Articles From Whole Latte Love

Don't Blow a Gasket, Silvia!

Posted: 09/19/07
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Rancilio SilviaOwning a semi-automatic espresso machine certainly has its charm. Grinding and measuring coffee, tamping by hand, and timing the shot are all part of the traditional brewing experience. For me, having full control over the entire process makes the end result that much more enjoyable, so if something goes wrong I’m not a happy camper. When my Rancilio Silvia started leaking around the portafilter when I brewed, I questioned Silvia’s dedication to espresso and berated her with a few words she just didn’t deserve.

I realize now that I was the culprit in this crime, not Silvia, and on occasion I may have left old coffee on the rim of the portafilter, and I sometimes forgot to lock the portafilter back into place after I was done using it. These, along with the fact that I had owned the machine for well over a year, amounted to a worn out group gasket.

I had never replaced a group gasket, but I talked to plenty of people who had so I was all set to try it. First I ordered the replacement gasket for my machine, and when it arrived I gathered up the tools I would need to do the job. I also got some Cafiza to clean the shower screen and group head since I was taking them apart anyway. I printed out the directions for my machine and followed the steps to glory. The whole process is pretty simple, but be sure to follow the steps carefully, as there are a few tricks that can make the job easier.

Required Tools: Urnex Cafiza, pick tool, flat-head screwdriver and group brush
Remove screw from shower screen
Remove rubber gasket from group head
Soak shower screen and jet breaker
Add Urnex Cafiza Espresso Cleaner
Scrub the group head with your brush
Install new rubber gasket in the group head
Replace jet breaker, shower screen and screw

I began by unplugging the machine and letting it cool down completely. Then I removed the water reservoir, drip pan and tray. Be sure to do these things first because the next step is tipping the machine on its back, and you don’t want to spill the water in the reservoir and drip tray all over the counter!

After I removed the reservoir, drip pan and tray, I gently put the machine on its back with the control buttons facing up. From that angle, I had a clear view of the shower screen, and I used a short flat-head screwdriver to remove the single screw in the center of it. When the screw was out, the shower screen fell off, along with the water jet breaker—a cone-shaped piece in the center screw hole above the shower screen. I set these pieces and the center screw aside to be cleaned later. If you’re not us lucky as me, you might find that the screw is hard to remove, or the screen and water jet breaker are stuck because of old coffee build-up. If you’re having any problems removing the pieces, use a spray bottle to apply a solution of water and Cafiza to the group head, and let it soak for 10 minutes or more until the pieces loosen up enough to be taken out.

After I removed the shower screen and water jet breaker, I located the group gasket. It is the black rubber ring that goes around the inner sides of the group head. If the group gasket is very old and brittle, it can break apart and the pieces should come out easily with only a small amount of prying. Mine didn’t break apart into pieces, so it wasn’t quite that easy. I used a pick to get a good grip on it, but there are several ways of doing this. You can also screw a pair of small metal screws into the gasket to create a gripping point. If you choose this method, be extra careful so that you don’t screw them in too far and damage the group head walls! It takes just a few turns to secure them, and use a pair of pliers to grip them and wiggle out the gasket. If you use this method, be sure to follow the tips provided in the instructions.

After I pried at the group gasket for a few minutes, it came out. It’s okay if you damage the group gasket when you remove it, since you’re going to replace it anyway—but be careful not to pry too hard because you don’t want to mark up the inside of the group head itself. I had success by prying at one side, then the other, until the gasket was loose enough to come out. With Expobar and Pasquini machines, you also need to pay attention to which edges of the gasket are the top and bottom. For these machines, there is a smooth and a beveled edge on the gasket. With the Rancilio Silvia I didn’t have to worry about that. I looked at the new gasket and saw that both edges are the same.

I was ready to install the new gasket, but before I did I wanted to do some cleaning. I soaked the shower screen, water jet breaker and center screw in a bowl of water and some Cafiza solution and scrubbed them with a group brush. I also used the group brush to clean the inside of the group head, including the path where the group gasket would go.

Once the path for the group gasket was clean, I dried it thoroughly and slid the new gasket into place. The new gasket slid in much easier than the old one came out, and I just had to push on it with my fingers to make sure it was all the way into the groove.

Next, I rinsed the water jet breaker, shower screen and center screw and re-installed them with my flat-head screwdriver. One thing to be careful of here—don’t overtighten the center screw. The shower screen can warp if the screw is in too tight, and you could find yourself regretfully yelling at Silvia after a bad cup of espresso. If, by some chance, you skimmed this paragraph the first time through and are in need of a new shower screen, never fear—click here.

Luckily, I read the instructions thoroughly, so I was ready to finish up. I tipped the machine back up and replaced the water reservoir, drip pan and tray. I plugged it in, turned it on, and prepared a test shot. When Silvia was up to brewing temperature, I flicked the brew button on and admired my handiwork. Overall, the entire process took about 20 minutes, and after an unbeatable double shot of Monaco, our Signature Espresso, I think Silvia and I both learned a valuable lesson about cleanliness, and accountability.