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Hands-on Gear Review
Rancilio Silvia ReviewPrice: $685 List | $680.00 at Amazon
Pros: Great taste, allows for endless experimentation
Cons: Expensive, requires skill to use effectively, no built-in grinder
Bottom line: A great machine for experienced baristas, but it will leave most newcomer frustrated
Warranty: 1 Year Limited
Milk Frother: Steam Wand
The Rancilio Silvia is very much like a professional level espresso machine, both in terms of its quality and the amount of skill that is required to use it effectively. It allows you, and in most instances forces you, to customize every aspect of the espresso making process, from grind size to shot length (speaking of grind size, it doesn't include a grinder, so you'll have to get one separately). This customization is great if you've already pulled hundreds of shots and want to tinker around to try and find the best flavor, and this machine would definitely be our top recommendation if that is what you're after. However, this model would certainly overwhelm a newcomer and likely sour your espresso experience. If you're after the best possible taste quality we would recommend the Breville Barista Express. It still requires some effort and skill, but is much more friendly to begginners than the Silvia.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Rancilio Silvia is our top choice for experienced baristas, as it puts the greatest amount of control in the user's hands. However, if you're looking for the great taste of a semi-automatic machine and are new to the world of espresso, we'd recommend the Breville Barista Express.
The Rancilio Silvia does not have a built-in grinder, so you'll have to buy one separately. In our experience generic coffee grinders cannot produce a fine enough grind for espresso, so you'll have to get a grinder that is meant for making espresso.
The Rancilio Silvia excelled in making great espresso and steamed milk, but its lack of user friendliness lowered its overall score in our testing, as shown in the graph below.
Below we dive into the details of how the Silvia performed in each one of our individual tests.
Along Rancilio Silvia produced some of the best espresso in our testing, equaling the quality of the Editor's Choice Award winning Breville Barista Pro. When used by one of our experienced testers it produced a rich, strong shot with great flavor and just a hint of sweetness. If you tasted a shot from this machine and a shot from a coffee shop side by side, we doubt you'd be able to tell the difference. The Steam wand also high quality and make great tasted steamed and frothed milk.
Ease of Use
The Silvia is not easy to use by any means, and was the least user-friendly model we tested. We definitely would not recommend this machine to beginners, as the learning curve will likely be steep enough to cause a good amount of frustration. The controls all have somewhat arcane symbols instead of clear labels, and there is no pressure gauge to give you an idea if your grind size and tamping pressure are on target. That's not to say it's unusable, it just requires a good amount of skill to operate effectively. But, when used well, the results are spectacular.
If you're using the Silvia to pull a shot and steam some milk, make sure you pull the shot first. If you do the milk first it will end up shooting steam through the portafilter and making a mess, we know from experience.
Ease of Cleaning
The Silvia was also our least favorite models to clean. Each use requires cleaning out the portafilter and (if you prepped milk) wiping off the steam wand. This is more than is required for the super-automatic machines, but about on par with the Breville. Where it gets a bit more annoying is the drip tray. It is quite shallow and has no full indication, which can result in some surprise flooding. We ended up emptying the tray almost after every shot just to avoid any mess. The descaling process also took a full hour, which was much longer than any other machine. Plus, there were no included descaling instruction,s so we had to find a tutorial online.
The Silvia's steam wand is professional grade. Its performance in our testing was equal to that of the Breville's steam wand. It could make thick, luscious foam and make creamy steamed milk with just a bit of microfoam on top. Though it takes a bit of practice it can make a latte that will make a trip to the coffee shop unnecessary.
The Rancilio Silvia lists for $685 and still requires buying a separate espresso grinder. The Breville Barista Express which performs a bit better, lists for $600 and includes a built-in grinder. Therefore the Silvia is only a good value if you want the ability to control shot length and pump pressure, two things that will likely only matter to those who are already practiced baristas.
The Rancilio Silvia is a great machine for a very specific user: one who already has experience pulling espresso shots and wants to me able to experiment with their technique at home. If you're a newcomer to espresso that wants the great taste of a quality semi-automatic machine, or even if you're a beginner that wants to learn to pull a shot like a pro, we would suggest starting with the Breville Barista Express.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata
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