review

The 5 Best Manual & Lever 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

There are two kinds of people in the world:

The ones who only care about comfort and convenience, and nothing else, really. They drive sensible Japanese cars, wear socks in their sandals, and swear by their super-automatic espresso machine. 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 and cars. Not because they’re cheap to buy second hand, but because we love the elegance and craft.

If that sounds like you, no doubt you have considered getting a manual espresso machine. I’m not going to stop you, but I also won’t sugar coat the realities of this kind of coffee making device.

Top pick: Best value
La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola...
This home espresso maker is both style AND substance at the same time. The lever gives you full control over the extraction. It's more or less impossible to find a more beautiful espresso device.

Why is a manual espresso machine so unique?

Espresso is a complicated hobby. Not unlike golf. There’s a lot of jargon, dogmas, and the equipment is usually not cheap. But let’s face it, that’s also part of the appeal.

In the world of espresso, no device is more sophisticated and elegant than the lever espresso machine (aka ‘the manual’).

The 3 categories you should know

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

  • The full automatic: This one often looks like an oversized grey bin, but it has one upside; it makes cappuccino with the press of a single button. The coffee isn’t magnificent, however, and it’s not very exciting.
  • The semi-automatic: This kind of espresso machine is probably the most common one today. It features a mechanical pump that can deliver the sufficient 9 bars to the portafilter. You still have to grind the coffee, tamp, and steam the milk though.
  • The manual (lever) machine: Instead of relying on a mechanical pump, you have to use a lever to force the water through the puck. This gives you a lot of additional options when it comes to the extraction itself. 

Electric Lever vs. manual non-electric

Before I said that there are three main categories of espresso makers out there. Well, actually I wasn’t 100 percent accurate.

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 plain and rustic.

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 Espresso Maker, which is one of the best espresso machines under $200.

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.

When investing in a lever machine, you’re implicitly saying yes, to potential headaches. These machines are mostly designed by Italian engineers from last century, meaning they’re beautiful but prone to issues.

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.

The Best Manual Espresso Machine for the Home Barista

1: The Flair Espresso Maker

Flair Signature Espresso Maker...

The Flair looks a little bit like a malformed lemon squeezer that’s been adapted to fit a mini portafilter. And that’s actually not far from the reality.

Initially, designed and launched by a retired Brazilian engineer in 2016, it became a phenomenon in the world of specialty coffee after a fully funded campaign on Kickstarter.

This device makes espresso on a professional barista-level, yet it’s cheap and compact enough that you could just pack it down, and bring it on a road trip.

The workflow of the Flair might seem a bit strange at first, but after you’ve wrapped your head around it, it’s quite easy and convenient to pull a quick shot. I can probably make an espresso and clean the device in around five minutes, which makes it faster than most electric devices.

Check out my full review of the the Flair Espresso Maker.

Take a look at the new and updated “PRO 2” model here.

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2: La Pavoni Europiccola

La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola...

La Pavoni is the epitome of Italian espresso-elegance. This is the coffee world’s version of a vintage Alfa Romeo cabriolet cruising on a beach promenade.

Luckily, this device is not only style, there is substance, too. La Pavoni is one of the oldest espresso companies in the world, and this is probably their most popular model.

When you learn your way around this machine, you’ll be able to pull some epic espresso shots. Or, since it also has a powerful steam wand, make a proper cappuccino.

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4: Cafelat Robot

cafelat robot espresso machine

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.

A non-electric espresso maker is also practical in many ways:

The downside to a machine like this is, of course, that you can’t use it for milk steaming. So this is more for dedicated espresso snobs.

Check out my full review here.

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4: Elektra Micro Casa Lever

Elektra - Microcasa a leva...

Here’s yet an Italian device that aims to give La Pavoni some fierce competition when it comes to ‘belle epoque’ espresso nostalgia.

The Elektra Micro Casa Leva looks stunning. Compared to the Europiccola some would say it’s a bit over the top. For starters, it’s adorned with a metal eagle!

But once you dig down below its shining exterior, you quickly realize that artisans make it at Elektra’s factory in Treviso, Italy. Even though the model closely resembles the coffee makers of the 1950’s, there are modern utilitarian solutions on the inside, so safety and longevity should be no concern.

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5: The Cafflano Kompresso

Cafflano Kompresso (Hand Carry...

This quirky fellow is probably the world’s smallest espresso maker. It is 100 percent manual – no electricity involved.

The Cafflano Kompresso has quickly won many fans in the specialty coffee community. You could call it the Aeropress of the home espresso makers.

The pros of this one are apparent: Cheap, portable, and cheerful. But don’t get fooled by that: The espresso shots can be astonishing, too!

There’s a bit of work involved, but it’s worth it if you ask me. In my opinion, it’s one of the best espresso machines for the money.

Check out my full review, if you’re still not convinced.

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Image: @Oli_banana