I had to retire my Gaggia Classic after 10 years and decided to get a new espresso machine to replace it. Here’s a post about why I decided to buy a Rancilio Silivia Miss Silva, how I bought it, how I got used to it, and what I’m going to try next.

Choosing a Rancilio Silvia

My first question to myself was: do I want to give-up on making my own espresso? I decided ‘no’, I enjoy my morning ritual of making espresso for myself.

My next question was: do I want to take this opportunity to upgrade my machine? I decided ‘not really’.

Using a machine like a Gaggia Classic is vaguely like driving an old, mechanical car that has no speedometer or warning lights. A Gaggia Classic is a mechanical boiler in a casing. It has a light to let you know when the water’s hot enough and that’s it. At it’s price point (around £500 or less), that’s all you get with most models. If you pull an espresso shot and it takes good or bad it’s difficult to understand why. Was the pressure right? Was the temperature right? It’s trial and error. The next step-up includes the equivalent of a car dashboard that let;s you track these variables. But the next step-up is a lot more expensive. You jump from around £500 or less for machines like the Gaggia Classic, to £1000-£1500 for machines with a lot more diagnostics and a second boiler. There’s little in between. And a price-jump of that size deserves a pause for thought.

I decided that this price-jump was not good value for me:

  • I’ve not exhausted what I can do with what I’ve got. I can get better by giving more attention to how I make espresso with my existing setup. There are options at the £500-ish price-point that can be modified to add additional functionality, if that’s something I’d like to do that in the future
  • I’m only making espresso for myself and only once a day. There’s close to no purpose in having a second, dedicated boiler for steaming milk when I’m using the machine so lightly
  • I’d end-up being limited by the quality of my grinder and unable to make use of the quality of an upgraded espresso machine. The rule of thumb is your grinder needs to be of the same quality as your espresso machine if you want to get good results. My Gaggia Classic cost around £180 back in the day, and that’s how much my upgraded grinder cost when I got it a few years later. They’re evenly matched. If I spent £1000-£1500 on an espresso machine I’d need to invest £500+ on a grinder. And I couldn’t afford that. £1000-£1500 would max-out what I could afford. And without the grinder to back it up, I wouldn’t get the benefit from it. It’s likely that a £500 espresso machine and a £500 grider would get better results than a £1500 espresso machined and a £200 grinder. So, on balance, it’s better for me to get a £500-ish machine - that I can still get better at using - and consider upgrading my £200 grinder to something more around £500 when I can afford it in the future.

However, I decided not to get a more modern Gaggia Classic. I’ve gone for a Rancilio Silvia Miss Siliva instead. It’s a similar machine in many respects, kind of a step sideways in many respects. But it’s a better quality of build in terms of materials and construction so it’s kind of a tiny step-up in that I should get more consistent results and it could last longer than the Gaggia. It’s similar enough that I should be able to use it straight out of the box. And enough of an improvement that it should be a pleasure to use. Gaggia Classic and Rancilio Silvia are the two most popular semi-manual espresso machines at this price point. This is in part because they can both be modified and improved with relative ease. As a result, both have large support communities to help get the most from them.

Buying a Rancilio Silvia in the UK

It’s not as easy to buy a Rancilio Silvia as I’d expected. It’s not hard but required a bit of research. I could only find two authorised sellers of Rancilio Silvia in the UK, Bella Barista and Coffee Italia. I’ve used Bella Barista before so tried them first but they had no stock during the couple of weeks I checked their site. I’d not heard of Coffee Italia before but a quick search showed a lot of satisfied customers, they had Rancilo Silvia in stock and on offer for £492. So I went with them. Delivery was £20 but the machine is relatively heavy and ships from Italy so that seemed fair enough. It was sent by Fedex, I got regular updates and it reached me in less than a week. It arrived well-packaged in perfect working-order.

Getting used to the Rancilio Silvia

The Rancilio Silvia comes with simple instructions for how to prepare the machine for first use. Unusually, it’s packaged with a decent tamper too.

The machine ships with a ‘double’ basket . . . but the maximum it’ll comfortably take is 16g of ground coffee. I typically go with the increasingly common 18g of ground coffee for my double espresso. So I ordered myself a larger basket but carried on using the machine using 16g of coffee until it arrived. It’s worth noting, the Rancilio Silvia group head is different to the Gaggia Classic. It needs different portafilters and different baskets, so I couldn’t use the larger basket I’ve got for my Gaggia Classic.

I’ve had my larger basket for a few days now. The Rancilio Silvia is so close in features to the Gaggia Classic that I’ve not had much of a learning curve to get up to speed and I’m already making consistently decent espresso. My workflow is:

  • Water tank full of filtered water
  • Turn on the machine with the portafilter attached and leave to warm-up (cup on top to warm too)
  • When water is ready, flush through the steam wand and the grouphead to ensure machine is fully warm
  • Grind 18g of coffee beans. I’ve got a Sage Grinder Smart Pro and am currently using espresso blend from Workshop Coffee. I grind finely at setting 6 for around 14.4-14.6 seconds. Then tamp the grinds firmly
  • Take my scales, place the cup on top and zero them. Remove the cup and place the scales on the drip tray
  • When the machine’s hot, attach the portafilter, place the cup underneath on the scales and start the water
  • I turn-off the water at about 31-32g of espresso and it runs for a little while longer to give around the 36g of espresso I’m looking for.

I’m getting good results so far.

There’s a few things I might do to try and improve things in the future:

  • There’s a weird design choice on the Rancilio Silivia. The screw attaching the water screen to the group head is not flush to the screen. This means you get an indentation in the coffee puck every time you make an espresso. My assumption is that this indentation creates a weak point for water to funnel through, probably messing with the espresso’s flavour a little. There are kits available to sort this, I’ll likely get one
  • I’ll probably get a naked portafliter. It makes the workflow a little simpler. The spouts on normal portafilters leave little space underneath for espresso cups and scales, naked portafilters leave more space and make things easier. They make me enjoy the process of making the espresso a little more, it’s satisfying to see the espresso coming out of the machine
  • I recently published a post on things I’ve learned from owning a Gaggia Classic for 10 years. Off the back of that I’ll be cleanging my machine every month and descaling every 2-3 months
  • My espresso machine is now better than my grinder so I might consider upgrading my ginder at some point. The Niche Zero seems to be what all the cool kids are getting at an equally cool £500
  • There’s a whole thing about pressure of espresso machines at the moment. 9 bars of pressure is ideal but many machines, like the Rancilio Silvia, ship at a higher pressure. I’ve not encountered any issues as a result of this so far. But it’s relatively simple to change and something I might try.

That’s it for now. Happy coffee making!