Flair 58 Review: Beautiful Machine, Exceptional Espresso
When Flair first introduced their machines a few years ago, they became immediately popular for the ability to make cafe-quality espresso at an affordable price. But the original Flair espresso maker wasn’t perfect. And even fans had some critiques. The portafilter wasn’t a standard size, and thermal management was a bit of a pain.
Behold the Flair 58, the next step in the quest for the ideal manual lever espresso machine. It addresses all previous user complaints but makes some sacrifices in doing so. It’s no longer as simple, portable, or inexpensive.
So is it worth it? Find out in this Flair 58 review.
Summary: The Flair 58
- Compact manual lever espresso machine with electric heating system
- Commercial standard 58 mm portafilter basket
- Beautiful design made from premium materials like die-cast aluminum and stainless steel
The best part of the 58 is the opportunity to understand how each variable influences the flavors you get in the cup. It’s particularly interesting to play with different shot pressure profiles and pre-infusion periods.– James N., Customer
The Full Flair 58 Review
The Flair creators made Flair Espresso in 2016 through a crowdfunding campaign (1). Inventor Sergio Landau had the simple idea of making the best possible espresso with the least extraneous parts – no boilers, no pumps, no electronics. And he pulled it off with the original Flair espresso maker, which quickly gained popularity for the quality of espresso it could produce at a very reasonable price.
The Flair family of products has expanded since then, with the latest addition being the Flair 58. Compared with previous versions, the Flair 58 has three big changes:
- An electric heating system
- A longer and redesigned lever
- A commercial standard 58 mm diameter portafilter
This review will discuss these updates plus everything else you can expect from this exciting new model.
Design – 4/5
Aesthetically, the Flair 58 is beautiful. Its curved lines are similar to other Flair models, but its matte-black frame and blond-wood accents make it stand out. Lately, matte black is a popular choice for premium coffee equipment, so it’s easy to pair the Flair 58 with everything else on your coffee bar.
The Flair 58 has a redesigned lever, which is now longer and includes a rubberized T-shaped handle. It is now much easier to exert the pressure needed to pull a shot with the extra leverage.
Undoubtedly the least attractive part of the design is the electrical components: the preheat temperature controller, power supply, and associated cables. Compared with the sleek metal of the manual espresso maker, the temperature controller looks cheap and plasticky, and the cables and power supply box add clutter to your countertop.
The puck screen is a new addition to this model, a trendy little gadget popping up with espresso machines everywhere. This mesh circle is a ground screen designed to sit atop the puck in the portafilter. It distributes water flow over the ground coffee, preventing channeling and promoting a more even extraction.
Brewing Capacity – 4.5/5
The brewing capacity is the most impressive part of the Flair 58, as it was with the Flair classic and all subsequent models. It is one of the least expensive ways to achieve genuinely top-notch espresso, though there is a learning curve involved with any manual brewing method.
Let’s look at a few things that make the Flair 58 even better than its predecessors.
The preheating system of the Flair 58 is what makes it unique. In the past, the thermal mass of the brew head required that it be preheated in boiling water, adding a step to the workflow. This is a common hassle with most manual espresso makers of this type. So when designing the Flair 58, an electric heater was added to the group head with an associated temperature controller to ensure proper preheating (2).
It has three heat settings – 80, 85, and 90 degrees Celsius. The different temperatures correspond to different roast levels (hotter for light roasts, cooler for dark roasts), but most users preheat to the highest level. So Flair may want to consider removing the options to allow for a lower cost.
Once you turn the heater on, it takes less than 5 minutes to preheat, much faster than a traditional espresso maker with a boiler. However, the heating element isn’t designed to act as a boiler. You still need to use a kettle to heat your brew water; you just won’t need to worry about heat loss during brewing, explains coffee professional Lance Hedrick.
The pre-heated chamber is going to maintain that temperature throughout the bloom and throughout that pre-infusion, so you’re not losing heat left and right.
There is a version of the Flair 58 without the heater, the Flair 58x, which is about $100 cheaper. It’s a great option if you don’t mind preheating the group with boiling water, as you still get the long lever, stunning design, and 58 mm portafilter.
With previous Flair models, a common complaint of Flair owners was that the workflow was a bit picky. Not only did you have to preheat the group, but the older Flair models had a lot of bits and pieces to manage. We loved the Flair Pro, but it felt more like a “special occasion” espresso maker for when you have extra time in the morning. And it could feel prolonged when making multiple shots.
With the Flair 58, the smoother workflow is essentially the same as any semi-automatic espresso machine. The only exception is that you heat water in a kettle, which is honestly faster than having a boiler to do it for you. You preheat the machine. You grind, dose, and tamp your puck. You pull a shot. You knock the dry puck into a knock box, rinse the portafilter, and repeat.
Pressure profiling, in which you adjust the pressure on the puck during extraction, is all the rage among coffee enthusiasts (3). Most espresso machines have a short low-pressure pre-infusion stage and a quick ramp-up to the standard 9 bar pressure (4). But by playing with the pressure during the shot, you have a new variable to optimize extraction.
This is one reason manual lever espresso machines are growing in popularity at the same time; people want an affordable way to capitalize on the pressure profiling trend (5). Some automatic machines offer similar capabilities (for example, Slayer, Decent, La Marzocco GS3, Lelit Bianca), but they are all vastly more expensive than the Flair.
Every Flair model is capable of flow profiling, but the Flair 58 is the best of the bunch. First, it includes an integrated pressure gauge, which is vital, and you need to monitor the pressure in real-time, especially if you hope to reproduce your shots in the future. Second, the new longer lever and grip make it far easier to exert pressure on the puck to have finer control during extraction.
The 58 mm Portafilter
Along with the heating element, the 58 mm portafilter is new to the Flair 58, and it lends it its name. This is a change Flair espresso fans have been clamoring for from the beginning. Most commercial and prosumer espresso machines have 58 mm diameter portafilters. It is now far easier to find accessories – like VST filter baskets, tampers, levelers, and so on – to match your Flair 58. The bigger diameter portafilter also makes it easier to use a larger dose of coffee and provides shots with greater clarity.
Adding a Smart Scale
To get more from your Flair 58, you can pair it with the intelligent Lunar Acaia scale. Indeed, the rubber drip tray seems to have been explicitly designed with this in mind, as it is perfectly sized for the tiny Lunar.
With this pairing, you can watch the pressure on the Flair 58’s pressure gauge, but you can also track the flow rate into the cup using the smart scale and an app. This makes it exceptionally easy to save and reproduce your best shots.
The downside to having the drip tray sized to fit the Lunar is that it is too small for many other digital scales on the market. The Acaia Lunar is one of the most expensive scales, nearly half the price of the Flair 58 itself, and those looking for more affordable options might be disappointed.
Build Quality – 4.5/5
The build quality of the Flair 58 manual espresso machine is exceptional. The robust frame is made from die-cast aluminum, and the main brewing components are stainless steel. It’s very stable, even when pushing hard on the lever. They used rubber for the handle grip and insulation around the exterior of the brew head and the drip tray. Your hot brew water never comes in contact with plastic.
The Flair 58 is relatively compact when stored, measuring 14 inches deep by 7.5 inches wide by 11.5 inches tall – smaller than the average semi-automatic machine. However, don’t forget that it gets significantly taller (up to 24.25 inches) when the fully upright lever. So make sure you have an appropriate place to use it.
The accessories are also high quality, including a specially crafted stainless steel tamper and a naked portafilter with a wooden handle (6). And thanks to the 58 mm diameter portafilter, it’s easy to buy additional accessories. For example, you can buy a spouted portafilter or VST filter basket.
Speaking of filter baskets, Flair 58 comes standard with a low-flow basket. It has chamfered edges and fewer exit holes, making it easier to dial in and allowing for a coarser grind. However, if you have a capable grinder, there is an optional high-flow basket. You’ll need a finer grind, but the extraction will be more even and yield a shot with slightly more clarity.
The only part of the system that feels a little unrefined is the heating controller and associated power supply box and cords. It works as advertised – no complaints there – but it’s unwieldy and seems a bit cheap compared with the sleek metal of the rest of the brewer. It feels like something tacked on as an afterthought rather than integrated with the rest of the machine.
Cleaning and Maintenance – 4/5
Compared with a typical semi-automatic prosumer espresso machine, cleaning and maintaining the Flair 58 is a breeze. Its simple design means very little to go wrong and equally little to clean up. You don’t need to worry about the pump breaking down because there is no pump. You don’t need to worry about descaling the boiler because there is no boiler.
The Flair 58 is made from high-quality, durable materials, so it comes with an impressive 5-year limited warranty. Most parts of the Flair are sold separately, so if you break or lose something, it’s easy to replace a piece without buying a whole new machine – for example, a puck screen or heating system.
Cleaning after use is effortless, especially when using the grounds screen to keep coffee grounds off the brew cylinder. There will be a bit of water left in the brew chamber after extraction, so have an extra cup on hand to catch that. Then it’s just a matter of knocking out the dry coffee puck and rinsing the portafilter, as you would with an espresso machine.
Value for Money – 4/5
Even though the Flair 58 is the brand’s most expensive model, the value is still excellent for this machine style. Let’s compare it against some of its main competitors.
Other top manual espresso makers include the Cafelat Robot, the Rok, and the Flair Pro 2.
- The Rok is the cheapest at about half the Flair 58. But because it lacks a pressure gauge, it isn’t really in the same league for making quality espresso.
- The Flair Pro 2 includes a pressure gauge and can make undeniably excellent coffee, but the workflow is less convenient than the new Flair 58.
- The Robot is probably the closest competition and may be a better value for specific users. It’s about three-quarters the Flair cost and offers a similar workflow. However, the Flair 58 is physically easier to use with its longer lever than the Robot. And the heating element provides better temperature stability during extraction.
When comparing the Flair 58 against semi-automatic prosumer espresso machines capable of flow profiling, its value becomes apparent. To get a machine with similar capabilities, you’ll easily be spending four times the price of the Flair, if not much more. And it won’t be able to fit in such a small space.
The Flair 58 is not a good value for anyone interested in more than just espresso.
If you want to make lattes and cappuccinos, you’ll have to invest in a separate milk frothing system. It becomes a better value to spend a bit more on a coffee machine with a steam wand.
Don’t Buy the Flair 58 If…
- You want to make milk-based drinks: While you can pair the Flair 58 with a milk frother, at that point, it’s better just to buy an espresso maker with a steam wand. For example, see our review of the La Pavoni Europiccola or the Elektra Microcasa, or check out the higher capacity La Pavoni Professional espresso machine.
- You want something that doesn’t need electricity: If you’re looking for something portable that doesn’t require an electrical socket, there are plenty of great options. And – bonus! – they’re all cheaper than the Flair 58. Check out the Flair 58x, Flair Pro 2, or Cafelat Robot.
- You don’t want a lever machine: If the hands-on nature of lever machines doesn’t appeal, there are plenty of automatic or semi-automatic espresso machines to consider instead. Around the same price is the Breville Bambino Plus, or pay a bit more for the prosumer grade, Rancilio Silvia. However, if you want flow profiling AND semi-automatic operation, expect to pay more for something like the Lelit Bianca.
The Flair 58 sets out to be the perfect manual espresso maker, addressing all complaints about previous Flair products and adding a gorgeous new design. Does it achieve this goal? For the most part, yes. The espresso quality is exceptional, and the workflow for home baristas is substantially improved. However, it loses advantages like simplicity, portability, and affordability in doing so. It’s up to you to decide if this is a trade-off you want to make.
- 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/
- Coffee Research. (n.d.). Temperature Stabilizing for Espresso. Retrieved from http://www.coffeeresearch.org/espresso/tempstabilize.htm
- Prestidge, J. (2015, August 18). Pressure Profiling: The Key to Perfect Extraction. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2015/08/pressure-profiling-the-key-to-perfect-extraction/
- Seven Miles. (2021, November 23). What is the ideal pressure for espresso? Retrieved from https://www.sevenmiles.com.au/editorial/espresso-pressure/
- Rosas, A.P. (2022, April 20). Exploring the evolution of manual espresso machines. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2022/04/the-evolution-of-manual-espresso/
- Five Senses Coffee. (2009, April 7). Getting Down and Dirty with a Naked Portafilter. Retrieved from https://www.fivesenses.com.au/blog/getting-dirty-naked-portafilter/