The purchase of this machine represented my first foray into ownership of a "real" espresso machine. Previously I had owned a cheap Farberware pump machine with the thought that it would be a a "disposable" machine that I could toss in good conscience when I was (financially) ready. Damn if the thing didn't last nearly five years and turn out some reasonable espresso when the mood was on it. But it woke up a few months ago and muttered something that I interperted as "I want to go to the landfill"--thus my impulse to buy the FrancisFrancis.
I began to look seriously at machines in price range and suffered a few setbacks along the way. I had decided that the FrancisFrancis machines would suit me fine--at the time I worked at an espresso bar and there was no shortage of great espresso at work and was willing to compromise a bit for home. I was sure that the X5, despite its reputation of being overpriced for its features, would be capable of producing decent espresso. In truth I was very smitten with its good looks and my ears were closed to suggestions of the Gaggia machines but after seeing the FrancisFrancis machines I would not suffer their homely faces on my counter.
I tried to buy the X5 a few months ago over the internet from Illy's site--the espresso membership program sounded like an acceptable deal to me--though I am not crazy about their coffees I don't mind them, either, and I was sure I would either use the bimonthly shipment of espresso or easily find it a good home. But though I went through all the steps for purchase online, including entering my credit card info, the attempt was unsuccessful--no confirmation number or email receipt, and a call to Illy the next day revealled that my order was lost in cyberspace somewhere and they had no record of it. Taking that as a sign, I began another search, haunting ebay and finally purchasing a Kitchenaid Proline espresso machine that turned out to be a scam that very nearly cost me $350. It was a horriblle experience and, again, my jets were effectively cooled for another few weeks. Finally I tried the Illy program again and this time the X5 was on its way to my home.
It arrived in good shape and was fabulously easy to set up. Since I don't have a good grinder at home and I wasn't sure what day it would arrive to grind fresh at work (not ideal, I know) I would try the pods first. I ran a few tanks of water through the machine and even though the machine said it was ready to go very soon after plugging it in, I waited for 20 minutes as I perused the manuals before popping in one of the pods.
The shot poured a bit quickly but I that was not what worried me--the overwhelming aroma of rancid espresso, something sour in the air, was what did it. I looked closely at the shot. It appeared normal with an acceptable head of medium brown crema. But the smell!
The shot tasted, of course, just like it smelled. Awful. Back to the instruction manual. I didn't see much that would help me, since the only control over the pods is a choice of a few filter baskets that suppossedly would make the shots short, medium, or long. But none make the taste the least bit better.
I was worried but not too much as I had heard much of the undesirability of pods even if I had never used them. The next days saw me trying a variety of fresh roasts and grinds and even begging the use of a friends gaggia mdf grinder to take home. I tried it with the new FrancisFrancis tamper thing and without it. Nothing at all made the taste any more acceptable.
At first I was confused and frustrated. And then I was sad. Then I got angry and decided to send Francis down the road before I found myself reenacting the scence in OFFICE SPACE and bludgeoning it with a baseball bat.
The instructions and owner's manual offered little in the way of troubleshooting advice. A phone call to Illy began with a discussion of the problem, what I had tried, and the grinder I ws using. After that, there was silence and I found that while I could return the machine I was stuck for the shipping, espresso shipments and the value of the "free" gifts, including the illy cups. In short I would lose almost as much as my initial outlay of cash.
So while the machine was not going back to Illy it certainly wasn't staying here. I consulted friends and continued, vainly, trying to get a drinkable shot from it before I realized that I didn't care anymore. I didn't even want to look at it on my counter anymore so back into the box it went and it is on ebay as we speak.