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Hello Miss Silvia!
Home >> Obsessions >> Progression >> Miss Silvia

Hello, Miss Silvia!

Miss Silvia Frontal Nudity

Like any hobby, you never quite reach that "nirvana" level. For a short time it might seem so, but nuh nuh… For a time I was happy with my Novo.  Looking back, I think I was more happy with the experimentation. The drinks were good - better in fact than many of the drek things calling themselves espresso that I could buy at a restaurant or many chain type cafes.

But a few months later, and it is February, 1999. My Braun is grinding okay, but annoyingly loud and messy with grounds flying everywhere on waves of static. My Krups Novo has its quirks and they are starting to annoy me (like how I had to run the steam for 30 seconds until it petered out, then wait another couple of minutes, then get full, consistent steam). And I have to admit, I was getting jealous of the "dream machines" the regulars in the Internet newsgroup alt.coffee were espousing on. Solis. Gaggia. Saeco. Rancilio.

The Rancilio buzz

It's interesting to look back on this now, knowing that I've created a helluva lot of buzz for the Rancilio consumer line over the years. But back in mid 1998 and early 1999, the Rancilio buzz was created by others online. The reason was the introduction of a machine that was the talk of the newsgroup alt.coffee: the Rancilio Miss Silvia.

The general consensus was that the Silvia was finicky, but with its marine brass parts, all metal exterior, huge boiler and overall bulletproof engineering, it was a primo home machine. One problem though for me: Locally, the Silvia was available in one place, and their price was a cool grand with taxes (Canadian funds). It was available online from three locations, but at a price of $400 USD (roughly $600CDN), it was "up there". Remember me mentioning I was a cheap bastard?

I knew I wanted a better machine though, so I set my sights on two units. I was thinking either a Solis S70, or a Saeco Cappuccino Combi. Both were around $300USD and one had a built in grinder. I didn't let Jeanette know... I figured I would surprise her :-). My plan was to put aside about $75 a month until I had enough to buy a top grade grinder and one of the above machines. Then I caught a lucky break.

Silvia Lookin Good
Miss Silvia, all set up
As soon as I got my Silvia all set up, I started snapping tons of pictures. Most were terrible, but this one I kinda like.

A hurt Miss Silvia

I saw an advertisement from Daily Grind in the alt.coffee newsgroup, posting for "damaged Silvias" at half price. Minor cosmetic damage, the ad said. Intrigued, and with my "cheap bastard" lights firing off, I inquired. One machine was simply missing two bolts, and the others were dented. A Silvia, with two easily replaceable bolts, for $200. I had to have it.

I thought about it for about 20 seconds, and discussed it with Jeanette, because both of us discussed any major purchases we made for "the house", but she was cool with it - she knew how much quality espresso meant to me. So I ordered the Silvia. Meanwhile, I knew the Braun just couldn't cut it as a grinder anymore, at least not with a Rancilio Silvia. So I took the money I saved up for my new espresso machine and grinder (a paltry $110 - I had to dip into it!), and figured heck, if I could get a decent grinder for that much money, I would.

Maybe it was karma, maybe it was chance... heck, maybe it was meant to be, but wouldn't you know, Starbucks was having a sale on their brand new Solis-made Barista grinder, and the sale was over within a few days. I bought one.

So I had this nifty new grinder and I patiently waited (well, not so patiently!) for the Silvia to arrive. It finally did, and following Murphy's law, it was broken. Not just the missing bolts, but the PVC tubing that went from the pump to the boiler had a crack in it (see the image to the right? see that white tube? that's what had the small crack). A crack that resulted in huge pools of water under and inside the machine. Nothing like having your ultimate toy and not being able to play with it, let me tell you!

Eventually, the problem was fixed with a replacement part (though not without its own set of troubles with a crappy company called Mr. Cappuccino) and I got to try my very first shot from Miss Silvia....

Is this espresso nirvana?

I was in Espresso Nirvana, or so I thought at the time. My very first shot with the Silvia and Barista grinder was exceptional - full of crema, at least 5mm of it, rich, deep, thick and luscious. My next few shots were almost as good. My first cappa was an experience - not only with Silvia's super strong frothing power (it blew the milk right out of my pitcher the first time I tried it), but with the Silvia's ability to produce microfoam - the pourable kind, pretty much automatically.

Those first two weeks with the Silvia were amazing - full of experimentation, tweaking and new explorations into what makes espresso work. Along the way I discovered that even more exceptional shots could be had if I used a brute force (70lb or more) tamp on the espresso grinds… because my poor Barista grinder was still a half click away from doing the "perfect" grind for the Silvia. The Barista grinder was capable of doing a fine enough grind to choke my Novo Compact, allowing no liquid to come out, but the Silvia was so powerful, that even this superfine grind wasn't fine enough to stop the pump on the Rancilio.

So my new trip to Nirvana lasted about two weeks. Then my Barista grinder seized up - I there was a rock in one of my coffee roasts, and it seized the Barista motor up. I was devastated - but not for long. This event caused me to add the latest (and for now, final) major element to my espresso stable - a new grinder.

It's name is Rocky. And if you want to find out more about it, and my initial vac pot adventures, head over to the next part of my Coffee Progression.

Other Parts of the Coffee Progression Section.
The Nescafe Beginnings The Gaggia Years
What was good enough for my Dad should be good enough for me, right? I didn't know until I went to Europe... [ more ] I bought a used Baby Gaggia in the local classifieds. How I loved this machine. I mean it. I was intrigued by it. I tinkered with it. I sure do miss it. [ more ]
Going Krups Novo Rockys and Vacuums
By 1998, I knew it was time to get back into the good stuff. I was spending too much loonies on cafe espresso. I wanted it in the home again. [ more ] Silvia was rocking, but not rocking, if you know what I mean - she needed Rocky. And I needed to get a new old product I saw for the very first time - a vac pot. [ more ]
Livia Kicks Silvia Out of the House  
Soon, I felt the need to upgrade, and one machine seemed the very natural choice: the Pasquini Livia. How was the introduction? [ more ]  

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