Tuesday, February 18, 2014

COFFEE 101: ESPRESSO AT HOME WITH THE RANCILIO SILVIA

The Rancilio Silvia is an Italian-made espresso machine, producing high quality results while being both compact and rather easy-to-use. Clive Coffee named it one of the best single-boiler espresso machines under $1,000 (as many of you may or may not know, espresso machines are generally, expensive). Though I’ve never owned a more expensive machine in comparison, I can say that this machine has been my at-home savior.

After a couple of months, and perhaps 400 cappuccinos later (not all imbibed, don’t worry), I’ve learned a thing or two. And I wanted to share my amateur findings. There is, as always, much room for improvement. I’m only two months in to being top barista of my household.

Details:

The Rancilio Silvia is a single-boiler espresso machine — meaning there is only one water-heating source for both brewing and steaming.  Therefore, it will take a bit more time to prepare a milk drink; after an espresso shot is pulled, there is a waiting period for the machine to heat up to optimal temperature again before steaming milk.  Since I’m usually only making one or two drinks at a time, this isn’t a concern for me.

Important Variables:

First of all, as always, good coffee is required for a good result.

When pulling espresso at home, one of the most important elements is your grind.  Grind is an important aspect of any coffee-making, but one honestly can’t pull a good espresso shot unless a proper grind size is used. I received the Baratza Maestro (since discontinued) as a gift, and it has really made all the difference.  There are even more efficient grinders for espresso use, but I have found that this one is doing the job for now.

The espresso should be fine and powdery, which allows a uniform and compact tamp (that little silver hammer which baristas use to pressurize the grinds in the group-head). While tamping, one should apply even, forceful pressure for about 30 seconds. There should be no holes or cracks in the espresso once it is tamped.

The extraction time is the final variable one must watch carefully. It is, quite simply, the time it takes to brew an espresso shot. Optimal time varies between machines, but generally lies between 20-25 seconds from the time you flip the switch to the end result. I am currently extracting espresso for about 20 seconds. A proper shot of espresso should be topped by a thick crema (that cream-colored frothy layer that sits on the top of an espresso shot, an effect of the gases being released during extraction.)

Next up, I’ll tackle the highly difficult art of steaming milk. Stay tuned!

I produced a short film on my iPad — grainy and pixelated — to give you some visuals.

2 Responses to “COFFEE 101: ESPRESSO AT HOME WITH THE RANCILIO SILVIA”

  1. meredith Jun 22, 2016

    Great instructions Elizabeth! Particularly your emphasis on the tamp procedure. So many espressos wasted because of poor extraction.

    The Baratza Preciso would be a good replacement for the Maestro if any of your other readers are looking.


  2. Cricket Jones Nov 22, 2016

    Coffeee GRRRL!…….yes to more video! Maybe read your writing verbatim in the vids.