenly, your extraction will be uneven across the puck and you’ll end up with channeling on one side or the other. While there are many different techniques for tamping, this is the generally accepted process. By perfecting your tamping technique with practice, and following the other steps of the perfect shot walk through, you’ll pull great espresso from your Rancilio Silvia every time.
After receiving several emails over the last two months regarding the addition of a forum at the Rancilio Silvia Review, we’re finally there! Our new forum is live and while we still have a couple of bugs to work out of the system, we now have a place for our loyal readers to grab a cup of coffee and chat about the Rancilio Silvia or just espresso in general. We hope that this becomes a valubale addition to the Rancilio Silvia Review as a place where our readers can share tips and tricks for enjoying the best home espresso experience. Simply click on the “Forum” tab at the top of the home page to access it.
As a little incentive to sign up, everyone who registers as a forum user prior to midnight (EST) on February 28th will be automatically entered into a drawing for ONE FREE POUND of BLACK CAT CLASSIC espresso from Intelligentsia Coffee! The drawing will held on March 1st and the winner will be announced and notified by email.
We plan to expand the number of topics over the coming weeks, so if there are any forum topics that you’d like to see added in the future, please contact us through the contact page and we’ll get those in the queue. For the time being, new requests to join the forum will go through moderator approval, but we’ll try to stay on top of those several times a day and get you approved and ready to start posting as quickly as possible.
This is the second article in our exploration of the perfect shot walk through for the Rancilio Silvia. In our last post at the Rancilio Silvia Review, we discussed the first factor of the perfect shot, bean selection. The second critical element, which we’ll discuss here, is ensuring that you use the proper grind setting.
When pulling espresso shots from the Rancilio Silvia or any other home espresso machine, one of the indications of good technique is how long the shot takes. As you may be aware, the ideal shot time is about 25 to 28 seconds. During this time, your machine should infuse the grinds with an initial burst of hot water and pressure, creating an environment which raises the temperature, moisture, and pressure within the portafilter for about 3 or 4 seconds before coffee begins to drip from the portafilter. After the coffee begins to extract into your cup, you want to see rich brown and red espresso extraction right up to about the 25 second mark. Once you see blonding of the espresso, you’ll know that you’ve reached the end of the extraction of the rich flavors within the grinds and that indicates the point at which you stop the shot. Ideally, this happens at around 25 to 28 seconds into the pull.
While the Rancilio Silvia is a terrific machine for achieving this timing, it’s easier said than done. The step to make this all work out just right is in your grinder setting selection. If you’ve chosen an adequate burr grinder to pair with your Rancilio Silvia (perhaps the Rancilio Rocky which is one of the best grinders in its class at $349), you will probably have a range of 2 to 4 “clicks” which are ideal for this process.
To be honest, there are far too many variables to discuss in detail as there are hundreds of grinders you can choose from and they all work differently. If you’ve used your grinder for some time, you will have a good starting point. Be prepared to waste some coffee during this process. When I have a new blend I want to try, I typically go straight to the most “open” or coarse setting that I know will fit into the espresso range. I pull a shot and shoot for the optimal 25 to 28 second extraction. It rarely happens on the first pull. I step over to a finer setting if the shot runs too quickly and try again. After this, I repeat until I’ve hit the 25 to 28 second shot. I generally nail it on the second or third pull from my Rancilio Silvia.
Once I have found the right setting for the blend I’m working with, I take a small arrow pointer sticker which I found in a craft section of a department store and mark that setting in case I need to readjust later in the day for drip coffee. Generally, every two or three days I move past the roast date of the espresso blend requires a small adjustment toward a finer setting. Use caution as moving to too fine a setting will choke your Rancilio Silvia, but if you start to get faster extraction as you move past the roast date of the beans, you’ll know it’s time to adjust to a finer setting.
Again, there are many variables that go into the right grinder setting, but if you take some time to pull two or three calibration shots each time you are using a new espresso blend, you’ll be able to find the perfect grinder setting for your Rancilio Silvia.
As promised in the last post, it’s time we take a detailed look at each of the steps involved in creating the perfect espresso shot from the Rancilio Silvia. In this post, we’re going to look at choosing an espresso blend for your Rancilio Silvia.
I’m fortunate enough to live in an area with a number of small batch specialty coffee roasters nearby and am therefore able to walk into one of these shops and buy a pound of beans which were usually roasted the day before without paying shipping. However, I do very often order from a few roasters with internet outlets for some additional variety. There are quite a few out there and you may or may not have tried some of them already, but currently my top three choices are the Black Cat Classic Blend from Intelligentsia, Redline Espresso from Metropolis Coffee, and Hair Bender Espresso from Stumptown Roasters. Each of these espresso blends is very carefully crafted from a number of varietals to produce unique flavor profiles. Experimenting with these and others is the best way to determine the right blend for your own palette.
Whether you choose to support a local business and visit your hometown coffee roaster or order from one of the burgeoning online offerings, there are a few key ingredients to selecting an espresso blend that will make or break your shot. We’ll list each of them below.
This is the starting point of any good espresso blend. Coffee roasters will select a blend of varietals to include in their espresso to create unique and interesting flavors. Beans produced in the different coffee growing regions of the world will offer distinct taste characteristics based on climate, altitude, and soil conditions. Brazilian beans are often the foundation of an espresso blend as they are low in acidity, sweet to the palette, and inexpensive in volume for the roaster. Additional varietals will be added to characterize the overall experience, so try a few out and see what you prefer.
Degree of roast
Most often, espresso blends are roasted all the way to a full French roast, the stage at which the bean is carbonizing and oils are beginning to burn out to the surface of the bean. Honestly, I find dark roasts turn me off and I prefer a lighter roast (which is characteristic of many of the espresso blends offered online). I prefer to experience the flavors within the bean itself instead of the smoky taste of the caramelization process. Again, experiment with differing degrees of roast to see what suits your tastes. Each degree of roast will produce a unique shot profile with the Rancilio Silvia.
This is absolutely critical to a good shot with the Rancilio Silvia. It’s a bit tricky as well, because the window of time is quite limited for good espresso after the beans are roasted. Ideally, a roast needs 2 or 3 days of resting after its roast date to “outgas”. This is the process through which CO2 continues to escape from the bean after the roasting. At about day 3, you’re ready to begin pulling shots from your blend. Fresh beans are critical to eliciting nice, rich crema on the top of your espresso and your beans should continue to produce good shots right up through about day 10 after roasting. This gives you a good 6 days or so to enjoy your blend.
Experiment with several different blends to see what you like and what works best for you. Next up at the Rancilio Silvia Review, we’ll discuss the process of selecting proper grind settings for your espresso.
So I took a week off from posting last week to take a vacation with my family and as I was engrossed in my mind-numbing beach novel something struck me: we’ve never posted a complete shot walkthrough for the Rancilio Silvia to illustrate how to get the best espresso from Miss Silvia. No matter your coffee beverage of choice (and I hope you prefer a nice café doppio, of course), the Rancilio Silvia is capable of producing marvelous espresso at home. However, as many of you know, Miss Silvia likes to play “hard to get” and as with any beautiful Italian lady is quit particular in her tastes.
There are a handful of key elements in getting the best espresso from Miss Silvia:
*Choice of espresso blend
*Proper grind setting
*Proper dosing of your grinds
*Precise tamping methods
*Correct boiler temperature
*Accurate timing of extraction
While each of these factors which go into producing the best espresso shot will populate upcoming posts here at the Rancilio Silvia Review, we’re going to begin with a complete walkthrough to illustrate all of these elements in action. Rather than go through each of these upfront, I wanted to share a video walkthrough that has become somewhat legendary as the gold standard of proper extraction techniques for Miss Silvia. Many of you have likely already come across this video in one place or another, but even if you have seen it, I’ve found that it’s helpful to view it every now and again to brush up on good technique for producing the best espresso possible from your machine.
Without further ado:
And there you have it…the perfect shot. As mentioned previously, we’ll explore some of these steps in more detail within subsequent posts, but this is a great introductory illustration of how to get the best espresso shot from your Rancilio Silvia.
If you have been reading the Rancilio Silvia Review for any amount of time, you’ll probably guess that I’m hopelessly addicted to my espresso machine. My Rancilio Silvia has been a part of my morning ritual for several years now. I’m an early riser and I love to wake up when it’s quiet and dark outside, grab a nice espresso doppio, and sit down with my morning papers (yes, I still prefer printed newspapers).
So a couple of weeks ago, when I came downstairs to a machine that wouldn’t power on, I nearly broke into a cold sweat. I panicked. I knew this meant packing up my machine and sending it off to an authorized Rancilio Silvia repair facility and this would entail at least a couple of weeks without my beloved Miss Silvia. Gulp…it had to be done.
My fully repaired Rancilio Silvia arrived on my doorstep yesterday and I was almost sleepless last night waiting for this morning to roll around and to indulge in that rich, tiger-striped goodness. But what you might be wondering is how I coped over the last two weeks. Well, I actually went deep into the cabinets and pulled out a simple device that’s been responsible for providing Italians with delicious espresso since 1933: the stovetop espresso maker, or moka pot.
The stovetop espresso maker, invented by Alfonso Bialetti and sold worldwide under that name, is a marvelously simple device. If you haven’t tried one before, it’s a two-chamber metal pot with a basket for espresso grinds in between the two, sealed off by rubber gaskets. As the water in the bottom chamber heats and creates steam pressure, it is forced (under pressure) up through the basket of espresso grinds which then “percolate” up into the top serving chamber.
In Italy, the stovetop espresso maker is still in very widespread use throughout the country. Having spent a couple of weeks there two years ago, I witnessed it employed in many of the host homes in which we visited. After arriving back in the States, I decided to purchase one and I’m glad I did. It served as a very suitable backup during the Miss Silvia fiasco of the last two weeks.
While the stovetop espresso maker is no match for the quality of espresso produced by the Rancilio Silvia, it’s a lot of fun and a great way to pay homage to the origins of Italian espresso coffee.
If you’re serious about making consistent quality espresso from your Rancilio Silvia or any other home espresso machine, it’s very important to understand the need for a good espresso grinder to pair with your machine. After proper bean selection, the espresso grinder which you select to pair with your Rancilio Silvia is a critical component of pulling great shots and getting the best espresso machine experience at home or in your office.
In this article, I want to point out a few key features to keep in mind when you’re shopping for an espresso grinder. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I feel that the Rancilio Rocky is a terrific espresso grinder to pair with a Rancilio Silvia and it’s available at a fair price, but there are many makes and models on the market that you can choose from.
Obviously, set your budget first for your espresso grinder to determine which models to begin evaluating. This will help you narrow down your options to two or three that you want to research. Keep in mind that a quality espresso grinder will run anywhere from $200.00 to around $1,000.00 for top of the line home or light commercial models. By spending any less than $200.00, you’re not going to end up with an espresso grinder that can suitably match the capabilities of your Rancilio Silvia.
Burrs not blades
So this is an elementary consideration that most of our readers are likely aware of, but it is worth stating: DO NOT purchase a blade grinder. When you’re searching for an espresso grinder, you should stick to burr grinders which incorporate slowly revolving conical or disk burrs to crush your beans to the proper consistency without creating friction heat which will burn them. Blade grinders simply destroy coffee beans and ruin their flavor by heating them during the grinding process and leaving you with very inconsistent grinds.
Evaluate the range of adjustment for the espresso grinder you’re considering. Some grinders have stepped adjustments, meaning there is a setting that you lock into as you rotate through the grind range, and some are stepless, meaning you can select from anywhere along the spectrum of adjustability. Additionally, be sure to check out the low and high end settings of the adjustment range to determine whether or not the espresso grinder will be able to grind finely enough for the Rancilio Silvia.
Doser or doserless
The doser is a cylinder attached to the grinder which retains the grinds and “doses” them out into your portafilter. Many espresso enthusiasts feel that this “extra step” exposes the coffee to too much oxygen and leaves you with wasted grinds. It’s a personal preference as to whether or not you want to grind straight into your portafilter or into a doser.
This is a critical consideration. Be sure that the motor of the espresso grinder you’re checking out is slow enough to prevent it from heating your grinds. While there is no one range of motor speed to look for (it’s a function of how motor speed relates to burr size), but typically, you’ll want to stay at around 1,600 rpm’s or lower.
By taking some time to research and evaluate your choices, you can find the perfect espresso grinder to suit your budget and to help you get the best espresso from your Rancilio Silvia.
Find more articles in the Archives...