The 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.
What Should You Look For In A Lever Espresso Machine?
Espresso machines can roughly be categorized into 3 groups: automatic, semi-automatic and manual.
A distinction must be made between semi-automatic and manual machines. “Manual” refers to lever machines that are completely hand-operated, not just partially automated machines. Hence the name: ‘semi-automatic’.
Automatic espresso machines have long been popular in homes and coffee shops for the sole reason that they are relatively simple to use. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the better choice. They are more consistent, however. As in, more consistently producing yucky to average – but hardly ever amazing – coffee.
There are several good reasons to choose a manual, lever-operated espresso machine instead of an automatic one.
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.
For the first two reasons in particular, our 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:
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.
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.
The 6 Best Manual Espresso Machines of 2020
Now that you know what you should be looking for when choosing a manual espresso machine, here’s a list of our top choices:
|Elektra S1C Microcasa Lever||CLICK TO CHECK PRICE|
|La Pavoni Professional Copper & Brass||CLICK TO CHECK PRICE|
|ROK Presso Manual Espresso Maker|
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|La Pavoni Romantica Espresso Maker|
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|La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola||CLICK HERE TO CHECK PRICE|
|Flair Espresso Maker|
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Things we liked
- Elegant design inspired by early 20th-century espresso machines
- Spring lever = more consistent brew process
- Large capacity
Things we didn’t like
- Heating parts are directly exposed, compromising user safety
- Heavy lever can be difficult to operate
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?
Things we liked
- Durable brass and copper material
- Large capacity
- Lots of space for tweaking, if that’s your thing
Things we didn’t like
- Purely manual piston operation (challenging to brew consistently)
- Lightweight base makes it difficult to hold the machine in place while pulling shots
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, the 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.
The Professional 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.
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 La Pavoni Romantica is another classic design from La Pavoni. It is the Professional’s warmer-coloured sibling, with largely similar features.
This manual-lever espresso machine 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. It is a beautifully designed 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.
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 Flair manual espresso maker is a sleek, hand-powered espresso maker that creates enough pressure to mimic a top of the line, electric espresso machine. It costs a fraction of what a typical espresso machine would cost and it is powered completely by hand. See in in action here as Scott reviews it:
After inserting the coffee grounds, you fill the water chamber with hot water and secure it above the coffee. Then you pull a lever which forces the water through the coffee grounds producing a shot of espresso. This action creates enough pressure – between 8 and 16 bars – to properly extract the coffee and make a great tasting shot of espresso. It captures the strong, bittersweet flavor of espresso and creates a rich layer of crema on the top.
True, you have to disassemble and clean the portafilter and piston assembly after every shot. But this only takes about a minute – and really, any manual espresso machine requires the same kind of care.
Read our Flair espresso maker review.
THE VERDICT: What’s The Crème De La Crème Of Lever Pump Espresso Machines?
Every machine featured on this list is an excellent choice for someone who wants to truly appreciate the craft of making espresso. However, one option is head and shoulders above the others: The Elektra Micro Casa is the best hand pump espresso machine on the market. Why?
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. This makes it easier to produce consistent shots of espresso. We prefer the ergonomics over those of the Romantica, which is less bottom-heavy. You want a sturdy, solid base while pulling your 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.
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://www.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.html
- Produce Great Espresso. (n.d.). Retrieved June 8, 2019, from https://www.stumptowncoffee.com/brew-guides/espresso