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Rancilio Silvia Review

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Last updated: July 24, 2023

Quick Answer: I’d only recommend the Rancilio Silvia if you’re either willing to add a PID to the machine or if you’re willing to go through the trial and error of developing a temperature surfing routine for both espresso brewing and milk steaming. If this all sounds like too much work then I’d recommend the Breville Bambino instead of the Rancilio Silvia.

The Rancilio Silvia is the most durable espresso machine under $1,000 – but it’s also one of the trickiest to use due to its lack of temperature stability.

In this Rancilio Silvia review, I’m going to look at whether the machine’s espresso quality and milk steaming performance is worth all the effort involved in managing its temperature.

I’m also going to look at the Rancilio Silvia’s modification ease and potential and compare it to other commonly modded espresso machines – in particular the Gaggia Classic Pro.

I’ll be focussing on the Rancilio Silvia V6, as this is the most recent and most popular base Rancilio Silvia espresso machine model.

Let’s get started.

Should I Buy the Rancilio Silvia (Quick Verdict)?

You should only buy the Rancilio Silvia if you’re either willing to do a lot of experimenting with temperature surfing, or you’re willing to add a PID to the machine.

The machine can brew the best-tasting espresso out of any home espresso machine under $1,000 if you can get its temperature management under control.

Durable and high performing, but not the easiest to use.

The Rancilio Silvia can produce amazing espresso and milk drinks and last you well over a decade. Its lack of temperature control means that every shot is hard work, however.

Buy if:

You want a buy it for life product.

You’re experienced with espresso making, but are on a budget of under $1,000.

You’re not scared of the prospect of opening up and modding the machine.

Don’t buy if:

You want as little learning curve as possible.

You’re not going to use the machine with a grinder.

Rancilio Silvia Pros

Incredibly durable – has been known to last several decades.

Has a higher espresso quality ceiling than similarly priced models from Breville and Delonghi.

Has an active and dedicated modding community with lots of tutorials and support.

Rancilio Silvia Cons

Requires temperature surfing for brewing espresso and steaming milk.

You cannot see how much water is in its water tank meaning that you can easily run out of water mid shot.

If modding or temperature surfing sounds like too much work, and you just want a machine that can make a good espresso straight out of the box, then I’d recommend the Breville Bambino instead of the Rancilio Silvia.

The Breville Bambino has better temperature management than the Rancilio Silvia (so no need for temperature surfing). 

It’s also less than half the price of the Rancilio Silvia, so you have more money left over for a good quality espresso grinder.

Far easier to use then the Rancilio Silvia

The Breville Bambino’s built in PID means that it doesn’t require any temperature management, unlike the Rancillio Silvia.

Buy if:

You want a decent espresso without going into the technicalities of espresso making.

You’re going to be using the machine with pre ground coffee.

Don’t buy if:

You want a buy it for life machine.

Rancilio Silvia Review: Machine Overview

Specification Rancilio Silvia
Description
Semi-automatic espresso machine
User Interface
Switches and indicator lights
Heating System
Single boiler (10 oz/300 ml capacity)
PID
No
Heat up time (espresso brewing)
~5 minutes
Heat up time (milk steaming)
~90 seconds (from brewing)
Steam wand type
Professional steam wand with 1 hole
Portafilter baskets
Single and double non pressurized baskets
Dimensions (width x depth x height)
9.2” W x 11.4” D x 13.3” H
Cup clearance
4 inches

Build and User Interface

The Rancilio Silvia is built like a tank and has a simple but solid user interface

The Rancilio Silvia is heavier and feels more sturdily built than most espresso machines in its price range. It’s one of few sub $1,000 espresso machines where you can lock in your portafilter without the machine moving around.

The machine is operated by four switches and has two indicator lights: a green one telling you that the machine is on and an orange one telling you that the machine is heating up (it turns off when the machine has reached its target temperature – a bit like an oven).

These switches feel really sturdy and I like how they each have their own small orange light that illuminates when they’re in the on position.

The Rancilio Silvia’s exterior is nearly all made out of stainless steel, the only exceptions to this are its:

  • Steam wand dial (plastic with a brushed stainless steel finish)
  • Reservoir lid
  • Buttons (fortunately, otherwise you could get electrocuted)

This is a far cry from similarly priced Breville and Delonghi models whose exteriors are almost entirely made out of plastic.

Workflow

The Rancilio Silvia has one of the most complicated workflows of all home espresso machines.

This is mainly because of the machine’s poor thermal management. Its temperature indicator light (the orange one to the right of its on button) isn’t to be trusted, so you need to control its temperature manually.

This manual temperature controlling is what people refer to when they talk about “temperature surfing” – I will refer to it as this throughout this article.

Temperature Surfing When Brewing Espresso

If you just turn the Rancilio Silvia on and brew just as its temperature light turns off (as per its instructions), the machine will be at too high a brew temperature and you’ll end up with harsh, burnt-tasting notes in your espresso.

To avoid this you need to:

  1. Turn the machine on until its temperature light goes off
  1. Remove the portafilter and have it brew some water out of its brew head (you activate this by pressing the brew button) until its temperature light turns back on.
  1. Turn off the brew button and wait until its temperature light goes off again.
  1. As soon as the temperature light goes off a second time, lock in your loaded portafilter and start brewing.

Having the machine brew out some water before you pull your shot will pull more cold water into the boiler, lowering the previously too-high boiler temperature.

You can see a video showing how this works below:

The most annoying thing about temperature surfing when pulling a shot with the Rancilio Silvia is that it uses a lot of water. 

You’ll be having to refill its water tank far more often than with other espresso machines. You also cannot easily see how full its water tank is, so you run a risk of running out of water during this process.

Temperature Surfing When Steaming Milk

If you just press down the Rancilio Silvia’s steam button and then open up the steam valve when its temperature light goes on, its steam power will be so high that it will blow your milk out of your milk jug.

You therefore either need to:

  • Have the Rancilio Silvia espresso machine blow off steam for about 20 seconds before you start steaming your milk (you need a second milk jug handy to catch this excess steam)
  • Turn on the steam button, but start steaming before its temperature light goes out.

While the second option is faster and less messy, it’s going to take a bit of practice before you know exactly when to start steaming in order to get ideal steam pressure.

It’s not just a case of “start steaming 30 seconds after you turn on the steam switch”, as your machine’s temperature before you turn on the steam switch will affect how long it takes for the machine to reach its ideal steam pressure.

Workflow for Making a Milk Drink

The process for making a milk drink with the Rancilio Silvia is markedly different depending on if you steam your milk first or brew your espresso first.

Steam your milk first 

  1. Steam your milk (start steaming about 45 seconds before the temperature light is due to go off)
  1. Turn the steam button off just before you stop steaming. 
  1. Once you’re done steaming place one cup under your steam wand and another under your brew group. Press the brew button and open up your steam wand. This will purge out both your brew group and steam wand, cooling your boiler temp as quickly as possible.
  1. Pull your shot once the temperature light turns back on.

The main downside here is that your steamed milk will cool while you pull your shot so it’s not the best option if you like a really hot latte.

Pull your shot first 

  1. Pull your shot following the espresso brewing temperature surfing routine I spoke about earlier.
  1. Turn on the steam wand and wait about 30-40 seconds for the boiler to fill with steam (ignore the temperature light).
  1. Start steaming (the temperature light will still be on at this point, but it doesn’t matter).

The main downside here is that your espresso’s crema will have faded by the time you’re ready to mix your steamed milk into your espresso.

The milk-first method appears to be more popular among Rancilio Silvia users online (it’s certainly the preferred workflow in the Rancilio Silvia subreddit). 

Just be aware that if you’re going to steam your milk first then you need to “prime your boiler” (fill it with water) before steaming. 

Do this by pressing the hot water button and opening up the steam valve – this will pull water from the water tank into your boiler so it doesn’t heat up when empty. 

Your boiler is primed when hot water comes out of your steam wand in a steady stream (this takes around 10-15 seconds to occur). Steaming straight away without priming your boiler first can wear out your heating element. 

Brewing a shot automatically primes the boiler, so if you are pulling shots before steaming milk then you don’t need to worry about this.

Single Boiler Heating System

The Rancilio Silvia has a 300ml single boiler heating system. Its temperature is controlled by a thermostat rather than by a PID.

With a single boiler machine, water is pulled into the machine from the water tank and is heated to around 240 Fahrenheit (116 Celsius) for espresso brewing and around 290 Fahrenheit (143 Celsius) for milk frothing.

This higher temperature is activated when you press the machine’s steam switch.

Once the thermostat inside the boiler reaches this temperature, the heating system will turn off (the machine “tells” you when this happens by its temperature light turning off).

The advantages of the Rancilio Silvia’s single boiler heating system are:

  • Durability: Single boiler machines will last far longer than a machine that uses a thermocoil/thermojet heating system. Examples of machines using the latter system are the Breville’s Bambino and Barista line. While the Rancilio Silvia can be expected to last several decades, you’d be lucky if a similarly priced Breville machine lasts you more than five years.
  • Less temperature loss during brewing: As the boiler sits right on top of the brew group it will heat up the machine’s showerhead and portafilter (if you have it locked in) when turned on. This heating of the entire “brewing pathway” helps maintain a consistent brewing temperature which improves extraction compared to a thermocoil/thermojet machine. The Rancilio Silvia needs to be on for about 15 minutes to heat up its entire brewing pathway optimally.
  • High steam pressure: The Rancilio Silvia’s relatively large steam boiler means that it has a powerful steam wand – close to that on commercial espresso machines. While its steam wand is overpowered if you use it just as it hits maximum temperature, I’d still take this over having an under-pressured steam wand as you’d get from the Gaggia Classic Pro and Delonghi Dedica. You can always calm down an overpressurized steam wand by releasing some steam, whereas you cannot turn up an under-pressurized steam wand.

The two disadvantages of the Rancilio Silvia’s single boiler heating system are:

  • You need to temperature surf: This is because of the machine’s lack of a PID, rather than its single boiler. You can solve this problem by installing a PID.
  • You cannot brew and steam milk simultaneously: For that you need either a dual boiler or heat exchanger espresso machine. These start at around $1,200.

Pump Pressure

The Rancilio Silvia’s pump is set to brew at between 10-11 bars out of the box.

While this isn’t a devastating problem, it can make channeling slightly more likely than if you’re brewing at 9 Bars.

You can change the Rancilio Silvia’s brewing pressure by loosening and tightening two bolts that make up its over-pressure valve (OPV). While you need to open up the machine to do this, it doesn’t involve any messing around with its electrical components. 

You can see a video on how to adjust the Rancilio Silvia’s brewing pressure below:

Water Tank

The Rancilio Silvia espresso machine has a 70 oz (2 liter) water tank. I don’t like how it’s impossible to see how full its water tank is.

The Rancilio Silvia’s water tank is just an opaque, plastic rectangular bucket with two rubber hoses in it. One hose sucks water into the machine and the other bleeds off excess water back into the tank (this ensures that the machine brews at a certain pressure).

I really don’t like how it’s impossible to see how full the water tank is. The tank itself is opaque, and the chamber that it sits in has no window or indicator lines.


This is a particularly pressing problem as all the temperature surfing routine needed to pull a shot/steam milk with the Rancilio requires a lot of water. If you don’t start with the water tank at least a quarter full, you’ll struggle to make a drink without running out of water (this is especially true if you’re making a milk drink).

You need to lift up your water tank lid and check your water level before every drink you make. 

A tedious process, I think you’ll agree.

Drip Tray

The Rancilio Silvia’s drip tray is poorly designed, making it hard to lift out of the machine without spilling coffee-water everywhere.

The Rancilio Silvia’s drip tray is a metal tray sitting in the bottom of the machine.

Unfortunately, the front of the bottom of the machine has a lip, meaning that you’ll need to lift the drip tray from the front in order to pull it out of the machine.

Any liquid in the drip tray will slosh backward when you do this. If the drip tray is nearly full (as it may well be since it has no indicator float) there’s a good chance you’ll make a mess on your counter.

You can see a video of someone demonstrating what I’m talking about below (watch from 14:23 – 14:55. They’re showcasing the Rancilio Silvia Pro, but the drip tray is the exact same as on the Rancilio Silvia):

So yeah, in short, I’m not a fan of the Rancilio Silvia’s drip tray.

Portafilter

The Rancilio Silvia uses a weighty portafilter and I love the way that the back of the portafilter is angled so you can rest it flat on your counter.

The Rancilio Silvia uses a 58mm portafilter (the most common size, so it’s easy to find replacement parts for it).

The back of its portafilter handle is angled so you can rest it on your counter without it tipping to the side (and potentially spilling ground coffee everywhere.

I love this little design feature and I wonder why all portafilters aren’t built in this way.

Accessories

The Rancilio Silvia comes with a high-quality tamper, single and double shot non-pressurized portafilter baskets, and a plastic coffee scoop.

I’m impressed with the machine’s stock tamper. Most machines in the Rancilio’s price range come with tampers that aren’t fit for purpose so it’s nice to see that Miss Silvia doesn’t skimp here.

It’s worth noting that the Rancilio’s stock double shot basket’s capacity is 16 grams. Most espresso machines have 18-gram baskets, so if you’re moving from a Breville or Gaggia machine to the Rancilio Silvia then you will either have to adapt your brewing recipes or buy an 18-gram basket.

Modification Potential

The Rancilio Silvia is amenable to modding, and has an active community of modders on Reddit and other coffee forums. There are many YouTube channels dedicated to modding the machine.

The most common Rancilio Silvia mods are:

  • Adding a PID: This involves playing around with the electrical wiring inside the machine. If you’re intimidated by basic wiring jobs like fixing a plug, then I think you’re really going to struggle with this. You can see a video on how to do it here. You’ll need a Rancilio Silvia PID kit to do this.
  • Adjusting its OPV: This requires opening up the top of the machine and loosening and tightening two of its bolts until you hit 9 Bars of pressure as measured by its over-pressure valve’s output when you brew. You can see a video on how to do this here.

The two most popular sub $1,000 espresso machines for modding are the Rancilio Silvia and the Gaggia Classic Pro. I generally think that the Gaggia Classic Pro has a less intimidating learning curve for modders, and more step-by-step guides for modding.

You can find out more about how these machines compare in my article on Gaggia Classic Pro vs Rancilio Silvia.

Now that I’ve gone through the Rancilio Silvia’s basic features I’m going to assess the machine against the following criteria:

  • Espresso quality
  • Milk steaming performance
  • Ease of use and cleaning
  • Design and build quality
  • Value for money
Espresso Quality
9/10
Milk Steaming Performance
9/10
Ease of Use and Cleaning
4/10
Design and Build Quality
8/10
Value for Money
8/10

Espresso Quality

The Rancilio Silvia is capable of brewing tremendous espresso, especially if you let the machine heat up fully (takes around 15 minutes). You’ll struggle with shot consistency if you don’t install a PID, however.

The Rancilio Silvia can produce better-tasting espresso than similarly priced Breville and Delonghi machines because it can brew with finer coffee grounds than these machines.

A finer grind means more of your ground coffee beans are exposed to your brewing water, resulting in better extraction and a richer-tasting, better-bodied espresso.

You also get better extraction with the Rancilio Silvia espresso machine than with similarly priced Breville machines because the Silvia heats up your entire brewing pathway from boiler to portafilter spout. 

Brevilles just heat up one small part of this pathway so loses heat once it’s past this heat source.

The less heat you lose during brewing (due to a cold portafilter or brew head, for example), the better your extraction will be.

While the Rancilio Silvia’s espresso quality ceiling is incredibly high, it won’t brew as consistently as machines with a PID. 

Even the most precise temperature surfing routine involves some guesswork, and a PID ensures a specific brewing temperature (to the nearest 2 degrees Fahrenheit) every time.

You can fix this problem by fitting a PID to your Rancilio Silvia.

Espresso Quality Rating: 9/10

Milk Steaming Performance

The Rancilio Silvia can steam milk very well but has a bit of a learning curve to it.

Like I said earlier, if you use the Rancilio Silvia’s steam wand as per its instruction manual (i.e. start steaming when its temperature light goes off) you’re going to spray milk all over your kitchen.

Once you learn when to open up its steam valve, you can steam milk very quickly – far faster than with similarly priced Breville, Delonghi or Gaggia machines.

This faster steaming creates a thicker, creamier milk texture as you’ve pushed less steam (and therefore water) into your milk.

This quick milk frothing might be difficult for someone who has never used a steam wand before as you don’t have as much time to roll your milk around before it gets to its ideal temperature.

Milk Steaming Performance: 9/10

Ease of Use and Cleaning

The Rancilio Silvia has one of the toughest learning curves of any espresso machine.

The Rancilio Silvia is one of few espresso machines that requires a temperature surfing routine for espresso brewing and milk frothing.

This, combined with its very powerful steam wand, can make it a hard machine to tame – especially for a beginner.

Although its three-way solenoid valve ensures that your coffee pucks come out firm (negating one of the messiest parts of espresso making), its poorly designed drip tray means you’re likely to flood the bottom of your espresso machine at least once (a lesson learned the hard way).

Like all espresso machines, the Rancilio Silvia needs to be descaled every few months. The machine does not tell you when to descale it, nor does it come with any descaling solution.

Ease of Use and Cleaning: 4/10

Design and Build Quality

The Rancilio Silvia is an incredibly durable machine. It does have a couple of annoying design quirks, however.

The Rancilio Silvia’s combination of a no-frills design and high-quality building materials means that the machine can easily be a buy-it-for-life product. 

It is, in fact, a regular on the buy it for life subreddit (example thread here) and you often see machines over a decade old for sale in perfect condition.

Design-wise, it has a couple of flaws:

  • Its water tank doesn’t allow you to see how full it is.
  • Its drip tray has to be removed at an angle that makes spillage likely.

In short, a very high build quality, but not the greatest design.

Design and Build Quality Rating: 8/10

Value for Money

While the Rancilio Silvia’s durability makes it a very good value purchase for the right person, I’d like a machine with a PID if I’m spending the best part of $1,000.

If the Rancilio came with a PID fitted then it would be outrageously good value (even if it cost an additional $200 then it would still be good value).

In its current state, and for its current price, it’s still good value if you’re happy to add a PID or temperature surf for every drink you make.

Just be aware that there are more user-friendly espresso machines that cost significantly less than the Rancilio Silvia.

Value for Money Rating: 8/10

Product Alternatives – Breville Bambino and Gaggia Classic Pro

Two espresso machines that I often see being compared to the Rancilio Silvia online are the Breville Bambino and Gaggia Classic Pro. I’ll give my thoughts on how these other machines stack up against each other.

Breville Bambino – Much More User Friendly than the Rancilio Silvia

The Breville Bambino comes with a PID out of the box so no need to worry about temperature surfing.

Far easier to use then the Rancilio Silvia

The Breville Bambino’s built in PID means that it doesn’t require any temperature management, unlike the Rancillio Silvia.

Buy if:

You want a decent espresso without going into the technicalities of espresso making.

You’re going to be using the machine with pre ground coffee.

Don’t buy if:

You want a buy it for life machine.

The Breville Bambino’s steam wand is also gentler than the Rancilio Silvia’s, making it much easier for a beginner to use.

The big disadvantage of the Bambino Plus vs the Rancilio Silvia is durability. 

The Breville Bambino is unlikely to last you more than five years of regular use. The Rancilio Silvia almost certainly will last you double that.

Gaggia Classic Pro – Better if You Won’t Steam Milk

The Gaggia Classic Pro is another durable espresso machine that’s good for modding. It costs around half the price of the Rancilio Silvia, but has far poorer milk steaming.

Better value if you won’t steam milk

The Gaggia Classic Pro is as durable and easier to mod than the Rancilio Silvia. It’s bad at steaming milk because of its small boiler.

Buy if:

You’ll only drink black espresso.

You value durability and repairability in your espresso machine.

You’re open to the idea of modding an espresso machine.

Don’t buy if:

You’re going to be making a lot of milk drinks.

You want a home espresso machine with zero learning curve.

If you’re only going to make espresso (no milk drinks) then you’d get far better value for money with the Gaggia Classic Pro than the Rancilio Silvia.

The two coffee machines have about the same espresso brewing performance, durability (Rancilio Silvia is slightly better in this regard), and modification potential.

The only way that the Rancilio Silvia far outperforms the Gaggia Classic Pro is milk steaming. Since this is due to the Rancilio Silvia’s increased boiler size you cannot mod your Gaggia to steam milk as well as the Rancilio Silvia.

Rancilio Silvia Review: Final Verdict

The Rancilio Silvia is an excellent home espresso machine if you’re either willing to develop a temperature surfing routine or add a PID to it.

Durable and high performing, but not the easiest to use.

The Rancilio Silvia can produce amazing espresso and milk drinks and last you well over a decade. Its lack of temperature control means that every shot is hard work, however.

Buy if:

You want a buy it for life product.

You’re experienced with espresso making, but are on a budget of under $1,000.

You’re not scared of the prospect of opening up and modding the machine.

Don’t buy if:

You want as little learning curve as possible.

You’re not going to use the machine with a grinder.

If you’re not willing to do either of these then I’d instead recommend getting the Breville Bambino and spend any remaining budget on a good grinder.

Far easier to use then the Rancilio Silvia

The Breville Bambino’s built in PID means that it doesn’t require any temperature management, unlike the Rancillio Silvia.

Buy if:

You want a decent espresso without going into the technicalities of espresso making.

You’re going to be using the machine with pre ground coffee.

Don’t buy if:

You want a buy it for life machine.

Rancilio Silvia Review: FAQs

Here are some commonly asked questions when people want a Rancilio Silvia espresso machine review.

Is Rancilio Silvia Worth It?

The Rancilio Silvia is only worth it if you’re willing to go through a temperature-surfing routine every time you brew espresso or steam milk, or if you’re willing to fit the espresso machine with a PID.

If neither of these apply to you then you can get a more suitable espresso maker for less money with the Breville Bambino.

What is the Difference Between Rancilio Silvia V5 and V6?

The Rancilio Silvia V6’s heating element is made out of stainless steel rather than copper, making it more resistant to corrosion. The V6 also has a better-insulated boiler for improved thermal stability. The V6 has a heat-proof group head so you won’t burn yourself when you touch it (a problem that the V5 had).

How Long Does it Take for a Rancilio Silvia to Heat Up?

The Rancilio Silvia takes about 5 minutes to heat all the water in its boiler – this is the point where its temperature light switches off. It takes about 15 minutes to heat all its brewing elements. This is required to get the best espresso from the machine.

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