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04
Jul

5 Best Manual Espresso Machine in 2024

0 commentPost by : Jasmin Tétreault
5 Best Manual Espresso Machine in 2024

The Best Lever Espresso Makers

You don’t need expensive espresso machines for a great espresso, you need a lever machine, the right coffee grind, and some experience. Lever espresso machines are becoming more popular and they are simplifying the process by eliminating boilers and using hand pressure for decent shots. These manual espresso machines are versatile, suitable for home use and some for traveling.

I tested dozens of shots from over 10 manual espresso makers to find the 5 best. Depending on your needs, some are travel-friendly, small, and lightweight, while others are sturdy and stylish for home use. This review dives into everything you need to know to find the best manual espresso maker for you.

What Is a Manual Espresso Maker?

Manual espresso makers use a lever or hand pump to brew espresso. They require physical effort to generate pressure, forcing hot water through finely ground coffee at 6 to 9 bars. The lever and piston system help achieve the necessary pressure for extraction.

Compared to traditional lever machines, like La Pavoni and Olympia, manual espresso makers don't have boilers for steam pressure and hot water. New manual machines are much simpler. You heat water separately in a kettle, pour it into the cylinder, raise a lever, and then press it to brew, extracting the coffee into your cup.

If you’re up for a bit of a challenge, manual espresso makers are a fantastic choice! They require a bit more muscle and skill than your average espresso machine, and achieving a perfect extraction means pressing consistently. You’ll also need a thermometer or a smart kettle to ensure your water is just right at 92-96°C. Even with the extra effort, they’re satisfying to use and might even become your favorite brewing method.

Choosing the Best Manual Espresso Maker

Materials and Design

Manual espresso machines typically use a lever to create pressure, a design that dominates the market with few exceptions that have two levers. Pressing the lever forces water through the coffee bed in the portafilter, evenly distributed by a shower screen, resulting in coffee flowing into your cup.

Espresso makers can be made from different materials. The most common is stainless steel frames as it adds stability. Plastic frames as also available, they are preferred for traveling because of their lighter weight.

Power is another factor to consider. Most espresso makers need an external kettle to heat the water but premium options can be plugged in for self-heating.

Flair Neo Carrying Case

Portability

Most manual espresso makers are portable since they don't need power. However, some options are more suitable for travel. The top portable models are lightweight, and easy to disassemble and some manufacturers even include a travel case.

Grouphead size

When considering a manual espresso maker, the size of the grouphead is a crucial factor. The group head is where the portafilter locks in and where the water is evenly distributed over the coffee grounds. A standard group head size is typically 58mm, which is widely used in professional espresso machines and offers versatility as it is compatible with various accessories and filters.

However, some manual espresso makers feature smaller group heads, like 49mm or 51mm, which can be advantageous for portability and ease of use. These smaller groupheads still deliver excellent espresso but have fewer available accessories.

Budget

You also need to consider your budget. While prices often reflect material quality and performance, getting amazing espressos with the cheapest ones is still possible. Manual espresso makers are more affordable than standard and automatic machines due to the lack of electronics.  The entry-level starts at 100$ but goes up to over 1000$. A premium option with a boiler is also included.

Flair Neo Flex 2024

Flair Neo Flex

I chose the Flair Neo Flex because it's Flair's most affordable model. It's the cheapest way to produce quality espresso shots. Its lightweight plastic stand sets it apart, making it portable but less sturdy than metal models.

First seen at the Portland Coffee Expo, the Neo Flex Relaunch includes essentials like a pressurized basket for pre-ground coffee, a standard basket, a brew head, a funnel, and a tamper. Notably, it has a pressure release valve for fine grinds. Despite its plastic stand, it maintains stability and is lightweight, making it ideal for travel.

Performance & Workflow

The Neo Flex’s espresso quality rivals the Flair Classic. Its narrower diameter baskets create a taller puck, requiring a coarser grind. Testing with three people showed it can produce great espresso. It handles lighter roasts well with lower doses and finer grinds. The base accommodates small scales, but larger pour-over scales may not fit.

Brewing Tips

  1. Preheat the cylinder with boiled water.
  2. Use the standard or pressurized basket based on grind quality.
  3. Press grounds evenly and place the dispersion screen on top.
  4. Secure the basket, attach the brew head, and pour hot water.
  5. Insert the piston, start pre-infusion, and modulate pressure to reach desired volume.

2024 Relaunch

In my initial review of the Flair Neo Flex, I was critical of the pressure seal that breaks if pressure is too high. A sturdier device or a pressure gauge seemed better. At the SCA Expo, Flair announced the Neo Flex 2024 Relaunch, now including a pressure gauge for accurate feedback on pressure levels, even when dangerously high.

Buy Flair NEO Flex

Flair 58

Flair 58

If you're a coffee enthusiast, you already have seen the Flair 58 as it's the coffee maker that popularized manual espresso. This lever espresso machine makes professional-grade espresso at a fraction of the cost, ideal for those who enjoy a hands-on brewing approach.

Performance & Workflow

The Flair 58 is perfect for small kitchens with its compact design. Despite its size, it features an innovative electric preheating system that enhances performance. This preheating mechanism simplifies the espresso-making process, allowing for quick preparation, making it stand out from earlier models. The workflow is straightforward, with a lever allowing control over pressure and flow rate, making it user-friendly for beginners and versatile for experienced baristas.

The Flair 58 comes with several advantages, including its affordability, ease of use, electric preheating, and pressure profiling. The Flair 58's top features is its standard 58mm portafilter, compatible with many accessories and baskets. Home baristas will value this upgrade from previous models.

The Flair 58 is an excellent choice for coffee lovers wanting barista-level espresso at home. Its electric preheating, pressure profiling, and simple design make it perfect for both seasoned baristas and beginners. You can upgrade to the Flair 58+ for more accessories.

Buy Flair 58
Olympia Express Mina

Olympia Mina

New to the portable lever machines is Olympia Express with the Mina. The Mina uses a piston simialr to the Cremina. You simply add hot water, and when you lift the lever, the water goes into the brew chamber. By pressing the lever, pressure builds up for the extraction process.The Mina make a more traditional espresso, just like the Cremina.

  • Proven Lever Mechanism: Ensures consistent and reliable performance.
  • Quick Preheat Time: Get your espresso ready in no time.
  • Swiss Craftsmanship: Designed and manufactured in Switzerland, promising top-tier quality.

User experience

The newly developed piston system in the Mina makes it incredibly easy to brew a perfect espresso. The Mina is also a great companion for those on the go. Whether you're at home or traveling, Mina delivers a perfect espresso shot every time. With its easy-to-use piston system and Swiss engineering, Mina is a must-have for any coffee enthusiast.

Buy Olympia Mina
Cafelat Robot

Cafelat Robot

Cafelat's Robot, drawing inspiration from the vintage Faema Baby, combines a robust build with modern features like a pressure gauge. Its the only one on the list with dual levers for easier pressing. The Robot also uses oversized basket means no pre-heating required.

Seeing the Robot, you can tell the effort behind it. The engineering and design of the levers and piston amazed me even more, the construction is nearly indestructible.

Drawbacks

The Robot has limited vulnerable parts: the piston gasket may need periodic replacement, and improper handling of the pressure gauge tube can cause leaks. These issues are cost-effective and easy to resolve on your own.

Combining all these features gives you a compact lever espresso machine that delivers top-notch espresso for years. However, the Robot lacks the accessory flexibility and baskets of the Flair 58 and doesn't have active preheating, making it challenging with lighter roasts.

Odyssey Argos

Odyssey Argos

This is the Argos Lever Espresso machine from Odyssey Espresso, which I tried at the SCA Expo. It's the only one in this list that we included with a boiler because it's affordable. It’s modern, and customizable, featuring a PID-controlled boiler, and a modular design.

It can switch between a spring-loaded or direct lever system and is available in left or right-handed configurations. The Argos also features swappable wood accents for a personalized look.

The Argos includes advanced technology like a datalogging system, Bluetooth capabilities, and a companion app for tracking and customizing your espresso experience. The machine can consistently pull multiple shots without overheating, unlike traditional lever machines. It’s an exciting, budget-friendly option for lever espresso enthusiasts.

Comparaison Chart

Model Frame Material Includes Travel Case Portafilter Size Needs Power Weight Dimensions Price Range
Flair Neo Flex Plastic Yes 49mm No 1.9 kg  L29.2cm x W19.05cm x H26.67cm $
Flair 58 Metal No 58mm Yes 5.4 kg L34.3cm x W19.05cm x H27.94cm $$$
Olympia Mina Metal No 49mm No 3.1 kg L24cm x W17cm x H30cm $$$$
Cafelat Robot Metal No 58mm No 3.8 kg L16cm x W23cm x H30cm $$
The Argos Metal with wood accents No 58mm Yes 14 kg L36cm x W22cm x H45cm $$$$

Price Range Legend

  • $: Entry-level (up to $200)
  • $$: Mid-range ($200-$500)
  • $$$: High-end ($500-$1000)
  • $$$$: Premium ($1000+)

Important Consideration

To use these espresso makers, you'll need boiling water (an electric kettle is suggested) and a burr coffee grinder, suitable for whole-bean coffee, available in manual and electric versions.

Conclusion

Lever espresso machines bring a hands-on, engaging experience to brewing coffee, with both simplicity and control. They strip away the complexity of traditional espresso machines, allowing enthusiasts to focus on the art of making espresso. Whether you're looking for a portable option for travel or a stylish addition to your home kitchen, there's a manual espresso maker that fits your needs.

From the affordable and portable Flair Neo Flex to the professional-grade Flair 58, each of these top picks offers unique features that cater to different preferences and requirements. The Olympia Mina stands out for its Swiss craftsmanship and ease of use, while the Cafelat Robot impresses with its vintage-inspired design. The Argos, with its advanced technology and modular design, provides a modern take on the classic lever espresso machine.

No matter which model you choose, investing in a lever espresso machine means embracing a brewing method that rewards patience and skill with exceptional espresso.

Flair 58 - Lever Espresso Maker $740.00

Featured in this article

Flair 58 - Lever Espresso Maker

Maximize your at-home espresso quality with the professional-grade Flair 58 manual lever press. The 58mm portafilter and integrated temperature controller streamline your workflow and thermal management. The 2023 edition features thoughtful design upgrades, enhancing both functionality and aesthetics to unlock your espresso's full potential.