Rancilio Silvia Review
The espresso is the very core of every coffee, but can you craft that dreamy fragrance and quality in your own home? In this Rancilio Silvia Review, Jack Simpson may have found the perfect machine for the job…
The Rancilio Silvia is a semi-automatic espresso machine that has proven to be incredibly popular with customers since it was first introduced way back in 1997 – over 25 years ago!
They are now on their sixth version of that ground-breaking machine and I thought it was about time I got my hands on one so that I could write this Rancilio Silvia review and find out exactly how it has stood the test of time in such a fast-moving industry.
In this review I am going to be taking a quick look at the fascinating history of the Rancilio Silvia, before focusing on the features that it possesses and then taking it for a spin myself. Finally, I will conduct my all-important taste test before coming to a conclusion – is the Rancilio Silvia worth your consideration? Let’s get into it!
A (Very) Brief History Of The Rancilio Silvia
The year is 1997 and Rancilio had been delighted with the reception their commercial espresso machines had received. They had been providing coffee machines to coffee shops, cafes and restaurants since the 1920s, and they wanted to find a way to thank their customers for their loyalty. So they produced a smaller ‘kitchen-sized’ espresso machine to send to their customers as a gift.
This was the first incarnation of the Rancilio Silvia. The reception from their customers was so good that they soon started producing them to sell to the domestic market. Rancilio became a true pioneer of the coffee industry – bringing authentic barista-quality coffee into the home.
So we all have a lot to thank the Rancilio Silvia for! Now, let’s take a look at the latest version to see whether they have been able to keep with the times!
Rancilio Silvia Specs & Features
Let’s get straight into it with a quick look at the aesthetics of this coffee machine. The Rancilio Silvia has a minimalist, classic look about it, which is to be expected given its origin story. I would be unfair to describe it as basic, though, as there is a certain style and panache about the way it looks.
The stainless steel construction gives it an air of reliability – this is a well built machine that you can trust, it seems to say. This is contrasted by the deep-black control panel. Again, on the face of it, it looks a little basic – but I think it adds to the overall look. This is a stylish, yet functional machine. It is here to do a job, and it is built to do so. There is a certain amount of sophistication in that.
The chrome-plated group head and portafilter certainly draw the eye – a flash of sheen to give the overall look a hint of pizazz.
In terms of size, it measures 23.5 cm x 34 cm x 29 cm (WHD), which gives it a pretty small footprint for an espresso machine. It has a capacity of 2 litres in the water tank too, so the small size doesn’t limit what it can do. The water tank is removable for when you need to refill it.
The boiler is an interesting aspect of the Rancilio Silvia. Most espresso machines employ a Thermoblock system, which takes a matter of seconds to heat up enough to pull your shot. That is not the case here. The Rancilio Silvia takes around 15-20 minutes to heat up, which may put some people off. This seems to be typical of the Silvia – it doesn’t pander to a modern audience, it has much more of a traditional feel to it.
It’s a single boiler system as well, which means that you won’t be able to steam milk and make your espresso at the same time. For some people this will be a big issue, but to be honest the espresso is poured pretty quickly so you won’t really notice much difference.
The machine comes with a commercial grade 58 mm portafilter which has a capacity of 16 grams. This is actually a little bit smaller than many that you get – the standard seems to be around 20 grams. You can purchase a larger one, should you wish, but I would recommend giving the 16 gram one a go first.
The inbuilt steam wand has an indicator light to tell you when the steam is at the right temperature, but other than that, it is completely up to you – this is a manual steam wand which requires a fair amount of effort on your part to be able to use effectively. Again, this won’t be for everyone.
You do get a tamper with the machine, and unlike many other ‘free’ items that come with other coffee machines, this one is of really good quality. Solid and comfortable to use.
The drip tray is removable, which makes it easy to clean. In terms of other cleaning, you should try to descale the machine every few months, depending on how hard the water is in your area. This is easy to do, and there are clear instructions in the manual.
What It’s Like To Use The Rancilio Silvia
Let’s now have a quick run-through of how to make a drink (let’s go for a cappuccino) with the Rancilio Silvia, in order to give you a fair reflection of what it is like to use.
Before I get into it though, I want to stress something that may be obvious from the previous section – this is a much more traditional espresso machine. It’s not built for convenience, it is built for making a great coffee. This means that it won’t be for everyone.
Before you get going, turn on the machine. As I mentioned above, it will take 15 minutes for the boiler to heat up enough before it is ready to use, so give yourself plenty of time. Use the time to make sure the water tank is filled with enough water (to be honest, even though the tank is removable it is easier to just fill it up with a jug, rather than removing the tank). Get your coffee grounds measured out – ideally with freshly ground coffee.
Place the coffee (16 grams) into the portafilter and tamp it down with the tamper provided. Before you start preparing the coffee, purge the group head briefly, and wait for the boiler to start up – this just ensures you are at the optimum temperature for your shot.
There is a knack to extracting the perfect shot, and the Rancilio Silvia gives you plenty of scope for experimentation. It may differ from coffee to coffee, and you may alter it slightly depending on which drink you are making, but as a general rule, all you need to do is hit the shot button and your espresso will start to pour.
Once that is done, it’s time to prepare your milk. For a cappuccino you’ll need around 85 ml of fresh milk, which you should pour into a stainless steel jug. I found the best thing to do at this stage is turn the steam on with the button, and then purge some steam for around 20-30 seconds. It starts off incredibly powerful, and I needed that time for it to settle and therefore become more manageable.
For cappuccino milk, once you’re comfortable with the steam power, place the milk so that the wand is just below the surface and stretch the milk by moving the jug gently up and down to get some volume in there. Once you are happy, turn off the steam and tap the jug on a hard surface before pouring into the espresso.
Rancilio Silvia Taste Test
I’ve simplified the process above – the reality is that it will take you a while to master how to make the perfect coffee with the Rancilio Silvia. But the thing is this: it is possible to make the perfect coffee with the Rancilio Silvia.
With a little bit of effort, you will master this technique and I’ll tell you – there is nothing more satisfying than producing an incredible coffee from scratch with a machine like this. It’s not just a case of pushing a button and getting your drink – and don’t get me wrong, I can see the appeal of that sort of convenience. But with the Rancilio Silvia, you can produce something amazing, all by yourself. This truly is a commercial coffee machine that you can have in your own home.
The Rancilio Silvia isn’t for everyone. Not everyone will have the patience or the desire to make a cup of coffee with this machine. And that’s fine.
The people who are interested in making coffee that is truly like one that you would buy in a coffee shop, though, will love the challenge that this espresso machine presents them with. You need to master it, to tame it, to understand it. You don’t just press a button, you have to create a coffee yourself.
If this sounds like you, then the Rancilio Silvia is a tremendous option for you. It will change the way you think about making coffee at home, and you will develop your skills to become your own barista!