FrancisFrancis! X5 - Detailed Review
Luca Trazzi’s 5th design is of course, the X5. This time he cut out all the curves and came up with a stunning angular look. FrancisFrancis! went back to the original X1 for the color pallet and rendered the most popular colors from that line - Red, Yellow and a Whole Latte Love exclusive; Orange! The orange is a very hot color that brightens up any kitchen and is easy to find at 6:00 am.
We got this machine into our labs for testing in September but it was the sacrificial lamb that went through the tortuous UL testing process. To be UL approved, United Laboratories treats any machine like a crash test dummy. Over a year ago we got two X3’s that came out of the UL testing process (before it went on sale in the US). To make a long story short, they were beat up, screws missing and had mangled wires. The X5 we received looked ok but was still DOA. So, we had to wait for the first shipment to arrive in October to put it through the less tortuous, but equally demanding, Whole Latte Love Labs. We don’t try to break machines; we just want to know what they can do.
Fortunately, we knew quite a bit about the machine from earlier conversations with FrancisFrancis!. We have been pushing for upgraded brewing components since the X1 and we were not disappointed with what FrancisFrancis! delivered. At first look the X5 is a real piece of engineering. The trained eye notices the exactness of the lines, the heavy gauge steel frame, the way the pieces fit together. Superb fit and finish has been a trademark of FrancisFrancis! machines, but it is usually overshadowed by the unique style. The push-in/push-out buttons are low-key design elements that work better than the X3 but don’t make the statement of the X1 toggle switches. Tiny indicator lights are located on the opposite side of a centrally located clock. They are understated, but work fine and are obviously a result of design over function. The steam knob is straight from the X3 - looks nice, feels cheap - oh well. The steam wand is 4.25 inches long, which is a welcome 1.25 inches longer than the X3. The maximum recommended steaming pitcher is still 20 oz but it will be easier to "work" the milk to a nice froth. Overall, the wand has pretty much the same shape, range of movement and maintains a similar frothing adapter to all X’s that came before. I can’t see FrancisFrancis! coming out with a commercial style wand anytime soon. They really focus on a bigger market that is not so inclined to spend hours learning how to create micro froth.
No problem; lets move on to the innards. Removing the cup warmer shows nicely laid out mechanics. The pump is the same that powers the legendary Rancilio Silvia - so far so good. The boiler is a very nice 7 ounce capacity brass boiler. It is powered by a 1,080 watt single internal heating element that is fairly typical of espresso machines today. Only Gaggia really does anything appreciably different by bumping up the wattage to 1,370 and using 2 external heating elements. I suspected that the steaming capacity would be nothing extraordinary considering the competition, but it’s no slouch either. The group and portafilter handle are the same as the X3 and that is excellent. The portafilter is 56 mm and made of chrome-plated brass weighing in at 13.5 ounces, just 2.5 ounces under the Gaggia Baby and 2 mm smaller in diameter. Not quite commercial, but hefty enough to make this a serious machine. It lacks a three-way solenoid valve, which might have placed it in league with the top Gaggias (Classic and Baby) and the Rancilio Silvia. Like the X3, it also includes a brass portafilter specially designed for pods and is E.S.E. approved. This is an expensive part and it is nice that FrancisFrancis! includes it for free.
Lab results: You can go to the Compare-O-Matic and get all of our posted performance specs.
I guess it should not be a surprise, but the X5 performed very closely to the X3. The mechanics and brew group construction are the same. Some slight performance differences in steaming are probably attributable to the X5 using a single electronic temperature sensor, which is more advanced then the 2 mechanical thermostats in the X3. In some key areas it did seem to run a little better – such as steam dryness (about 1/4 ounce less water after steaming 12 ounces to 160°f), hot water temperature was 172° for 8 ounces vs. 164°. Other areas included a very quiet 59 db level while brewing and a 112° cup warmer temperature after 10 minutes. The X5 has a passively heated cup warmer; which means that it is heated from the heat generated by the boiler. 112° is not really hot enough for a properly pre-heated demitasse, but it is standard for home machines. I will always recommend running a blank shot (no coffee) with the portafilter locked into the group. The hot water will preheat both the brewing components and the cup. Overall, the results showed solid numbers and performance with no glaring issues.
The espresso quality was excellent and on par with the X3 as well. You can feed it as fine a grind as you want and get consistent, repeatable results. The pours start with full crema and stay that way through the entire brew process. You get the sense that you are using a serious espresso machine just by watching the pour and knowing that you do not have to make allowances for a pressurized portafilter. Frothing is typical of the frothing adapters, does a great job for what it is designed to do, make tons of froth without thinking. The results are very good and on par with what I was getting out of Milan a couple of months ago. This is a good time to let one of our customer reviews chime in:
"I got this baby for my office. It brews great espresso from pods and heats water too. Using pods is not my favorite choice, but it provides irresistible quick and clean action. If you’ve got time and peace of mind to grind your own coffee—get Rancilio or Pavoni. If you’re like me, and all you want is a good espresso, but have no time for romance and foreplay, Illy pods are the way to go. In short, good brew, great look—the best of all worlds in a busy workday. Having a three-way solenoid valve that prevents the after-brew dripping would have made this baby the top machine of its class. One more thing, if (you) set your heart on the cool coal gray color, stay put, it’s not coming soon to this side of the ocean." -Mike
I’ve seen the gray X5 at the Gourmet show in San Francisco. They were calling it the "Stealth" at the time. It’s not my favorite, but that is probably because when I think FrancisFrancis! I think color. It’s not coming over because they had a problem with the finish. I have not heard when it will be corrected.
I think this is Francis’ best machine to date and I whole heartily recommend it to anyone but the absolute purist. At this price you can’t go wrong. If you are interested in Pods, this is a top contender. If you don’t have a burr grinder, I recommend that you plan on obtaining one in the near future. So many espresso machines are boring to look at – while the X5 is fun, makes a great cappuccino and is built to last.