Some people have Stories about their first car, the fondly remembered bucket of screwdrivers that carried them through high school, cross country to college, and to their first real job interview. I don’t drive, so I had an espresso machine. She saw me in high school, college and beyond. I would also say that it brought me more joy than sorrow, but it was close.
It was a Starbucks branded single boiler espresso machine, like This. It had a simple and straightforward design, but a lot of the plastic parts cracked with age. However, the classic, slim design makes it a great choice for making espresso at home. The Rancilio Silvia Pro is the spiritual successor to that instrument. They have a lot in common, but Rancilio offers professional-grade espresso that beats even some of the most expensive machines on the market.
ghost in the machine
When I saw Rancilio Silvia Pro in the background of a YouTube video, my jaw dropped. I’ve paused the video and scrolled through my photos for years. he was there. This mysterious machine looked like a modern update to the beloved and long-dead espresso machine that used a single boiler. It wasn’t until months later, when I was opening a can of the Silvia Pro, a double boiler machine, that I realized just how deep the similarity was.
To be clear, the Old Believers featured a very standard design and built for medium to high-end espresso machines. It’s far from unique, but it’s a design that has fallen out of style over the past decade or so in favor of wider, more café-like espresso machines like Breville Barista Pro.
The profile is nice and narrow. It fits well on a small apartment countertop without taking up much space. Unfortunately, the feet were painting the surface of the table whenever I moved it. This is partly because they slip and slide whenever I lift the coffee filter into place, unless I hold the machine with my free hand. However, it’s not a huge problem, and it’s one that the Silvia Pro shares with just about every other espresso machine of this size and approx weight.
This is an amazing espresso machine in black and stainless steel with a professional steam pump. On your counter, it’s understated but sturdy. It looks like a tiger poised to pounce – and when you flip it over, it even roars like one as it overheats and overheats the water.
The buttons on the front are mechanical buttons or switches: a power switch, a manual brew switch, another for steam heating, and another for hot water. There is a small LCD screen for adjusting the temperature, and that’s it. Silvia Pro removes everything but the essentials, so nothing stands between you and the perfect extraction but yourself. It’s daunting in a way. Every time I pulled a water bullet, it was because my grinding or my tampon It was off, not because the machine had somehow gone wrong. This is true of all manual espresso machines, but here the simple design and expert engineering emphasizes it.
My old machines taught me a lot about how to make great coffee in the face of long odds. Does this shot taste funny because the grinding is off a bit, or because I need to clean the rubber tube inside repeatedly? Is this taste burning because of my beans, or because something strange is going on with my filter coffee? Making coffee with this old machine was a minefield, but it taught me a lot.
That’s why I can appreciate the expert engineering of Silvia Pro. I know what it’s like when a machine with this general design has a hard time, or when it throws bugs. Early on, I had a few bad extractions and learned a couple of Sylvia’s quirks. The coffee filter was less shallow than you’re used to, so make sure you don’t overfill or over-drape. It’s easy to overtighten or lower the filter when you lock it, so make sure you don’t pull it too hard. Use enough force to return the coffee filter to its original position, pointing directly at you – don’t try to stretch it with the muscles as it is or else you’ll end up with a weak, bitter shot.