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The Gaggia Classic and the Rancilio Silvia are two big names in quality, entry level semi-automatic espresso machines for home. Both have features that make them strong choices as capable, long lasting and durable home machines. Maybe you’re like Jason Stern who said in a review: “After spending nearly $2,500 a year on my Starbucks habit I figured enough was enough”. He calls his Gaggia Classic a “great investment”. He says what came out of his machine was “...a life changing experience.” Or maybe you’re looking for dependability like Tron Kot. He’s been making two 4-shot lattes daily for seven years on his Rancilio Silvia and says: “...It has never failed me! Not once!"
Now choosing between the Classic and the Silvia can be difficult. With hundreds of customer reviews of both machines on the website they have identical 4.7 ratings on a scale of 1 to 5. The Classic and the Silvia are similar in many features. Let’s go over what they share, key differences and why you might choose one over the other. So first, what’s the same? Well, both are single boiler machines designed in Italy. They have rugged stainless steel housings and are very close in size. Both use 58 millimeter commercial size and weight portafilters made of chrome plated brass and have large heavyweight brass group heads for increased thermal stability--which is key for pulling espresso. Both have 3-way solenoid valves - a feature not found on lower quality machines. The 3-way valve releases pressure from the brew water at the end of an extraction. This dries out the coffee puck making it easier to knock out and reduces stress on other internal plumbing. It’s a more reliable and user friendly design. The machines also have nearly identical water capacities and cup height clearance under the spouts. One difference... visible indication of water level on the Classic and none on the Silvia. Both come with a 2 year warranty and both are serviced in house at Whole Latte Love by certified technicians.
A big difference between the machines is the price. The Classic is typically about half the cost of the Silvia. In fact, you can usually purchase a Classic and a quality burr grinder package for the same price as a Silvia alone. Both machines are capable of producing excellent espresso but to do that, you want to use coffee ground fresh in a quality grinder. Another key difference is in the filter baskets. The Silvia comes with standard single and double shot baskets. The Classic comes with a double shot basket and adds single and double shot pressurized baskets. With the pressurized baskets you can use pre-ground coffee or ESE pods. So on the Classic you have that capability out of the box. That means you can get into home espresso without a grinder. Having that capability on the Silvia requires the purchase of a pod adapter kit. Another big difference... the boilers. On the Classic it’s 3.5 ounces, aluminum and heated externally by 1370 watts. The Silvia’s boiler is 12 ounces, brass and heated internally by 952 watts of power.
The Silvia’s heating element has been redesigned and is now removable, being modeled after their commercial boilers. The Silvia’s boiler does have more steaming power. But with the Gaggia Classic’s lower volume and more heating watts it recovers to brew ready faster after steaming. Overall, the Silvia has a slight edge for those producing multiple milk based drinks back to back. But there’s little if any difference in espresso performance and with a higher wattage boiler the Classic is no slouch when steaming. For texturing milk, the Classic uses an auto-frothing pannarello wand. This makes frothing easy - but you give up some ability to finesse the froth the way you can with the Silvia’s commercial style single hole steam wand. Just know the commercial wand does take quite a bit of practice to use well. When maintained properly both machines are designed to give years of reliable service. But, if you’re the type that may get inside a machine, according to our service technicians, the Classic is easier to work on.
So why choose one machine over the other? As we said at the top, it’s a tough choice. The machines are very similar in capabilities. The Silvia gets an edge in steaming power with the larger boiler. But the Classic makes up some of the difference with more heating power. For ease of use the Classic comes out on top. The pannarello wand makes steaming easy and the Classic comes out of the box with the ability to use ESE pods and pre-ground coffee. If a grinder isn’t in your budget at the moment you can get into home espresso and milk based drinks without one. In our opinion it comes down to how much you’re willing to pay for an edge in steaming. The bottom line is you can purchase a Classic and a quality grinder for around the same price as the Silvia alone.