The 5 Best Manual Espresso Machines | Lever Espresso Machine Reviews
The espresso machine is one of the most unforgiving techniques 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.
TOP PICK: The Elektra Micro Casa
This manual espresso maker not only has that elegant retro style design (both in chrome and copper and brass), but it's got superior features for its price, too.
It has a spring lever to help you achieve a more consistent brew. The boiler also has a large capacity of up to 18 single shots of espresso.
Its other features are the steam pressure gauge and sight glass, a thermal safety switch, and an overpressure valve.
Now, how is this not worth your money?
What Should You Look For In A Lever Espresso Machine?
Espresso machines can roughly be categorised into four groups: super automatic, automatic, semi-automatic and manual.
A distinction must be made between semi-automatic and manual machines - “manual” in this article refers to lever machines that are completely hand-operated, not just partially automatised machines.
Automatic espresso machines have long been popular in homes and coffeeshops for the sole reason that they are relatively simple to use. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the better choice.
There are several good reasons to choose a manual, lever-operated espresso machine instead of an automatic one.
First, manual machines offer more space for customisation, so you can tweak every minute detail of your brewing process according to your preferences - this can be very rewarding.
Second, they offer a feeling of hands-on craft, allowing you to truly appreciate the skill involved in making a perfect cup of espresso. This is something that’s missing when you’re just pressing a button and expecting an espresso shot to make itself.
Third, they usually don’t require electricity, so they represent an energy-saving option which can also be used in remote areas.
For the first two reasons in particular, my guess is that lever pump espresso machines are once again being “discovered” by people who are interested in creating the perfect cup of coffee.
You can watch this video to learn about the manual espresso brewing process in more detail:
You’ve got your heart set on a manual pump espresso machine.
But you don’t want to rush your choice; it could mean you’ve wasted 1000 (or more) big ones on the wrong machine!
Here’s a brief overview of things to consider.
How Difficult Is It To Use?
Fully manual machines have a reputation of being difficult to use, and this is not wholly undeserved.
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. 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.
Making a good cup of espresso with a manual machine is difficult, but that just makes it all the more rewarding.
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.
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?
Manual machines are simple devices in principle, and some models are portable. A lightweight lever machine can be useful if you want to take it with you when traveling.
Because some lever 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.
If you prefer a 'stay at home' lever machine, then you can opt for a manual espresso maker like the Flair.
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.
From a technical viewpoint, simple machines tend to have a longer life than those employing a very complex working mechanism.
To make sure you can enjoy your manual espresso maker for many years to came, possibly even a lifetime, make sure the materials are durable enough, such as 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.
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.
The Best 5 Manual / Lever / Old-school Espresso Machines In 2017
Now that you know what you should be looking for when choosing a manual espresso machine, here's a list of our top choices:
#1 - The Elektra S1 Micro Casa Lever - Chrome Or Copper And Brass
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.
The machine, described as “retrò style” by its manufacturer, looks like a work of art rather than an everyday object.
The machine has an in-built heater, so it can be filled with either hot or cold water.
It has a steam pressure gauge and sight glass, allowing the user 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 grounds, it should be straightforward enough to repeat the brewing process on 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 would be an impressive centrepiece for any home or café.
#2 - The La Pavoni Professional Copper & Brass
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, La Pavoni 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 a relatively streamlined design.
In contrast with the Elektra Micro Casa, it does not have a spring lever but a piston, meaning it works purely on the user’s muscle power.
The Professional is also less bottom-heavy, meaning it can be difficult to keep in place while pulling a shot.
The Professional has a large capacity of about 32 single espresso shots. However, as it is a piston-operated machine, achieving a consistent brew can be extremely difficult.
#3 - The ROK Presso Manual Espresso Maker
Compared to the other models on this list, the ROK Presso Manual Espresso Maker is more austere. It is a no-frill machine that has clearly been 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.
The Presso 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 lever machine, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.
If you have the right beans and get the brewing process down to a T, you can get delicious shots of espresso on the Presso.
Weighing less than 4 pounds, the Presso is relatively light. It also comes with a tin for storage.
This makes it a useful option for espresso-loving travellers or people who spend time in locations without electricity.
#4 - The La Pavoni Romantica Espresso Maker
The Romantica is another classic design from La Pavoni. It is the Professional’s warmer-coloured sibling, with largely similar features.
The Romantica is made from gold chrome with wood handles, whereas the Professional features black bakelite handles. The Romantica is lacquer coated to prevent scratches, with a chrome eagle featured on its dome.
The Romantica has the capacity to make about 16 double espressos. It features an in-built pressure gauge, a water level sight glass and a safety switch.
It also comes with both an automatic and a manual steam wand.
The Romantica is a beautiful design item as well as a powerful tool for making espresso.
You need to really appreciate the craft to be able to use it well, but it can be very rewarding.
#5 - The La Pavoni Europiccola
The La Pavoni 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.
The Europiccola 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; it is easy to prepare excellent milk 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.
THE VERDICT: What’s The Crème De La Crème Of Manual/Lever Pump Espresso Machines?
While every one of the manual pump espresso machines featured on this list is an excellent choice for someone who wants to truly appreciate the craft of making espresso, one option is a head above the others:
The Elektra Micro Casa is the best hand pump espresso machine on the market.
The Micro Casa has superior features that justify its premium price.
Its spring lever gives you control over the brewing process but also intuitively guides the pressure level so it is easier to produce consistent espresso shots.
It’s also so beautiful that it wouldn’t look out of place in an art museum!
The La Pavoni Romantica is the runner-up for the best lever coffee machine.
Featuring an elegant design and dual steam wands for producing a perfect cappuccino, it only loses points for its steeper learning curve and for the greater difficulty of achieving a consistent brew.