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Francis Francis X1 - A Hart's Review
Posted: January 29, 2008, 1:39pm
review rating: 0.0
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Francis Francis X1
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Arrow The Francis Francis X1 has 43 Reviews
Arrow The Francis Francis X1 has been rated 7.20 overall by our member reviewers
Arrow This product has been in our review database since November 30, 2001.
Arrow Francis Francis X1 reviews have been viewed 255,895 times (updated hourly).

Quality Reviews
These are some of the best-written reviews for this product, as judged by our members.
Name Ranking
Scott Smith 8.75
Patrick Moss 8.00
Josh Alwitt 8.00
Steve Strawman 8.00
Phil M 7.60

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Ratings and Stats Overall Rating: 7.6
Manufacturer: Francis! Francis! Quality: 8
Average Price: $799.00 Usability: 6
Price Paid: $550.00 Cost vs. Value 7
Where Bought: La Gamati Aesthetics 9
Owned for: 3 months Overall 8
Writer's Expertise: I love coffee Would Buy Again: Yes
Similar Items Owned: FF! X5
Bottom Line: The third-gen FF! X1 Professional is a feisty little machine both for its looks and operation. It's for ground coffee only, and it's a big step up from the both-pods-and-ground-coffee second-gen FF! machines.
Positive Product Points

As with all FF! machines, the design is primo. The build quality is also quite robust with a body of steel. The switches and knobs feel like they'll last forever. The portafilter handle feels heavy and solid. The new electronics seem well thought out and make it harder to misuse the machine. Boiler autofills when empty; won't let you run the pump when in steam mode.

Negative Product Points

Requires a very fine grind to get good coffee out. Not possible to use enough coffee/tamp hard enough when using off-the-shelf ground espresso coffee -- even the Illy coffee it ships with. Comes with a wimpy plastic tamper. Same odd FF! frother on the wand. Plastic double shot splitter attachment under portafilter; a step down from metal screw-on type that came with the previous version.

Detailed Commentary

FF! History: From all I've read, the Francis! Francis! machines have gone through two main "eras" previous to the recent split into third-generation "trio" and "professional" machines. The first generation machines were horrible by all accounts; then, major improvements were made (brass boilers, etc.) in a second generation of machines. That was my old X5, I guess. Second generation machines were capable of using either ESE pods (standard) or ground espresso coffee (using an extra accessory kit).

What's new: My new machine is the X1 Professional version, which is the latest generation of machines. If we call these third generation, or "3G" machines, we can say that FF! has divided all of its lines into "trio" machines, which can only use pods, and "professional" machines, which can only use ground coffee. And it's true. The shape of the basket and screen of my "3G pro" model absolutely does not accommodate pods. The screen is perfectly flat (not convex/concave) and there's no additional gasket or moulded angles to fit a pod. Another change for the 3G pro line that makes it different from the 2G with the ground coffee accessory package is that there's no longer that odd little plastic disk that you were supposed to leave on top of the ground coffee in the portafilter basket. With the new flat screen, there's no need for this. Thanks, FF!, for that. Also new for the 3G machines is the electronic brain that really sets it apart from the previous generation of FF! machines, or the X5 I had, anyway. More on the brain later.

Unpacking: The machine's packaging was very good. No great risk for damage, I'd say. It was easy to unpack and set up. I read the manual before I began using the machine. To me, the manual felt a bit incomplete, but then again, I may not be the average consumer. So, let's say it's an adequate guide and nothing more. The reservoir is exactly the same size and shape as my X5. The filter basket also seems to be exactly the same size as for my X5. The main difference for the 3G machine is that the little divider thingy that allows you to share a double shot between two cups is made of plastic. In the 2G ground coffee kit, it was metal, so I was sort of disappointed with that. In my package there was a 250g can of Illy coffee, a 7g scoop, a single shot basket insert, a double shot basket insert, a plastic tamper and a small, low black rubber/plastic knock-box* into which you can knock out about one puck of spent coffee. Also included was one dose of descaling solution and a bunch of small tablets that you can use to clean the screen and basket. They're supposed to fizz and take away greasy deposits -- we'll see about that! (* I now use the tiny rubber knock-box to lean the filter handle against when tamping. A far better use for it. Get a proper knock-box, I'd recommend.)

First time firing it up: The first thing I noticed when I turned the machine on was that it automatically filled the boiler. Ah -- it's the 3G's new brains at work. There was nothing about that in the manual, so it actually startled me when I flipped the switch. Next thing that happens is that the machine heats all the way up to steaming temperature, then cools gradually to brewing temperature, which is another new thing for the 3G machines, I think. A green light comes on and there's a beeping noise when the machine believes it's at the correct brewing temp. Time to brew!

Brewing: I went through the entire can of Illy coffee and never got a decent shot. A confession: I don't usually grind my own beans. I buy espresso-ground coffee. With my X5, I got best the result with Illy coffee. This didn't seem strange, since Francis! Francis! machines are sort of the "razor" to Illy's "blades", if you see what I mean. I never used Lavazza coffee  in the past, since it easily "choked" the X5 with it's finer grind. After failing with Illy coffee, I tried with Lavazza and couldn't get actually the new X1 to choke at all. The shots were running far too fast, no matter how hard I tamped. Not a good start for brewing, but I think this is a function of the pump design, which seems brutally effective versus the X5's. Also note that this machine is much less drippy than my X5. Don't know why this is - I don't think it has a 3-way solenoid.

Tamper, tamping: After 4-5 days of failed shots, I went out and bought a metal tamper to replace the wimpy plastic one.  The literature on the X1 says that it has a 56mm diameter basket. I wound up trying damn near every single tamper in the shop and discovered that I could fit anything from 56-58mm depending on the brand of tamper. I settled on a no-name metal tamper with a flat bottom. Since the dispersion screen is flat and the bottom of the filter basket is basically flat, and since the 2G's little plastic leave-in insert was flat on the bottom, I decided against a concave/convex tamper. The flat tamper seems to work just fine.

Coffee: I had my coffee place grind me some coffee to three different finenesses to help me try to find the X1's sweet spot. The finest grind from the shop seems to work the best. All of them worked better than the ground Illy or Lavazza coffee. The color of the crema was a lot darker than with my X5 (blonde crema) and darker than I'd been able to get with coarser grinds or wimpy plastic tamper. Not a God shot, perhaps, but delicious straight up without sugar. The shot took a lot longer than in earlier attempts -- bordering on ristretto. What a relief! You can actually make coffee with this machine!

Dosing: I'm not sure exactly what the deal with the X1 professional is, but so far I've had to be extremely careful with grind/dose/tamp balance. When you get it, then you're fine. Expect to have to have a grinder or go to a coffee shop with a good grinder in order to get consistently good results.

Electronic brains: Start the machine: it goes all the way up to steaming temperature, then slowly cools. Beeep! Green light on and it's ready to brew. Brew: Usually after the brewing, the green light stays on and it says it's ready to go again. Sometimes, however, when you're done brewing, the green light stays off. It warms back up again until the beeper goes off and the green light lights again. Steaming: flip the steam switch on and the machine heats up. While the steam switch is on, the brew switch is inactivated. While steaming, the pump will run intermittently to keep water in the boiler.

Frothing: I'm not much of a latte man, so I won't comment on the frothing other than to say it is a lot more pressure than my X5 had just before it died, but I couldn't honestly say I remember how it compares to when my X5 was new. My wife, who does the frothing in our house, seems satisfied.

Buying Experience

I paid a little more to buy this machine in a bricks and mortar shop, La Gamati in Stockholm. I don't regret it so far, since I've been in there since to get advice, and I've returned to them to buy my grinder. (Footnote: A year later, and I don't think this shop stocks Francis! Francis! machines anymore.)

Three Month Followup

I had my previous FF! X5's heating element replaced, and compared shots. the X1 Pro makes a much tastier shot, but that could well be a function of the super-fine coffee that's required for the X1 Pro. I'm finding the X1 a bit more trouble to keep clean, with water and coffee finding its way under the edges of the chrome grate where the cup sits. I've stopped "temperature surfing" -- it may still be possible or even desirable to do, but it isn't necessary. I revised up my cost/Value rating by one. The build quality is simply wonderful, versus most of the machines I've compared to. It has 'object value' beyond all others.

One Year Followup

A year later and I'm still happy with the machine. It is picky though, and really needs to be "learned", which means my wife doesn't make espresso anymore. I just added a quality grinder to my setup to generate the required extra-fine grind and I now have predictable, consistent, hassle-free shots. This has definitely improved the user friendliness. I really don't understand why this machine wasn't designed to work perfectly with Illy ground espresso, or any off-the-shelf ground espresso for that matter. Oh, and I don't notice the espresso machine getting dirty so much now, compared to the coffee going everywhere around the grinder.  Ha! This machine still doesn't drip much -- my old FF! X5 dripped rivers.

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Posted: January 29, 2008, 1:39pm
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