Rancilio Silvia Review 2021: The Power Brewer
Espresso can be quick and straightforward with the right machine. But, the one that works for you depends on your individual needs and experience.
I believe a good semi automatic is the best way to make tasty drinks at home. You’ll want an espresso machine that reflects the ideals of the brew itself: simple on the outside and beautifully complex inside.
Today, we’re looking into one of my favorites. So let’s get started with our Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine Review.
Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine Review 2021
Before we dive into this Rancilio Silvia review, below you can find a quick summary to see why it’s perfect for connoisseurs and experienced homebrewers alike:
- User friendly control panel
- Commercial sized group head and portafilter
- Powerful steam wand with ball joint
- No temperature and steam gauges
- Symbols can be confusing for beginners
Off the bat, you’ll notice that you’ll have to stretch your budget for a grinder to complement the Rancilio Silvia. You can also upgrade the plastic tamper that comes with it. Worthwhile investments if you plan on using your equipment for a long time.
Build Quality & Design
The Rancilio Silvia has a minimalist exterior. A stainless steel and chrome-plated brass finish with a simple linear box-design will fit with almost any space. The body is mostly stainless steel (including the drip tray), while the buttons are a matte black finish.
It doesn’t come with a grinder, so if you care about harmony design-wise, this semi automatic espresso machine keeps your options open.
Remember to select a decent burr grinder like the Rocky (the counterpart device by Rancilio to match this brewer) to match your Rancilio Silvia espresso machine for the best results. This will maximize performance and shot quality. More on that later.
The user-friendly interface of the Silvia is intuitive and needs little explaining to understand. There are 4 black rocker switches on the front panel. These are the on/off switch, the brew switch, the hot water switch, and the steam switch.
Whenever I look at these machines, I check out three things: the group head, the portafilter, and the steam wand.
The professional-grade group head on this Rancilio piece is made of solid brass and has a three-way solenoid valve. This makes the Silvia easier to clean and troubleshoot (read on to the next sections for Rancilio Silvia espresso machine cleaning tips).
Aside from making it easier to clean, this valve type works with the heating element to help the boiler function more efficiently in terms of heat transfer.
Matched up with the brew group is a 58mm commercial portafilter. This is the same size that is usually used in coffee shops. Why is this important to mention? Coffee recipes are all about ratios rather than measurements.
Homebrewers have a challenging time replicating cafe caliber drinks because they’re dealing with different ratios. Because portafilters of home espresso machines are usually smaller. Not with the Silvia.
Next, a 2 hole steam wand will be responsible for your milk drinks. Again, it comes in an easy to clean stainless steel finish with smoothed-out sides and edges. This makes it simpler to anchor your steam wand at the right angle to introduce aeration into your milky coffee.
It also maximizes the steam pressure that comes from the Rancilio Silvia boiler. Rancilio seems to have upgraded this aspect of the machine from previous models.
One thing about the Silvia is that it’s a single boiler brewer. That only means that you can’t brew and steam milk at the same time. There’s no effect in quality if you adjust your workflow to accommodate the machine’s capabilities.
It also uses less energy to operate. Alas, its coffee shop level espresso shots at home for a lower cost and at a fraction of the energy consumption. Win win!
In general, the steam wand operates at a higher temperature than the grouphead, and steamed milk stays “primed” longer than a shot. This is why I recommend steaming your milk first and pulling your shot second.
No matter what temperature you use for coffee brewing (the Rancilio espresso machine doesn’t traditionally come with a PID temperature control feature, but it’s an add-on you can purchase), it won’t be higher than 120 degrees celsius. At least on this Rancilio Silvia.
Using this workflow with the Silvia allows it to reach your target coffee brewing temperature faster. You also shave off some seconds accordingly. This will come in handy if you’re a caffeine fiend like me and make coffee throughout the day.
From brewing your coffee grounds within 90 seconds of grinding to maximize flavor to chilling your milk, so you have more time to “stretch” it via steaming, it’s the little things daily that lead to improving your overall shot quality.
All in all, the Rancilio Silvia is a performer. On the brewing side, it allows you to commercial-grade espresso. On the milk side of things, you have a steam wand that is powerful enough to make silky and commercial-grade milk based drinks.
One thing about this particular home machine is that you can focus on your learning curve with making drink recipes. It’s not underpowered, it doesn’t change your coffee grounds recipe, and it lasts the test of time. It also helps that the brewer has a simple design with a perfect premium build.
Ease of Use
We discussed earlier how the Rancilio Silvia basically has 4 user-friendly rocker buttons that run the entire Rancilio Silvia espresso machine.
So how simple is it to operate? Let’s go through an entire cycle in this Rancilio Silvia review.
Heads up, it doesn’t have any pressure gauges, but I consider it an entry-level commercial-grade machine. All you need is a good burr grinder as well, and you get to maximize the Rancilio Silvia’s features.
The start-up time is 10-15 mins on average from the time you switch it on to the time you’re ready to pull a shot. This is half the time it takes for commercial grade semi automatic espresso makers. Be sure to check if the water reservoir is filled with fresh mineral water. Any other type of water will either ruin your machine, ruin your coffee, or both.
It has a small footprint, so there’s usually enough space to put your grinder right beside your Silvia. Baristas give top priority to machine placement because this affects speed and efficiency. With espresso, every second and every gram matters when it comes to extraction quality. Try to apply this same principle with personal use and watch your learning curve for making top quality drinks improve immensely!
Once your Rancilio Silvia is primed and ready to go, decide if you’re making a black or milk-based drink. Remember that it’s ideal for steaming milk first before pulling shots when it comes to the Silvia machine.
After making your coffee, the Rancilio Silvia’s chrome-plated brass and stainless steel finish make it easy to wipe down. More on cleaning in the next section, but that’s basically how simple it is to operate. A bunch of switches that eventually allow you to craft the best brew you can make yourself. Perfect for aspiring baristas.
While beginners may not fully appreciate the quality of espresso shot that the Rancilio Silvia makes, it’s not a bad idea to get started on the right path either in terms of flavor and recipe!
As mentioned earlier, the entire Rancilio Silvia is stainless steel. The machine’s external portions from the body, the drip tray, and the steam wand can be wiped down with a clean cloth. For those coffee and milk stains, use a damp microfiber rag and immediately dry it with another rag to polish. Repeat this method even for the chrome-plated parts of the machine.
The brew group of the Silvia is also simple to clean. You can brush the filter in and around the head as well to take those stuck fines from coffee grounds. A coffee puck is the residue in your brew basket after pulling a shot. Sometimes, fines get stuck in the brewing area. Just flush your machine before and after each shot.
Filtered or mineral water works best with your coffee machines. The minerals carry the flavors from your coffee beans that are ground nicely by your grinder. After your dose, tamp and pull. That’s when the magic of extraction happens.
Problems arise over time with heat coming into contact with minerals. It causes buildup, formally known as limescale. This tends to spread in areas with there is an interaction between heat and water from the water reservoir.
Depending on your water, the time it takes for limescale to build up can be anywhere from 1-3 months. At this point, you need to descale your machine. You basically add a cleaning solution into your water tank and let it run through entire espresso machines.
From the brew group, to the steam wand, all the way to your hot water dispenser. After this procedure, use an eye and smell test to determine any residual cleaning solution after rerunning a full cycle with clean water from your water reservoir.
For a more detailed guide, check out the best way to descale a Rancilio Silvia as outlined below:
Daily cleaning is necessary when brewing at a cafe level. For personal use, I recommend backflushing the Silvia after every 50 espressos pulled.
Before 50 coffee pulls? I recommend immediate purging before and after every pull. If you aren’t using the machine for an extended period, try to brush the brew group to get rid of easy to access grounds. I like detaching the screen once a week to get to the harder to reach fines for cleaner-tasting coffee.
Steaming your milk on the Rancilio Silvia feels like a luxury compared to other espresso machine models for non-commercial use.
Milky coffee’s secret is in the steaming. Perfect milk leads to silky and naturally sweet coffee drinks. Other options at this level tend to be slow to steam. Sometimes, it also takes a while for other brewers to gather up enough steam even to start and you lose precious seconds (or minutes) just heating up your milk.
Your success is based on the power you get from the boiler of this espresso machine. The 2-hole tip of the wand helps control that power to help you create that coveted vortex of air and hot water.
One thing about steaming milk is that it takes time to learn. There is a steep learning curve to getting it right. So don’t force yourself to master this aspect of brewing in one go, but also ideally set yourself up for success.
With the right equipment, you learn faster. You also have a wider margin for error. This makes the steaming aspect user friendly on this espresso machine. The Silvia is one of the best in its class in this aspect of milky coffee drinks. Even the closest competition is blown out of the water in this particular area.
Value for Money…Or Not?
Now that we’ve dissected specific aspects of the Rancilio Silvia, it’s time to help you decide if it’s the right espresso machine for you.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room in all espresso machine discussions: budget.
Does this fit your existing budget? Will you have to sacrifice getting high-quality coffee beans to be able to brew after you make this purchase?
When it comes to coffee, the closer you are to the process of farming, the bigger your effect on taste (or quality) will be. This basically means that roasting has a bigger effect on your shot than an actual espresso maker. Baristas can only cover up so much of a low quality coffee bean.
In coffee bars, a grinder is slightly closer to the process of farming than the machine. This puts it at almost even importance when upgrading equipment to achieve better cups of coffee.
The Rancilio Silvia doesn’t come with a built-in burr grinder, so you’ll have to leave space in your budget for one in case you decide to get this coffee maker. Those things can be a bit pricey as well, so you’ll want to balance your overall coffee budget between those 2.
Can you use a hand grinder? Yes. But it’s not ideal given how fine grind settings are for this method of brewing. You’ll end up grinding for quite a bit of time for each shot you pull.
Is it worth it for the coffee quality it produces? Absolutely.
This type of brewer is best-suited for experienced users who want a reliable workhorse. Given its price tag, if you have extra cash, it would be ideal to taste quality off the bat to flatten your learning curve faster.
Taste guides you as you explore quality. If you’re only starting out, you can purchase a cheaper alternative just to get comfy with your workflow.
On the flip side, If you want quality while saving up a bit of your coffee budget, I suggest getting the Breville Barista Express to start. I personally recommend this brewer to all aspiring enthusiasts for home use. It’s reliable, has a built-in grinder, and enough power for tasty extractions and decent steaming capabilities.
Don’t Buy The Rancilio Silvia If…
You’re a total beginner
It’s easy to love drinking espresso. But it’s another thing to have to be the one to make it yourself. You’ll discover all the intricacies of this popular coffee drink when you decide to learn how to make it. Many coffee drinkers I know switched to fully automatic machine types. Some just went back to their friendly neighborhood coffee shops. Start small before you dive into something in this price range, a good alternative for newbies is the Classic Pro by Gaggia.
You don’t want to buy a burr grinder separately
To purchase a machine of this caliber and then have to get a cheap coffee bean grinder would be a waste. You need both pieces of equipment to be high quality to make them worthwhile investments. The Silvia performs best with proper grinders and good coffee beans. Any other discrepancy in the quality of your grinder would render upgrades useless. If you want an all in package you’ll need a super automatic brewer.
You mostly just drink black coffee
You’ll be able to find alternative options that have good brew groups and more simple steam wands at a lower price. Different brands focus on specific aspects of brewing. You’d want to select the Rancilio Silvia because it satisfies how you drink coffee and if that’s always black, move on.
Read our list of budget friendly brewers for something more fitting.
You need to produce shots at a fast rate
Instead look for a machine with a more powerful boiler. By selecting an appropriately powered machine, you roll out the best coffee you can, more consistently. Getting something underpowered for your needs will shorten the lifespan, and getting something overpowered would be a waste of money and electricity. Check out our favorite semi automatics for options.
The Final Verdict
For my brewing preferences, I’d definitely buy the Rancilio Silvia for home use.
It’s a good price for the espresso quality it can make, and while it doesn’t include a PID from the offset you’re able to add it on. Aside from this, it’s easy to use, simple to clean, fast, reliable, and light to maintain.
I care about my espresso shot quality, and I like top-notch milk drinks every now and then. A semi automatic machine is the best way to go if we’re talking about control. For these reasons, I see the Silvia as a worthwhile coffee investment. I want the best espresso possible, every time and this brewer delivers.
See for yourself how the Silvia stacks up against your preferences. You’ll find more specs about the boiler, wattage, and the like at the link above.
Good luck, enjoy, and keep brewing!
Barista and coffee writer
Miguel Papa is a coffee fanatic with a passion for brewing. During the weekdays, you can find him experimenting with different drinks while he works as a barista. Otherwise, he’s likely writing here for Sip Coffee or enjoying the outdoors.