Francis Francis X1 Espresso Machine. Is it all about looks or is it good coffee?
I have patiently saved my pennies and am almost ready to make the commitment. Not cheap, over $1000 Canadian. I have read mixed reviews on the coffee websites.
If you can endorse this espresso machine please let me know or am I just wasting my money on a looker with no substance.
Food writer Jeffrey Steingarten (a pompous and pretentious, but also obsessive food guy) once tested a bunch of espresso makers. See his book (I think it's called "The Man Who Ate Everything") for the gory details. He found design flaws that made this lovely machine a poor choice. I can't remember offhand which models he liked.
I'm sure that you can get a VERY good machine for MUCH less money. Almost all of my Italian friends make their espresso in a cheap aluminum stovetop pot.
I am personally using a Briel Estoril machine. When this model was widely available (it isn't anymore), it was frequently rated as a piece of crap. Yet I get wonderful results (perfect crema and foam) with little effort. I have served coffee from this machine to folks who criticized it -- and wowed them. That said, I suspect there was much sample variation and I was lucky to get a good one.
Steingarten's may have been the old model, which was little more than a toy. The internals of the entire line were given a major upgrade around the turn of the century. Espresso performance has since improved and, in skilled hands, the machine can produce a decent shot, though fresh beans, a good grinder and patience dialling in the right grind are mandatory. Milk steaming is lackluster. Other downsides include a 57-mm portafilter (58 mm is the commercial standard), which makes finding tampers, replacement portafilters, baskets, etc. a little more difficult.
Before buying the X1 or any espresso machine for that matter, it's important to bear in mind that the machine is the accessory to the grinder, not the other way around. You cannot make good espresso without freshly roasted beans freshly ground by a good grinder.
As for value, Mila would be paying a big premium for looks.
For C$695 you can get a Rancilio Sylvia -- the gold standard for domestic single boiler, non-heat exchanger machines -- from Café Union in Montreal. A bundle with a Rocky grinder and base runs C$1,150. Innova's stylish machines, with specs almost identical to the F!F! models, start at C$425. http://cafe-union.com/
For C$1,100, you can get a Bezzera BZ 02 -- a sharp-looking, high-performing heat-exchanger machine -- from Caffe Tech in Edmonton. They also have the Sylvia (C$675) and Rocky (C$425), though not as a bundle. Free shipping, too. www.caffetech.com
The Green Beanery in Toronto has the Sylvia-Rocky-Base bundle for as little as C$1,060. www.greenbeanery.ca
Those are only a few of the options available to you. Look around. Merchants are often required to advertise prices higher than they are prepared to charge, so bargaining is a definite possibility, especially if you have cash in hand. But remember: if your real goal is excellent espresso, don't even think about buying a machine without a decent grinder.
Last April, we purchased a super-automatic Gaggia coffee machine. We used to make our coffee in the stovetop model we received from our relatives in Italy when my husband and I got married but, I have to say this Gaggia is phenomenal. Not so sure about the exchange rate but we purchased ours for $1200. American. If you are going to spend as much as you plan to, look into a super-automatic model. You just press a button, the beans are released into the hopper, the beans are freshly ground, and you can choose whether you want an espresso, double espresso, Americano, or just hot water for tea or hot chocolate. This particular model (Gaggia Titanium) came with a frothing attachment which makes cappuccino making a breeze.
Look into it. My cousin got a deLonghi for about $800. American. I can't tell you how many of my neighbors show up with coffee mugs. I can't even drink coffee out anymore. Nothing tastes as good. Even Starbuck beans make great coffee...much better than Starbucks itself.
Again, if you are willing to make that much of an investment, look into something like the super-automatic.
Carswell gave very good advise. everything he said was spot on. All I can add was my first espresso machine was a Francis Francis. Probably the biggest waste of money I ever spent.
As for the post that recommends a super auto, I'm sure if you've done your homework, you know that they are not thought of very highly.
The FF machines sure are pretty. The few times I've tasted the output, it was
servicable expresso. A friend had the frother tube on his clog up in some unrepairable
way and he ended up giving it away and buying an old chrome rooster Pavoni.
I believe he is much happier now.
They do seem to be more of a fashion statement than a utensil. There
also seem to be some ways of getting them much cheaper than you're
looking at. Another friend just got one pretty cheap through an offer
Personally, I use the $10 aluminum stovetop thingie, which produces
a fabulously delicious product.
I bought an AeroPress for $30 and love it. Might be worth a try before you invest in a big deal.
I have the Francis Francis X1 and I really like it. I have had it for a couple of years and I use the Illy pods quite a bit (they make a totally effortless espresso with good crema). I'm not as good at making espresso with the tamper and the basket, but that takes some practice. I do think that you can get a much better price, either through one of those Illy progams where they send you coffee every month for a year, or online somewhere else. I got mine from cooking.com and I happened to find a coupon for 20% off any purchase, so it was quite a deal.
Just noticed this preliminary review of the X1 on coffeegeek.com. While the review dates from 2004 and there's been no follow-up, it raises issues with some of the "improvements" to the machine and so is worth reading. And while you're at it, read the comments, where the reviewer (head geek Mark Prince) pretty much writes the machine off as style over substance. At the time of the review, the less expensive X3, which had just been given the full review treatment, didn't suffer the same problems and so produced a better cup.
Thanks chowhounds for the reality jolt. I really need to do more research because as much as I love (am addicted to) beautiful appliances, without a decent espresso I am just not a happy person.
Thanks for the tips on the grinder and the local sources for me.
I have not read positive things about the X1
I have a Rancilio Silvia... sort of an icon among the manual espresso machine set but it IS a very good machine.
For grinding, I use a Cunill El Cafe Tranquillo.