I have no doubt that I purchased the best machine for my demographic: coffee snob newbie.
Positive Product Points
Beautiful machine! -- Rust Proofing -- Good quality espresso
Negative Product Points
No 3-way solenoid valve
I purchased this beautiful Machine at the very beginning of March, 2006 (had to buy the red to compliment my kitchen). I bought a refurbished one from Aabree and have to admit that I was a bit nervous... but saving two hundred dollars and getting a machine that by all means could be factory perfect is a real treat. My package arrived, carefully wrapped and packaged, within 6 days and I was set up and pulling shots in minuets.
I typically do quite a bit of research before making a major purchase (yes I considerd this a major purchase). I didn't want to buy something that I felt I would need to replace in a few years. With that in mind Gaggia was eliminated due to their poor quality aluminum boiler and the fact that they rust out.
I also didn't want a machine that would frustrate me. I am, by no stretch of the imagination, a professional! Naturally, the Silvia was eliminated at this point.
However, I wanted a quality machine with quality parts. Must be made in Italy! Must have a soild brass boiler and group. A firm and heavy, non-pressurized portafilter. More stainless steel and less plastic. Style. This is how I arrived at Francis X5. Now, I had read a lot of reviews about how this machine's buttons and knob "look great, feel cheap" and this is simply not the case. Everything about the machine is solid and appears built to last (ie: the rust proofing). Certainly worth mentioning: while doing my research I really hemmed and hawed over whether or not a 3-Way solenoid valve was necessary. After using the machine for the first week I can truly see the value of having a machine equiped with one.
The machine warms up fast and the passive cup warming is surpringly warm (meaing it is warmer than I imagined it would be). I find that I need to refill the water tank after every 3 or 4 pulls/steams. I'm not the best person to talk to about the sheer quality of espresso, but I can tell you this about the X5: it produces espresso better than "Big Green" or Caribou. I'm also now saving myself a small fortune every month by making my own at home and they taste better to boot! The instructions, provided in multiple languages, state that one level scoop should be used for a single shot and two for a double; however, I have found that the coffee scoop that comes with the machine is too large especially when using the "tamper/shower screen" (which actually works quite well). The result of too much coffee while using this tamper is that the portafilter will not fit into the group because the tamper is too tight against the shower head. If I dose out slightly less than a level scoop the tamper sits in the portafilter perfectly as does the portafilter in the group. Shots tend to come out the right spout more than the left; they are slightly more even when using the tamper. Francis provides a clock, with a second hand, on the machine which is very nice (and stylish) and comes in handy for timing shots.
I have no previous experience with any other machine and therefore have no basis to comapre frothing capability. I can say that the X5 heats up quickly for steaming and produces a good microfoam. Others have complained about the odd frothing tip but I have had no problems thus far.
Aabree Coffee provided a very good buying/shipping/customer service experince. FREE SHIPPING!
Three Month Followup
Still love the machine! Only real problem to report was that the portafilter gasket came off once, but it was a piece of cake to fix. The passive cup warmer, while very warm to the touch, doesn't quite heat the cups up enough. I have tried Lavazza, Illy (preground) and coffee shop beans. I have found that Lavazza and Illy are a bit too coarse of a grind (with Illy being slightly finer). As I don't have a grinder of my own yet having a coffee shop grind your beans is always a guessing game. That being said I must recommend buying a good grinder.
One Year Followup
The clock is pretty much useless. This is because of its position in relation to the boiler; which, when it warms up, messes with the clock. I was replacing the battery every month for about 4 months when I decided it just wasn't worth it any more. Don't get me wrong - the clock would still work if I replaced the tiny battery every four or five weeks - its just not that important to me. The last thing I want/need in my kitchen is another appliance with a clock.
Other than that I am still in love with this machine! I have even learned to pour latte art.