Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. I receive a small commission at no cost to you when you make a purchase using my link.
Manual espresso machines (also known as lever espresso machines) are a type of espresso making machine that is widely popular in home users especially because of their simplicity and ease of use. This type of espresso-maker stands out in its vintage metal appearance and is the first type of machine used to brew and filter coffee as according to some historical records, the first machine was made circa 1884.
A manual espresso machine consists mainly of 4-5 key parts: a steam pressure gauge, a boiler, a portafilter, and a manual level to manage extraction. Unlike automatic, semi-automatic, and capsule machines, there are no digital components included which automate the process but each part works synergistically with the other to yield a good espresso shot.
The beauty of manual espresso machines, contrary to home-based and professional automatic ones, is that they allow the home user to gain full control of their espresso shots with little experience. If you understand the fundamentals of producing espresso and wish to gain control over each shot traditionally, investing in a manual espresso machine is the way to go. With a bit of practice, you could be a great at-home barista.
Now, when it comes to purchasing the right espresso-making machine, there are a few things to take into consideration. Here is what you need to look out for when comparing different models to choose the right one:
WHAT TO CONSIDER WHEN LOOKING FOR A MANUAL ESPRESSO MACHINE
Spring Piston Vs. Direct Lever Machines
In spring piston machines, the lever is placed in an upright position when fixed whereas, in direct lever ones, the level is in a lower position when fixed. If you choose the first type, you gain more control over the pre-infusion and the time to pull off each shot. If you choose a direct lever one though, you’ll have to dedicate more time and effort to learn its process and pull off a good shot, but after some practice, you’ll be able to pull off stellar shots.
Level of preinfusion
Preinfusion actually refers to the time and manner the brewing water settles over the level of coffee inside the machine and is a major factor for influencing the taste and quality of each espresso shot. This feature is available both in direct lever espresso machines and spring piston machines in varied levels, and the overall result you’ll get depends on the boiling water temperature, the speed of each shot and the level of control you can place.
Portability and size
The size and structure of your manual espresso machine will also determine its portability. For, example if you plan on settling this to your kitchen for the years to come, investing in a bigger machine with a solid structure is the best choice. On the contrary, if you wish to enjoy your own espresso on the go in other places e.g. at your office, you may ideally get a smaller machine that is less heavy so you can easily carry it with its box from one place to another.
Some manual espresso machines are intended to last longer than others because of their material used and structure. In some older/vintage machine models, for instance, rusting and oxidation of the machine’s metal could be a problem over time. Therefore, if you plan on using this for the years to come, you may purchase something made of durable metal materials that are rust and corrosion resistant.
In terms of cost, most manual espresso machines intended for home use range from $50-300. The more vintage and heavy duty a machine is, the higher its cost will be, but in most cases, you can find a solid manual espresso machine for under $150 and with added features e.g. filter replacements or foam makers included in the kit.
Best Manual Espresso Machines For 2021
If you are overwhelmed by the number of manual espresso machine choices out there, here are our top five picks for 2021:
A traditional looking machine but with innovative and intuitive features that allow you to perform high-pressure brewing and good control over each shot completely manually without electricity or batteries.
ROK Espresso CG Key Features:
- Better and stronger pressure. Compared to previous models of the same manufacturer, this gem here will allow you to apply stronger pressure without actually putting too much manual force.
- Lightweight and portable structure. The machine weighs just 3.5 lbs and thanks to its compact design; you can easily carry this from one place to another and store it with ease (when not in use).
- Easy to use. The design of this machine is a no-brainer for new users as it’s pretty self-explanatory. You just apply pressure from the sides and adjust the piston optionally to control the shot’s pressure.
- Upgraded insulation. The pressure chamber is constructed of a BPA-free glass composite material that leads to better insulation that not only makes the machine more durable, but it also adds to its looks.
- Slip-resistant. Forget about machines that slip with the slightest manual movement. The sticky four rubber legs at the bottom of the machine’s base will keep it nice and fixed, so you don’t have to worry about any slips.
- Stainless steel portafilter. Thanks to its stainless steel portafilter, you’ll gain the freedom to choose and employ your favorite variety of freshly ground beans.
I particularly like this machine because it is sturdy yet very easy to use and will definitely last you for years, even if you produce more than 2 cups of espresso daily.
An incredible mini manual espresso maker that stands out in its modern appearance and ability to be easily carried on the go--it’s so small and lightweight that you can even fit in your bag and enjoy espresso instantly e.g. at home, camping, traveling, etc.
WACACO Nanopresso Key Features:
- Super pumping function. Comes packed with a new and revolutionary pumping system that generates solid pressure with no electricity and no batteries needed.
- Modern colorful appearance. Unlike other manual espresso machines who just look “boring” at best, this has a subtle and modern style and comes in 4 gorgeous colors to choose from: black, red, yellow, and orange.
- Very easy to operate. This is a piece of cake for beginners, you simply add your favorite ground coffee variety, add boiling water in the water tank, and then pump using medium force. That’s it. Preparing your own espresso couldn't be easier and faster.
- Ergonomic compact design. Due to its simple and incredibly lightweight design, you can easily carry it anywhere you go and not worry about occupying much space or weight.
- Extra and optional feature add-ons. If you want to make the most of this precious little device, you can easily add extra features on like a Nanopresso NS Adapter or an at home Barista Kit, available from the same manufacturer.
I personally love this because it’s so small and easy to use yet so powerful!! If you are on the go and don’t want to waste extra $ buying espresso from a coffee shop, this is the device to go for!
A 2-in-1 USA-manufactured coffee maker allowing you to prepare delicious hot American coffee and espresso in seconds minus the bitterness. A handy coffee making machine that is popular among new and experienced home users.
AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker Key Features:
- Brews coffee easily in ideal conditions. Aeropress allows you to easily prepare American or Espresso coffee while using an ideal temperature, full immersion, and a quick micro-filtering process which helps produce a great-tasting coffee with no grittiness.
- Lightweight, portable design. Weighing just 6.4 ounces and with a height of 11.8inches, this little device makes it easy for anyone to carry it on the go or while traveling e.g. camping, boating, or snowboarding.
- Makes up to 3 cups of coffee in 60 seconds. Have your buddies around? Unlike other machines which take more than a minute to prepare 2 or more cups of coffee, this one here can produce 3 cups in 60 cups or less.
- Made of solid BPA-free plastic compounds. The solid plastic compounds used are tested ever since 2009 to be phthalate and BPA-free so you don’t have to worry about any potential toxicity.
- Easy to clean up. Cleaning this up after each takes only a few seconds--you simply push the bumper the rest of the way in so the paper filter drops out and grounds. No need to wipe or wash in the dishwasher!
I personally find that this delivers great value for your buck--it costs just $29, and it really works as promised. I haven’t put this to the test of time, so not sure how long it will last but nonetheless, this is a good purchase option for newbies.
A sleek manual espresso maker that combines a modern, elegant appearance with traditional manual pressure. A solid device for home baristas who want to enjoy fine quality espresso minus the fuss.
Flair Espresso Maker Key Features:
- Solid design. Made of heavy-duty aluminum and stainless steel materials that last and produce a gorgeous press every single time with no shaking or slipping.
- Produces espresso of professional level. If you wish to produce a fine tasting shot that resembles the taste and quality you would get in a coffee shop, this is the device to purchase. This produced multidimensional flavor and aroma that is never over or under-brewed.
- Comes with a personalized travel case. Every Flair Espresso box comes with a handy custom travel case so you can easily and safely transfer it everywhere you go--even when traveling across the globe.
Even though this isn’t the most economical option out there, it’s really worth its price ($159) as the results are indeed on par with professional espresso makers but without putting much effort.
A stylish yet heavy-duty espresso maker machine for serious home baristas that wish to gain maximum control over each shot. If you have prior experience with other espresso coffee makers and looking for something stronger and sturdier, this is a great option.
La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola key features:
- Comes with 5 extra features. Aside from its piston lever, coffee and boiling water tank, and thermostats this also comes with a milk foamer, a coffee measuring spoon, and two stainless steel filter boxes so you can produce multiple specialty coffee types at once: a foamy espresso, affogatos, lattes, cappuccinos, and americanos.
- Robust pumping action. The machine offers you a robust pumping action that enables you to gain maximum control over parameters like the level of water that comes out, speed, and temperature which are all equally important for yielding a quality coffee shot.
- Extra long-lasting. Made of sturdy stainless steel material and heavy chrome plating which is intended to last you for as long as 30 years--yep some users report it lasts that long.
Despite its hefty price tag (it costs $859) you absolutely get your money’s worth as it lets you produce many different coffee types and it lasts forever--if like me your old espresso maker has died after just a few months, you better save up and buy this.
There you have it! 5 great options for different budgets and for new or experienced users that wish to enjoy their own cup of espresso at home or even on the go.
Do you have any manual espresso machine recommendations? If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below and we will try our best to help you out!
This post was originally published on July 10, 2019.