FrancisFrancis! X1: Ground Coffee or Pods?
There are questions with no definitive answers that have plagued mankind for ages. The answers are almost always a matter of opinion, and can range from the deeply philosophical to the ridiculous. Chicken or the egg? Yankees or Red Sox? Alec or Stephen Baldwin? And, for espresso lovers, ground coffee or Easy Serve Espresso (ESE) pods?
The folks at FrancisFrancis! did some research and learned that while some people use both ground coffee and pods, the majority of home brewers choose one or the other. Both methods have their benefits. Brewing with ground coffee gives the user complete control over dosing and tamping, providing opportunities to strive for the perfect shot and to experience the art of traditional espresso making. ESE pods, on the other hand, ensure you can get consistent shots every time you brew, and you don’t have to worry about grinding your own beans or tamping. They are perfect for espresso lovers that are on-the-go, or are just looking for the convenience that pods offer.
The researchers at FrancisFrancis! learned something else while studying the difference between brewing with ground coffee and pods: to brew an ideal shot, the group head and portafilter on the machine needs to be specially tailored for each. They decided the best way to let customers get the most from their espresso was to create two separate machines, one for ground coffee and one for pods. So, they decided to revamp the most iconic of all FrancisFrancis! machines from the inside out: the X1. Dubbed the X1 Trio for Pods and the X1 for Ground, this new generation of FrancisFrancis! machines features the same updated and remodeled internal components, but have different brew groups.
Redesigned from the Inside, Out
Before we take a look at the different brew groups on these machines, let’s take a moment to check out some of the outstanding upgrades on the X1 line that are found on both the X1 for Ground and X1 Trio for pods. The original FrancisFrancis! X1 was designed by Italian architect Lucca Trazzi and debuted in 1995. Its modern and unique style was unlike any home espresso machine that had ever come before it. Elegant curves, an array of bright colors, all metal housing, stainless steel switches, and more, set it apart from most other machines on the market. It went on to win numerous awards, grace the big and small screens, and it became a fixture in gourmet kitchens around the world.
FrancisFrancis! was purchased by Illy in 2004, a world-renowned Italian coffee company with a history of excellence. A chemist started the company, and their success in the coffee world is thanks to their continued scientific approach to coffee, tracing ideal taste all the way down to the chemical components in the beans. The engineers at Illy brought this expertise to FrancisFrancis! espresso machines, striving for the best way to brew the highest quality espresso possible.
They decided to open up the X1 to take a look at its internal components, and decided it was time for an upgrade. With coffee quality and ease-of-use in mind, the X1 got a makeover that even Stacy and Clinton from “What Not to Wear” would be envious of. First, the X1’s brass boiler was redesigned to include automatic refilling.
A sensor in the boiler can tell when it starts to run low, and automatically pulls water in from the reservoir. This means you can steam longer on the X1, and you don’t need to worry about burning out the heating element of the machine. More safety features were added, including an automatic shut-off if the pump runs for more than two minutes or if the machine begins to overheat. It also will not brew coffee if the boiler has not yet cooled down from steaming temperature, so you’ll never end up with a burnt, bitter shot.
State-of-the-art electronics were also installed to keep you up to speed with the X1’s functions, a rare feature in a semi-automatic machine. The X1 will beep to let you know when it has reached proper brewing and steaming temperature, if the switches are in the wrong position for heating up, if the water reservoir is empty, and if there is an airblock in the pump. A new green light by the power switch, labeled “OK,” will also let you know when the machine is at proper brewing or steaming temperature.
Other than the green light and the icons on the brew group of the X1 Trio for Pods (which we’ll get into later on), the only other change you’ll be able to see is the inclusion of icons under switches and lights. After rolling out of bed in the morning, it used to be easy to forget which switch did what. With these simple, white icons, you can always know exactly what each switch does, and what each light indicates, no matter how tired you are in the morning.
Special Group Heads
The major change you’ll find on either incarnation of the new X1 is the group head, designed to optimize your espresso depending on if you are brewing with ground coffee or pods. As we pulled these two machines out of their boxes, we wondered how different they would be. We were pleasantly surprised to find that FrancisFrancis! had really done some serious research and testing to create these new brew groups and portafilters. As you can see from the pictures we snapped, they look drastically different.
The X1 for Ground features a flat shower screen that has been carefully tailored especially for ground espresso. This flat design allows for pressure to evenly develop on the surface of the tamped ground espresso, ensuring an even extraction. The portafilter is similarly flat, and locks into the group head like a standard semi-automatic machine.
The X1 Trio for Pods is the most modified of the two machines, because properly brewing pods requires a special group head. When brewing with the typical flat group head, up to 10 mL of extra water can pass around the pod itself, resulting in a weak shot. FrancisFrancis! engineered the brew group on the X1 Trio with a curved design, so the pod fits snugly and no extra water gets by. The portafilter was also modified to enhance this design, with a black plastic ring around the inside to help achieve proper brewing pressure.
The other exciting addition to the X1 Trio for Pods is FrancisFrancis! Trio technology. If you look closely at the brew group, you’ll see three little black icons. From left to right, they are espresso lungo (2-3oz), espresso (1.5oz), and ristretto (.75oz). Depending on which size and strength shot you want, just line the portafilter handle up with the icon of your choice. This will adjust the amount of pressure placed on the pod, creating less pressure as you move the handle to the right, so you can expertly pull different size shots in the same brewing time.
You may be wondering, what features of the X1 remained intact after this overhaul? Well, one of the major draws remains the same: all steel housing. While ABS plastic is a durable alternative, metal housing gives these machines a high-end look and feel. The X1 Trio for Pods is available in 7 colors, while the X1 for Ground is available in ghisa, an almost-black cast iron. The ghisa housing has a unique texture so it’s slightly rough like a very even sand finish, and is very pleasing to the eye. Plus, there’s no need to worry about having to polish away fingerprints.
No matter what color you choose, the drip tray grate is made from stainless steel, as is the steam wand.
Both the X1 for Ground and the X1 Trio for Pods feature powerful 18 bar pumps for a great extraction every time you brew. A chic cup rail runs along the top of the machine with enough room to safely nestle 6 espresso cups, keeping them warm from heat radiating from the brass boiler. And, a large 40oz water reservoir located on the back of the machine is easily removable for filling or cleaning.
The Choice is Yours
If you see these machines side-by-side and only take a quick glance, they may appear to be the same. A closer look at both machines shows that they have many of the same great features, but each is tailored to the specific needs of espresso lovers on either side of the ground coffee and pod debate. Serious espresso lovers that don’t have the time to devote to making their morning latte will appreciate the convenience of the X1 Trio for Pods, while those looking to experience traditional brewing and perfect the art of espresso making can turn to the X1 for Ground. In the end, the choice is yours.