[Homeroast] Rancilio Silvia

Sandy Andina sandraandina at mac.com
Sat May 26 16:35:20 CDT 2012

I had a VERY long (read--gentle and gradual) upgrade curve to my Andreja Premium, so I have few regrets.  Had I discovered I wanted to enter the world of home espresso after I had refined my coffee tastes beyond just brewing with freshly ground non-supermarket beans--and had I done so when I had the requisite disposable income--I might have jumped feet first into the deep end of the pool instead of wading in at the "kiddie" end and wound up at the same spot.  The only step I skipped was "steam toy." (And even there, I was given a Rotel steam-toy as a birthday present by my office staff so I could brew in the office--used it exactly twice, and it was a slow mess). Started with flip-pot machinetta because my Brooklyn childhood memory of "espresso" was the stuff poured tableside into my parents' demitasses at our neighborhood Italian checkered-tablecloth red-sauce joints (and which my folks let me taste before they added the anisette). As a young married twentysomething in early 1970s Seattle, this was the closest I could get to espresso anyway (Last Exit kept "farmers' hours," Olive's East was miles away, Starbucks didn't serve drinks, and Allegro and Ice-Nine didn't open till I was nearly about to leave town).  

Moved to Chicago in '78 and decided I wanted a stronger cup with crema, so I bought first a stovetop moka pot and a plug-in version called the "Vesuviana;" neither had frothing capabilities, and both were made of aluminum which pitted despite my efforts to keep them clean. For espresso and cappuccino I pretty much had to visit No Exit (and later, Starbucks--which it seemed had followed me from Seattle to Chicago along with Nordstrom) until the mid-to-late '80s.  By the time I realized I had to have steaming capacity, I also knew I needed a machine with a pump if I were to get real crema.  So I went with a (shudder) Krups pumper, which had a small capacity but taught me how to tamp and control the steam knob.  Moved up to a Saeco Rio Vapore and then its sister all-in-one Estro Profi (a Vapori with an integrated grinder--but not a superauto, since it ground into the portafilter and I still had to tamp). Gave my sister the Vapore (she had it till the pump died), and I kept that Profi through the '90s (through three gasket changes) until its pump croaked too.  I was set on a Gaggia Baby by then, and a matching grinder. The owner of my local bean store (by then, Evanston's Casteel & Co) talked me instead into his new fave, the Capresso Ultima:  a superauto-sans-grinder which bore a striking resemblance to R2D2. That was upgrade mistake #1:  I hated that I had no control over tamping or steaming, and that no matter how assiduously I cleaned it I could never get it to dispense hot water that wasn't brownish.  It resides in my Basement Museum of Failed Coffee Devices. Once again, I had set my sights on a Gaggia.

But in 2004, my guru Michael Guterman (alev hasholom)--a fellow pen collector turned homeroaster/barista--turned me on to roasting and to the Silvia. He sent me some Malabar Gold and Donkey Blend (both roasted for reference and green) and instructions on how to roast in a hot-air popper.  The Silvia was tricky, but he also sent me the link to Mark Price's "Cheating Miss Silvia"--I never saw a need to PID the machine after that.  Silvia gave me my first "God shots" and consistently good (albeit slowish) microfoam. But because I wanted more capacity I moved up a couple of years later to the Livia90A I mentioned in my previous post--in retrospect, my second mistake because it so spectacularly went blooey and the only Chicago shop that could service it turned out to be bumbling and dishonest.  But when it was good it was very, very good.  

I've had my Andreja Premium (aka La Cora, from Cora Italian Specialties, which services it for routine semiannual maintenance) for over 5 years now, and I couldn't be happier. No need to plumb, and the HX is plenty fast for me, with no need for a dual boiler like a Brewtus or La Spaziale.  And as I said before, Silvia stands at the ready for party, vacation or emergency duty.   My upgrade path started (if you don't count those early non-pump devices) way back in 1985, and pretty much tracked my fiscal ability to progress along its arc. So, no regrets. But if you've got the bucks, the need to make more than one complete drink at a time, the need for a separate hot water tap, and no inclination to either learn temp-surfing or install a PID, go directly to an e61 group HX machine like the Andreja Premium.  Silvia cost me $500 (these days, you can't touch one for under $800) and the PID would have run me (with installation and shipping) close to another $300.  The La Cora cost me $1400 (a tad pricier now, but what isn't)?  I still frequent Metropolis and Intelligentsia when I crave a good shot or latte away from my house (and, I confess, Starbucks when on the Interstates and jonesing for 'spro), but by and large, the money I've saved by pulling my own drinks--and the knowledge that in 10 minutes I can get my machine hot enough to brew whenever I want, with instant hot water for tea or soup--exceeds the expense.

On May 26, 2012, at 2:49 PM, Larry Dorman wrote:

Peace & Song, 
Sandy Andina

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