Nissan Silvia

Not half bad cars these.

Nissan Silvia

I almost got one too, until I went for the Altezza - the same rear wheel drive performance, but the extra doors make it more user friendly...

Rancilio Silvia

Anyway, surprisingly we're not here to talk about the Nissan Silvia.  We're here to talk Rancilio Silvia - a quality home espresso machine.
There's a lot out there on the web about this little baby, so I won't go repeating that - I'll link to it (over here), and diary my experiences with this machine below...

Generic Rancillio Silvia Product Shot
Not sure if it's going to be a rocky road learning to get a good shot out of this machine, as of today (30 May) I've only just placed an order for a Rancilio Silvia and a Rancilio Rocky (grinder).  Hence the whole rocky road, Nissan/Rancilio Silvia pun type thing.  Sorry if the humour isn't your cup of tea (coffee).

May 2006

Awaiting the arrival of the new toys... 

June 2006

 3 June - Got the Silvia and Rocky home last night.  Since I have a policy of not drinking caffeine after mid afternoon (the half life of caffeine is 4 hours and a good sleep is important) so I pulled a few shots just to dial in the grind in the hope I'd be able to get something good out the next morning.  First shot looked mint, timing was spot on and the crema was thick.  The brew was a little bitter, but for a first shot I was very impressed.  Sadly the tamper that I ordered with the Silvia was left out of the order, so I'll have to follow that one up on Tuesday (long weekend this weekend).  I'm stuck with that infamous plastic 'tamper' in the interim.

10 June - It's been a week apparently.  Guess I've pulled something like 40 shots so far and only a few have had to be sent down the sink, and when they occur those seem to come in pairs.  The first shot pulls too fast, then I overcompensate and choke it, then, third time's the charm.

Up until yesterday I've been persevering with the plastic 'tamper' and thinking that is wasn't too bad.  Well, turns out it was bad.  Very bad.  My lovely little Rimu handled tamper finally arrived and works a treat.  Tamping is significantly faster and easier with the right tools for the job.  As the alt.coffee folks point out, ditching the plastic tamper is a critical first 'mod'.  The next step is apparently a La Marzocco basket, so I've got one of those on the way from coffeeparts.com (as well as a Grindenstein knock-box).  

I don't do milk drinks myself, so I haven't had much chance to evaluate the Silvia's steaming abilities.  However I have had some friends over and with the aid of a milk thermometer and some basic rules  have managed to get some pretty decent foam.  Those basic rules being:
1 - stretch by incorporating air up to 30C (skimming the surface)
2 - swirl till 70C (wand down low and make the milk spin)
3 - learn the Silvia's thermostat cycle to maximise steam pressure

Very early days yet, but here's an attempt at some art:
First Attempt at Latte Art

July 2006

10 July - Wicked fluke, I decide to update this site and I find that it's been exactly a month.  Guess I could pretend that I planned it that way...

Before I got the Silvia I was a good boy and did my research so there have been very few surprises or discoveries while using the Rancilio equipment over the past 5 weeks.  So unlike Randy's voyage of discovery, I've been able to pull shot after shot of delightful coffee.  I don't know what all the fuss is about, getting a good shot is easy.  Just follow the golden rule of (approx) 25 ml in 25 seconds.  It's a cinch.  I've been rewarded with beautiful rich coffee and a golden crema every time.  Until yesterday.  The Silvia and Rocky are away from home this week.  What this means is that they're not sitting in the usual layout I have at home.  Rancilio Silvia and Rocky

Pictured (left to right) Rocky, tamper (cafedirect), Silvia, Atomic ACF cups, steaming jug and thermometer, Grindenstein knock-box (just in frame).


This has made it a 'mare for me trying to lock the portafilter handle in place.  Eventually I realised that at home the Silvia is on an angle to where I stand so after correcting that I was able to load the filter in place without smashing the puck as I fumbled around trying to locate the lugs.  The coffee was still bad though.  The shots were coming out nice and dark, but the streams were really thin and the crema (when on the odd occasion that it did appear) was weak and blonde.  I had no idea what was going on.  I went through a range of grind settings and tried every distribution/tamping technique I could think of.  250 g of beans later and still no joy.  I was out of the nice fresh Origin coffee that I had received only the day before.  Not wanting to give in I dug out some old Altura beans that I had floating around (I had purchased these 4 weeks earlier) and went back to my default grind setting.  The pull was near perfect.  The beans, it had to be the beans.  They'd seemed fresh, they had come straight from the roaster and yet I just could no get a good cup from them.  I've got another 250 g of the same beans (may or may not be from the same roasting batch however) sitting it home, so when I get back there I'll try them, but at this stage it looks like I won't be going near that roaster again.  So the old Altura beans performed well, but because of their age they lacked flavour.  Desperate for a good cup this morning I popped out and picked up some Fusion [LINK] organic (it was all they stocked) at $11 for 200 g (too expensive in my opinion) from a nearby cafe.  Thankfully the beans are fresh and coffee of the standard I expect is again dripping from the Silvia.  To summarise the beans I've tried through the Silvia so far, I've used the signature blends from -
Lafarre,
Atomic,
Mojo,
Altura,
Origin's medium dark blend which performed appallingly, and now
Fusion's Organic 'Timor' blend.  
Next on my list is to try for the smooth smoky flavour of Havana.  Then I'll probably go through the lot again before settling on a staple.  At some stage I'll write up reviews of my experiences with each

I see this time last month I was waiting for the fabled LM Basket (ex coffeeparts.com part #300013).  Well, it arrived.  I wasn't to impressed with it however.  It's certainly not an authentic La Marzocco job and looks a little shoddy.  The holes are not centred properly and don't appear to be 'punched' (if that's how the process works) with as much care as those on the stock Rancilio basket.  There's also the exact same number of holes in this larger LM style basket as there are in my Rancilio one.  This was a bit of a surprise as I believe the authentic La Marzocco ones have more holes to balance the increased pressure drop across the larger puck.  Anyway it does hold more coffee and fits nicely with my tamper, so no complaints there. And as for the coffee?  Well after getting my grinding, distribution and tamping dialled in with the new basket I'd say that it does give more of the good stuff.  The pull lasts longer before starting to blonde.
Anyway, picture worth a thousand words and all that:
La Marzocco Style Basket Alongside Standard Rancilio Double
The blue arrow draws attention to the off-centre nature of the holes...

Here's a picture borrowed from abstractgourmet.com showing a La Marzocco basket with a full complement of holes (right):

An Authentic La Marzocco Basket alongside Rancillio



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