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Joining the ranks of Home Baristas! Meet my new Rancilio Silvia (aka Goodbye Starbucks!)

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#1 of 4 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted May 02 2012 - 11:39 PM

A little history re: my coffee journey. Years ago (like 16) as a college student I used to work at a small coffeehouse to help pay for school. Now that cafe was nothing like the bourgeois places you see now, like Intelligentsia Coffee. I love their espresso drinks, but I like about 7 miles away from their Venice location and 10 from their Silver Lake location. In Los Angeles, that's a no-go unless it's off-peak hours.

So I go to The Coffee Bean for my morning caffeine fix on my way to work. The problem is that I ordered very sugary drinks (mocha latte) which had like 1/3 cup of their powder which was mostly sugar per drink. This also masked the taste of the espresso, but I'll be damned if that sugary powder wasn't delicious!

Recently I decided to drastically added sugars out of my diet so I stopped getting my mocha latte. I started going to places like Intelligentsia, Coffee Tomo (West L.A.) and Profeta Westwood which are more upscale coffeehouses that take great pride in getting great roasted beans, making great espressos, and creating some great latte art. I've begun to drink more cappuccino style drinks, which for me means very little sugar (usually just a demitasse spoon of sugar) and less milk than a latte, so I'm getting closer to the taste of the espresso.

This of course is an expensive hobby ($4-$5 per cup) so I decided I'd take the plunge and buy a decent home espresso machine and begin trying to make my own cappuccinos, macchiatos and lattes at home. I also had to get a good grinder so I settled on the Rancilio Silvia with a PID and the Baratza Preciso grinder. Bought them from Dave at www.hitechespresso.com who did the aftermarket PID installation. Luckily he lives in Silver Lake so I was able to drive over and pick up my machine from him after he did the work. I dropped a little over a grand on everything, but if you figure that raw ingredients for an espresso drink run about a $1-$1.50, I am saving about $3 a drink. I drink at least one a day, some days two, so if you average that out to a $4 a day saving, this setup will pay itself off in less than a year (365x$4=$1460). These machines are prosumer level and often last 10 years or more with light care.

I just picked it up today so I've spent the day dialing in the grind settings and getting the tamp down to get the recommended 22-25 second double shot flow with good crema. I started trying to get microfoam but my steaming skills leave a lot to be desired, so I'm doing a lot of web research and learning how others are using the Silvia to achieve microfoam goodness. Latte art will come later ;)

Anyway here's a picture of my new babies, and I'm hoping to hone my skills over the coming weeks to give Intelligentsia a run for its money! (I use their Black Cat Espresso beans and they're fantastic). I can honestly say even with my currently mediocre skills I am turning out capps and lattes that are better than the commercial options (Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Peets) but not quite as good as places like Profeta, Tomo and still quite far from Intelligentsia. But hey, that just means I have room for improvement!
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Special shout out to Dave at hitechespresso. A very straight shooter, authorized repair center for the machines he sells, and his PID work was impeccable (Google espresso machine PID if you want an explanation). Also a classic tinkerer (he was showing me a digital tuner he built in the 70s today that he was messing around with) who understands how machines work. He gives a fair price, does good work, and is free with his advice and gives you plenty of time to ask questions.

Any other home baristas out there? What machine are you using? Grinder? Bean? Any special tips/tricks you'd like to share?

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#2 of 4 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted May 03 2012 - 09:36 AM

Wow, seems like we are on a similar but different arc! I went more mainstream with my choices, see this thread here: http://www.hometheat...ate-to-advanced That's a beautiful machine, good luck with it! Sam

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#3 of 4 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted May 03 2012 - 10:01 AM

Thanks Sam - I was really looking at the Breville Dual Boiler as well but ultimately decided against it for a couple of reasons. First and foremost was cost - I got my grinder and PID'd Silvia for the price of the Breville. But I was also won over by demo'ing the Silvia and despite it being a single boiler, it actually didn't take long to get to steaming temp and has quite a powerful steamer to boot, so I could be adding my steamed milk within about 90 seconds of finishing my espresso shot. I'd love to get a dual boiler machine but I needed to be reasonable to get girlfriend approval. ;)

The second reason is that the Breville was still fairly new. I know in our HT world new is usually always better, but there's something comforting about the Silvia being tried and true in the home brewing world for over a decade, and with the large installed user base there are no shortage of online help (which I need!).

I think in a specs match there's no doubt the Breville would be considered a better machine than the Silvia. If it were just a little longer in the tooth I'd probably have tried to spring for it (and been voted down). :D

I'm hoping to get at least 5 good years out of the Silvia (if not 10!) but I already know my next machine will be dual boiler, probably something like a La Spaziale Mini Vivaldi II (which Dave from hitechespresso has in his home). With this thing, for $2K, you're playing with the big boys. It works about as well as the machines in the chain coffee houses (Intelligentsia's, and other boutique espresso houses, are still a cut above).
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Good luck with your machine too, Sam, keep me updated! Always interested in sharing thoughts, tips, tricks with fellow amateur baristas!

Maybe some day I'll really start saving money and buy a bean roaster. Dave swears by the $300 Behmor roaster he is using. Instead of paying $12-15 per pound he pays $6 for raw beans and roasts them as needed. That's a step too far for me right now, but who knows what the future holds! :D

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#4 of 4 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted May 04 2012 - 06:51 PM

First semi-successful (still mostly a fail) attempt at latte art and microfoam. Some bubbles are still too big, and the latte art was more of an accident than on purpose, but hey, gotta start somewhere right?
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