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Many budding home baristas dream of buying a full-sized espresso machine for the home. But for most, that’s all it is, a dream. You know, and I know, that fully equipped espresso machines cost a small fortune and are way out of budget for beginners.
But that doesn’t mean that all espresso machines are ruled out.
Hear me out.
Manual espresso machines are just as good and, in some cases, produce a better-tasting shot than fully automatic machines.
Sure, you’ll have to manually pull down on a lever and use a bit of muscle, but that’s a small price to pay when you consider all the savings you’ll make compared to regular automatic units.
Plus, manually crafting a perfect cup of espresso can be extremely rewarding.
Our Top Pick: Best Value
So if you want to save a few dollars and take complete control over your espresso brewing process, skip the automatic machines and opt for a manual one instead.
Best Manual Espresso Makers: Chosen By Bean Ground
Below you will find a selection of manual and lever espresso machines worthy of your money.
From my rigorous testing, I can say that they all can produce awesome-tasting espresso, are easy(ish) to operate, and are durable and well-built. Frankly, you’ll be hard-pressed to find better manual machines than these.
Flair PRO 2 Manual Lever Press Espresso Maker
The first manual espresso machine on my list is the Flair PRO 2. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly manual lever espresso machine that’s easy to master, look no further than the Flair espresso PRO 2.
The original Flair manual espresso maker, now known as the Flair Classic, began as a successful Kickstarter project. Since going into full production, Flair has added the Signature and Signature Pro models.
Yet, it’s their latest offering is the Flair PRO 2, which takes the best features and functionality from previous versions and the one I recommend.
The workflow of the Flair espresso maker might seem a bit strange at first, but after you’ve wrapped your head around the brewing process, it’s pretty easy and convenient to pull a quick espresso shot.
I can make an espresso and clean the device in around five minutes, which makes it faster than most electric machines. Plus, it can be broken down into separate parts and kept in a travel bag, making it perfect for espresso on the road.
La Pavoni Europiccola
The La Pavoni is more of a traditional lever espresso machine that, I’ll admit, requires a bit of tinkering to produce a great-tasting shot of espresso.
But don’t let that put you off. The La Pavoni Europiccola and the professional version (listed below) are some of the best manual espresso machines you can buy in this price bracket. And in my opinion, both coffee makers are leaps and bounds better than more expensive fully automatic machines.
The Europiccola model is an entry-level unit from a small range offered by La Pavoni. It comes with everything you need to make specialty coffee drinks at home.
The unit is durable and made from an all-steel construction with heavy chrome plating; the quality is what you’d expect from an Italian coffee machine.
Again, it is not easy to use, but you will get the hang of it with practice. You should be fine if you watch the instructional videos to get started.
The Wacaco Minipresso is a slightly different take on a “traditional” manual espresso machine. The unit works with a built-in hand pump and ground coffee.
With a few pumps, you can produce up to 8 bar of pressure, which is just enough to produce espresso coffee; pretty amazing really, for a device that’s so small.
It’s worth noting however that the manual pump can be challenging to use because you’ll have to keep it aimed at your cup; kinda like milking a cow, not that I’ve ever done that before.
One downside of this manual espresso brewer is the small water capacity. With only 1.7 ounces, you will have to clean it and set it up for each shot of espresso, which can be a bit of a chore if you brew coffee for more than one person.
Also, unfortunately, with the Wacaco, there is no heating element, so you need to boil your water separately. Not really a deal breaker, but if you want to brew coffee when you’re on the road, it does mean that you need a way to boil water.
This model has useful accessories like a coffee scoop that doubles as a makeshift tamper and a cleaning brush. Also, the whole device weighs less than a pound, making it highly portable.
Want great-tasting espresso when you’re on a road trip or camping? The Wacaco Minipresso is certainly one to keep in mind.
La Pavoni Lever Professional
The La Pavoni has made the list again, this time with their Professional 16-cup offering. The professional version comes with a few more bells and whistles, such as a mounted pressure gauge and larger boiler capacity. It also stands taller and is finished in elegant copper and brass.
Just like the entry-level unit listed above, the La Pavoni Professional is a simplistic lever-operated espresso machine that can simultaneously produce up to two 16-ounce shots of espresso. It features an internal thermostat in a 38-ounce solid brass boiler that ensures your water is at the optimum temperature.
This manual espresso machine also features a milk frothing system that enables you to froth milk for various drinks such as latte or cappuccino.
I’ll confess this unit does take a bit of practice until you can produce a textbook espresso, but once mastered, this is one of the best manual espresso machines you can currently buy.
The brand also has a loyal following and active Facebook groups where you can ask for advice or compare your shots!
ROK Espresso GC
Compared to the other manual machines on this list, the ROK Presso manual espresso maker is a no-frills machine designed with functionality in mind.
The GC version of the ROK is the upgraded model that comes with a better piston gasket that produces a more significant amount of pressure.
There is very little to this machine, and it’s even more basic than the Flair espresso maker, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Although the ROK is simple and easy to operate it lacks some core functionality, such as a pressure gauge, so you need to pay special attention to the amount of pressure you’re generating with the levers.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a lousy espresso maker. As long as you have the right beans and get the brewing process down to a ‘T,’ you can produce some delicious crema-rich espresso shots.
The ROK Espresso GC requires no electricity and is straightforward to use: Just push down on both arms to build pressure. Also, the four rubber legs on its base help to keep the unit firmly in place as you use it.
Wacaco Picopresso Portable Espresso Maker
The last manual espresso coffee brewer to make the cut is another device produced by Wacaco. The Picopresso is undoubtedly an upgrade from the popular Minipresso, and although small in size, it packs a punch when it comes to brewing espresso shots.
Although the shots are not quite as good as espresso I’ve had at highstreet cafes, they’re definitely up there in the taste department. And honestly, for a device as small as this, it’s impressive that it can produce anything palatable at all, but it does.
It’s compact and lightweight, making it perfect for slipping into your backpack or suitcase to enjoy great coffee on the go.
The espresso coffee this little device produces is tasty, and with the right beans and the amount of pressure this unit delivers (up to 18 bars!) I can create a rich crema every time.
Also, the well-thought-out design and supplied accessories make using the manual coffee machine a pleasure when you’re away from home.
What Is A Manual (Lever) Espresso Machine?
Manual home espresso machines (largely called “lever” espresso machines) not only look fantastic, but they also produce optimal espresso shots.
If you’ve landed on this page, I’m assuming you already know a little about manual espresso machines, so I won’t bore you with all the details.
But for anyone who doesn’t know the ins and outs, here’s a very brief overview.
Essentially, a level or manual espresso machine requires no electricity to operate; some do, but that’s a conversation for another time, and there are a couple on the above list (can you spot them?).
Compared to complete full-sized electric automatic machines, manual espresso machines typically cost a lot less, like a whole lot less.
Although they cost far less, they can still produce an espresso shot of the same quality as a shot pulled from a regular espresso machine.
And in some cases, the shot made in a manual lever espresso machine is superior due to the ability to tweak and adjust brewing parameters on the fly.
The Benefits Of A Manual Espresso Machine
Many of the best manual espresso machines allow you to get “down and dirty” with your shot preparation and extraction. You will have complete control over the grind, the tamp, the water temperature, the steam pressure, and the length of extraction.
Many of these brewing variables are not easy to control with regular full-sized espresso machines. And more often than not, modern-day electronics take over with a push of a button.
There aren’t many parts or components that come with manual machines, making them simple to operate and less prone to breaking down. So you can expect a lever espresso maker to last much longer than an automated one.
For example, A problem that often plagues semi-auto and super-auto espresso machines is a faulty water pump. This can be a costly repair, and, more often than not, it’s not worth the cost.
On the other hand, a manual espresso machine has no “pump” per se. Instead, you use your arm to pull down the lever and pump the water into the portafilter. There’s less that can go wrong mechanically.
How Does A Manual Espresso Machine Work?
So how does a manual espresso machine work? Is it complicated? With manual machines, everything is done with a bit of elbow grease and your hands. There are no buttons to press and, more importantly, no hidden circuitry to malfunction.
To put it into perspective. Think of a manual espresso machine as being like a Model A Ford back in the day, you had to be hands-on, and everything was manual.
Versus modern-day cars that come loaded with all the bells and whistles and practically drive themselves. Oh, and let’s remember they need specialized technicians to diagnose simple problems. The same can be said about modern-day espresso machines.
Most of the best manual espresso machines will be made from durable and long-lasting stainless steel. With the amount of manual work these machines will endure, they need to be made to last.
The main components of a manual lever espresso machine essentially include the four things to operate.
- A water reservoir that holds preheated water or a means to heat the water.
- A portafilter to hold coffee grounds.
- Some way to generate pressure. Most of the best manual espresso machines utilize a lever mechanism that is pulled down. This manual action generates the same amount of force (up to 9 bars or more) as fully automatic espresso machines.
- An external pressure gauge. With manual lever machines, you need a way to determine if you are generating enough pressure. Many of the top-performing manual espresso machines come with a gauge. Although not essential, having a gauge ensures that everything is going smoothly. You can quickly determine if any brewing variables are off, such as coffee grind size, tamp pressure, etc.
In theory, the process is simple. In practice, there are many variables that you need to control simultaneously: the main ones being water temperature, water pressure, water flow rate, espresso brew time, type of coffee bean, roast of the bean, grind size, and not forgetting grind quantity.
If you’ve stuck around to the end, you have probably got your eye on a manual espresso machine from my list of recommendations.
Any of the machines featured on the list are an excellent choice for anyone who wants to get “down and dirty” with their espresso.
They are all easy to use (some more than others), well made, and produce awesome-tasting textbook espresso; you can’t go wrong with any of them.
However, if I had to choose and money wasn’t a deciding factor, my favorite would be the La Pavoni Professional. Personally, this has to be one of the best hand-pump espresso machines on the market – but be warned, it’s not cheap.
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