espresso shot robot

The 5 Most Capable Manual Espresso Machines for the Home Barista

A manual espresso machine can be a great purchase if you’re serious about your shot. Here we take a close look at 5 outstanding models.

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Asser Christensen

Licensed Q Arabica Grader, M.A. Journalism

→ Learn about my qualifications and review process.

There are two kinds of people in the world:

The first kind only cares about comfort and convenience and nothing else. They drive sensible Japanese cars, wear socks with their sandals, and swear by their super-automatic espresso machines. If that sounds like you, please stop reading this article. It won’t make much sense to you anyway.

Then there are people like me – and hopefully, you. We strive for aesthetic and hedonic perfection. We like vintage watches, exquisite cars – and yes; decadent espresso experiences.

If that sounds like you, no doubt you have considered getting a manual espresso machine.

In this article, I share the top manual espresso makers I have been testing over the last 2-3 years.

Coffee Chronicler top pick 👍
The right balance of value and performance

Flair 58

Flair 58 is a unique manual espresso machine in the market. It's the only manual espresso machine with built-in heating.

If you crave high-quality modern espresso shots consistently, this is the top choice.

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The best manual espresso makers of 2024

When it comes to espresso, we usually divide the machines into three major categories:

Electric Lever vs. manual non-electric

In recent years, we have seen a new kind of home espresso maker emerge: The non-electric manual. Personally, I gravitate towards these devices just because they are so charming and rustic. And of course, they are also much more affordable.

The manual non-electric share some similarities with traditional lever machines but also have some unique capabilities.

Because of their simple construction, they’re usually quite cheap. There are a bunch of cool models on the market but a briliant place to start is with the basic Flair Neo Flex, which is one of the top espresso machines under $100.

refractometer extraction leverpresso
The Leverpresso V4 can pull shots with a “pro” extraction, in spite of its basic look and price.

What to look for in a manual espresso maker?

Before, I compared manual espresso machines to vintage watches and cars. Maybe that’s not entirely fair, but for sure this kind of coffee maker needs some maintenance and care, too.

That being said, you can avoid most trouble if you treat your device with care and buy from a reputable brand. That will also make it a lot easier to find spare parts, should you need it down the line.

Especially, the Flair 58 is a bit of a unicorn in this market. It’s the only device that’s preheated electronically, so that means it has a significant edge when it comes to pulling shots with lighter roasts.

In the table below, I have tried to quantify the pros and cons of each machine. Some are better for home use (the Flair 58 & Robot) and some are better suited for travel.

My top recommendations

Price (low>high) 💵 Travel
friendly 🧳
Preheating Required 🌡️ Portafilter
Size 📏
Max shot☕️
Flair 58 Espresso Maker ⭐⭐ ⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 58 mm 60 ml
Cafelat Robot ⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 57.5 mm 70 ml
Flair Neo Flex ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐ 46 mm 45 ml
Leverpresso V4 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐ 51 mm 45 ml
Leverpresso Pro ⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐⭐ 51 mm 45 ml


The Flair 58 Espresso Maker

flair 58 upside down view

The Flair 58 is quite a unique espresso maker.

It’s a manual lever-style machine, a nod to traditional coffee brewing that strikes a chord with old-school enthusiasts. But don’t let its vintage charm fool you: The Flair 58 features an electronically heated brew head, a contemporary touch that keeps the brew head at the optimal temperature, unlike other manual levers.

From its launch in 2021, the Flair 58 has seen significant improvements. The folks at Flair have taken the time to tweak and polish every part of this machine. I have used both the V1 and the most recent 2023 uprgade, and the plunger and brew head works a lot smoother.

With the first version Flair released you were supposed to manually hook the plunger and the brew head every time you loaded water in the chamber. Now there’s a nifty mechanism, so the lever and plunger connects in a more seamless way with the brewhead and plunger. This efficient workflow means that the Flair 58 has even moved into the bar of some high-end coffee shops.

One of the most attractive features of the Flair 58 is the real 58mm portafilter. This portafilter size is standard in the industry, so you can use a wide range of accessories and baskets. It’s a step up from their previous models, and it’s an attribute that home baristas will appreciate.

I have both the standard version and a slightly more premium version called the Flair 58+. Both are beautiful and work very well. But the “premium” version has a built in articulating shot-mirror, which is a really nice touch.

If you want to really geek out – and also get into light/medium espresso roasts, then I think this machine is more capable than one of my other top choices the; the Cafelat Robot.

Prima coffee

Cafelat Robot

Cafelat Robot white version in Coffee Chronicler studio

The Robot is made by Hong Kong-based brand Cafelat. The design is based on an old Italian model called Faema Baby, however, this modern version uses a more sturdy design and comes with a pressure gauge as well.

The Robot has a striking design and two levers instead of one, making it easier to press down.

I really like certain aspects of the Robot; especially the fact that it doesn’t have a big brew chamber. Instead it uses an oversized basket. This elegant solution means that you can get away with not pre-heating the Robot.

When you see the Robot in real life, you can really appreciate the effort that has gone into this product. But what made me appreciate it even more, was when I finally took it apart to fix a little leak in the pressure gauge system – when you see the level of engineering and design of how the levers connect with the piston inside the Robot’s body, you get even more mesmerized with the design. The construction is incredibly smart and future proof. You realize that that this design is pretty much indestructible.

The Robot only has a few vulnerable parts. The gasket surrounding the piston might need replacement. And if you pull the tube connecting the pressure gauge to the piston in the wrong way it can get leaky. But these things are cheap to fix and can something you can do yourself should you need to.

When you combine all these things together you just have a compact lever espresso machine that can produce top-notch espresso for years to come. The main downsides to the Robot is that you don’t have the same flexibility regarding accessories and baskets as the Flair 58 offers. You also don’t have active preheating, making it a bit more of a challenge to pull shots with lighter roasts.

But if you’re happy with more traditional espresso coffee beans, then you’ll have a great time with the Cafelat Robot.

Check out my full review here.

Prima coffee


Flair Neo Flex

The Flair Neo Flex, the most affordable offering from Flair, comes equipped with the essentials for producing quality espresso shots. The plastic stand sets it apart from other Flair models, making it lightweight and portable. This is both a good and bad thing, depending who you ask. I’m a bit lukewarm on the plastic frame as it’s a bit creaky compared to the sturdy metal feeling that we know from the Flair brand.

Using the Neo Flex is straightforward: preheat, grind, dose, distribute, tamp, add the screen, and pull. It produces shots on par with the Flair Classic, thanks to the shared brew head.

As you can read in my initial review of the Flair Neo Flex, I was a bit mixed about the device. I was especially critical of the special “pressure seal” that was designed to break if the pressure of the device was too high. This seemed like a weird cop out instead of just making a more sturdy device or a pressure gauge. However, I was thrilled to see that Flair announced a Flair Neo Flex V2 at the SCA Expo in Chicago recently, where a pressure gauge is part of the package. This means that you’ll get accurate feedback on the pressure applied – and most importantly: when it’s dangerously high!

You can see my video review of the first version above. However, I’m eagerly waiting to get a V2 unit at my test bench for an updated review, but I think I can already now say that at the price point, it’s going to one of the most appealing options on the market.

Flair shop




Hugh leverpresso V4 white background

The Leverpresso V4, the latest iteration in a series of updates, builds upon the successes and addresses the shortcomings of its predecessors. The rapid release of version 4 indicates that the company has been working diligently to refine the product and resolve any issues present in earlier models.

Having tested the V4 for several months, I can confidently say that the design improvements have paid off. The high-impact plastic construction and included high-quality 51mm basket deliver satisfying results, and the device feels sturdy and reliable during daily use.

One notable achievement is the V4’s ability to produce espresso shots that meet industry standards. In my testing, I was able to pull a shot with a TDS of 10.27 at a 1:2 ratio, resulting in an impressive 20.59% extraction yield. This demonstrates that the Leverpresso V4 can perform on par with more expensive, professional-grade equipment.

You can see how to use it my YouTube video below.

The two-lever extraction method, similar to the Cafelat Robot, is smooth and user-friendly. However, the included plastic tamper feels lackluster, and the rubber caps meant to insulate the brew chamber can be more of a hindrance than a help.

It’s worth mentioning that the V4’s temperature stability seems more suitable for medium-dark to dark roasts. Achieving the optimal temperature for lighter roasts can be challenging, which may be a consideration for those who prefer this style of coffee.

Despite minor drawbacks, the Leverpresso V4 delivers excellent performance at a competitive price point, making it an ideal choice for espresso purists seeking a portable option. The company’s commitment to improvement and the device’s proven capabilities make it a compelling choice in the manual espresso market.



leverpresso hugh travelcase white background

The Leverpresso Pro, by South Korean company HUGH, is a sleek and well-designed manual espresso maker.

Its all-metal construction, integrated pressure gauge, and professional-grade 51mm IMS basket convey quality and refinement.

The walnut cracker-style dual-lever system, similar to the Cafelat Robot, makes applying consistent pressure easy and comfortable. The Pro can be used with either a built-in travel-friendly cup or a metal stand, though the latter may limit cup and scale compatibility.

While the solid steel body requires preheating, the Leverpresso Pro’s performance is comparable to more well-known manual espresso makers. Its lightweight and streamlined design, along with the included travel case, make it an excellent choice for enjoying high-quality espresso on the go.

Basically, this the Leverpresso V4 on steroids. It’s probably the most luxorious portable espresso machine – but the price is also on the higher side.

Hugh Shop

Our expertise & Credentials

  • Asser Christensen earned his Q Grader license (certified coffee quality grader) in 2018, with recertification in 2021.
  • The Q Grader exam requires passing rigorous blind tasting cupping protocols, as well as tests for identifying green bean and roasting defects.
  • He has served as a sensory judge at roasting and coffee brewing competitions.
  • Over the last 5 years, he has tested more than 50 different coffee grinders, as documented on this blog and his YouTube channel.
Photo of author
Asser Christensen

Hello, and welcome! I'm the editor & founder of this site.
I have been a coffee geek since I started home roasting more than a decade ago. Since then, coffee has taken me on countless adventures: From ancient coffee ceremonies in Ethiopia to the volcanos of Sumatra.
My background is in journalism, and today I'm also a licensed Q Grader under the Coffee Quality Institute.