I actually tried Illy espresso, today. I know, it sounds odd that I would have never tried one of the most famous names in espresso, but 'tis true. I bought some pre-ground, medium-roast espresso at Dave's, yesterday. I must say, I'm pleasantly surprised.
I was expecting to be able to turn up my coffee connoyseurree nose at it and declare it as garbage for the Starbuckian masses. Well, speaking of those Starbuckian masses, the espresso is first and foremost better than Starbucks. So if you drink a lot of espresso, it may behoooooooove you to go out and plunk down some cash on a good home espresso machine, say a Racilio Silva or a full-lever La Pavoni or Elektra- my personal favorites. I'd also recommend my current home machine, the Jura Capresso Z5, but having the Illy espresso grind sitting next to the grind that the machine produces highlights how it's impossible to get a true espresso grind out of the Z5.
That isn't a terrible knock, the espresso still tastes good, but the other big knock is that since I bought that machine the number of consumer-oriented fully automatic coffee centers on the market has increased exponentially. The Z5 was the best one on the market five years ago, now, maybe not so much.
But back to the espresso. The can is easy to open, attractive, the grind is good, and the coffee smells excellent, especially for pre-ground. The resulting espresso has a rich, dark brownish-red crema on top, and is very rich and balanced on the tongue. The medium roast has a little bit of roast flavor to it, but not enough to do any real damage to the coffee flavor. If this is medium roast, I'd never buy dark. It's not very complex, but it is rich, and very mellow. This is what I would call an effortlessly drinkable espresso. Very good for everyday applications.
For me, it's a non-issue, since I have a grinder built into my espresso machine. But if you don't, and you'd like to lop a minute or two off of your daily espresso procedure, this is a pretty good way to go about it. But if you're dedicated enough to have a large grinder setup on your counter, this won't tempt you away from it.
UPDATE 5/1/2010: I just tried the dark roast, and boy is it. It's super-dark and I don't like it very much. It's lost any of the flavors from the medium roast and just tastes of roast. If you like that, it's a very even flavor and you'll likely not be disappointed. As for me, no thanks.
UPDATE 5/16/2010: Well, I've finally figured out an issue I've been having. I have the most difficult time getting my doubles to hit 9-bar and 25 seconds. This article by a head barista for Illy Corp. illuminates why they'd choose a grind that's not quite right. They hate doubles. The don't even consider doubles to be espresso. WTF? They have doppios in Italy. It's in Italian! But, yeah. Illy pre-ground is not correct for doubles. If you're puling singles, you're good, or crema coffee, you're good. But true doubles, man, you're no good.