Rancilio Silvia is one of those espresso machines that stirs up heated discussions. The machine is a collection of high-quality components that you only see in more expensive machines, yet some home baristas are reluctant to buy it.
This review will show you what makes the Silvia special, and what are the little annoyances that home baristas wish Rancilio would fix.
Rancilio HSD Silvia, targets the home brewing sector, the espresso enthusiasts that love to tweak their espresso to perfection.
These people take espresso brewing very serious, and a few stumbles will not scare them. If you are one of these people, then this machine is definitely for you. You can tweak your espresso to perfection, and get most of that perfect African bean with your Silvia. The high quality components in this machine will give you an advantage over other similarly prices semi-automatic espresso machines.
On the other hand, if you want a simpler way to brew coffee, there are other machines that are less fussy, which are priced similarly. But Rancilio Silvia is built better than those.
Don’t get me wrong, Silvia can get you convenience and consistency, but there is a bit of a learning curve involved, so be prepared.
At the end of the day, it’s never easy to find an espresso machine that is worth the money for every coffee drinker. You either pay too much for features that you don’t use or pay too little for not enough features.
Rancilio Silvia Features Review
The Rancilio Silvia is one of the best semiautomatic espresso machines on the market. This machine is built to last and is not programmed for obsolescence. It is a machine the way they used to be built when we were kids. The iron frame and stainless steel side panels make the Silvia a sturdy device.
The outstanding features of this machine though, are in the brewing components. The boiler is a 12 oz chrome plated brass boiler, one of the largest in the market. The large volume of the boiler ensures a steaming power, like no other home espresso machine. This also results in a very fast recovery time between shots.
The brew group is also brass, the water tank is large, and it has a great steaming pressure.
Part of the brewing success with any espresso machine, the portafilter is specially designed to improve crema extraction, and Rancilio has a patent on it.
The Rancilio HSD Silvia has ESE pod adaptors available as options.
Milk Steaming and Frothing
The stainless steel steam wand of the Rancilio Silvia is a classic one, which means you need some practice to get the steaming and frothing right. Some people change the steam wand with a panarello, which is easier to work with if you need frothy milk for cappuccinos.
The ample steam power provided by the large boiler makes it easy to steam and froth with both the stock steam wand, or the panarello.
The machine has a single boiler, so transition from milk steaming to espresso brewing is going to take some time. You can only fix this by purchasing a double boiler espresso machine, but this adds up to the cost.
The Rancilio Silvia as a great espresso machine, but if you find yourself making a lot of milk-based espresso beverages, the waiting time between milk steaming and espresso brewing will be less than great.
Brewing espresso happens at 200F/93C degrees, while milk steaming needs the boiler to be around 266F/130C. Silvia’s boiler is a large one, and as such, it takes a while to cool down, or heat up.
This means waiting between the two operations, which means your steamed milk gets cold, or the other way around, your espresso shot get cold. No matter what, you will be having half of your cappuccino ingredients cold.
People have found a way around this issue, by employing temperature surfing. Sounds interesting, but it’s really not that fun when you have to do it daily, and it does add up to the wear and tear of the machine. Just to make myself clear, this is not a problem of Silvia’s only. This is a problem with all single boiler espresso machines.
In fact, Rancilio has the double boiler version of the Silvia, it’s called Rancilio Silvia Pro X. It has a few more extra features, but all of these come at a cost. I’ll get through those extra features later in the review; let’s get back to our main subject for now.
Espresso Brewing Features and Strengths
One of the great things about Silvia is the large brass boiler which allows temperature stability and great temperature recovery between shots. The insulated boiler is a great feature, because it ensure temperature stability, critical for coffee greatness.
This is not the case with other machines, equipped with small boilers, or thermoblock. Thermoblock espresso machines are very fast to heat up, but not as fast as the Silvia. They need a bit of time to recover between shots, and if you are making coffee for more than one person in the house, this will be apparent.
The portafilter is a 58 mm professional grade one, and they come with two filter baskets, a 9 gram basket for the single shot, and a 17 gram basket for the double shot.
I love the 58 mm baskets, because the coffee puck is thinner, and this allows finer grinds, and better extraction. If you want to understand better why, check our article about espresso extraction.
The brew head, is also a commercial grade one, since Rancilio uses the same components for their commercial espresso machine line. What makes it great is that is made from brass, which is great for thermal conductivity, and it gets warm relatively fast, compared to stainless steel.
For the espresso lover that doesn’t need a lot of milk steaming, miss Silvia is one of the greatest semiautomatic espresso machines in its class.
Rancilio Silvia Brewing Quirks
I mentioned the temperature surfing when we talked about milk steaming, but this is something you will need to do on a regular basis for coffee brewing as well.
Temperature surfing for espresso brewing is not as inconvenient as when you need to steam milk, but you need to do it, if you want great espresso.
Rancilio’s commercial grade machines have a patented method of keeping the optimal temperature, which they call Steady Brew. However, Steady Brew is not available on their single boiler machines, and we don’t know if they will ever equip the Silvia with it, since this comes at a cost.
One solution, adopted by many Rancilio Silvia owners, is to install a PID. It looks like a big deal, but if you are moderately handy, you can do it and own a machine that is going to last forever, seriously.
Accessories Included with the Rancilio Silvia:
- Double spouted portafilter
- Single basket (9g)
- Double basket (17g)
- Group head brush
- Backflush rubber insert
- Black wood-handled tamper
Espresso Brewed with Rancilio Silvia
As I already mentioned, this semi-automatic espresso machine may take some time getting used to, for those who strive for espresso perfection.
You ‘will have to temperature surf in order to convince Silvia to brew at the correct temperature. However, any machine without a PID will have the same problem. Many times Rancilio Silvia is compared to Gaggia Classic, which is a cheaper machine, but it has the same problem as Silvia, NO PID. This means temperature surfing.
Brewing temperature can range can go from 190°F and 205°F, and finding the perfect temp may be a little challenging. Now, if you are buying a semi-automatic espresso machine, and not a super-automatic, chances are you want more control over the brewing process, and you want perfect espresso shots. By the way, you should check our article on how to get the perfect espresso shot, if you are ready to go down the rabbit hole.
My default temperature for a great espresso shot is 199F. This, however, depends on personal taste, coffee beans roast, and origin. So keep in mind, if you need to tweak the shot’s temperature, this will not be available without the PID modification, on your Silvia.
If you are not comfortable with the technical challenges of the PID mod, you can look at purchasing an inexpensive PID espresso machine.
The wide 58 mm commercial portafilter is the best for pulling amazing shots. I owned a 53 mm brew head espresso machine, and the difference is noticeable. If you need details on the science, this StackExchange article has that.
The 58 mm basket size allows more pressure per surface unit, and allows you to grind finer. As a result, the shots pulled are more syrupy, and have a higher TDS without being too muddy.
The generous boiler is perfect for pulling great espresso shots, and if you pull more than one shot at a time, the temperature surfing is not such a big issue. The boiler’s temperature stabilizes after the first shot.
What We Liked
Compared to most espresso makers in this price range, Silvia has one of the largest boiler sizes. This means that you can pour more espressos back to back, without waiting for the water to heat up.
I like the simple rocker switches instead of push-buttons. Aesthetically, they might not look the best, but functionally, they are more durable and less prone to issues.
As a semi-automatic machine, everything is relatively simple if you know the drill. You have only four rocker switches for: “brew switch”, “hot water/pump switch”, “steam switch”, and “power switch”.
You also have steam knob, conveniently and intuitively placed just above the steam wand. The steam wand can be used for milk steaming, or for hot water dispensing, if you need to prepare Americanos.
The materials and the design are meant to make this machine as reliable and durable as possible.
Here are some more things that we liked about it.
- 1 overheat switch and 2 thermostats
- Chrome-plated brass group head and portafilter
- 12 oz marine-grade brass single boiler
- 67 fl. oz. water reservoir
- 3-way solenoid valve
- Durable product made from iron and steel
- It is extremely reliable and you will have it for years, (if you treat the frame with anti-rust).
- After some tweaking of the brewing process you will get the best espresso shots ever.
- Very silent, low vibrations, ensured by the fact that it is a heavy machine.
- Great recovery time between shots.
- Stainless steel finish.
- Copper heating element
- Insulated boiler for better temperature stability
- Comes with a professional black wooden handle tamper. (Most manufacturers send a cheap plastic one.)
What We Didn’t Like
The Silvia is indeed rather fussy regarding the coarseness of the coffee grounds, which is why the taste of the espresso may differ from shot to shot.
Furthermore, if you are a beginner when it comes to espresso brewing, this unit may take some time getting used to. One of the most troublesome trials is surfing for the perfect brewing temperature.
Here is the whole list of things you might not like about the Silvia:
- You have to have a great grinder, not average, not good, but great. But this is true for any setup that doesn’t use pressurized filter baskets.
- You need to play with the water temperature, (there are plenty of tutorials about temperature surfing on the Internet.) However, temperature surfing takes time, so if you have guests, be prepared to spend some extra time in the kitchen. If you want to eliminate the temperature surfing from your brewing ritual, you need to modify your Silvia by adding a PID, which will keep the water temperature to a predetermined point.
- Very heavy, thus very hard to move around in your kitchen. (But this is what makes it so sturdy, and silent.) If you ask me, this is an advantage because it eliminates all of the vibration noise, and it makes it sturdy. But I know people who complained about it.
- The lower frame is made of regular steel. This is where the excess water goes, and the frame will eventually rust, sooner or later. When you buy it, apply some anti-rust treatment if you want to keep it forever. The shallow drip tray will also contribute to this problem.
- The temperature surfing will add to this problem, check Mark Prince’s video below for some great tips.
If we were to sum up this review we could say that the Rancilio Silvia is a consumer’s choice for a few reasons including extreme reliability, and commercial grade components.
If the machine was built with a stainless steel lower frame to prevent rusting, and it had a temperature controlling device, it would have been perfect, and you would see it in every small commercial setting.
Many people complain about the above problems of the Silvia, but Rancilio had their own marketing goals, which for a long time did not coincide with the domestic market buyer’s goals.
However, all these changed when Rancilio introduced their new model, targeting the prosumer segment: the “Rancilio Silvia Pro X Dual Boiler“.
Where to Buy the Rancilio Silvia?
You can probably find this unit on many online coffee equipment shops, including on Amazon.
I didn’t get a discount when I bought it, but I did get the Free Shipping option. When you live in a fairly remote area, transportation tends to be as costly as the product – so you can say that the free shipping itself is a discount.
Here are some places where you an buy it, and compare prices to get the best deal.
Overall, I recommend Rancilio’s “Silvia” for anyone who wants a good cup of espresso, cappuccino or latte every morning. It might take a few tries to get the perfect brew, but no one is born perfect. You’ll get used to it.
The espresso it makes is highly aromatic, and I personally find the brewing process fairly simple. Granted, it does have a few flaws; but when putting them into balance with the goods, it’s definitely a worthy purchase.