Category Archives: Food & Cooking
After having the Rancilio Silvia for 2 years and experienced with so many different beans from all over the world, it’s time to backflush and pressure test the machine. Blackflusing involves a 58mm Blind filter ($9.99 CAD) and Urnex Full Circle Tablets ($22.95 CAD) at Green Beanery.
The details on how to backflush is so simple and there are tons of information on the Internet. Yet, the pressure gauge is another story. The pressure gauge portafilter kits selling on Internet are about $45 US, but most of them don’t come with a valve (i.e. maximum pressure testing only) but I want to control the valve (i.e. test brewing pressure when slightly opened). Unless you buy the kit ($60 US) that is designed to install directly connected to the pump, then you can see the pressure change everytime when the brew button is pressed. For me, portafilter gauge is good enough and inspired by this article: Rancilio Silvia Pressure Gauge Test, I decided to DIY one.
Parts: I picked up a fire sprinkler pressure gauge from Active Surplus in Toronto ($15 CAD), I think it was used but who cares. Notice that it said “Air/Water” and its Made in USA. Unfortunately it was not oil filled, it’s okay since it is not connected to the pump. The rest of the parts were from local hardware store Home Depot – because of the size of the fittings, I had to get parts from both plumbing (Watts) and air compressor (porter cable) departments. It was easy to assemble, simply put them together and sealed with teflon tape.
Notes: To perform the test on Rancilio Silvia, DO NOT use any basket otherwise it will leak on the grouphead. In the photo/video, you can see the position of the portafiler was way pass the normal position because no basket was used. This is the only way to seal it properly without leaking, as you can see in the video there was not even a single drop of water leaking from any joint or grouphead.
Test 1: Maximum pressure with valve closed: 150-152 psi (10.3 – 10.5 bar)
Test 2: Brewing pressure with valve slightly opened: 140-147 psi (9.6-10.1 bar)
Repeatedly running both test 1 and 2 for multiple times (see both pictures and video), passed with flying colors. As you see in video, it wasn’t easy to control the valve. The point is to test the pump is working fine and the machine has enough pressure to brew an espresso properly.
For most semi-automatic prosumer/professional espresso machines, having 8-10 bar (116-145 psi) is optimal. Read “The umpteen BAR Myth” section in Espresso Machine Buying Guide and How Many Bars Should an Espresso Machine Have? As you can tell, company like Nespresso have their machines built at 15-19 bar, definitely it’s a marketing gimmick. Very smart, the higher the number the better especially for consumers who don’t have advanced knowledge about espresso.
Before our friends flew back to Hong Kong, we took them to the famous Wonders of the World in Canada – Niagara Falls. After that, we visited 2 wineries at Niagara On The Lake, Inniskillin and Peller Estates. Finally we had fine dining at Treadwell – Canadian farm to table cuisine.
(All photos were taken using Panasonic GF1 with 20mm f/1.8 pancake lens)
It wasn’t the first time Deb and I had been to Treadwell despite the 2 hours drive from Toronto, we found that the chef Stephen Treadwell is so creative and most importantly they have 7 course tasting menu with wine pairing. That’s why we decided to go back. Also, we support local food – all the wines/herbs/veggies are from the Niagara region. It is NOT easy to find the same quality fine dining experience with similar price range in Toronto, the only places we had been to were in Quebec.
Although we are not professional food critic, yet we have been to Michelin 3 star restaurants in Las Vegas, Molecular Gastronomy in Quebec, and traditional restaurants in France, Spain and Italy. I guess we are qualified to give some reviews. Check out our Food and Cooking section on this blog.
My Comments – I wouldn’t talked about each course individually since overall they tasted extremely good in taste and well balanced, I could actually tasted different level of details that the chef put into the food. The smoked whitefish, salmon and 38 days aged beef tenderloin were just outstanding, everything were so fresh and packed with flavor. The creative part was the salmon skin was deep fried separately and it tasted awesome. The use of poached egg was interesting in the potato soup, but the smoked whitefish just balanced the taste perfectly. Surprisingly, the Souffle was even better than those we had in Paris, it was so smooth!!! Chili Ice Cream was so unique and paired extremely well with raspberry wine, must have.
The only comments I would say is the homemade garganelli and raviolo have room for improvement. Note that it has nothing to do with al dente or not, the texture on the bite has overpowered the meat inside or around it, perhaps maybe make it slightly thinner. Also, green beans were used in one of the courses, the taste was totally fine but the look was a bit ordinary, I would look for some more interesting shape beans instead.
My rating for Treadwell:
- Taste: 4.6/5
- Creativity: 4.6/5
- Plating: 4.5/5
- Service and Environment: 4.5/5
- Price: 4.4/5
- Overall: 4.52/5
James Treadwell (son of the owner) was so friendly and we enjoyed the experience so much. Definitely strongly recommended. Remember, it’s farm to table cuisine and it’s more down-to-earth style fine dining, you don’t need shirt and tie. If you are looking for Foie gras, Caviar or gold flakes, go somewhere else. It is an Art that you need to appreciate that the chef brings from the farm, and taste the creation process behind it. Compare to many restaurants in Toronto, many so called “fine-dining” are cookie cutting business, you need to experience yourself to tell the difference.
This is our first (and also last) Winterlicious in 2012 since fine dining in Toronto is too commercial and we can’t find any surprises. Anyways, for $30 CAD a person on lunch menu, there are 3 courses each.
First of all, I picked up the menu and the word “Foie Gras” captured my eyes. But if you read it carefully, it said “Foie Gras scented” LOL… For $30 a person, I didn’t expect a piece of big Foie Gras like in Paris. Well, I don’t know the bio of the chef, but Deb told me he is Asian no wonder why I could find some Szechwan marinated stuff in the menu. Of course, being Asian, we aint gonna eat that.
Duct Leg Confit – Okay, the duck leg confit tasted pretty good, I would give it 90/100 WITHOUT the sauce. The sauce was TOO sweet with strawberry flavor and it overpowered the duck (See photo? it’s in pink color) Honestly speaking, it didn’t even match IMO. Interestingly, in the menu it said “Quince and goat cheese compote” but I wasn’t able to find a single trace of that. Perhaps, they ran out of quince and replaced with strawberry???
Roasted celeriac Soup – Pretty decent but no surprise, the portion was bigger than other fine dining restaurants. Well, it’s less elegant but good in value – is it good or bad, depends of your point of view.
Foie Gras scented chicken – We didn’t see any Foie Gras, but that’s totally understandable because the menu said “Foie Gras scented”. Overall it’s a good piece of chicken, but presentation could have been a bit better. Look at the sauce pattern, if Gordon Ramsay were there, I bet he would asked the chef to re-do it.
Citrus cured salmon – If I have to grade the Chef, this is the one who plays very safe. Salmon was very good in taste especially combined with the grilled sweeten bak choy, as well as lentil. Yet, nothing special though.
White & Dark Chocolate Cheesecake – Cheese Cake ball looked very cute and they tasted like ice cream instead of cheese cake. I am not sure if that’s good or bad.
Calvados scented apple crumble – This is actually one of the best apple crumble I have ever had. Good match with the Calvados caramel sauce.
Overall Verdict and Rating: Decent price, tasty and good quality 3 courses, the food was good but absolutely lack of the “wow factor”. For $30 lunch menu per person, we have absolutely no complain. Two of us plus one glass of French Kiss Martini, total came out to be $61.30. Good price. However, if I were paying regular price for this, I would definitely have to think about that. My rating for Winterlicious 2012 at Senses:
- Taste: 3.8/5
- Creativity: 2.5/5
- Plating: 3.5/5
- Service and Environment: 4.5/5
- Price: 5/5
- Overall: 3.86/5
For Winterlicious, I strongly recommend to go and try it out, it’s definitely better than a lot of restaurants out there in Toronto.
(All photos were taken using iPhone, quality was not that great coz I didn’t have a lot of expectation so I didn’t bring a good camera)
Update - Interestingly, we are not the only people who said that… LOL… other people said exactly the same.
Quote “The food was good, but not memorable”
Quote “While it was good, it wasn’t anything special”
Quote “tasted nothing special. It did taste really fresh and great with the sauce it came with, but nothing surprising at all.”
After PID upgrade, I don’t have to worry about the temperature and I can finally focus on Latte Art and taste improvement. I will keep updating this, come back to see my progress especially on latte art. If you have invested so much money on Rancilio already, you may as well get the best of all the accessories. Here is the rest of my upgrade:
- PID with steam control - Strongly recommended, read my previous article
- Reg Barber Espresso Tamper + Rubber mat – Total around $100 Zuccarini (Toronto) It is strongly recommended
- VST Precision filter basket 18g (double shot) - $29 CAD Social Coffee (Toronto) To improve the taste of the latte, I bought a VST Precision filter basket (Google it) – It DOES make a HUGE DIFFERENCE in taste by making the espresso less bitter and smoother, it’s absolutely amazing. VST is a must buy.
- Espro Toroid 591ml, 20 oz. milk pitcher $38 CAD + Thermometers $15 CAD Green Beanery (Toronto) It is called a CHEATER pitcher, I didn’t know until I bought it home. It is designed to cheat by just hold the steam wand right in the middle for the whole time due to the special design at the bottom. Well, to me it’s a marketing gimmick since you can’t skip stretching (sucking air) step, and you will lose the real Barista skill if you use this all the time. I bought it because of its built quality and I just use it as a regular stainless steel pitcher using the traditional milk steaming method. Do not buy, way overpriced and it’s a gimmick.
- Brew head flat shower screen – $19 US PID Silvia (online via Bonanza.com) I would say this is totally optional if you have the VST Precision filter, since VST doesn’t leave a lot of residue on the screen. However, if you are using 40-100-102 Rancilio stock filter, this would make cleaning much easier
- Naked Bottomless Portafilter – $59 US PID Silvia (online via Bonanza.com) This is an excellent tool for troubleshooting the espresso extraction, then adjust other variables based on the color and flow of the extraction. The pattern you are looking for is called “tiger stripes”. It is strongly recommended, this is an excellent article “Troubleshooting Common Espresso Problems“.
- Cafelat Cleaning Brush – $16 CAD 49th Parallel Roasters This is an optional tool, but this seems to make grouphead cleaning easier.
- Scottie Callaghan (SCDT3) Dosing Tools – $39.95 CAD 49th Parallel Roasters If you are using VST precision filter basket, this is a MUST tool to have. Read this
Can These Filters Change the World of Espresso? and you will know why. Trust me, VST filter basket is not ordinary filter, you need to make the dent in order to make a perfect espresso. Although I could have made the DIY version using cardboard/plastic, but after reading Scottie’s web site how he spent 6 years to develop his skills and tools, I decided to support him and bought a 3-piece set.
Adjustment after Upgrade
Because of VST filter basket + naked bottomless filter + flat shower screen upgrade, the extraction time changed quite a bit. After making 20+ espresso and latte, I re-adjusted everything and I can make pretty good shot consistently. Note that for different beans, all settings have to be changed.
- Bean: Illy Espresso (Red color 250g per can)
- Rocky Doser setting: 3 (fine grind)
- PID Temperature: 222 F
- Dosing weight: 19 g on VST (use a digital kitchen scale)
- Collapse: 2 times
- Scottie Dosing Tool: #6
- Tamper pressure: 20 lb (no rotation, just press)
- Extraction Time: 30 seconds
- Milk temperature: 150 F (1% milk)
- Bean: Lavazza Qualita Rossa (Red package 1000g per bag)
- Rocky Doser setting: 3 (fine grind)
- PID Temperature: 222 F
- Dosing weight: 21 g on VST (use a digital kitchen scale)
- Collapse: 2 times
- Scottie Dosing Tool: #6
- Tamper pressure: 30 lb (no rotation, just press)
- Extraction Time: 25-30 seconds
- Milk temperature: 150 F (2% milk)
Personally having Illy and Lavazza Qualita Rossa, I don’t like Lavazza Qualita ORO (Gold package) anymore because it always gives you a very sour taste no matter what you do. I also found a very interesting combination for the best match between the milk, since I don’t drink homo milk (3.25%) because of high fat content, I found that 1% milk is best to go with Illy. Well, Illy is very expensive but it never gives you any bitter taste. For Lavazza Qualita Rossa, it is best to go with 2% because it doesn’t taste as fine as Illy. This is very personal, you don’t have to agree with me. Coffee tasting can be very subjective, it’s like movie and music I guess.
There are 2 important things to look at when you brew the espresso:
- For Rancilio Silvia V3, the extraction should be EXTREMELY slow (like dripping) in the beginning of the brew and it became faster at around 10-15 seconds. If your brew is too fast, you will experience some very strange after taste
- For naked filter, look for “tiger stripe” pattern extraction. If you don’t see that, something is wrong with the dosing or tempering
Week 5: Rancilio Silvia V3 – PID Upgrade
I only had Silvia V3 for about a month and I decided to unleash the ultimate power of this machine. There are reasons behind the upgrade, first of all temperature surfing in both espresso and steam are totally fine if you have read my previous blog Temperature Surfing and Microfoam (Part 2), but it’s very time consuming. Imagine you have friends at your place, it will probably take 1 hour just to make 5-6 latte because of the boiler cycle. The other reason is the temperature control of PID is way more precise than surfing, so you can have more consistently perfect shots . Lastly, it looks cool with the digital thermometer display.
Choosing the PID for Silvia
There are so many PID kits on the market for Silvia, there are certain criteria I had:
- Safety and Reliability: Major parts of the PID kits such as SSR (Solid State Relay) and digital temperature controller must not be Made in China. If I am spending the money on the Italian made machine, why would I want some unreliable or low quality parts on Silvia?
- Void warranty: Any PID kit requires soldering, drilling or cutting existing wires are not in my consideration. The whole kit should be reversible in case of warranty work
- Steam Control: Without the steam control, PID kit is much cheaper because you will still be using the factory thermostat. In that case, you can read the digital temperature display and determine when to start steaming right before the indicator light turns off. However, if you miss it you have to wait for another cycle. With steam control, you will never miss the cycle because PID turns on the boiler automatically when the temperature drops
- Timer Control: For me, PID should only control the boiler/steam temperature, not the time of the extraction. Some PID kits let you preset as 25 seconds for extraction by clicking a button, personally I don’t like this. So, pre-infusion is not on my list because I want to keep the machine as “manual” as possible – I only need PID to help me to narrow the “deadband”.
- Looks Good: It has to look good overall by matching Miss Silvia high fashion sense in stainless steel. No aluminum case.
- Power supply: No additional power supply needed
There are several famous PID kits for Silvia V2 or V3:
- MLG PID Kits – with Steam control – $330
- PidSilvia.com – $120 to $240
- Auber Instruments pre-infusion – $245
PID Kit Arrived and Installed
Well, you may not have the same requirements that I have, for me I chose MLG PID Kits. The kit arrived and everything (controller, SSR and even all the cables) was in extremely high quality build and installation guide included were very clear and detail. Notice that the photos in the instruction were for Silvia V2, but it applies to Silvia V3 since Ranchilio has not change one thing. Both Watlow controller and SSR were Made in U.S.A. with hard copy manual included.
Installation was pretty easy, it took me 4 hours to install. It should not have taken that long but I just wanted to make sure everything was perfect without breaking anything, see the photos below for my installation in progress, the step-by-step installation guide was in color PDF and I loaded it on my iPad.
Water Pump was Leaking
Notes: Water Pump leaking has NOTHING to do with MLG PID Kit, it was Rancilio crappy quality control and/or parts. Perhaps, they fool customers by giving out refurbished machines and sell them as new.
At the end of the MLG PID Kit installation, I did a test run. I was shocked to see that the joint between the metal and plastic fitting of the ULKA EP-5 was leaking whenever the pump was on. No wonder why in the past weeks, I got some water on the table! Originally I thought I didn’t put the drip tray properly, now this explained why.
For minor leaking like this, it can be fixed easily. Since I didn’t know if that fitting was a forced fit or it was a threaded fit, I couldn’t find any information on the Internet. So, I tried using the “Nashua Stretch & Seal” (or “Magic Wrap”) and it failed so badly. I think the powerful pump produces quite decent pressure, this type of seal has NO WAY to hold the pressure of 10 bar (145 PSI) or above.
The seal used by Rancilio was hardened on brand new machine?
Next, I tried to unscrew them – Yes it was a threaded fitting. Then, some green stuff (see in the photos) felt off from the threads! It is very hard to believe the seal has already hardened because my machine was brand new. Now it makes me think that Rancilio or the store sold me a refurbished machine and charged me the price of a brand new one. This really bugged me. Anyways, life goes on…
Fixing this was extremely easy, I used a product called “Pipe Stick” (or any pipe joint compound, even teflon tape would work too) because I used that to fix a swimming pool pump before. Also, the product claims it can withstand up to 2000 PSI. Everything was fixed after an additional hour of work and no more leaking!
Using the PID
PID is extremely simple to use, the preset temperature by MLG for espresso brew was set to be 106C / 224F (for cold machine starts). The instruction suggested if you have warmed up the machine for 30 min or above, you can set the PID to be 105C / 222F (This is the latest notes provided by MLG, the older note said 226F as default) . As for steam mode, the preset is 146C / 295 F meaning that if the boiler temperature drops below that point, the boiler will start again in full power. The temperature usually will keep climbing till 148C / 300 F to 154C / 310 F at max.
PID makes life so much easier by saving time and water, most importantly it gives you repeatable good result consistently. I strongly recommend to get one for your Rancilio Silvia, you paid for what you get for MLG PID Kit although it is a bit expensive but it does worth every penny.
After getting some horrible taste espresso and unpredictable microfoam, I realized that there are still a lot to learn in using Rancilio Silvia V3. I followed many videos and forums on the Internet and combined with my trial-and-error experience, this is what I want to share. Note: Coffee bean selection and Latte Art pouring technique are not in this scope of this article. Hope this can help other Silvia users who just bought the machine.
Welcome to Canada: Fahrenheit or Celsius?
Being a Canadian, I am so confused about the use of Fahrenheit vs Celsius, because for all the kitchen related stuff such as oven and cookbooks, Fahrenheit is being used. But when you turn on the TV for weather forecast, they use Celsius. Speedometer in cars and road signs are in Kilometers, while almost everything is in inches/feet at Home Depot. This is one thing Canada really screwed up so badly, because historically we are so tied to UK but geographically we are next to US. The mix of Metric and Imperial measurements is really common, yet it’s stupid. Since coffee belongs to kitchen, I decided to use Fahrenheit.
Week 2: Understanding Miss Silvia
On week 2 after I bought the machine, I started to read more articles and videos on Internet (the user manual came with the machine was pretty useless). First of all, you need to understand Silvia is a SINGLE boiler machine, that means the boiler is used by both espresso brewing and steam. Let’s understand how Miss Silvia works when you turn on the brew button. In summary this is the CYCLE:
- Boiler indicator=ON (Boiler is on when temperature is below 86 C/186 F)
- Boiler indicator=OFF (Boiler is off when temperature reaches 102 C/215 F)
- Boiler indicator=OFF (Even boiler is off, the temperature keeps climbing until 116 C/240 F exactly 30 seconds from previous stage. Then boiler starts to cool down)
What is the problem here?
Because espresso is very temperature sensitive, the espresso or latte would result in either too bitter or too sour. The best temperature for brewing coffee at the portafilter is 198 F to 204 F (92 C to 95 C). Without proper technique, you don’t really know what’s the best time to press the brew button. This is called “dead band” problem, most lower end Italian single boiler semi-auto espresso machines have this problem, such as Faema, Gaggia, etc. For more information about “deadband”, there is a very well written article Defining Deadband and Boiler Cycle on CoffeeGeek.com.
There is a temperature offset between portafilter and boiler temperature, and also when the cold water comes temperature drops. If you start brewing your espresso at stage (2) when the indicator = OFF (boiler temp at 102 C/215 F), the temperature drops so quickly as soon as cold water comes in and boiler starts again at 86 C/186 F. In this case, your espresso will taste really sour because of low temperature.
Brew Espresso – Temperature Surfing
To overcome the deadband problem, we need to use a technique called “Temperature Surfing”. The basic requirements are:
- This procedure is for cold start (the machine in room temperature for 6+ hours)
- Grinding, tamping and cup warming are assumed to be done properly
- If espresso brew is right after STEAMING session, you need to run at least 30 seconds of cold water to bring down the boiler temperature to cool stage, otherwise the temperature surfing will not be accurate
- Warm up the machine for at least 30-60 min (or brew at least 2 x double shot espresso and throw them down the drain.. not recommended though)
- Current State: Indicator light = OFF
- Turn ON brew button to run cold water into boiler until indicator light is ON
Reason: Cold water makes the boiler temperature drop and triggers the boiler to start again when temperature is below 86 C/186 F
- Wait till the indicator light = OFF and immediately start a stopwatch (iphone or watch). Now, the boiler temperature is 102 C/215 F
- Precisely wait for 30 seconds
Reason: The internal temperature keeps climbing because of pressure inside the boiler even the boiler is turned off. It reaches at 116 C/240 F (which is 30 seconds) and boiler starts to cool down by itself
- Turn ON brew button to run cold water into boiler for 5 seconds.
Reason: This procedure is called “cold flush” to bring down the temperature to 110 C/ 230 F, you should see a lot of steam in first 3 seconds *
- Turn OFF brew button at 35 seconds (read stopwatch)
- Now, put the portafilter + cup under the brew head (You have around 15 seconds time to do so)
- Turn ON brew button at 50 seconds (read stopwatch) to brew your coffee. Note: At this point, cold water comes in continuously for the next 25 seconds + temperature offset between the brewhead and boiler, so the final average temperature would be ideal when it touches the coffee which around 198 F to 204 F (92 C to 95 C) for the next 25 seconds.
- Reset stopwatch and start it from 0 (Stopwatch at 0 seconds)
- Your espresso should starts brewing, if tamped and grind properly, your espresso should finish at 25-30 seconds.
Note: the boiler indicator light = OFF all the time until the end, the indicator light will turn ON automatically at around 20 seconds **
- Turn OFF brew button at 25-30 seconds, depends on coffee, tamp and grind
* If you don’t see steam, your machine has not been warmed up enough in (1)
** If you don’t warm up in (1), the boiler isn’t hot enough and the boiler starts to kick in too early, giving you the wrong temperature.
What’s the right taste?
Perfect balance between sour and bitter. To troubleshoot your espresso, there is a very detailed article Diagnosis of Extraction Problems on home-barista.com. In summary, here is the combination of the potential issues between temperature, tamping technique and grinding settings:
- SOUR = Temperature too low / Extract too fast (grind is too coarse or tamp is too light)
- BITTER = Temperature too high / Extract too slow (grind is too fine or tamp is too heavy)
Week 3: Microfoam and Latte Art Challenge
After learning proper technique to make the best shot of espresso, I started to face another big problem in Silvia: Steam and Microfoam. If you have read the article at home-barista.com, you will not be surprised about the steaming performance is one of the weakness of Miss Silvia. Most beginners using Silvia would get really frustrated because some days the microfoam are good but some days are so bad. Don’t give up, continue reading I experienced the same too.
Understanding Miss Silvia in Steaming
Similar to espresso brewing, we need to first understand Miss Silvia operations:
- Brew button = ON: Boiler is ON (if temp is right) and water pump is ON
- Hot water button = ON: Boiler is ON (if temp is right) and water pump is ON
- Steam button = ON: Boiler is ON (if temp is right) and water pump is OFF
The MOST IMPORTANT part here is (3). The water pump is OFF when steam is ON, meaning that you have to FILL the boiler every time in order to get maximum steam performance. Lack of steam = not enough spinning whirlpool = bad microfoam.
Silvia Steam – Temperature Surfing
If you search on Internet, many suggested to start the steaming before the indicator light goes out so that the boiler keeps heating during the whole streaming session, this is the only way to get maximum steam from Silvia. So, how do you know when is “before”? That’s why we need temperature surfing even for steam!
Procedure: Rancilio Silvia V3 (steam wand with one hole)
- Make at least one espresso using the steps above before start steaming milk
- Turn ON Hot water button
Reason: Silvia does not have auto-refill feature, you need to fill the boiler with water manually to ensure maximum steam power (repeat for every session)
- Open the steam valve and let water out
- Close the steam valve
- Turn OFF Hot water button
Note: At this point, the boiler is filled with water
- Current status, indicator light = OFF (if not, wait until it’s off)
- Turn ON Brew button, run cold water until indicator light = ON
Reason: Similar to brew coffee, we need to surf the boiler at the lowest temperature
- Turn OFF Brew button
- Turn ON Steam button (Start stopwatch at 0 seconds)
- At 1:00 (1 min), open and close the steam valve with 1/10 turn and start slowly bleeding out water from steam wand. Open/close motion for 4-5 times.
Reason: This step is called “bleeding” to make the steam as dry as possible
- At 1:20(1 min 2o seconds), Close the steam valve and stop bleeding water from steam wand. Don’t worry about the steam is not dry enough, continue next step when it reaches 1:20
- At 1:45 (1 min 45 seconds), Open the steam valve Start steaming the milk
Note: The indicator light should be ON when you start steaming, and it should remind on through out the steaming session
If you pass 1:45 mark, the boiler may shut off and you won’t get maximum steam power. Without max steam power, you cannot spin the milk in whirlpool fast enough and not able to create good microfoam.
Microfoam Technique for Silvia V3
- Use cold milk from the fridge
- Put the steam wand tip 0.5″ below the milk, 1″ away from the wall. Tilt the pitcher at the right angle, everyone is different. So, practice with water to get correct position before using milk
Reason: If you put it on the surface to start, milk will splash everywhere
- Open the steam valve with 1/8 turn slowly. You will hear loud screaming sound in the beginning
- Open the steam valve with another 1/8 turn (totally 1/4 turn)
- The milk should start in spinning in whirlpool motion
Note: The steam tip will get out of the surface as the milk starts spinning, now you need to adjust the pitcher to keep the steam wand tip just touching the surface of the milk. The KEYWORD here is “touching the surface” (0.1″ – 0.2″ below the milk)
- Surf the tip on the surface of the milk, and lower the pitcher to get frequently chirping (tch tch tch) sound as the milk volume grows.
- Too much sound = WRONG = tip too far away from milk = too much air being sucked in = bubble too big (For Cappuccino)
- Too little chirping sound = WRONG = tip too deep in the milk = not enough air sucked in = not enough bubble (Hot milk only)
- Frequently chirping sound = CORRECT = good balance of air sucked in = good microfoam bubble (For Latte Art)
Reason: the chirping sound is the indication of sucking small air into the milk.
- Continue to lower the pitcher as the volume grows and get frequently chirping sound until milk reaches 37 C / 100 F
- Now, second stage of Texturing starts
- Put the steam wand tip 1″ into the milk, 0.5″ away from wall while it is still spinning. Now, we don’t want to be “on the surface” or “surf” anymore. In other words, put the ward deeper and closer to the wall (closer to wall = spin faster)
- Open the steam valve with another 1/4 turn or 1/2 turn to blast the steam out, now the milk should spin very crazy in whirlpool motion. Lower the pitcher so that the tip is consistently below the milk (do not suck air).
Note: At this stage, You should NOT hear any chirping sound or screaming noise, and it should be VERY quite. If you here screaming sound or low pitched roar sound, see troubleshooting section.
- Close the steam valve and stop steaming when milk reaches 60 C /140 F
- You should get decent microfoam. You can continue to steam another pitcher of milk and get consistently microfoam as long as you follow all the steps above again. Remember to re-fill the boiler with water.
In summary, there are 2 stages:
- Stretching - Tip surfing on milk by sucking air into milk creating micro bubble
- Texturing – mix the air bubble with the rest of the milk (No more sucking air)
According to the information, cold milk (below 37 C / 100F) creates small bubble, warm milk (above 37C / 100F) creates big bubble. That’s the reason why we have 2 stages.
Milk Frothing Troubleshooting
If you hear the loud screaming noise or low pitched roar sound during the steaming session:
- Steam power is too low, make sure you fill the boiler and starts steaming at 1:45 with indicator ON through out the steaming session (instructions above)
- The whirlpool spinning is too slow, open the valve 1/6 turn instead of 1/8 (each machine may be slightly different)
- The angle of the steam wand or angle of the pitcher is wrong, try different angle so that it creates spinning motion, practice with dish detergent+ water
- You are putting the steam wand too deep into the milk just keep 0.5″ while milk is spinning very fast in whirlpool motion
- MOST IMPORTANTLY, If you don’t have enough air sucked in the 1st stage, you will get very loud screaming noise in 2nd stage
If your microfoam is not rich/thick enough:
- You need to suck a bit more air in 1st stage = more chirping sound is needed
- You are not surfing on the surface in 1st stage, your steam wand is below the surface of the milk all the time
- Your milk whirlpool spinning is not fast enough
- Milk selection: Skim milk/1% is thinner than 2%/whole milk
Milk plays an important role in microfoam. If you do a search on Google you will get very confusing result on this topic. Some people said skim milk / low fat 1% is better in making microfoam while some said 2% / whole milk.
The fact: ALL milk, all brand, all freshness can be made into the same thickness and same shininess if you have the proper technique.
For skim milk/1% to get the same thickness as 2%/whole milk, you need to introduce slightly a bit more air in stretching stage. Also, you may want to play with the timing too, you can also try spending more time in stretching than texturing.
My suggestion is to buy several bags of skim milk and several bags of whole milk. Use the SAME technique (same timing) and experience yourself. This is the only way you can learn by adjusting your own skills. My personal preference: 1% Milk since it has a well balance between taste, healthy and latte art. Although skim is healthy, but it does make the latte taste really horrible.
More confusion when you read more – Stick with one method
There are some videos show you that you don’t need to make milk spin during 1st stage of stretching, and whirlpool is only needed in 2nd stage of texturing. Well, there is always multiple ways from point A to B, you can try. Also, depending on how do you use the microfoam. Is it just purely for cappuccino or latte art?
When you watch those microfoam technique videos, different machines require slightly different technique, such as steam power, 3 hole vs 1 hole and pitcher shape. For exmaple, Espro Toroid requires you to hold the steam wand right in the middle for the whole time.
Some videos on YouTube even tell you to open the steam valve fully in the beginning, I can tell you that this is very wrong for Silvia. This will result loud screaming noise or low pitched roar sound in texturing stage, I guarantee. Simply Rancilio Silvia is not a real professional grade machine, this particular move will only work on machines with unlimited supply of steam. More importantly, open too much in the beginning make the temperature goes up too fast, and if you are not experienced you don’t have enough time to suck enough air. DO NOT open fully for Silvia, follow what I wrote in the steps above.
My goal here is to prove Rancilio Silvia V3 is capable of making very good espresso as well as Latte Art if proper technique is used. Don’t give up if you just bought one, it does take time. As you can see the photos below, I got some improvement over the several weeks of practice to make some sort of Leaf/Rosetta and Heart (due to my limited latte art skills). Skim milk, 1%, 2% and whole milk were used as shown in photos.
(Photos were taken using Canon DSLR and iPhone, so quality is not consistent)
Deb and I have been using the Nespresso – Citiz and Milk machine for almost 2 years and it’s time to explore the coffee world a bit more. Also, I was a bit frustrated because I couldn’t make latte art like the pros using Nespresso Aeroccino.
We did a lot of research and found that Rancilio Silvia is one of the most popular machines in “prosumer” or “semi-pro” category that falls within our budget. Since it has very good reviews on the forums and NOT made in China, we decided to order one online. We searched everywhere and found a good package deal “Rancilio Silvia V3 and Rancilio Rocky Doser” that does free shipping within the Canadian soil.
Why Rancilio Silvia?
Price and Quality – the outcome of the coffee (espresso and latte) is comparable to the coffee made with a $3000 machine. Another reason is because it’s made in Italy, just like Prada or Gucci.
Is Rancilio Silvia for everyone?
No, Rancilio Silvia is classified as “semi-automatic” coffee machine by the industry. If you ask my opinion, I would classified it as “manual”. I would say Silvia is a machine that you need to spend a lot of time on it, understand how it works in order to make a decent cup of drink. Especially in the beginning (couple of weeks/months at least), there is a learning curve. Just like you learn how to drive a manual transmission car or start using a DSLR camera, it’s a matter of time. I am not surprised that many people would back off or even return the machine as it is NOT as easy as to just push a button like Nespresso. However, if you can drive a standard car smoothly and/or taking DLSR photos properly without using “P” or “Auto” mode, Silvia is probably right for you.
Note: Before you buy this machine, please beware that you need to spend MORE than just the machine alone, you are prepare to INVEST at least $500-$800 US on top of that. I am not going to discuss that, there is a lot of information on the Internet. At minimal, burr grinder is a must. Recommended: milk pitcher, thermometer, Reg Barber tamper and tamper mat. Optional: knock box, naked/bottomless portafilter, PID Kit, VST 18g Filter Basket and brewhead flat screen.
Week 1: Package arrived but Rocky Doser was Broken
The package arrived and we opened the boxes happily, we found there was an interesting note inside: “Dear Customer, we test all our Products. The coffee grinders you purchased was tested with real coffee beans. Although it was cleaned thoroughly, coffee powder may still be present. Thank you for your understanding”
At first, I thought it was the trick planted by the store who sold us the machine, and they tried to get rid of the used/returned machines. After verification with several web sites and forums, that’s the normal Italian way to do QA. Okay… I was a bit speechless.
Next, I carefully examined the doser, there was a plastic on the chute was broken. Yes, it’s brand new! I called the store and they were very helpful and promised to contact Rancilio US to send me the replacement parts. In the mean time, the solution was to use masking tape and aluminum foil to patch it! I could still use the doser, but it was a bumpy start.
Update (After 3 months): With many phone calls and follow up emails to deal with the store to get the warranty replacement parts, I FINALLY received the 38-123-032A Rocky Hopper – Blue. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with the Rancilio label.
Burr Grinder Important Notes:
- A lot of sites and forums warned already – You should only change the settings of Rocky grinder when the unit is powered ON and burrs is in motion. If it breaks because of this, it is NOT covered under warranty
- You need to use Italian espresso coffee beans ONLY. If you use Starbucks beans for example, the beans will get stuck and also the non-Italian beans are too oily and it is not good for the machine. Read this 1st-line.com – Rancilio Rocky (Read Notes in the middle of the page)
On the first week, I was able to pour some Latte but the art looked like shit. Not only I wasn’t able to make proper microfoam, the Latte actually tasted so bitter. (Continue to read next part for improvement… )
(Photos were taken using Canon DSLR and iPhone, so quality is not consistent)
Reviews and References
- CoffeeGeek.com – Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine: The first look
- Home-barista.com – Rancilio Silvia Flash Review
- Ranciliosilvia.org – Rancilio Silvia V3 Review
- MakingEspresso.com – Miss Silvia Review
Deb and I went to Quebec and Charlevoix for a few days, the first stop was to have our anniversary dinner at La Taniere Restaurant with 14-course modular gastronomy French cruise. It took 4.5 hours to finish the dinner, and it was just amazing. In our opinion, in some ways it is better than the Michelin 3 Stars rated restaurant we had during our Vegas Trip.
We drove around 8 hours from Toronto and stayed in Quebec City for 2 days and then drove another 2 hours to Charlevoix to watch whales. On the way to Charlevoix, we stopped by Ste Anne Canyon (without any plans, we just found that place while driving) and took some great waterfall pictures. We stayed at Auberge des Falaises for 1 night and I woke up at 5:00 AM to take some amazing sunrise photos and I went swimming in the heated pool at 5:30 AM overlooking the sunrise. It was a lovely hotel and that is what I call a real vacation.
Photos were taken using Canon 24-70mm f/2.8, 17-40mm f/4.0, some with Polarizer filter/Neutral density filter. Also, Panasonic GF1 with 20mm f/1.7 were used. HDR photos were taken using +/- 2 stops without tripod. Joby Gorillapod was used for long exposure at Ste Anne Canyon.
Recorded GPS Waypoints:
- 47.07162 N 70.87395 W (Ste Anne Canyon)
- 47.63573 N 70.15166 W (Auberge des Falaises)
- 47.908373 N 69.805442 W (Beluga Whales)
- 47.949345 N 69.785621 W (Minke Whale)
Mythos and Rini: “Happy Birthday Mommy!”
On the weekend, we pre-celebrated Deb’s B-day at ABG’s house due to kid’s limitation. Wine expert FBB Andrew brought the 2001 Chateau Des Laurets of St-Emilion, Bordeaux, it was a very nice vintage. I bought the cake and macaroons were from La Bamboche, a Japanese and French fusion patisserie at Eglinton & Yonge.
As we have already pre-celebrated Valentine’s Day on our Vegas Trip, so Deb and I don’t have anything big on this day. We have decided to stay home and cook. Taking the recipe from LCBO food and wine magazine, our main course is Beef Bourguignon with mashed potato and Dessert is apple crumble with banana split ice cream. Awesome meal! Thanks Deb. XOXO…