Monday, November 2, 2009

Francis Francis! X3

The Francis Francis! range does not seem to appeal to the average Coffee Geek. Comments such as form over function etc. etc., resound through the forums. While some of this may have been true of the early aluminum boiler 52mm portafilter X1, the later 56-57mm X3 and brass boiler X1 and X5 have good quality brass internals, and from what I have seen are constructed to a very high standard. Essentially the same internals as the Lelit and top Nemox models - yet Coffee Geeks love those. Go figure... They also look good.

Anyway, having read the very positive in detailed review of the X3 I placed a bid or 2 on a Francis Francis! X3 in barely used condition. Then I won the Gaggia Carezza. Then I won the X3. At some point in the future I will also tell you I bought a 3rd machine (mystery machine - I am not 100% sure what I am getting) that week. Oops. Really. Auctions and red mist. Ah well, I said to my wife - I can use both and keep the one I like best, and on sell the other(s). Good plan. Shame it won't work.

Now, about the X3 I won. It was listed as barely used and in good condition. It was only set up for pods (as was the way in NZ) and I was worried it might be a Trio (pod only - really! You cannot ever use ground coffee.). The vendor didn't know what a Trio was, and the product plate on the machine didn't say Trio, so I took a gamble and bid.

As you can see, a very clean grouphead with minimal discoloration of the brass. Really has seen little use. Seeing the brass here is a 100% confirmation that the boiler is also brass.

The problem was... while I was waiting for the X3 to be delivered I had tried to find a grounds portafilter. Not in NZ. Nope. No way. Damn. I looked on the web, and found a couple of places in the UK and one in the US, but once shipping etc where factored in, the price would be more than I paid for the X3. That would be crazy.

So. What to do. This machine is made by Quaha. These guys made machines with the 57mm portafilter before they made the Francis Francis! machines, they also made various other machines at the same time that also have a Quaha produced boiler/grouphead such as Lelit, Imat and Nemox. Manufacturers are not silly - they like to avoid tooling costs and they love to save money. It is inconceivable to me that these machines would not share such major components.

A slightly left field possibility was the Spanish Ascaso Dream, Basic and Arc which seem similar and share the 57mm basket dimension. I came across a comment in the GC first look review of the Ascaso Arc that stated that the Arc had an identical pod portafilter to the X3, and a better heavier grounds portafilter. That was a real clue. I contacted Alan Frew at Coffee for Connoisseurs who confirmed the Ascaso portafilter would fit the X3 (and obviously the later X1 and X5). Yay! Score! These were available locally in NZ under the Ascaso part number I.302.

I picked an Ascaso portafilter up on the way home with my X3 and it fitted perfectly. Job done. So, yes, you can convert your X1-5 series (not Trio) to use ground coffee with the Ascaso ARC/Dream portafilter. Here is my X3 at home, with the Ascaso portafilter.


No comments on the grinder please. I do miss the em0480. I have plans...

Have a look at the earlier photo of the grouphead. The red o-ring seals the edge of the pod against the pod portafilter. Note also the small dispersion screen - needed to use pods. I will never use pods, so the small dispersion screen is a compromise that may effect the machine's performance on ground coffee. I should point out that the official grounds coffee kit for the X1-X5 includes a detachable tamper head that fits in this space and MAY increase the effective screen area. I don't have one, and don't much like the idea. So, what is my solution?

A longer stainless steel M4 machine screw and the dispersion screen nicked from the Carezza (all Gaggia ones are the same). I also removed the red o-ring that seals the edge of the pod, which means that the Gaggia screen bottoms out on the outer brass edge. When I run water through the head the screen flows very evenly.

Very nice and easy mod to do.

I can't tell you for sure that it helps, but I expect it does (looks better anyway).

I would have loved to have found this sort of info on the web when I bought my machine - but apart from a couple of reviews there is nothing. Nothing at all about mods. So I have put this out in the hope it helps someone.

I did this for the Gaggia Carezza, so to be fair...

Things I do like about the X3:
  1. Great quality bass group head, boiler and (now) portafilter.
  2. It makes great coffee.
  3. It is gorgeous!
  4. Drip tray works well
Things I do not like about the X3:
  1. Steaming wand. It sucks. Badly.
So, I need to find a better steaming wand. I have had a look, and while it is tight in there, I think I can probably work something out.

Keywords: francis ground coffee conversion, FF!, Dispersion screen conversion.


  1. Personally, I'm with you and don't know why everyone's so down on the FF X3?!?

    I wanted one but had to settle for an X5 in the end as I couldn't get one in the UK. I've had the X5 for about 5 years now and think it's superb (same innards as the X3); the only problem I've had is getting hold of a spare portafilter, but you seem to have provided me enough information to solve that.


  2. So... can you fit the Ascaso portafilter on the trio, or no? Do you think there is a way to mod the trio to let you do ground coffee?

  3. Trio - no. I believe It is a completely different system. However, I haven't actually seen one in the flesh - nor taken one apart. The Trio portafilter to me looks like the standard grounds casting with extra bits. If you want to take lots of detailed photos of the portafilter you have and your group head it will give me a better idea what might be possible.

  4. So did you just remove original dispersion screen and screw on the gaggia screen? Or did you get the brass doo-hickey to go in between?
    I ask because I was advised by a coffee tech to do this. I have an X1 and I love it btw. Its the brass boiler model and it works great. I think people just love to hate on FF!.

  5. OK so I just did the same thing with the dispersion screen that comes on the weird little tamper device included with the FF machines. Went to hardware store and got a longer M4 screw and it works great. Thanks for the pics Kris.

  6. I'm having a hard time getting replacement parts in the US. I've ordered them, but a month later and still backordered. Do you think an ascaso group head gasket would fit my FF X3?

  7. I have a used X3 coming in the mail in a couple of days, and wonder what a correct tamper diameter would be? I have seen both 57 and 56mm reported for different Francis! Francis! machines, and even for the X3. The specs says a 57mm portafilter, does this mean a 57mm tamper will be good, or is this too tight a fit.

  8. I just did the Gaggia screen mod also. If anyone fancies it and needs the longer screw I had to buy 5!
    The machine is a lot cleaner as a result of the mod - can't say if there is a significant difference in the coffee though.
    Anyone had any joy sourcing a bottomless portafilter that would fit the X3?

  9. Hey all... working on doing the exact same mods as stated above. Found the Ascaso Portafilter on for $59.95 but can't seem to find the Gaggia screen or M4 screw. Woodgaz... I'd be willing to take one off of your hands. ;)

  10. All... stay away from I was told, and I quote "Sorry, we are not a mom&pop operation that works out of a house or an ebay sales type of accoutn that can handle these types of requests."

    So nice. Guess I'll just be doing the screen mod now.

  11. Got my X3, but is seems to drip and spew steam while heating. Any tips on what is the cause and how it can be fixed?

  12. Hi Kris,

    I was wondering if you knew the exact screw size for the dispersion screen with the original screen. I got a used x3 with the screw missing ( the only piece missing mind you ) and need to know what screw to get from the hardware store. I notice you said an m4 screw, but could you be more specific? there are many M4 screws out at the store.

  13. My Francis Francis X3 had a non-functional thermostat. This means it only used the stream thermostat, which makes it run extremely hot. I replaced the thermostat, but still it became very hot. So I installed a PID-controller in an external box, and now I have complete temperature control. Even with a functional thermostat, the temperature range was between 97 and 126 degrees Celsius. No wonder one had to cool down the group by flushing each time to make it produce a good espresso.

    1. Could you share details of your conversion?

      I have an X3 in the same boat, AND I have the PID controller and thermister.

      -X3 devo-T

  14. Hi,
    Noticed that you did not like the steam wand, just want to let you know that I fitted a Rancilio Silva steam wand on my X3.

  15. Many thanks for the information. I have found good success, also with the ESE pods. However, it makes a big difference where you get them from. Both the Percol, and the have been good; the latter especially for the Mexican Mountain Decaf. I have less success with the pods from Illy that bought in Belgium, and more with the UK, I think it owes to the fact that the latter are individually packed.

    I also found that there were originally the 3 screens for pods, I only have one and am ordering the other two now from which is EuroFoodBrands, and has the license in the UK. They sent out the full parts list, which is very helpful for the X3.

    It would be interesting to know how the poster before me did the Rancilio steam wand, was it by replacing the whole wand or not.

    I am also curious to know if anyone has mounted an x1 thermostat on the boiler of an X3. They are nice looking, and I was thinking it could be both a fun and functional mod to make.

  16. dr_d Yes, I did replace the whole wand, with a rancilio silva v1 steam wand. I do not know if a v2,v3 wand will fit.

  17. Could you tell me what is the inside diameter of the filter basket on your Ascaso ARC/Dream portafilter? I measured my X3 grouphead and it's 57.5mm, but the Ascaso filter basket SPEC from Seattlecoffeegear is 56.5mm. Thank you.

  18. hello guys!

    I have bought ASCASO DREAM 1 cup portafilter and I the filter Stuck on the shower head. I am very angry, but what is wrong? I should buy a new filter or how can I manage this?

    My other problem is that the temperature is about only 85Celsius. Is the Caem adjustable?

    What type of GAGGIA shower should I buy? a link would be very fine!

  19. Have just recently experienced the same frustrating situation with my X1 (brass boiler) - the Ascaso dream filter basket sticking to the shower head. It stuck so hard I had absolutely no way of prizing it out. Ended up using a hammer and chisel to make a hole in the bottom of the basket and more or less cut it away.

    It turned out the filter basket of the Ascaso portafilter is too narrow on the inside for the X1 - whereas the portafilter itself fits smugly. I ended up continuing to use the original FFX1 filter basket. Even if it's a tad wider on the outside than the Ascaso basket, that's not a major issue.

    So, beware all X1 owners - check whether the filter basket fits your shower head before trying it with the portafilter.

  20. hello today i found francis francis model !?!
    shower : -
    what i have to do to make ground esspreso

  21. Hi mate greetings
    I was fishing for some info as to how to use ground coffee on a X3 and hit your post. What is not clear to me is what Gaggia screen to use. If I follow your advise it looks like the Carezza screen is 54.5mm diameter while if I measure the element the diameter is more like 56.6mm diameter. Would you please shed some light on this? I searched for the diffuser screen and says the Gaggia has a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Still unsure as to what to buy and wrong decisions are costly. Also did you leave the hollow made for the pad on the original element as such? I was thinking about getting an engineer to manufacture a brass insert to make the diffuser stiffer and less prone to sagging inside because of the void.
    I would much appreciate your answer! Thanks a lot for the great info.

  22. Hi guys.
    Great to read this one as a friend of mine gave me his faulty one. It's the Trio, unfortunately, and as I learn here I can't use ground coffee.
    I realised the boiler coil is faulty and I'm looking for it. I'm from Italy and I don't want to buy it from the well known coffee stuff web sites as they charge big money, in my opinion.
    I know it might sound odd as I'm in Italy but the ones I see on the Italian "bay" look the same even though the seller doesn't guarantee me they fit. In most cases they say they are for some other machine.
    That's why I'm asking you whether you know if the coil is the same of some other machine you know. Here is my element:!AgMbnBJhjY8Oi0v62z-Y5Yi4EMuR
    A help would be much appreciated. Thanks!