7 Best Manual Espresso Machines (Lever Espresso Machine reviews)
The espresso machine is one of the most unforgiving devices to brew coffee. On the flip side, being able to craft a perfect cup of espresso can be extremely rewarding.
If you want to take full control over your espresso brew process, you should skip the automatic machines for a manual one. The best manual espresso machines allow you to enjoy the highest quality of coffee at home.
The 7 Best Manual Espresso Machines of 2023
|Electra Microcasa Leva||
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|ROK Manual Espresso Maker||
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|La Pavoni Europiccola||
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|La Pavoni Professional||
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|Flair Espresso Maker||
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Now that you know what you should be looking for when choosing a manual espresso machine, here’s a list of our top choices:
With its eagle-topped dome and elaborate mirror-finish platform, the Elektra S1 Micro Casa looks like a living memory of a Milanese café in the belle époque. Described as “retro style” by its manufacturer, the machine looks like a work of art rather than an everyday object.
The Micro Casa is available in two materials: chrome or copper and brass. The copper and brass one is su-per sexy – check it out. The machine has an in-built heater, so it can be filled with either cold or hot water. It also features a steam pressure gauge and sight glass. This allows you to monitor the boiler’s temperature and water level.
The spring piston is more forgiving to use than some other lever machines, as it will intuitively guide the extraction pressure in a more consistent way. If you are using high-quality coffee beans, it should be straightforward enough to get consistent results with the Micro Casa.
The Micro Casa is large in size: the boiler has a capacity of 18 single shots of espresso. The machine has a thermal safety switch and an overpressure valve. However, many of its heating parts are fully exposed, so it needs to be used carefully. Weighing 22 pounds and priced at a premium, the Micro Casa is definitely not a portable machine. But it just looks plain awesome, doesn’t it?
The first Flair espresso maker launched on Kickstarter in 2016 to considerable acclaim. The brand has continued to innovate in the years since, releasing increasingly advanced iterations of its manual lever espresso machine in response to user feedback. The Flair 58 is the newest model, representing a huge step forward. It was an easy choice for our Runner Up award.
The biggest change is the addition of a heating element. While you’ll still need a kettle to heat your brew water, pre-heating the brewing chamber is unnecessary, resulting in a vastly improved workflow.
The other major update is the 58 mm portafilter that lends it its name – and makes it unique on this list. With a commercial-standard 58 mm portafilter size, you can use third-party accessories like tampers and precision filter baskets.
The design of the Flair 58 keeps the sleek curves of its predecessors but is improved with a matte black finish and gorgeous wooden accents. The lever handle has been upgraded to make it easier to modulate brew pressure while pulling a shot, and the included pressure gauge lets you monitor extraction in real-time.
Note: If you’re only interested in the redesigned handle and 58 mm portafilter, there is also a version without the heating element, the Flair 58x, which has an even lower price tag.
Learn more in our review of the new Flair 58 here.
Compared to the other models on this list, the ROK Presso Manual Espresso Maker is more austere. It is a no-frill machine clearly designed with functionality in mind.
The Presso is made from durable metal and has a 10-year warranty. It requires no electricity and is straightforward to use: Just push down to build pressure. It also has four rubber legs in its base, meant to keep it firmly in place as you use it.
The resulting cup of espresso cannot compete with what you could brew with a more high-end machine. But, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad espresso maker. As long as you have the right beans and get the process down to a ‘T’ you can still get delicious shots of espresso on the Presso.
Weighing less than 4 pounds, the ROK Presso is relatively light. It also comes with a tin for storage. This makes it a useful option for espresso-loving travellers.
Read our ROK Espresso Maker review.
The Europiccola is the little cousin of the Professional and the Romantica.
Weighing 14 pounds and with a capacity for making 8 cups of espresso at a time, it is well suited for home use. This machine is built from durable materials, with a triple-plated chrome base, stainless steel heating elements and brass boilers. It also features a water level gauge and a safety valve. It has an in-built traditional steam wand, which is one of its best features. This makes it easy to prepare excellent milk-based coffee using the Europiccola.
Similarly to the other La Pavoni machines, it features no spring lever but operates on a piston powered by the user. This means the user has total control over the brewing process, but also that the learning curve is steep.
Read our La Pavoni Europiccola review.
The Pavoni name may be familiar to espresso connoisseurs around the world. A Milanese man called Desiderio Pavoni was the first to produce commercial espresso machines in 1905. For a long time, La Pavoni was “the” manufacturer of espresso machines.
Although the espresso world has changed, this Italian company continues to make high-quality lever machines for those who want a taste of the old world. La Pavoni Professional is one of their best-known offerings.
Made from brass and copper, the machine features an elegantly streamlined design. The Professional has a large capacity of about 32 single espresso shots.
In contrast with the Elektra Micro Casa, it does not have a spring lever but a piston, meaning it works purely on muscle power, and achieving a consistent brew can be tricky. In addition to needing to get your grinds the right size and properly tamped, you need to master the pre-infusion stage: raise the lever and feel it latch into position.
After a few seconds, you’ll see a little “free-run” coffee trickle out of the portafilter. This means you’ve infused the grinds with hot water (like the “bloom” on a pour over). Only then should you start the pull: a slow, steady pressure of around 25-30 seconds yields the best shot.
This Italian espresso maker is also less bottom-heavy, meaning it can be difficult to keep in place while pulling a shot. Get used to holding down the base while lifting the lever.
The Cafelat Robot is immediately identifiable thanks to its quirky design, which feels like straight out of a retro sci-fi movie. But don’t let its fun aesthetics distract you; this is a serious espresso maker. Form follows function, not the other way around.
Like the Rok and the Flair Pro, the Cafelat Robot doesn’t have a boiler or heating element, so it doesn’t use electricity. You only need a means of heating water. Its clever design has minimal thermal mass in the brewing chamber, so unless you are brewing a very light roast, there is no need for preheating. This gives it the simple workflow of the Flair 58 without the expensive and cumbersome addition of a heating element.
The Cafelat Robot uses premium materials, with die-cast aluminum for the body and stainless steel for everything else. Each one is hand-tested before leaving the factory. As with any good sci-fi robot, you can expect years of faithful service.
There are two models of the Robot, either with or without a pressure gauge. We highly recommend getting the pressure gauge, even though it’ll cost you a bit more. You’ll have more success (and more fun) tracking brew pressure during extraction.
Get all the details in our Cafelat Robot review, and see how it compares with the Flair here.
Older versions of this article recommended the original Flair espresso maker, now known as the Classic. But as the product line has expanded, we can’t help but update our pick to the new-and-improved Flair Signature. Like the original, it’s a sleek, hand-powered espresso maker that can pull shots to rival far more expensive electric machines. It disassembles easily for travel and includes a custom carrying case.
See the Flair Classic in action here as Scott reviews it:
The Flair Signature is only a few dollars more than the Classic and offers a few noteworthy upgrades. First, it includes a pressure gauge, crucial for any serious espresso lover. You can easily pull high-quality shots reproducibly and have the freedom to explore different pressure profiles.
The Signature comes with the custom Bottomless 2-in-1 Portafilter, which offers the flexibility to pull spouted or naked shots. A bottomless portafilter doesn’t just yield great Instagram content, it allows you to see the quality of your puck preparation first-hand. Find out exactly what to improve on your quest for espresso perfection.
Finally, the Flair Signature is – to our eyes, anyway – more aesthetically pleasing. It’s available in either silver, matte white, or matte black, and all three options feature a stunning copper-plated portafilter base. This espresso maker might be our top pick for travel, but it’s an equally great choice as a showpiece on your kitchen counter.
Read our Flair espresso maker review.
What Should You Look For In A Lever Espresso Machine?
Before anything else, manual machines offer more space for customization. This means that you can tweak every minute detail of your brewing process according to your preferences. This can be very rewarding as it’s more of a challenge.
They offer a more artisanal, tactile brewing experience. This allows you to truly appreciate the skill involved in making a good espresso. This is something that’s missing when you’re just pressing a button and expecting an espresso shot to make itself.
They usually don’t require electricity. They represent an energy-saving espresso option which can also be used in remote areas or during power blackouts. Yes, they’re zombie apocalypse-proof.
Okay, so you’ve got your heart set on a high-quality, manual pump espresso machine. But, you don’t want to rush your choice. That’s smart. A wrong choice could mean you’ve wasted 1000 (or more) big ones on the wrong machine. Not to mention wasting your precious coffee beans (1).
It is easy to be seduced by a good-looking machine or high-tech features, but … before committing to a purchase, ask whether the machine really fits your needs.
Before digging deeper into all the benefits of manual machines, you can watch our video on espresso basics. Depending on your level of expertise, this video can be either a great reminder or an amazing brewing guide:
So here are the things you should consider before buying:
How Difficult Is It To Use?
Fully manual machines have a reputation for being difficult to use. This is not wholly undeserved. But just as a Ferrari is more challenging to drive, it’s also way more fun. If you have the skills, that is.
Although the working mechanism in itself is very simple, all lever machines require a deep knowledge of the brewing process in order to produce a good shot of espresso (2).
Grind, weight and time are key factors when brewing espresso, and most likely you’ll have to adjust one or more of these elements several times to get your shot dialed in (3).
This means the learning curve is much steeper here versus on automatic machines. But if it’s too easy, where’s the fun in that?
If you’re considering getting a manual espresso maker, you’re probably the kind of person who likes tweaking and experimenting with their coffee. Manual lever espresso machines allow you just that. However, some lever machines are even more difficult to use than others. This is worth considering, especially when you’re buying one for the first time.
Making a good cup of espresso with a manual machine is difficult, but that just makes it all the more rewarding.
Factors like the design of the machine and the size and responsiveness of the lever will have an impact on ease of use. Try to find a machine that suits your personal style of brewing.
Is It Portable? And Does That Even Matter?
Some manual machines are a bit more portable than the others. A lightweight machine can be useful if you want to take it with you when traveling. Because some of these machines require no electricity, they can also be a good option for people who spend time in a remote location. Bear in mind, however, that most manual espresso options do require electricity for heating up.
If you want a lever machine you can carry with you, pay attention to size and weight. Opt for a model that is simple in design and doesn’t require lots of additional equipment.
Will It Last? Or Will You Need To Buy Another In 2 Years?
Depending on the material and the quality of engineering, many hand lever machines can last a lifetime. To make sure you can enjoy your manual espresso machine for many years to come, pick one made with durable materials. Think chrome or brass.
Before buying, do some research on the procedures of getting the machine fixed if something goes wrong with the engineering. It can happen, and it will make a big difference if you can easily get it shipped back to Italy for repairs. Some machines might also have more of a tendency to malfunction than others.
From a technical viewpoint, simple machines tend to have a longer life than those employing a very complex working mechanism.
Research these details before settling on one to make sure everything will go smoothly. These machines aren’t available in the average shop, and it might be difficult to find someone with the required expertise near you.
Every machine featured on this list is an excellent choice for someone who wants to truly appreciate the craft of making espresso. However, the Elektra Micro Casa stands out as the best hand-pump espresso machine on the market – if you can afford it.
The Micro Casa has superior features that justify its premium price. Its spring lever gives you control over the brewing process and intuitively guides the pressure, making it easier to produce consistent espresso shots. It has excellent ergonomics, with a sturdy, solid base, and it’s so beautiful it wouldn’t look out of place in an art museum!
The new Flair 58 is the runner-up for the best lever coffee machine. Featuring a gorgeous design with wooden accents, a built-in heating element, and a 58 mm portafilter, it is the ultimate culmination of all the user feedback Flair has received over the years.
A manual espresso machine is a classically designed piece that is a sure winner both in aesthetics and functionality. It provides the barista most control over grind, temperature, tamp, steam pressure and length of extraction to product that perfect espresso shot.
The industry standard’s best pressure for an espresso machine is set at 9 bars. While there are some machines that advertise a higher bar pressure, the sweet spot is for manual espresso machines is between 7 to 9 bars.
The length of time that the coffee beans go through the roasting process determines their light, medium and dark roast complexities. Light roasts are best for non-pressure brew styles while espresso beans are usually of the dark roast category. You can still use regular beans to make an espresso but it may not result in the brew that you are looking for in a perfect espresso shot.
The best grind for espresso needs to be fine enough to allow the water to push through the filter and create a good crema, which is the flavorful layer of foam that rests on the surface of a perfect espresso shot. In general, it should resemble a mixture of powdered sugar and fine beach sand. It should not be too fine for it can block the coffee filter and result in a bitter taste.
- M. H. (2019, January 05). Understanding The Different Types of Espresso Machine. Retrieved June 8, 2019, from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2018/12/understanding-the-different-types-of-espresso-machine/
- Lever espresso coffee machines versus automatic espresso coffee machines. (n.d.). Retrieved June 8, 2019, from https://www.liminicoffee.co.uk/lever_automatic
- Produce Great Espresso. (n.d.). Retrieved June 8, 2019, from https://www.stumptowncoffee.com/pages/brew-guide-espresso