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.
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
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.
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.
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:
They are smaller, so they don’t take up a lot of space on your kitchen counter.
Doesn’t have to be descaled (You can use really hard water, without running into problems; interesting if you’re a real geek)
Less likely to break
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.
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.
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.
They are non-electric. This means that you have to heat water on the side. You’ll need an electric kettle.
Since they don’t have a boiler there is no steam wand, which means no frothy lattes unless you buy a standalone device.
They tend to be quite small and easy to transport. If you like espresso while traveling that’s pretty damn cool!
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.
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.
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