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Cheating Miss Silvia
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Cheating Miss Silvia

Welcome to one of the most requested pieces ever on this website. This how to was done originally because I used to get as many as 5 or more emails a week from people specifically asking how to get a Rancilio Silvia up to temperature faster, or how to get more steam power and longevity from the machine.

So here it is, but a bit different from the old format - images do pop up, but there's no accompanying text any longer - all the tips are in the thumbnails area. You can click any image to see it in a popup window at full size (about 50kb or more). Now pay attention kiddies! Without further ado, here is a sure fire way to cheat your Miss Silvia!

Oh damn, one more ado. I just have to point it out. I would like to thank my lovely and talented partner in crime Jeanette for kneeling painfully on a wooden bar stool so she could snap all of these pictures exactly when I was shouting out "NOW!" during the process. Some 40 pictures later, and we had all we needed! Now, one last time, without any further possible... ah, screw it. Here's the pics!

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A Cold Miss Silvia
So, you want a shot of espresso, but your Miss silvia is colder than snow. What to do.... Well, it's time to Cheat Miss Silvia!

Time: 0min, 0sec
Turn Her On!
Okay, so you don't want to wait the 30 minutes or so for all that brass inside your Silvia to properly warm up, right? Okay, let's cheat. Flip on the switch.

Time: 0min, 0sec
Boiler is Ready
Wait for the machine to get the boiler up to temperature, and for the boiler light to go off. (note: pay attention in the later photographs to the various lights on the machine, and the switch positions.)

Elapsed Time: 2 min, 43 secs
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Heating the Lines
Take your steaming pitcher, put it under the exposed brewhead, and run the pump for about 10 seconds.

Elapsed Time: 2min, 53secs
Boiler is Cycling
Here, the boiler is on again, as indicated by the boiler light, and we have to wait for it to cycle and turn off.

Elapsed Time: 3min, 09secs
Heating the Group
Lock in the empty portafilter. A boiler cycle time takes about 20-30 seconds, and at this time, you're ready to heat up that portafilter!

Elapsed Time: 3min, 19secs
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More Line Heating
Now it's time to run some water through the other lines in the machine, and heat up your cup. Here I'm activating the hot water switch.

Elapsed Time: 3min, 26secs
Preheating cups
Fill the cappuccino cup (or your espresso cup) with hot water. This serves the purposes of heating the cup and further warming of the machine. Do this till the boiler light comes on again.

Elapsed Time: 3min, 35secs
More Preheating!
Dump the water out of the cup, wait for the boiler light to go off, and then place your cup under the portafilter. Run the pump, which runs hot water through the portafilter into your cup.

Elapsed Time: 4min 03secs
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Almost Ready
Ooop, there goes the boiler light again! Shut off the pump switch, and get ready to do your shot. Pretty soon, the cappa folks will seperate from the espresso folks

Elapsed Time: 4min, 11secs
Get Portafilter Ready
Okay, remove the portafilter, give it a quick wipe dry, and get ready to grind, dose and tamp your shot.

Elapsed Time: 4min, 27secs
Grinding for Shot
While you're grinding, keep the portafilter in the brewhead of the machine, to preserve all that heat you helped to create.

Elapsed Time: 4min 35secs
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Grinds are dosed, now it's tamping time. Very Schomer-esque technique here, arm 90 degrees, about 30lb tamp.

Elapsed Time: 4min, 49secs
Rapping Tamps
As part of my tamping routine, I do the subconcious rap of the portafilter. It's so subconcious, I had to think twice about it for the phot. One more tamp and we're good to go.

Elapsed Time: 4min, 54secs
Lock and Load!
Lock and Load time baybee! My fave part of this whole deal. But wait, before we brew the shot, one more thing has to be done.

Elapsed Time: 5min, 02secs
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Steam Switch Trick
Put cup under the portafilter, but switch on the steam switch (not the pump switch). We're going to get that boiler working again.

Elapsed Time 5min, 05secs
Bleed Some Pressure
Open the knob of your steam wand just a bit into a steaming pitcher. The purpose here is to get the boiler crackling. Do it quick. Do not activate the hot water switch. This clears off some pressure.

Elapsed Time: 5min, 19secs
Ready to Brew!
We're ready to brew! Keep the steam switch on if you're planning a cappa, otherwise, turn it off), and flip the pump switch and brew! Cappa cup shown because we're building a cappuccino here.

Elapsed time: 5min, 26secs

At this stage, we'd be done if you are brewing an espresso. The following series takes you onto steaming for a cappuccino, and shows you why we wanted that boiler working overtime (and why you optionally brew with the steam switch on).

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Brewing the Shot
Crema laden! Making a double here into a 12oz mug. Note the boiler light is on, not because of the pump, but because the steam switch is actively heating it.

Elapsed Time: 5min, 42secs
Shot is Done!
Six mins after wanting a double, I got one. Now its time to prep for the cappa by starting a boiler bleed. Get rid of some wet steam by opening the valve for a short period.

Elapsed time: 5min, 58secs
Clean Up and Wait
I've bled all the pressure off the boiler and created more headspace in it (took about 10secs), so now while I wait for it to heat up again, I dump the spent puck and clean the portafilter.

Elapsed Time: 6min, 17secs
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Second Bleeding
A second bleed gets rid of more soppy wet steam. The trick to microfoam is exceptionally dry steam, and to get that, you have to 'bleed" the boiler of all the topwater. Also by bleeding, you keep the boiler heater active, something we need to keep happening.

Elapsed Time: 6min, 30secs
The Silvia's been bled dry, to coin a phrase, and now we're starting to forth. The key here is to never let that boiler light go out - as long as its on, steam is being produced. If it goes off before you start steaming, open the wand (sans milk and steam pitcher) until you see the lamp go on again.

Elapsed Time: 6min, 55secs
Almost Finished
A second away from finishing the froth. Total frothing time for about 6 oz of milk is under 35 seconds. Lots of velvety microfoth in that cup.

Elapsed time: 7min, 17secs
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Pour, Baybee!
Time to pour the microfrothed milk. Folks, quality cappuccino froth is ALWAYS poured, never spooned. If your froth requires you to spoon (or you see it done that way in a cafe), it was frothed poorly. Microfroth pours. Remember that :-)

Elapsed Time: 7min, 23 secs
Clean Up!
Cleanup is a necessity with espresso machines. As soon as you're done pouring (sigh, lookit my spilled milk from my crappy latteart attempts, and no, you can't see my failed attempt), wipe down the wand with a wet cloth.

Elapsed Time: 7min, 36secs
Final Cleanup
Blast steam through the steam wand to clean it out. Make sure steam switch is shut off.  Also, run some water from the grouphead (no portafilter) into your steam pitcher. This cleans the dispersion screen, and helps refill your boiler (the Silvia doesn't auto prime). That's it! A great drink ready to be had, in 8 minutes!

Elapsed Time: 7mins, 58secs

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How to Avoid Cheating Miss Silvia

First, understand you have it lucky. Even with Miss Silvia's 20 to 30 minute real heat up time (without using these cheats), you guys have it good. The bigger commercial machines need at least 30 minutes, sometimes an hour or longer to totally heat up every single component to full operating temperatures. My Livia 90 needs at least 30 mins, and I still do some versions of these cheats.

One way to get around having to Cheat Miss Silvia is very simple - buy a mechanical timer, the kind that will activate electricity to a plug at set times. I have my Livia on a timer that turns the machine on at 8am, and turns it off at midnight, giving her 8 hours of slumber. Just set your timer for 30 minutes before you figure you want Silvia ready to go, and you're golden.

Some timers even allow you to set on and off times. Hypothetically, you could turn the Silvia on at 7am, off at 9:30am, on again at 11:30am, off at 2pm, on again at 5pm, and off again at 10pm, if you like.