Reviewers say the Rancilio Silvia espresso maker offers the best combination of durability, espresso quality, and ease of use, with many saying it's the best machine available for less than $1,000. It's great for newbies, most reviewers say, but experienced users love it as well. It does have a learning curve, and it's crucial to have a top-notch grinder as well for the best result.
Coffee shop-quality espresso. The Rancilio Silvia is a semi-automatic espresso machine that reviewers say delivers exceptional espresso. It has some commercial-grade elements that help filter and distribute the water more evenly while providing maximum heat stability. The 12-ounce boiler is one of the largest in any entry-level espresso machine. It takes about 20 minutes for the Silvia to warm up, and for best results, some users suggest running warm water through the machine to warm up the pipes and portafilter. The vast majority of experts and owners say that purchasing a high-quality burr coffee grinder is an absolute must to accommodate this machine's precision requirements.
Easy to use; needs some fiddling for "perfection." The actual operation of the Rancilio Silvia is fairly simple and straightforward -- push the right buttons to turn it on and off and to start and stop the brewing process. It also features an articulating steam wand, making it easier to control than in previous versions of the Silvia. However users must experiment to find the right espresso grind and tamping pressure. Most espresso enthusiasts say they enjoy this process, but other machines offer simpler operation and coffee forums are teeming with questions from frustrated newbies who can't figure out why their espresso doesn't taste quite right. Temperature is another issue, with many reviewers saying that users must learn to "temperature surf" to avoid burnt or sour espresso. However, SweetMarias.com editors suggest it's just a matter of learning when to start the extraction process during the brew cycle. The Silvia can be adapted to use ESE (Easy Serve Espresso) pods, but the adapter kit runs about $90 and attaching and removing it can be tricky -- and you can't brew from grounds with the adapter attached.
Built like a tank. Reviewers praise the Rancilio Silvia's design, saying it's a sturdy, high-quality machine. All parts are commercial or semi-commercial grade, constructed primarily with stainless steel and cast iron, two materials known for long-term durability. Owner feedback at Amazon.com and CoffeeGeek.com calls the Rancilio Silvia a nice-looking kitchen appliance, but it doesn't win any awards for being especially modern or retro. That said, its stainless-steel housing fits in with most décor. It's a heavy machine at just more than 30 pounds, so it's best left sitting on a countertop -- but be sure you have the space. It's reported as having a fairly small footprint, though, so that shouldn't be an issue.
This is an update to a review that Dan Kehn originally wrote for Home-Barista.com in 2003. He notes improvements Rancilio has made to the Silvia that makes it easier for newbies to use, but also notes that it's less forgiving than even pricier, commercial-quality machines. In conclusion, he gives it an overall score of 3 stars of 5, which he notes is still "quite respectable."
Review: Rancilio Silvia Review, Dan Kehn, Not Dated
2. Whole Latte Love
The Rancilio Silvia earns about 4.5 stars out of 5 in more than 325 reviews, most of which are highly positive. Owners say it makes wonderful espresso, but most warn that you must use a high-quality grinder to get top results.
Review: Rancilio Silvia Redesigned V3 Espresso Machine, Contributors to WholeLatteLove.com, As of October 2014
The Rancilio Silvia is highly rated at CoffeeGeek.com, an online community for coffee connoisseurs. Most owners who post reviews are delighted with it, calling it a great starter machine and a consistent, rewarding device. Overall, about 230 users give it a score of 8.5 out of 10.
Review: Consumer Espresso: Rancilio Silvia, Contributors to CoffeeGeek.com, As of October 2014
About 200 owners give the Rancilio Silvia an average rating of 4.3 stars out of 5. Most love it and say it's easy to use and makes a mean cup of espresso. Some say it requires finesse to master, however, and advise that you buy a high-quality grinder to go with it.
Review: Rancilio HSD-SILVIA Silvia Espresso Machine, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of October 2014
This is an older review, but still relevant as the Rancilio hasn't changed significantly since it was posted. Meister, an experienced barista, discusses the best espresso machines for home use at different price points. She calls the Silvia "incredibly user-friendly" and says it "even offers the option for geek-leaning coffee people to add features.
Review: Serious Espresso At Home: Finding the Right Machine, Erin Meister, June 13, 2011
6. Sweet Maria's
Editors of SweetMarias.com recommend the Rancilio Silvia, calling it a "modern classic." They point out that like most espresso makers, the Silvia is a tool that requires practice to perfect the process.
Review: Rancilio Miss Silvia Espresso Machine, Editors of SweetMarias.com, As of October 2014