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the detailed review - francis! francis! x3
Francis! Francis! X3 - Peformance
Introduction | Overview | Specifications | First Days | Operation | Maintenance | Performance | Comparisons | Conclusion
spout closeup, X3

The Francis! Francis! X3 ain't no speed demon; it's not a high volume super star - don't expect it to keep up with you if you need to pump out twenty shots in a row and a dozen milk based drinks on top of that. But for a home machine, at its price point, it ain't bad.

I also had a bit of a humbling experience with the X3 - something I'll cover more below - but the short version is this. In the hands of 2002's North American Barista Champion, the X3 produced a marginally better shot than I could with a La Marzocco Linea espresso machine. That says something about the machine's output, but also speaks volumes about operator skill.

Performance Observations - General

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I've had to eat some crow when it comes to the Francis! Francis! lineup. Perhaps my words are too glowing, but if they are, it is only because so much "negative press" in the past has to be countered (many of that negative press is in the form of my own words in newsgroups like alt.coffee and on my personal coffee hobby website).

Now don't get me wrong - Silvia or Zaffiro owners don't necessarily need to go out and dump their machines and buy a X3, but let's call it for what it is - the X3 held its own, and then some.

Perhaps the most surprising example of all was the weekend I held the Iron Barista competition. Back when Canada had it's annual Coffee and Tea Expo, I had a post-expo barbeque, and one of the guests was Dismas Smith (and family)... Dis happens to be the 2002 North American Barista Champ.

We had a fun and informal contest, he and I. first, we had pretty bad beans - some gawdawful Italian prepackaged stuff with 15% Robusta, roasted who knows how long ago. Next, we had two machine setups - on the left was a La Marzocco Linea 1group professional machine, and a Mazzer Mini grinder. On the right, we had a Francis! Francis! X3 and a Rancilio Rocky grinder. The cost of the setup on the left could buy 13 of the right side setups.

Dis started on the La Marzocco, me on the X3. We each had 5 minutes to dial in the grinders too our liking. Then we brewed a traditional double into two cups, and served the results to two judges, who just happened to be world class judges, (they have judged in the World Barista Championships). Neither judge knew who brewed which shot, or what shots came from what machine.

Then Dis and I switched setups, and went to work again for five minutes dialing the machines in. I then brewed a double on the La Marzocco, and Dis on the X3. Again, the judges were served "blind". Then they were asked for their results.

In the first round, they complained about the taste of the coffee (it was pretty bad quality beans), but picked the La Marzocco (Dismas Smith brewed) shots. For the second round, they initially declared it a tie, but when pressed, picked the X3 brewed shots, if only by a hair!!!

Quite surprising (and yes, humbling) for this author. I can't help but think that if we did great coffee beans in both machines, the Linea would eek out on the La Marzocco no matter who brewed, but facts are facts - I can truthfully say an X3 machine beat a La Marzocco Linea head to head in a blind taste test, when the X3 machine was operated by a National Barista champ, and I operated the La Marzocco.

Okay, so I've bared my private shame. Time to move on.

Here's two examples of shots poured on the X3. The first series shows a double being pulled. It also shows that on this day, the machine was extremely uneven in its pour - something I've noticed it does almost completely randomly. the machine was level when this series was run, and the pack was even in the portafilter.

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Before shot
Start; left side's already faster.
Shot's okay, a little blong at this point
Note - lines on shot glasses are 1.5oz.
Brew switch turned off, a bit blond on top.
45 seconds after shot ended.

A note on the series above. I've had much better doubles from the machine, but I don't believe in "staging" a shot; instead, I just use whatever (fresh) beans I have around, and shoot the first series I do - this way you see a "typical" double shot being pulled on the machine.

The next series shows a ristretto being pulled, and it was a good one on this photo day:

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Getting it ready...
Starts, left side only for now.
Gets going, about 12 seconds in, tiger striping evident.
About 16 seconds in, it got blond... but
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It quickly found more juice (see stripe).
Pour is thick, rich, and straight down, no curling.
Finished the shot at 28 seconds.
45 seconds after ending the shot.

This ristretto pour was a great one - too bad I had to sacrifice it (ie, not drink it) because of the photography involved - the shot was dead before I was done (about 3 minutes after the pull was completed).

Another performance boon made itself evident in my testing - something that Francis! Francis! also talks about in their flashy brochure for the X lineup. They claimed that the combination of boiler volume and design, tied in with thermal reactions of hot and room temperature water, that were measured, calibrated, and built upon, all add up to a rather unique machine - you can steam your milk first, then fill the boiler, and the boiler brewing temperature will be almost perfect for brewing espresso - at that instant.

When the machine is in steam mode, the boiler holds the water somewhere around 120C or higher (I cannot test the temperature, so I'm making a guess). The positioning of the exit valve for the steam (and brew) path is such that the boiler is emptied a specific amount before your steam is dry. Steam and froth enough for two cappuccinos, or about 7oz of milk, and you've depleted the boiler a bit more. Then put the machine back into brew mode by turning the steam switch off, and right away, reprime the boiler by running the brew switch with the steam knob closed. Steam and water will bubble and gurgle out of the grouphead - as soon as it becomes a steady flow, the machine is reprimed, and the boiler temperatures are down to near-ideal brewing temperatures - the room temperature water from the reservoir is sufficiently cold enough to bring that 125C+ water down to around 97C.

I tested this at least a dozen times, and my Fluke readings didn't lie - the machine is pumping out ideal brewing water temps only about 10 seconds after you froth. If you have your portafilter ready to go, you can have a brewed double of espresso only 40 seconds after you're done steaming.

And one more performance observation - steaming power. The machine doesn't really have any beyond doing about 7 or 8oz of milk. They cycle time on the boiler (that is, how long it takes for the steam thermometer inside to kick back on the boiler when you deplete the built up reservoir of steam) isn't too bad, but the boiler size itself does not lend itself to steaming more than 10oz of milk up to 155F. Of course, you can remedy this by manually refilling the boiler a bit by holding the brew switch for 3 to 5 seconds, making the pump introduce more water in the boiler, but by doing so, you also reduce the boiler temp drastically and you reduce your steam volume in the short term.

It would be nice if this machine had something like what the Solis espresso machines have, or many super automatics have - an automatic "tut tut tut" refill of the boiler by a pump that activates and deactivates a couple of times per second, but if it did this, it's possible the machine wouldn't cool down sufficiently to take advantage of the design tweak that brings the X3 back to brewing temperatures quickly.

Performance Observations - Specific

I ran a series of tests on the machine to get a sense of cycle times, recovery times, steaming times, and more. Here's the results.

Boiler Cycle Times
Test 1Test 2Test 3Average
Forced Cycle36sec35sec35sec35.3sec
Non Forced Cycle17sec18sec18.5sec17.8sec

A forced cycle is when I ran water through the brew group until I saw the boiler light go on. A non forced cycle is when I passively observed the machine go into a boiler cycle mode without running any water through the group.

Thoughts: The X3 has a rather rapid cycle time for the boiler which tells me it has a good and fast heating element, and that the tolerance (range) of the brew thermostat is short.

Measured Maximum Brewing Temperatures
Test 1Test 2Test 3Average
No Coffee95.2C95.1C94.8C95.0C
With Coffee91.9C93.4C92.9C92.7C

Thoughts: This was an interesting test - the temperature was very stable in three tests done over three different days, when running water through an empty portafilter. Once ground coffee was in, there was more fluctuation in the results, but they were still within good brewing temps (around 198 to 200F).

Grouphead Temperatures
Test 1Test 2Test 3Average
81.3C80.2C82.7C81.4C

Thoughts: This was a surprising result, but based on the brewing temperatures of the espresso, it shouldn't be. Bottom line, the X3's all brass and chrome grouphead retains heat very well. These tests were done with a machine that was on for at least one full hour before the grouphead temp was read.

Torture Test: Brewing Six Doubles
Shot 1Shot 2Shot 3Shot 4Shot 5Shot 6
Test 191.9C86.6C82.1C93.6C88.7C83.1C
Test 292.3C84.1C82.9C92.3C89.7C82.7C
Avg Time0:000:391:161:532:333:11

Process: Ran six shots through the machine as fast as possible - while taking care not to spray hot grounds all over when removing the portafilter. Average time taken to produce each shot from a zero start is also recorded.

Thoughts: As mentioned several times in this review, don't expect great performance from the X3 if you want to bang out six doubles inside of 4 minutes ( my last double was completed at about 3 minutes, 27 seconds). The temperatures were all over the place, and the shots showed it - four of the six dos produced were sour and ran poorly. If you allow a boiler cycle between shots then the machine is fine - so producing, say 2 doubles in 3 minutes, there's no real problems there.

Steaming Test: Warmup Times
Test 1Test 2Test 3Average
No Bleed74sec71.2sec68sec71sec
Bleed at Start79sec81sec80sec80sec
Bleed Throughout92sec97sec94sec94.3sec

Process: No bleed of the boiler water means I simply let the machine heat up to steaming temps without touching it. Each test was run on a separate day. Bleed at Start meant that in the first ten seconds of steam heatup, I opened the steam wand to let water out. Bleed throughout means I bled off boiler water several times through the entire heat up cycle.

Thoughts: average for this size boiler and power. Nothing to complain about, but nothing to get excited about either.

Steam: Average Time to Cycle
Test 1Test 2Test 3Average
24sec23.1sec25sec24sec

Thoughts: it doesn't take long for the boiler thermometer to realise it is losing pressure and heat, and kick the heating coil back on again. This is a good result.

Steaming Times, Milk to 69C (155F)
Test 1Test 2Test 3Average
120ml (4oz)36.234.8sec36.8sec35.9sec
210ml (7oz)58.259.0sec59.2sec58.8sec
300ml (10oz)93.596.4sec94.0sec94.6sec
Solis SL70, 210ml41.2secn/an/an/a
Solis SL70, 300ml54.8secn/an/an/a

Process: Solis SL-70 times for 210 and 300ml (7 and 10oz) provided as a benchmark. Steam time is measured until the milk is average 155F or 69C.

Thoughts: Certainly no speed demon in the steaming timings, but it's better than some other machines I've tested in the past. 10oz is pushing the limits of this machine's ability, almost requiring a boiler-refill. In fact, a slight boiler refill may decrease the steaming times.

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Introduction | Overview | Specifications | First Days | Operation | Maintenance | Performance | Comparisons | Conclusion
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