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Rancilio Silvia Brewing Tips

How to Brew with Your Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine

The Rancilio Silvia has a long history as one of the finest home espresso machines on the market, and by far one of our favorite machines. However, since the Silvia is a semi-professional machine with a commercial style (straight through) portafilter design it does require some practice, trial and error and a high-quality coffee grinder in order to achieve a perfect espresso. Following are some brewing tips and instructions intended mostly for the beginner home barista using the Rancilio Silvia. These tips also apply to most any semi-auto machine that uses a commercial style portafilter.

Brewing with the Silvia:

  1. First, one important comment is that with single boiler machines like the Rancilio Silvia you should always brew all of your espresso first, then steam milk if desired for cappuccino or latte. The reason is that after steaming the boiler is far too hot for brewing espresso, and it would be almost impossible to obtain any crema while burning the espresso. Generally, after steaming you always turn the steam rocker switch off, and allow at least 10-20 minutes for the unit to cool down properly before brewing again.

  2. To achieve a nice crema requires "dialing in" the espresso machine with your current beans and grinder as follows:
      1. Start with the double-shot basket (most pros never use the single shot at all, the double basket tends to brew better).
      2. Set the grinder to a fine "espresso" setting (but not the finest setting).
      3. Fill the filter basket so that it's almost level with the top rim before tamping then tamp firmly (no need to press too hard, the key here is to be consistent from test to test with the same pressure). Once tamped, the top of the ground coffee should be lower than the top rim of the filter basket by about 3/16”. This is required for clearance of the brew group when the portafilter is installed in the machine. If the coffee is too high, you may encounter binding when twisting the portafilter into place, which will also compact the coffee further which is not desired.
      4. Try brewing this shot and see what happens. Ideally, the shot should flow out in a thin but steady stream (like warm honey).
        1. If the espresso flows very fast and is splashing: The grind is too coarse, move the grinder 1-setting finer and repeat the process until you obtain a good result.
        2. If the espresso just drips out, or nothing comes out: The grind is too fine, move the grinder 1-setting coarser and repeat the process until you obtain a good result.

Steaming Milk with the Silvia:

The Rancilio Silvia uses a commercial style steam wand, which essentially is a pipe with some small holes at the end where the steam exits. Since there is no special "frothing" device on this wand, steaming milk for cappuccino and latte drinks can require a little practice, and everyone uses a slightly different technique. Following are some basic steps that we often use here in our office, you can try these as a good starting point.

    1. Fill a stainless steel frothing pitcher about 1/3 full with cold milk (2% seems to froth best, whole milk is a little more difficult).
    2. Insert the steam wand tip just below the milk surface and slowly open the steam valve.
    3. Do not move the pitcher up and down; rather try to keep the tip just below the surface only deep enough to prevent splashing. You will need to gradually lower the pitcher to maintain the tip position since the milk surface will rise as it froths.
    4. As soon as the milk reaches about 160F turn off the steam, be careful not to let the milk exceed 180F otherwise it will scald and you will need to start over with fresh milk.

General Brewing Tips for the Rancilio Silvia:

Coffee grind: As noted above the coffee grind fineness is critical in obtaining a perfect espresso with a commercial style (straight through) portafilter design like the Rancilio Silvia uses. If the grind is too coarse the espresso will flow through too fast and be weak and watery, if the grind is too fine the machine will struggle to flow through it and the result will be over-extracted and bitter.

    1. Coffee grinder selection: A quality coffee grinder is essential in obtaining a perfect espresso with this type of espresso machine and many burr grinders on the market we have tested simply can not grind fine enough. Following are the acceptable grinders that we carry and have tested to confirm they can grind fine enough:

      Baratza Virtuoso
      Baratza Virtuoso Preciso
      Rancilio Rocky [doserless]
      Rancilio Rocky w/ Doser
      Baratza Vario
      Gaggia MDF

    2. Pre-ground espresso: Unfortunately most pre-ground espresso is not grind fine enough for great results using a commercial style (straight through) portafilter. This does not mean you can't use and enjoy them, please just be aware that you are unlikely to obtain a thick, creamy espresso shot.

Learn How to Choose the Best Espresso Machine for Your Home or Office - Our free guide walks you through the processs!