May 26, 2011

Part IV: The Illy FrancisFrancis X8 experience - Comparing Espresso and Single Serve Coffee Capsule Systems

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The time is the very late 50s and very early 60s and Ike was retiring back to his beloved Gettysburg and a new young Boston Brahman and US Senator was entering the political stage and in Pennsylvania Dutch country the carriages were adding reflectors, some even lights, for safety on the narrow country roads. A few miles north of Lancaster was the small town of Lilitz, population maybe 4000 during the summer and the home of the Wilbur Chocolate Company.

Spring in Northern Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania in that era was wondrous. It was an area of small family farms on some of the most lush and fertile soil in the US worked by Amish and Mennonite families, a land of great but simple foods, rolling hills with a new and startling view around almost every bend. It was easy to see why this area had been desired by both the Penns and Lords Baltimore, desirable enough to fight over and fight over it they did.

It was a time before air conditioned cars and the windows were rolled down and the vents open wide. There had been a short shower and the tires hissed on the wet pavement and the smell of ozone and freshly cut grasses and flowers newly blossomed filled the air. But it is with the Wilbur Chocolate factory that this tale begins and a lush, mouth filling chocolate filled with creamy caramel.


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Illy coffee reminds me of that day, flowery with a hint of fruit, of chocolate and soft smooth caramel, of ozone and fresh mown grass. Illy is the antithesis of the typical Starbucks espresso, it has no hard corners, there is no hint of chrome or steel, it is a small table in a garden under an umbrella, sitting quietly with that friend, the one you no longer even need to speak to but rather just revel in their company, a period beyond clocks or schedules, where the only deadline is to be aware of the moment.

The Illy FrancisFrancis X8 is a combination of modern and old fashioned, minimal bright steel and only where it makes sense like the tray, the cup rack on the top, the controls and the handle to eject or insert capsules. Mostly it is black or red plastic, rounded, subtle yet somehow imposing.

It includes a steam wand but has only a single boiler used for both making steam or espresso. When switching to steam mode you press the steam function and wait while the light flashes yellow and the boiler comes to temperature. Once the light glows a steady yellow, you are ready to make steam. I usually first place a empty container under the steam wand and turn the knob counter clockwise to the steam position to get out any excess water, then briefly turn it back to vertical and place the wand in the cold milk.

Steaming enough for one or two caps takes about 60 seconds and the wand tilts to allow pretty deep access into a steaming pitcher or straight into the cup or mug.

To return to espresso mode you either wait for it to cool back down (about 10 to 15 minutes) or press the steam button again, place an empty cup under the wand and turn the knob counterclockwise to dump steam and hot water. The latter mode takes about 30 seconds and you are back to the blue light that tells you it is ready to brew some espresso.

The capsules are sold in pressurized nitrogen filled tins that hold 21 capsules (14 in the decaf) and are available through Illy, Amazon, eBay and many online coffee suppliers. The Illy capsules are the most expensive running about $0.74-0.76 each.

Read More in: Single Serve Coffee Machines | Super Automatic & ESE

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Posted by Jay Brewer at May 26, 2011 4:47 AM

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