With the Starbucks Barista grinder on the fritz and me waiting for the replacement to come in on a warranty fix, (the motor shouldn't have seized up, according to Starbucks), I ordered a Rancilio Rocky grinder. It arrived a week later, and I finally put Miss Silvia and Mr. Rocky together.
Just a brief note on my Rocky grinder. As most of you know, home bean grinders are notoriously noisy, whether beans are in them or not. Par for the course, right? Well I unpacked my Rocky grinder, the heavy beast it was (about 12 lbs worth of machine), dusted it off and plugged it in. I went to get my beans, freshly roasted that morning and walked back to it. I heard a faint whirr sound and thought to myself - nifty! It has an internal fan to keep the motor cool! I was wrong.
I dumped my beans in and right away the familiar sound of beans grinding - the machine was accidentally left in the "on" position when I plugged it in. That faint whirr sound, not unlike a quality fan in a computer case, was all the sound the machine made while it's grinding wheels were spinning at high RPM. That seriously impressed me.
Remember in the last section how I said the Barista grinder, with it's conical burrs, and the Miss Silvia took me to espresso nirvana? Well the bar just got raised a few feet with the meeting of Rocky and Silvia.
The Rocky grinder is perfectly matched to it's sister machine. Together they don't make espresso - they make art in a cup. I write a lot about my Rancilio products in another part of this website, so I'll spare you here, but suffice to say, I thought I really was in espresso nirvana during those first few days with the Rocky and Silvia.
And for over a year (and possibly even right up to today and beyond), the Rancilio Silvia and Rocky combo would be my espresso nirvana. Except for one thing. I wanted more. I wanted a couple of things that Miss Silvia couldn't provide.
One thing I wanted was steam on demand. The Silvia is in a class of machines I've labeled "single boiler machines" for lack of a better descriptive (I could have called them "home espresso machines", "prosumer machines" or whatever, but single boiler works best). As a single boiler machine, the Silvia requires a wait time between steaming and brewing, and vice versa. When you want a macchiato in the morning, this can be painful.
I also wanted a machine that could be left on all the time. The Silvia does not auto prime like expensive commercial machines do, so if you leave it on all day, the boiler can run dry and you can ruin the heating elements. And speaking of auto priming, I wanted it. I wanted a machine that would automatically fill the boiler whenever it sensed the level was too low.
Please don't get me wrong. The Silvia/Rocky combo is probably more machine than 95% of espresso lovers will ever want or need. Silvia is built well, and should last decades with proper care, use and maintenance. Rocky? Ditto. Both are rock solid machines, and at the absolute top of their class. You can't go wrong with this combo.
So while I was happy happy, joy joy in my personal espresso world in 1999, I got bitten by another bug. A bad one. Espresso was great for me, so I started working more on perfecting other aspects of my personal "coffee world". I saught out better ways to brew coffee (as opposed to espresso).
In the early early spring of 1999, I started hearing about something called a "vacuum coffee maker". I was intrigued, as I'd never heard of such a device before. Soon I bought one dirt cheap because the local Starbucks was blowing out their remaining stock of Bodum Santos vacuum brewers. I brought mine home. I RTFM'ed. I fired it up. I sat back and watched.
I was amazed at the process - the steps it went through. So much so, I have an entire section elsewhere on this website dedicated to vac pots. Check it out if you like.
Suffice to say, vacuum brewing was pretty exciting for me, and it brought me to a whole new level of coffee making. Since that first fateful brew, I've accumulated over 30 different vacuum brewers, and you can see a small portion of them in my pictures section.
I also heard tell about a device called "Chemex", which featured an unusual looking brewer and special paper. So I bought two. They weren't cheap, but let me tell you, I haven't had a better cup of paper filtered coffee. The Chemex is essentially an hourglass shaped piece of scienceware and very techie filtering paper. It is slow, a paint to clean, but is cool to watch and the coffee is first rate. I still use one of the two I bought at least once a week.
Things were pretty good throughout 2000 for me and my coffee world. I was roasting my own beans. I was grinding them in a Rocky espresso grinder. I was drinking shots from Miss Silvia. I was enjoying coffee from vac pots. I was making filter coffee in a Chemex. But with my increasing knowledge of espresso, my fanatism constantly growing, and frankly, a bit of jealousy over some products that were on the market that some folks had and raved about, I eventually wanted more. The old bug was back again. And in August, 2000, it bit.
In August, 2000, Miss Livia came and usurped Miss Silvia's reign in my household. (More to come)