Posted on 25 October 2010 by Nate
Whether you use a Rancilio Silvia or not, I think any home espresso machine owner will agree that no matter which machine you’re using, there is inevitably a “get to know one another” phase during which trial and error is just part of the process. Every machine operates differently and spending some time finding the proper settings and operating procedures to meet your espresso tastes will pay off in the long run. The Rancilio Silvia is no exception.
Although the Rancilio Silvia is an incredibly popular home machine, it relies heavily on its operator to produce outstanding espresso. This is certainly part of the beauty of its simplicity, but it can be a bit frustrating if it’s your first home espresso machine.
After owning my Silvia for three years, let me save you some time and energy here. These are the top 5 tips that I’ve found help me to get the most (and best tasting espresso) out of my Rancilio Silvia.
Use a timer
I’ve been using a timer since I purchased my machine, and it works wonders. The durable construction of the Rancilio Silvia includes quite a bit of steel and a heavy duty boiler. Even the group head on this machine is incredibly solid. Ideally, the Silvia should warm up for 30 to 60 minutes. I use my machine at 5:30 or 6:00am, and I’m certainly not waking up early to turn the machine on. Using a simple Brinks outlet timer, I’m able to set the outlet in which Silvia is plugged into to turn on about half an hour before I wake up. By the time I’m, ready to make coffee, my Rancilio Silvia is all warmed up.
There are many theories on how best to regulate the brewing temperature of the Rancilio Silvia, with many owners going so far as to install aftermarket industrial control modules (known as PID’s) to micro-regulate the boiler temperature. It’s a technique that’s more complicated than most of us need in order to produce espresso, so I find “temperature surfing” to be the next best thing. After letting the machine warm up completely, simply run water through the portafilter until the orange “heating” light comes on. Turn off the pump and let the machine warm to the point where the orange light shuts off. Wait about 30 seconds and then pull your shot. That’s easy, right?
Use freshly roasted beans
Alright, so this is good advice for any machine, but it is always worth repeating. If at all possible, use an espresso blend or the single origin bean of your choice that has been roasted within the last 5 to 10 days for optimal espresso extraction.
Use the right grinder
Everyone has a favorite grinder in addition to their espresso machine, however, many low end burr grinders really will not grind finely enough for the Rancilio Silvia. You’ll especially notice this as the beans move past their roast date. If you’re planning to spend $600 to $700 on an espresso machine, please first consider that you’re not going to get the most out of this investment unless you plan to spend around $300 on a proper grinder. The classic combination is pairing Silvia with the Rancilio Rocky. I’ve been using his combination for two years now and it works great.
Pull a calibration shot
Every time you begin using a new batch of roasted beans, you should be pulling a “throw away” calibration shot. Each batch of beans will require a slightly different grinder setting and tamping pressure and the odds of you getting this right on your first shot are slim to none. Just take a step back, consider that you’re always going to waste a few grams of your beans in getting the grind and tamp dialed in, and see what setting work best for that batch of beans.
I hope these tips are helpful in enhancing your experience. Follow these 5 guidelines and you’ll get great espresso from the Rancilio Silvia every time.