Flair vs Cafelat Robot Espresso Machine: Which one reigns supreme?
Though they look very different, the Flair Pro 2 and the Cafelat Robot are similar espresso makers in many ways. Both use a manual lever to generate pressure and include the all-important pressure gauge. Both are exceptionally well-built. And most importantly, both make excellent espresso that has garnered them an enthusiastic following.
So how is the discerning espresso lover to choose? Just keep reading.
We’re going to dig into the details of the Flair vs Cafelat Robot, including key differences that will help you pick the right one for your needs.
The Flair Pro 2 Espresso Maker
The original Flair manual espresso maker was launched on Kickstarter in 2016 and quickly gained a cult following (1). Their stated goal was to pare down an espresso maker to the bare minimum, leaving only what you need to make the best possible coffee. The result was a remarkably affordable and beautifully spare design without making any sacrifices in terms of quality.
After nearly five years, the Flair line-up has expanded considerably. They now offer a series of models with a range of features and prices. At the same time, their following has grown as well. The Flair is no longer a cult classic but exists firmly in the realm of a mainstream sensation. Indeed, the enthusiastic online community of Flair users is one of the perks of owning this brewer.
There are five models of Flair espresso makers, but for this comparison, we’re going to look at the Flair Pro 2. At the moment, it most closely matches the Cafelat Robot in terms of price and features. As I’ll discuss further, the newly released Flair 58x may well be a better comparison in the near future (2).
The Flair is made from cast aluminum, stainless steel, and silicone. It has a small 46 mm filter basket, but it still accommodates the standard double shot dose of 16 to 24 g. At present, it is about three-quarters the cost of the Cafelat Robot.
- Easily portable, with included carrying case
- Beautiful sleek and functional design
- New-and-improved bottomless portafilter
- Enthusiastic online user community
- Mandatory preheating of the brew group
- Slower workflow and clean-up
The Cafelat Robot Espresso Maker
Cafelat is a Hong Kong-based coffee company founded by longtime coffee expert Paul Pratt. Pratt began as a barista and worked his way through the industry to land as a technician with world-renowned Italian brand La Marzocco, so he knows espresso machines inside and out.
Cafelat was initially founded to produce high-quality barista accessories but pivoted slightly in 2018 with the launch of the Cafelat Robot espresso maker. Like the Flair, it was launched on Kickstarter and quickly secured funding (3).
There are only two models, either with or without the pressure gauge. It’s well worth paying an extra few dollars for the pressure gauge, as you’ll make better and more consistent espresso. So that’s the model we will be comparing in this article.
The Robot is made from stainless steel and die-cast aluminum. It uses a 57.5 mm filter basket, which is just marginally smaller than the commercial standard 58 mm. This is worth bearing in mind when shopping for accessories, though it does come with everything you need.
- Durable all-metal build
- No need to preheat when using medium to dark roasts
- Efficient workflow and cleaning
- Fun and cheerful design
- Fragile dispersion screen
- Not enough space to fit a scale
A Face-to-Face Showdown: Cafelat Robot Vs Flair
In many ways, both machines are pretty similar. So, where that is the case, we won’t bother making a detailed comparison. For example, both are among the best manual espresso machines and, provided you follow the correct procedure, will pull a fantastic shot of espresso. Likewise, both include a pressure gauge to monitor the coffee brewing in action. So we won’t be discussing coffee quality or consistency as factors.
Instead, in this section, we’ll look at what sets the two machines apart and how that impacts which one you should buy. Neither is inherently better than the other, but differences in design, workflow efficiency, and portability will make one more suited to your lifestyle.
So let’s get this Cafelat Robot vs Flair showdown started!
This section will look at functionality, build quality, and aesthetics. Therefore, the design will be the most significant point of comparison. A good design should look great, be enjoyable to operate and last for a long time.
Both of these espresso makers use aluminum for the main structure and stainless steel for the remaining components. Of the two, the Robot is a bit heavier and has a sturdier feel, probably because its arms are also made of stainless steel. However, neither is prone to breaking, warping or sliding around during extraction.
A big difference in build quality is that the Flair uses silicone gaskets instead of the all-metal construction of the Robot. Silicone makes it a bit finicky to slot the parts together, and it won’t last as long as metal.
That said, the Cafelat Robot’s dispersion screen, which is made from thin metal, is a known point of failure. In fact, it is so easy to accidentally warp or break that Cafelat includes an extra one with your purchase. It’s also relatively inexpensive and straightforward, though frustrating, to buy additional replacements off their site.
The Robot has a few other design quirks that might or might not be an issue for you, depending on your process. First off, the two support legs at its base are relatively close together. This is no problem when accommodating mugs, but it is pretty inconvenient if you’d like to add a scale, which is standard practice when brewing coffee (4).
Second, the little “hands” at the end of the arms are cute but not necessarily practical for gripping, especially if you’re trying to generate enough force to brew a finely ground light roast. This complaint is so common that Cafelat is now offering “mittens” to cover the hands. As much as this is an adorable concept, it feels unfair to pay extra for something that might be standard.
Finally, let’s talk about the aesthetics of the Cafelat Robot vs Flair. Aesthetics are entirely a matter of personal preference and not necessarily a reason to choose one model. Still, they’re worth mentioning here because they are so different between these two coffee makers.
The Flair has a more refined, sleek, and elegant look. It’s available in white, black, or silver with copper and steel accents. On the other hand, the Robot looks quirky and fun. It really does resemble a robot and would not be out of place on the set of Doctor Who. It comes in shiny aluminum and vibrant hues like blue, red, retro green, and cream.
Both of these coffee makers are relatively small, so neither one is going to dominate your kitchen. But you may still want to choose the design that matches the vibe in your home.
Winner: The Flair Pro 2 takes this round. Although we like the Robot’s all-metal construction, its inability to fit a scale, less comfortable lever arms, and fragile dispersion screen put it in second place.
When working with a manual espresso machine, temperature stability is always the first thing to consider. Without an electronic heating element or boiler, it’s effortless for the brew temperature to drop off as you prepare an espresso, resulting in an under-extracted and sour shot (5).
In the case of Flair, the large brew group requires preheating to avoid this problem. You need to warm it with boiling water before every single use. Otherwise, its cold thermal mass will inevitably drop the temperature of your brew. This is especially true with light roasts.
Light roast lovers, however, may want to consider adding a preheating step. This is not the case with the Cafelat Robot because it doesn’t use a brew group. Instead, brewing occurs inside the extra-large portafilter basket, which has a far lower thermal mass. In fact, if you’re brewing with a medium or dark roast, which includes most espresso blends, you don’t need to preheat at all. This has proven to be a big selling point for many users.
A number of Components
Another big difference between these two brewers is their number of components. The Flair has far more bits and pieces to put together and take apart each time you want to brew. This also makes it slower and more demanding to clean everything when you’re done.
If you only pull a shot or two a day, or less, this extra time spent heating, assembling, disassembling, and cleaning the Flair might be no big deal — a few extra minutes a week. But if you’re rushed in the mornings and need to pull a few shots in a row, you’re likely to find the workflow frustrating.
Finally, a quick note about portafilter basket sizes, which are very different between these two brewers: the Flair uses an unusually small 46 mm basket, and the Robot uses a larger basket close to the commercial standard 58 mm. Both can hold the correct dose for a double shot, but if you have large and clumsy hands, you might find the Flair’s smaller basket a bit fiddly.
If you love the Flair but dislike the small basket, you may be well-served by the brand new Flair 58x, which is priced just slightly higher and has, as the name suggests, a 58 mm portafilter basket.
Winner: This one goes to the Robot. It’s quicker to assemble and disassemble, easier to clean, and as long as you’re brewing a medium to dark roast, it doesn’t require preheating.
This is a big difference between the two. It seems hardly fair to frame it as a portability competition since both machines do exactly what they were designed for. But, it’s also worth mentioning, because it could well be a deciding factor as to which you want to buy.
The Flair was designed to be portable, and the Robot was not.
The Flair is made primarily of lightweight aluminum, and every one comes with its study suitcase to keep all those bits and pieces safe and organized as you travel. This isn’t necessarily the sort of portable espresso maker you’d take on a hiking trip — like the Wacaco Nanopresso, for example — but it’s perfect for RVs, car camping, hotel rooms, or taking to the office.
On the other hand, the Robot is heavier and designed to be parked on a countertop. That’s not to say you can’t travel with it, but it doesn’t break down as nicely as the Flair, and you’ll have to devise your carrying case.
It’s worth noting that neither of these espresso makers requires electricity, provided you have a means of boiling water, so both are portable in that respect. Spending a weekend in a rustic cottage with a wood stove? You can still have amazing espresso.
Winner: The Flair takes this round, no contest, because it’s the only one of the two designed to be portable. Just be careful to keep track of all those parts when you’re on the road.
Value for Money
The Flair retails for about three-quarters the price of the Cafelat Robot, and it produces equivalently great espresso. So by that metric, it offers better value for money. However, it’s worth considering how you value your time to truly compare the two because the Flair will take more of it.
It’s also worth accounting for durability and add-ons when coming up with the true cost of both of these espresso machines. The Robot will likely last longer than the Flair, being made entirely of metal. However, you may want to factor in some extras with the Robot, like the cost of replacement dispersion screens and “mittens.”
Winner: This is a close one, but we’re giving it to the Flair thanks to its significantly lower upfront cost. While, in theory, it may not last as long as the Robot, all the Flair models seem to hold up exceptionally well in practice.
Choose the Flair Pro 2 if:
- You want an espresso maker that can travel
- You want a more affordable manual espresso maker
- You don’t make a lot of espresso or don’t mind the less efficient workflow
Use the Cafelat Robot if:
- You make a lot of espresso and value efficiency
- You don’t plan to travel with your manual espresso machine
- You like its quirky, colorful design
With a lever espresso machine, the barista uses the force of a lever to generate the necessary pressure to force hot water through coffee grounds to prepare an espresso. This is in contrast with semi-automatic machines that use an electric pump to generate pressure.
The Rok is another popular manual espresso maker that uses a two-arm system similar to the Robot. It is less expensive and a great option if you’re on a tight budget, but it’s also less refined and of poorer quality overall.
As officially defined by Italians, a true espresso must be produced using 8 to 9 bars of pressure. This is why brewers like the Aeropress or Moka Pot don’t qualify as true espresso.
- Bryman, H. (2016, November 22). The Flair Machine Spreads Pizazz to the Portable Espresso Market. Retrieved from https://dailycoffeenews.com/2016/11/22/the-flair-machine-spreads-pizazz-to-the-portable-espresso-market/
- Bryman, H. (2021, March 19). Flair Espresso Reveals the Flair 58 With Full-Size Heated Group. Retrieved from https://dailycoffeenews.com/2021/03/19/flair-espresso-reveals-the-flair-58-with-full-size-heated-group/
- Bryman, H. (2017, July 13). Cafelat Robot Espresso Maker to Blast Off Later This Year. Retrieved from https://dailycoffeenews.com/2017/07/13/cafelat-robot-espresso-maker-to-blast-off-later-this-year/
- Callender, S. & Blake, B. (2014, October 24). Brew Ratios Around the World. Retrieved from https://au.lamarzoccohome.com/brew-ratios-around-world/
- Easthope, A. (2015, April 8). Brew Temperature and its Effects on Espresso. Retrieved from https://www.fivesenses.com.au/blog/brew-temperature-and-its-effects-on-espresso/