The Rancilio Silvia has been a home espresso icon for over 20 years now, with their latest version 'E v6' now available in the UK. We think it's still the best option at the £500 price point (by a long way). Read on to find out why...
We have been long time advocates of what is coined pro-sumer equipment, which usually means higher end equipment that crosses the boundaries of commercial grade for domestic use. The largest barrier for people is price, as this level of equipment starts at around £1250 for HX (Heat Exchanger) espresso machines, which is understandably a step too far for some.
The single boiler problem:
Below this level you have a vast range of single boiler machines that range in quality dramatically. Brands like Di-Longhi, Dualit, Morphy Richards and Gaggia all offer models that sit between £90-750, but ultimately all offer the same solution (or problem), albeit in a different shaped of coloured box. Don't be fooled!
Let us explain: Single Boiler (SB) machines are the cheapest for a few key reasons. Firstly they only have one boiler, so this keeps the costs low (boilers are pricy). This means that they have to swap the boilers use between 1) Brewing coffee and 2) Steaming milk / drawing hot water, as they need very different temperatures - this means you have to wait.
Secondly, due to their cost focused production, they do not offer any form of PID (temperature controller), so fail to either control a stable temperature for brewing or offer any form of settings for you to follow or adjust. This means you will not be able to get a precise temperature from them, and you are forced to guess. Poor temp control = foul tasting espresso. To sum it up fast:
Pro's: Low cost.
Con's: Lack of accurate temp, can't brew & steam at the same time, poorly built.
The Rancilio Silvia:
In this range of machines comes one single model (Just one!) that is actually very good - the Rancilio Silvia. The Silvia was released in 2003 and has proved over time that it is by bar the best single boiler on the market.
It was originally released by Rancilio to give as a present to their main International espresso machine dealers, but was so so well received by their resellers, that they decided to give it a proper release.
Design & Build quality:
Rancilio made a very (very) good decision early on, which was to keep it simple and focus their efforts on the important things. So instead of giving it fancy features (and pointless flashing lights) that would be low quality at this price point, they invested in a good quality chassis and body cover, good copper piping, good quality motor & electrics and a commercial grade portafilter.
This was a smart move, as the end product was one that looked great, was easy to learn & use, simple to service, heated up fast and swapped boiler use at a good speed.
Understand the controls:
The control panel is simple and very effective. It includes 1 power button with 2 notification lights, 3 function buttons and a steam wand / hot water knob.
- Brew switch (Top left)
- Hot water switch (Middle left)
- Steam switch (Bottom left)
- Power switch (Middle) *Green light = ready. Orange light = preparing.
How you use it:
The Silvia is a simple machine to use and will quickly become an easy task for you to master. If you just turn it on and try and random attempt at making coffee with it, you might be a little disappointed, but we have an awesome process that will give you results that you will be super happy with.
This mini process may seem like a hassle, but it's short fix / hack that will really deliver awesome coffee, much better than any other single boiler machine! Trust us! Here's the trick:
Get it up to stable temperature:
1: Fill up the internal reservoir located on the top of the machine and put the portafilter in the group head. Turn on with the main power button (Which will make the ORANGE power / boiler light come ON) and wait for around 5 mins until the ORANGE light goes OFF and the GREEN light goes ON (This means it's reached it's top temperature of around 106 degrees C).
2: At this stage, draw some water out the group by turning on the brew button (The top one with the cup ICON on it), running it for around 5 seconds. Do this until the ORANGE light comes back ON (The one to the right of the power switch). This will force the brew group to transfer some more heat on the group head and force the boiler into going through it's heat up cycle again (This is a good thing).
3: The Silvia will then take around 1 min to get back up to it's peak temperature of 106 degrees C. Once it does, turn on the brew group again for 5 seconds until the ORANGE light goes on again. Once done you are ready to prepare & brew your first espresso!
While you are waiting for the 2nd heat up to complete, you can get on with preparing your ground coffee.
Prepare your coffee:
Take out the portafilter and dry out the basket thoroughly (tres important). Grind your coffee into your portafilter (Ideally using a set of scales), make sure you have a nice even bed of coffee first, then tamp and insert into the group head of the Silvia group head.
4: Once the Silvia has reached it's top temperature for the 3rd time, you know it's got enough thermal mass heat to brew fantastic espresso. Just wait till the power / boiler - ORANGE light goes off and time 15 seconds (This allows it to fall from 106c to 96c).
5: Hit your brew button and watch your espresso shot extract. It should take between 25-32 seconds, depending on your coffee, tamp etc.
Once the above is all done, you should be looking at some pretty silky espresso. Some people argue that the Silvia, if used correctly, can rival machines that cost 2-3 times as much, which is pretty impressive. Looking to add milk? Read on...
If you are steaming milk with the Silvia, you need to add an extra stage to the above process. Once you have pulled your shot of espresso, simply turn off the brew button / turn on the steam button and wait till the machine boiler is up to max heat again (106c), which take around 30 seconds max.
The Silvia has now transferred it's power to the steam wand and at top temperature it can provide very strong / dry steam that will give you excellent quality micro-foam on a short time.
Before you start steaming milk, make sure you purge the steam wand into an empty milk jug from any water being held in the wand. Once it starts just outputting dry steam, you know you are good to go.
Here's a few key facts that defines what the Rancilio Silvia can do:
1. It still has a single boiler, so you still need to jump between uses (Brewing and steaming), but it does this fairly fast (<1m), which reduces the hassle.
2. It's amazingly well built, built around a hardened steel chassis, housed in a stainless steel body and is reassuringly heavy.
3. It has a commercial grade 58mm group head, portafilter and basket, which helps hugely in producing good quality espresso.
4. It's super simple to use, with 3 buttons for 1) power, 2) brewing and 3) steaming / hot water.
5. It heats up in around 5 mins, but you do need to draw some water through the group a couple of times to help it reach a solid thermal mass (good temperature over all machine).
6. You can use coffee ground to the same level of fineness as many pro-sumer or commercial espresso machines, so you will not get really fast sour shots of coffee if you do your work right.
7. The Silvia is famed for being able to steam milk / micro-foam to a very high standard, and you will not be disappointed. It's dual walled steam wand (cool to touch) means you can hold the wand safely in position whilst steaming milk without ever burning your hands.
8. The Silvia is a standalone espresso machine, so you do need to pair it with a separate grinder. We strongly recommend the Eureka Mignon Silenzio or Specialita; both of which are very good matches for this level of machine. You can view that range HERE.
- Commercial 58mm portafilter
- Single and double baskets
- Back flushing disc
- User manual
- New Rancilio tamper
- Pump: Vibration
- Boiler capacity: 0.3L
- Cool to touch steam wand
- Power: 1100w
- Reservoir capacity: 2.5L
- Plumbing option: No
- Weight: 14kg (Net)
The Silvia (AKA Miss Silvia) is a serious bit of equipment. And at the £529 price point, you will not find a better espresso machine on the domestic market.
It does have it's limitations, as all single boilers do, but once you know how to get round them, you can produce damn fine espresso, with just a little help (from us!).