I was in the market for a new machine to upgrade from my cheapo, plasticky Krups Gusto. I hadn't really focussed on making good espresso before I got this machine, so it was a new experience to me. It all started out when my sister-in-law, who works at *$, bought me some beans (she's in London, I'm in Stockholm and there are no *$ here). What to do with these beans I thought. A quick look with google brought me to coffeegeek.com and I started reading some reviews. I decided that for my drip coffee-maker the Gaggia MM would be a good grinder to grind up those *$ beans.
Said and done, I enjoyed some great drip coffee with my Gaggia MM and the somewhat fresh beans. Of course it did not end here. I kept on reading the forums at CG and I realized that making drip from *$ beans with a Gaggia MM is not good enough, and after reading several reviews and Mark's X3 review in particular (probably read it more than 10 times) I decided that the time had come for an equipment upgrade.
The X3 was kind of hard to get in Stockholm. No store carried it in stock, so I had to order it. FF! machines are surprisingly expensive in Sweden (so are all other espresso machines), but I managed to get the brushed stainless model for 5000 SEK ~ €530 ~ $680.
I got the machine home, read the manual (if you can call it that), run a lot of water through the machine, ground, "tamped" and brewed and hey, presto..... dreck :-( After a short time of trimming and dialling in I started making average to really good shots, but not consistently.
Since then I've exchanged my Gaggia MM for an Innova I2 doserless, the *$ beans for some good, fresh beans and nowadays I make excellent shots every time. I did not really believe it first, but what they say is really true: GET A GOOD GRINDER! The X3 is a really nice little machine if you pair it up with a good grinder, which I think the Innova is. Since it is a bit finicky to adjust the I2 from espresso to drip and back, the Gaggia MM still does duty as my drip grinder, which it does fairly well.
The X3 has turned into quite a little perfomer. It makes excellent espresso and great microfoam (read Aaron de Lazzer's frothing guide here on CG) every time. I descale every 6 weeks and clean daily to keep the machine in shape. Though the header of this review says I've owned the machine for 6 months, it's actually 9 months (not that it matters much) and so far the machine is working flawlessly.
It took a while for me to dial in the grind/dose/tamp for this machine, but once I got it right, it's all good.
Some reviews say that the steam valve wheel is plastic. On my machine it's definitely not plastic, but metal. The only plastic parts are the switches for power/pump/steam and the drip tray with grill. (Edit 2006-08-14: Ooops. I could have sworn it was metal. It even made a metallic "ping" sound when I tapped it. I have since realised it is indeed plastic as the splines that keeps it from rotating around the axle of the steam valve have started to wear out. Sorry...) Also Mark's excellent review says that the return hose is too long so that it's difficult to get it into the reservoir when refilling. On my machine it is not long at all, but flush with the "ceiling" above the reservoir.
The build quality of this machine seems really good, and I like the hefty, heavy feel of this rather small machine. The portafilter for grounds is brass and heavy duty, though not the standard 58mm. It is one (!) mm smaller so you'll have to look for a tamper that fits.
- Switch the X3 on and lock the portafilter (empty) in at least 30 minutes before you want to make coffee.
- I know they say steam first, brew second, but I say brew first, steam second.
- If you didn't get a grounds portafilter with the machine (I didn't), buy one
- Throw out the pod portafilter
- Throw out the plastic tamper/screen/doodad and get a decent 57 mm tamper instead
A consumer magazine published by the Swedish Consumer Agency did a test of espresso machines. The credibility of this test was immediately vaporized by the fact that they rated the Rancilio Silvia as a really, really bad machine, and the plastic "toyish" Krups Gusto as a good one. The negative comment about the X3 was that the portafilter gets too hot to touch, about the same temp as the brewing water. I say that is a good thing as you don't want the portafilter to cool the coffee.