Espressos are the foundation of some of the most popular coffee drinks – from creamy lates to strong macchiatos. The first espresso machine came out of Italy over 120 years ago and now there are dozens of different espresso drinks to choose from.
If you’ve ever seen an espresso being made, you probably noticed that huge, metallic machine spewing steam and water through a tiny nozzle. This has become the most standard way to make coffee today because it’s consistent and easy.
But this isn’t the only way to make espressos. Today there are many manual espresso makers that use a simple lever system to force water through a portafilter holding the coffee grounds. These lever espresso machines are usually the pride and joy of true coffee aficionados but can be mastered and enjoyed by anyone.
What To Look for in a Manual Espresso Machine:
Durability is an important factor when deciding which lever espresso machine to buy. Since these devices endure immense pressure and force every time a little cup of coffee is made, they need to be made out of strong materials.
Chrome and brass are the industry standards because they last long and suffer little from the wear and tear that comes from extended daily use. Some espresso presses also use aluminum and stainless steel as their main materials which translate to a lower price but also slightly less durability.
However, in the grand scheme of things, any of these materials will easily last decades if cared for and maintained properly.
When it comes to a manual espresso maker, you can find everything from big chunky presses that look like they came out of the 18th century to slick and modern ones that fit right into any minimalists home.
If you’re buying an espresso press for yourself, it’s important to consider the size. These machines usually aren’t very small (especially the higher-end models) so checking the dimensions of the unit and making sure you have enough space to store it is important.
If you’re considering getting someone a gift and looking for the best manual espresso machine as a gift (it really does make an incredible gift for coffee lovers), then form factor is much more important. Make sure the design of the tool suits the person you’re giving it to and they’ll surely thank you later.
There’s no denying that a manual espresso maker can be very expensive. On the lowest end of the scale, you’re probably going to end up spending in the $100-$200 range and on the higher end of the scale, it could run you back several thousand dollars.
The more budget-friendly options usually don’t have as many of the same features, like milk frothers, measuring cups and filters. So if you’re looking for a coffee maker with all the bells and whistles included in the box, expect to pay a little bit more.
While the cheaper units don’t usually come with useful features like milk frothers, this can actually work well for those that are looking for completely independent presses that don’t need to be connected to power outlets. However, you’ll need to buy some of these tools separately.
If all you’re looking for is the absolute cheapest manual espresso maker and aren’t too concerned about it being a lever based machine, maybe you should consider an Aeropress. These are tiny handheld espresso presses, that are portable, create consistent cups and are cheap.
Naturally, different espresso makers have different features. From advanced pressure gauges that indicate when the internal pressure is at the perfect level for extraction to more simple features like a rubber base to prevent slippage.
This list is laid out roughly from the most feature-packed home espresso makers at the top to the very simple two-feature espresso machines at the bottom.
Generally, the more advanced of a home espresso brewer you are the more features you’ll need and (probably) the more you’ll be willing to pay for those features.
Ease of Use
Every manual espresso maker comes with its own learning curve. Since each machine has a set of unique features, they all have varying levels of difficulty when it comes to mastering the use of the machine and replicating the perfect cup.
When making espresso using a manual espresso machine, there are many variables like tamping, lever pressure, grind level, roast level and the amount for extraction. Each one of these variables can effectively ruin your espresso cup if not done right. Therefore, its important to know that making espressos using a manual machine is a process of trial and error and may take time before perfected.
Our Top Lever Espresso Machines:
1. La Pavoni EPBB-8 Europiccola 8-Cup Lever Style Espresso Machine, Chrome Base
All steel with heavy chrome plating
Water reservoir (with indicator) holds up to 8 cups worth of water
Steam wand for milk-based coffee drinks
Can have a steep learning curve
Overview: Manufactured by one of the most distinguished companies in the world of coffee (specifically espresso machines), the Europicolla is a very highly regarded espresso press due to its timeless design, durability, reliability, and level of control.
The unit ships with a screen and accompanying screen holder, a tamper, measuring ladle and a cappuccino attachment. These are ideal for anyone looking to make milk-based espresso drinks without having to buy anything additional.
Built into the lever espresso machine are a boiling mechanism and a water reservoir and that is enough to hold eight 2oz cups worth of water ensuring proper use with a measuring gauge and safety valve. At around $870, this is considered a high-end unit but also has a more affordable plastic-base model.
Ideal for: This is a great espresso maker for anyone looking for something durable yet elegant unit that lets the user control everything from grind to pull speed to pressure.
2. Elektra – Microcasa a leva Espresso
Uses a spring piston which yields more consistent results
Large water capacity with internal boiler
Lever resistance can be high for some
No insulation on hot water chamber
Overview: The Elektra Microcasa is a beautifully designed product taking its inspiration from classic Italian espresso machine design. This lever espresso machine is small enough to fit in most kitchens but has a massive 1.8-liter capacity – enough for 18 espresso-sized cups of coffee.
What sets this manual espresso maker apart from most others on the market is its spring operated piston. This leads to more consistent and controlled pressure every time you hand pull the espresso maker. A pressure gauge shows the build-up of steam pressure in the boiler and indicates when to extract.
The steam pressure within the boiler also makes the detachable steam wand much more effective at frothing milk. Because of the high pressure and build-up of heat, this lever espresso machine comes with an overpressure valve and a thermal safety switch.
Ideal for: With its hefty price tag, the Elektra Microcasa is definitely reserved for the most serious of espresso-makers. It’s an ideal espresso maker for anyone looking to elevate their coffee-making experience while maintaining consistency and control.
3. La Pavoni PC-16 Professional Espresso Machine, Chrome Base
Large capacity 1.6L machine
Dual frothing steam wand
Reliability and durability issues
Overview: Another great machine by La Pavoni, the 16-cup Professional Espresso Machine is a 1.6-liter machine with a brass and chrome build.
This machine has a heating element with a built-in thermostat that maintains a consistent temperature. In addition to this, it’s a step up from the Europicolla because of its pressure gauge which can be used to create more consistent cups.
This unit also features a dual frothing steam wand. Milk can be frothed into microfoam to increase volume but can also be steamed to simply heat the milk and get a thin layer of foam on top. This is great for those who plan on making a wide range of drinks using this unit.
Issues some users of the PC-16 lever espresso machine experienced were durability and reliability issues. Water and steam leakages were the most commonly cited issue.
Ideal for: Anyone considering the Europicolla but looking for something a larger and more professional should definitely consider the PC-16. This unit even gives an added level of control and consistency by providing a pressure gauge and dual frothing wand.
4. ROK EspressoGC
No electricity needed
Simple, portable design
Difficult to reproduce great cups consistently
Overview: The ROK EspressoGC is a no-frills simple espresso lever press machine best suited for the entry-level home espresso drinker. All you have to do to extract the perfect espresso is pour in hot water and press down the two levers – which has actually proven challenging for some!
The ROK has a polished metal finish and a rubber base which keeps it from sliding on surfaces and is relatively small and light. It also comes with a tin container which makes portable and easier to carry around.
A major selling point of the ROK is that it doesn’t need to be connected to a power source. This also means that it doesn’t have a frother or a water heating component. Water must be boiled separately and a standalone frother would need to be used if you’re looking to make milk-based or other types of coffee drinks.
The main drawback with this lever-based espresso maker is that it doesn’t produce the high-end crema rich coffees as consistently as its more pricey competitors do. This is due to the lack of control of each of the variables (from the applied pressure to water temperature).
Ideal for: If you’re an entry-level barista or just looking to dip your toes in the world of espresso making, this is a good option. With its relatively low price tag and its easy to use lever system, it’s an all-round solid machine.
5. Flair Espresso Maker, Classic – Manual Press
Modern, minimalistic design
Consistently produces great coffee
Parts need to be disassembled after every brew
Overview: The ultra-modern flair espresso maker is a simple single-serving manual espresso maker that uses a pressurized lever system to extract coffee.
The Flairs stunning minimalist design sets it apart from most of the other industrial-looking lever espresso machines. It’s made from cast aluminum and stainless steel and has a completely detachable brewing head, making the cleaning process easier. It also comes with a padded carrying case and can be folded for improved portability.
Like the ROK, this machine is entirely manual, meaning it does not need to be connected to any power source. Again, this means that the Flair does not froth milk or heat water – both need to be done separately.
A drawback with this lever espresso machine is that it can be tedious to use. There are a few separate pieces that hold the coffee, hot water, and filter. These need to be removed and rinsed between every shot, which can be particularly difficult because of the high temperatures.
The quality of the coffee it produces has been compared to some automatic espresso machines that would normally cost hundreds of dollars. And at less than $150 that makes it quite a bargain!
Ideal for: This is a great little machine for someone looking for a simple, well designed manual espresso machine that is both cheap and relatively consistent.
With so many options on the market, choosing the best manual espresso machine can be a difficult task. Taking into consideration all of the factors and choosing the machine that best suits your needs should be the ultimate objective.
The more simple lever machines (like the ROK and Flair) are better suited for entry-level brewers, while advanced machines with pressure gauges and built-in steamers are ideal for veteran espresso brewers.
The cost of the best lever espresso machine usually determines the quality and consistency of the coffee it produces, the features it has and its durability. This doesn’t mean you can’t get great tasting coffee from any machines – it just means its harder.
The great thing about brewing your hot espresso using any of these lever espresso machines is that all of the control is in your hands. You have the opportunity to fine-tune every variable until you reach that perfect cup.
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