I still remember my first espresso coffee machine. It wasn't the best; it was a Krups "steam toy" but I thought I had found what I needed. A few years later, I moved up to my next, a Briel Vilamoura.
Finally, I have a Rancilio Silvia. This excellent home espresso machine runs about $450 or so, depending upon the Dollar to Euro exchange rate. One day, I'll get a commercial espresso machine, or one of the larger home units -- one of those that uses a heat exchanger system for instant steam and instant hot water.
For now, though, I love my Rancilio Silvia. No coffee shop stops for me!
My espresso world changed when I purchased my Rancilio Silvia. The espresso from this home espresso machine has been tremendously better than that at almost any commercial coffee shop that I've visited — including visits while traveling. The current setup is my Silvia, with the green beans I purchase from Sweet Maria's, roasted in my RK Drum & Gas Grill roaster, and ground with my Rancilio Rocky grinder immediately before brewing. My espresso grinder was a Solis Maestro until recently, when I retired it from espresso service and dedicated it to drip coffee until it finally died.
One big problem with my older Briel Vilamoura espresso machine was that it heated the water for the espresso, and the water for steam, using a small aluminum heating block. I had to stop in the middle of steaming milk to let the "heating block" reheat. This became a real pain on winter weekend mornings, when I did two cups of hot chocolate and one latté. That espresso machine simply did not have the steam capacity I needed.
The Silvia changed all that. The steam capacity of the Silvia was the best I had ever seen. I could steam all the hot chocolate I wanted without stopping. Later, after I added a PID (below), I could watch the boiler temperature drop when I was steaming, so I know that the steam is not really endless -- if just seemed to be that way.]
I changed from the standard Silvia portafilter "double" basket to a La Marzocca one. This gave one boost to the espresso quality. Subsequently, I changed to the so-called La Marzocca double "ridgeless" portafilter basket (this is not made by La Marzocca, but is manufactured by a third party to fit the La Marzocca machines). This cooperates much better with my 58mm tamper, an Espresso Vivace Ergo Tamper, and resulted in yet again another improvement in the espresso.
My later project was to add the Fuji PXR3 PID temperature controller to my Silvia. The goal of this project was to make a dramatic improvement in the consistency of the water temperature for brewing espresso. The stock thermostat in the Silvia is reported to have a temperature swing of 40 degrees F. I planned to check mine when I hook up the thermocouple and before converting the unit to control by the PID process controller. This modification has been discussed extensively on alt.coffee, which fueled my desire.
My Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine — Adding a PID pages talk about the changes I made when I PID'ed Silvia, with pictures and tips for PID'ing your machine. Websites by Pepé and Murph motivated and guided me in my PID addition.
Copyright © 2002-2006 Terry A. Stockdale