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So the Silvia and ECM’s Casa V are quite similar in many areas. Similar size, similar appearance, they both use heavy, commercial size 58 millimeter portafilters, brass boilers mounted over substantial group heads, and both have three-way solenoid valves. They even use the same Ulka vibration pump.
The first major and, well, obvious difference? The Casa V has a brew pressure gauge and the Silvia does not. And that’s a fairly big deal. The brew pressure gauge lets you know your espresso is extracting properly, that you’ve dialed in the sweet spot of variables like grind size and coffee dose. Now, related to that is another major difference. The OPV, the over pressure valve, is easily adjustable on the Casa V. Just pull the cup warming tray and the adjustment is right there. Frankly, on the Silvia, adjusting the OPV is such a pain in the you-know-what that we do not recommend average users even try to adjust it. The case must be removed and then it takes a bit of contortion to actually make the adjustment. But with no pressure gauge on the Silvia, there’s no way of knowing what you'd even be adjusting it to.
Now for most users there’s very little need to adjust the OPV. But if you want to experiment with different max brew pressures, the adjustment is easy to access and easy to monitor with the gauge on the Casa V.
Both machines have brass boilers mounted over the brew group. Boiler volumes are thirteen ounces for the Casa and twelve ounces for the Silvia. So very close in size. What makes a difference are the heating elements in those boilers. The Silvia’s is 993 watts while the Casa uses a more powerful twelve hundred watt element.
Looking at results of performance testing, we can see where those extra watts make a difference. First up is time to steam temperature. I tested each machine 4 times and the Casa was a heck of a lot faster reaching steam temp as indicated by the machine, getting there in an average time of one minute, four seconds. The average for the Silvia was one minute, 45 seconds. Now that’s a rather significant difference. Do a latte a day and over the course of a year that’s like an extra 4 hours of waiting for steam with the Silvia.
To measure actual steaming performance I steamed six ounces of cold milk until a digital thermometer read one hundred forty degrees. That took forty seconds on the Casa and 45 seconds on the Silvia. So a slight edge to the Casa. And incidentally for those of you using frothing thermometers, stopping steaming at 140 resulted in an actual finished temperature of about 160. So if you want to hit milk’s sweet spot in the 140s like I do, stop steaming before you see that temp on the thermometer - most all of them have a bunch of lag.
The steam wands on both machines are similar, although the Casa uses a two hole tip while the Silvia has a single hole tip. There’s five inches of clearance under the Casa’s wand and three and three quarters under the Silvia’s. No problem getting a standard twelve ounce pitcher under either, but some users may appreciate the extra space under the Casa’s. One last note on steaming. As single boilers, it’s essential both of these machines be cooled down after steaming by refilling the boiler. Failing to do so could result in damage to the heating element within the boiler. To cool down and refill the boiler, turn the steam off, open the steam valve, and turn on the water switch until a stream of water and no steam is dispensed from the wand. When you get that, turn the water off, close the valve, and you’re good to go.
Next up I wanted to know how consistent the brew water temps were. But first a note. In most cases both the Casa and the Silvia should be flushed prior to attaching a portafilter and brewing. Both machines, when up to brew temp, produce some steam and overheated water from the group, and you don’t want that hitting your coffee. So before measuring temperature, I flushed each machine until flow from the group was calm with no indication of flash boiling or sound of steam. Then I measured the temperature of four ounces of brew water dispensed into a paper cup. I did this five times on each machine and the results were incredibly consistent. Average for the Casa was 185.8 and the Silvia came in at 185.66. Honestly I was kind of amazed at just how similar the results were. Now keep in mind those results do not reflect actual brew temps. That brew water just falling through the air into the cup cools rapidly. You can expect ten to fifteen degrees hotter on the coffee when brewing to be in that 195-205 range appropriate for espresso.
Looking at the cases of the machines, the ECM is more refined with a mirror finished case and close tolerances where panels meet. It has a larger and more sophisticated drip tray with high quality finishing even extending to the internal welds. The Silvia’s drip tray is a shallow pan resting on painted iron that forms the base framework of the machine and extends up the sides. Overtime that paint will chip, exposing bare iron that’s likely to rust. On the Casa, the drip tray rests on stainless steel so rust will not be an issue down the road.
In overall size, the Casa is about an inch narrower, an inch taller, and two inches deeper than the Silvia. It has a ninety-four ounce water reservoir versus seventy-four ounces for the Silvia. The portafilters are similar in weight but the Casa’s, in my opinion, has a finer look reflecting the upscale luxury brand nature of ECM’s more expensive prosumer level machines.
Now there’s no reason to think that one machine would produce a better espresso than the other. They use the same Ulka pump and are remarkably consistent in brew temperature, so long as you do those flushes. But the Casa does give you extra tools to work with. The pressure gauge to help you zero in on better extractions and an easily adjustable OPV. Again, the machines are capable of equal quality espresso, but the Casa V can help get you to better espresso faster.
Another difference is in steam performance and finish quality. The larger heating element in the Casa means less waiting for steam, and many users will appreciate the extra clearance under the steam tip. As for finish quality, the extra details are clearly evident on the Casa V. A mirror finish, stainless steel, especially in high use areas like the drip tray slides and close tolerances where body panels meet. There’s no doubt that over time with use, those painted iron rails on the Silvia will chip and there will likely be some rust. That’s just not going to happen on the Casa V’s stainless components.
Now it’s pretty obvious the folks at ECM took a look at Rancilio’s venerable Miss Silvia and said hey let’s make a machine that's a little better. Were they successful? Well, in my opinion, with better steaming times, the pressure gauge, easy OPV adjustment, and more refined casework: yes, they were successful. Now do keep in mind ECM’s Casa V does cost a little more. Prices change, but right now it’s about one hundred sixty dollars more. Is it worth it? I think so, but in the end of course that’s for you to decide. That’s the ECM Casa V and the Rancilio Silvia. Both available now at Whole Latte Love.
As always if you have any questions use those comments down there and I’ll be sure to get you the answers. Thanks for reading and I hope to have you back soon for more of the good stuff on everything coffee brought to you by Whole Latte Love.