Using a manual espresso machine will help you understand the art and science behind pulling a shot of espresso. In this roundup of the best manual espresso machines, we’ll talk about our favorite machines and the differences between manual machines and other espresso machines in the industry such as super-automatic and capsule machines.
If you choose to take up the challenge of pulling espresso shots by hand, then a manual espresso machine is the way to go.
Quick overview: Best Manual (lever) espresso machines
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What Exactly Is A Lever Espresso Machine?
A manual espresso machine is quite different than all other types of espresso machines. These are known as the classics in the industry.
Out of all of the variations of machines, this is the only machine that provide you with the maximum amount of control over your shot of espresso.
You have control over every little detail that goes into your shot. Even with other machines, you would want to choose your own coffee beans and grind them manually, but in this case, once the grounds are ready, every other detail is up to you.
You have to heat the water to the ideal temperature.
You have to warm up the brewing chamber if necessary.
You have to tamp down and load the grounds into the lever machine.
You have to pull the lever and generate as much pressure as you see fit, timing the shot as you wish.
Automatic and semi-automatic espresso machines won’t typically let you adjust the timing of the shot. It will take a fixed amount of time to extract one 1.5 ounce shot.
In this case, you can pull the shot in 10 seconds or 10 minutes(not that we’d recommend that).
Types of manual espresso machines
Manual espresso machines are of two types: spring piston machines and direct lever machines.
Spring piston machines are recognizable because the lever stays in the up position when the machine is not running.
Spring machines use a special spring that pushes the water through the grounds for you. As you pull the lever down, you compress the spring, and when you release the lever, the spring decompresses and pushes water through the coffee grounds.
Direct lever machines are recognizable because the lever stays in the down position when the machine is not running. Direct lever machines have no spring and rely only on the lever itself to deliver all the pressure.
Basic features of manual (lever) espresso machines
All manual espresso machines come with basic features such as:
- Steam Pressure Gauge
- Manual Level to Control Extraction
You might notice the simplicity of a manual machine. While this is quite different from many of the machines in the semi-automatic and automatic bracket, these machines are extremely popular among dedicated coffee purists.
Now, rather than affording manual control over extraction, pressure and grind, those other machines have technology to do the work.
Because this is such a niche market, manual espresso machines sometimes end up being more expensive than a semi-automatic espresso machine.
After all, the folks who will usually look towards manual shot pulling will either be highly experienced professionals/hobbyists or someone who wants to dedicate themselves to learning the craft of espresso.
Before getting into the machine reviews, I feel it’s important to point out that manual shot pulling is HARD. It takes a lot of practice and even experienced baristas may not get the first shot right.
When you get one of these machines, be prepared to do a lot of shot pulling, tasting, and taking notes to track your progress. It’s hard work, but once you get it right, it will pay off in a big way.
You may end up being spoiled for any other coffee once you dial in your coffee using a manual machine, though!
This guide from La Prima Coffee is an excellent primer on using manual espresso machines.
5 Best Manual Espresso Machines
1. ROK Presso Manual Espresso Maker
The number 1 machine on our list is the ROK Presso, mainly because of it’s durability and lower price point. It’s very well designed as even though it’s made of stainless steel, it only weighs 4 pounds and is relatively small.
Operating the machine is simple enough. Just pull down the two levers to generate pressure and pull the shot.
You don’t need any electricity for running this machine, but you’ll still need to get hot water from somewhere, and you’ll have to preheat the chamber by pouring boiling water in it.
This is an extra step that some people may find cumbersome, but it will be the same case in the Flair Espresso machine later in this roundup.
Does that mean you can pull a super-automatic level shot? Not exactly, unfortunately. But with a little bit of practice and tweaking, you can pull a respectable shot that you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing is the work of your own two hands.
2. La Pavoni PC-16 Professional Espresso Machine
La Pavoni is one of the oldest and most well-established names in the espresso industry. There was a time when La Pavoni machines were the kings of espresso, and even though they’ve niched out to maintain making manual machines, the craftsmanship and experience continues to shine.
With that said, this is not a cheap machine. In fact, it costs more than many super automatic espresso machines.
It requires electricity to run as the water is heated in the machine itself. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage is that you can steam milk for cappuccinos using the built-in steam wand.
The disadvantage is that it takes about 10 minutes to heat up, and you have to wait for it to cool down before you can add more water. So you can only pull 5-6 shots in one go, then wait for the machine to cool before pulling more shots.
That’s fine for smaller volumes, but that does not make this a good choice for pulling a lot of shots (like in an office).
As is the case with any manual espresso machine, there is a learning curve so you need to be prepared to practice a bit before getting it right.
3. Flair Espresso Maker
A fairly recent entry to the manual espresso maker scene, the Flair espresso maker is a very unique machine that you can just pack up and take with you wherever you go (hypothetically).
It’s not as truly portable as the Wacaco Minipresso, for example, but it comes with a neat case that it disassembles and fits into.
Overall, this manual espresso machine is like any other in its class. It affords you control over all brewing variables, most notably pulling the shot by pulling on the lever.
However, since this machine is designed to disassemble, there are a lot of parts that you need to take apart and clean to maintain the machine.
Additionally, there is no electricity, so you have to manually heat the brew chamber with boiling water, which is an added step.
As for a huge positive factor in favor of this machine, the price point is nearly unbeatable. You just can’t find a manual espresso machine capable of pulling shots of this caliber in this price range.
4. La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola 8-Cup Lever Style Espresso Machine
The La Pavoni Europiccola is another offering from La Pavoni, who we talked about earlier in this post. In a nutshell, this is a manual espresso machine capable of brewing 8 shots of espresso in one go.
There’s also a cappuccino steam wand as in the PC-16 above. The EPC-8 is a great choice for home use. It takes electricity to heat up the water and generate steam.
Whether that is a positive or negative is up to you to decide. Since the water is heated automatically, that means there is one less thing in your control.
However, it does mean there is the added convenience of not havign to pre-heat anything.
As far as pulling the shot goes, that’s in your control, since you can take as long as you want or as short as you want to pull the lever down and extract the coffee.
5. Elektra Micro Casa Lever Machine
One could say we saved the best for last. Although the Elektra may look quite similar to the La Pavoni machines, the Elektra machine pulls a super espresso shot and generates even higher pressure steam than the La Pavoni, making it much easier to foam milk.
As with any lever machine, it will take a good bit of practice to master pulling shots with the Micro Casa, but once you get the hang of it, you will never look back.
The machine is not cheap by any means, but if your love of coffee has progressed to this stage, investing in an excellent manual espresso machine such as this one is really the way to go.
The satisfaction of drinking a shot you pull with your own hands is amazing. In one pull, you’ll extract about 1.5 ounces or an ideal espresso/ristretto shot. For a longer shot, you can just pull twice.
Aside from the functionality, this thing is built like a beauty and is sure to become the centerpiece of any kitchen or room you put it in.
In this roundup, we’ve listed 5 powerhouse espresso makers that range from incredibly affordable to incredibly expensive. All of these machines depend on the hand of the barista more than the machine itself!
The La Pavoni machines and the Elektra are superb choices if you’d like a single setup capable of brewing shots and steaming milk, as well as not having to worry about heating the water.
The Flair Espresso Maker is a great choice for those of us on a budget that want to get into the world of manual brewing.
Either way, you need to keep in mind that the first few shots probably won’t come out the way you expected and that it will take quite a bit of practice to get it right.
More buying guides:
Are lever espresso machines better?
Lever espresso machines allow you the most control over your espresso shot. They’re better in the sense that you can customize the shot to whatever you want. Automatic and semi-automatic machines are much more fixed in the way they pull shots, but if you don’t like the shot, there’s very little respite to change any variables.
Is 15 bar enough for espresso?
Some people maintain that 9 bars is enough, while others say that 15 bars is the correct amount. You should try both and see which one you like better! Generally, more pressure will generate more crema.
What kind of coffee grind should you use for espresso?
Espresso traditionally uses a fine grind. Go for something the consistency of fine sand.
Last update on 2024-02-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API