There is a bit of romance and mystery surrounding the manual espresso machine. These beautiful, and complex appliances are, in the minds of many coffee connoisseurs, the only way to make a truly great shot of espresso.
Not for the faint of heart, the manual espresso machine is a test in patience and care. Learning to use one of the machines takes time and practice.
Even looking at a manual espresso machine one gets the feeling that these machines require more brain power and skill than is required for any other type of espresso machine. With dials, knobs, levers, and spouts manual espresso machines are part appliance, part steampunk magic.
If you have decided that a manual espresso machine is a must-have for your coffee experience, there are plenty of great choices. The problem is figuring out which you really want to invest in. These machines are generally on the more expensive side, so it is important to find the right machine the first time around.
As you follow along with us, we will give you some helpful information about what you should look for when buying a manual espresso machine. We will end this article with our picks for the best manual espresso machines.
How to Choose the Best Manual Espresso Machine
Many would argue that a great cup of coffee is more about ingredients and skill than the quality of the coffee maker. This is not the case with manual espresso machines.
Finding the right machine to fit your needs is crucial to brewing a perfect shot of espresso, or making your favorite espresso drink. It is important that you carefully consider the important factors of a manual espresso machine so you can buy with certainty, knowing that you’ve picked a great machine that will allow you to make an amazing shot of espresso.
Types of Machines
There are a few different types of manual espresso machines. Each works a bit differently and each requires a different amount of skill and time to operate the machine. You will need to decide which option you prefer based on where and how you are going to use your manual espresso machine.
1. Direct Lever
The direct lever manual espresso machine comes in a wide variety of sizes and styles. There are some that are quite large, and there are some that are rather small. Direct lever machines utilize a lever in some arrangement to extract your espresso. The direct lever machine is really the original way to make espresso.
The term, “pulling a shot” literally refers to the process of pulling down on a lever to force hot water through espresso grounds. If you pick this type of espresso machine, be advised, they take a bit of power and strength to create enough pressure to pull a proper shot of espresso.
Direct lever machines really give you the best quality espresso, but they are more challenging to operate and take more time to figure out.
2. Spring Piston
Spring piston manual espresso makers also require you to use a lever to push water through your espresso grounds. Spring piston machines use a calibrated spring that is compressed with a lever.
When the lever is released, the spring forces water through the ground as it slowly releases. These machines are fairly easy to use and do not require the physical effort that a direct lever espresso machine needs.
Spring piston machines tend to require less of a learning period, and because the calibrated spring works for you, it is easier to get a consistent quality espresso.
Plunger-style manual espresso makers are not really machines. These use a simple plunger and passive pressure to force water through espresso grounds.
These are pretty simple espresso makers, and you will almost always find this style of operation on portable espresso makers. The problem with these espresso makers is that they aren’t consistent, and it is really hard to calibrate how strong you are and how fast you depress the plunger each time.
Typically, you will find manual espresso makers, especially higher-end machines, made from brass. Brass is the ideal material because it is corrosion-resistant and is not great for supporting bacterial growth.
However brass is expensive. The alternate material that you’ll find manual espresso machines made from is stainless steel. Like brass stainless steel doesn’t attract bacteria, and when maintained properly will not corrode.
Plunger and portable espresso machines may be made from plastic or lighter-weight materials. They are intended to be lightweight and portable.
You can find some small plunger espresso machines made from stainless steel, but they are more expensive than other small, plunger-style espresso makers.
Ease of Use
Full disclosure, some manual espresso machines are quite difficult to use. They require a lot of patience and a commitment to perfecting your technique for brewing coffee. This reputation is most often associated with direct lever machines. And this reputation comes with well-supported reasoning.
However, spring piston machines are easier to use, but still require a bit of patience to learn. With the spring piston espresso machine, you also don’t have to invest in a gym membership to operate your espresso machine. This is a selling feature for many people looking to move to a manual espresso machine.
The easiest of the manual espresso makers is the plunger style. Since these are made to be compact and portable, you will find that they take little time to extract a shot of espresso, and they require less physical power than a direct lever machine.
Manual espresso machines come in a wide range of sizes. There are some great espresso machines that are small enough for you to tuck into your backpack or desk drawer. On the other hand, some direct lever and spring piston machines can be quite large, depending on how they operate.
When you are thinking about purchasing a manual espresso machine you will need to carefully consider the size of your space in relation to the size of the espresso machine that you are pondering.
If the machine takes up most of your kitchen counter, it may not be the best choice for your kitchen, no matter how great the espresso is.
There are manual espresso machines that are intended to be portable and will fit nicely in a suitcase, camper, or camping gear totes. Most portable espresso makers will not require electricity, which is a great option if you are driving or off the grid.
There are some direct lever machines that are small and light enough to travel with. Some people just don’t want to leave home without their espresso. So, look for direct lever machines that are more compact and have fewer parts. This will reduce the weight and space required to bring your espresso machine on the road.
The range of prices that manual espresso machines come in, is astounding. These machines range from less than $100 to thousands of dollars. You will see that more complex machines tend to be more expensive. And if you purchase a machine made from brass, expect to pay even more.
It is really easy to buy a manual espresso machine that is well over your budget. Make sure that you carefully research machines and find one that fits your budget and gives you the features and brewing quality that you are looking for.
Ease of Cleaning
If you don’t want to spend a lot of time cleaning your manual espresso machine, you probably want to skip the more complex machines. These will require you to carefully clean each part between each use to avoid gumming up the spring or lever with coffee oils.
Simple machines are simple to clean. The simplest to clean are the portable plunger espresso makers. These have only a few parts, and most can be washed in the dishwasher.
Quick Overview: Our Top Picks for Best Manual Espresso Machine
|La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola||CHECK CURRENT PRICESee Customer Reviews|
|STARESSO Portable Coffee Maker||CHECK CURRENT PRICESee Customer Reviews|
|Rok Coffee Press GC||CHECK CURRENT PRICESee Customer Reviews|
|Flair Espresso Classic||CHECK CURRENT PRICESee Customer Reviews|
|WACACO Minipresso GR||CHECK CURRENT PRICESee Customer Reviews|
Our Top 5 Best Manual Espresso Machine
Now that you know what you should look for in a manual espresso machine, we offer our five top picks for the best manual espresso machines.
These machines range from more complicated lever-style machines to very simple-to-use portable options. We’ve avoided the more complex manual machines since they are really best suited for professional baristas.
1. La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola Espresso Machine
Though fairly compact, the La Pavoni Europiccola is a great example of a direct lever machine that is designed with both performance and style in mind. The Italians love great espresso, and La Pavoni has been making espresso machines in Italy for longer than many other companies.
The Europiccola is probably the most popular option from La Pavoni. It is crafted from heavy steel and chrome plated for a beautiful finish. The operation of this lever machine is fairly simple, but it still will take some time to learn the right timing and pressure to pull a perfect shot of espresso.
We like this machine because not only is it compact, and highly functional, but it also comes with one of the best steam wands on a manual espresso machine. This espresso machine makes a perfect microfoam, so you can also enjoy a cappuccino, macchiato, or cortado with just one appliance.
As the name suggests, the Europiccola is fairly small in size, so it is an ideal option if you have a small kitchen or want to have an espresso machine in your RV or camper.
- High-quality, long-lasting construction. This brand is made to last for years
- Lever allows you to pull your perfect espresso
- Comes with all of the accessories you need to make espresso
- Steam wand allows you to enjoy other espresso-based drinks
- One of the more expensive options on our list
- Lever machines take more time to figure out
- Only comes in a silver finish
2. STARESSO Portable Coffee Maker
The Staresso portable coffee maker is a great example of a plunger-style manual espresso machine. This espresso maker is intended to be used on the road, or off-road depending on your preference. It is a rugged espresso maker and is designed to be compact enough for a backpack and still stand up to a bit of wear and tear.
The Staresso espresso machine uses a patented plunger-style pump that can create up to 20 bars of pressure. This is equivalent to many full-size manual and semi-automatic espresso machines.
One of the highlights of this portable, manual espresso maker is that you can choose between ground coffee or coffee pods. The exchangeable filter canister is able to accommodate either option depending on how much convenience you are looking for. With either option, you get a really rich espresso complete with a beautiful layer of crema.
As far as portable espresso makers, the Staresso line is by far the best. The plunger pump is really the key to this espresso maker. It is hard to find many other durable and compact espresso makers that can boast 20 bars of pressure, without costing a ton of money.
- Makes perfect espresso with crema without using electricity or battery power
- Durable stainless steel construction is perfect for travel
- Plunger style pump is easy to use
- Reasonably priced
- Looks and feels like a portable espresso maker
- Takes some practice to get the right amount of pressure for a good espresso
3. Rok GC Espresso Coffee Press
For less than $250 the Rok GC espresso maker is a really great way to make a coffee house quality espresso without spending thousands of dollars. Though this espresso maker is considered to be ideal for beginners, many professional baristas love this easy-to-use manual espresso machine.
This espresso maker is a bit larger than some other options that do not require electricity. This espresso maker does require you to preheat the machine’s parts with hot water before brewing. Skipping this step will result in a cold cup of espresso.
Operationally this espresso machine is super easy to use. Fill the portafilter with grounds, add hot water to the reservoir, and slowly depress the handles. We like that this manual machine has two handles. This makes it a bit easier to create enough pressure for a good shot of espresso.
Some users complain that the espresso from this machine is weak. However, like with other manual espresso makers, you need to use good ingredients, and properly tamp your grounds or your coffee result will be subpar.
- Still small enough to be a portable espresso maker
- Made from good quality, durable materials
- Dual levers create more even pressure
- Does not require electricity for operation
- Preheating all the parts before making espresso is a pain
- You need to have small coffee cups to fit under the portafilter
4. Flair Espresso Maker – Classic
The Flair Classic espresso maker is a true, full-size lever espresso maker. This larger size espresso maker is designed to make a perfect shot of espresso without the use of electricity or a bunch of added features. The simplicity of this machine is really a selling point in our minds.
The Flair Classic is a very heavy-duty espresso maker. It is made with high-quality steel, so it is both durable, and stable. It comes with a bottomless portafilter so you can put larger-sized cups under the lever.
Because this espresso maker does not use electricity, you will need to preheat the portafilter and water reservoir. This is a bit of an annoyance. However, if you are committed to using a completely manual, lever-style espresso maker, this is something that you will find with every non-electric lever espresso maker.
This espresso maker will take you time to both learn and brew. To get a good espresso the lever must be pulled slowly. This process does take practice and will require you to have a bit of patience with the process. However, if you are willing to stick with it, the Flair Classic does make a great shot of espresso.
- Doesn’t require electricity to operate
- Brewing head is easy to remove and made from durable stainless steel
- Unique styling
- One of the easiest lever espresso makers to clean
- This espresso maker does require quite a bit of manpower
- The brewing cylinder gets really hot when you add hot water
- Does not make a full single shot of espresso
- This one requires a good amount of counter space
5. Wacaco Minipresso Portable Espresso Maker
Our final pick is the Minipresso from Wacaco. This portable espresso maker is designed with travel and portability in mind. Like the Staresso, this portable espresso maker uses a plunger-style pump to create pressure inside the canister.
The difference between the two is the amount of pressure that the mechanism can create. The Minipresso delivers 8 bars of pressure whereas the Staresso gives you 20.
That aside, the Minipresso is made from BPA-free, super-durable Tritan plastic. Not only is it a tough little espresso maker, but it is also very lightweight and compact. It is perfect for your backpack or suitcase.
The Minipresso comes with a small coffee scoop-tamper combo that allows you to perfectly prepare your grounds for brewing. When you get the hang of operating this small espresso maker, you’ll be impressed with the quality of your coffee, even when you are on the go.
- Great price at less than $60
- One of the most portable manual espresso makers on the market
- Comes with a handy tamper/scoop
- Tritan plastic construction makes this a very durable espresso maker
- Does not make a full 2-ounce shot of espresso
- It is not as easy to operate as some other plunger-style espresso makers
- You do need to have a source of hot water
The Best Manual Espresso Machine – Final Thoughts
A manual espresso maker is one of the best ways to enjoy your morning coffee at a slightly slower pace. These machines require you to slow down and really think about the experience of making your coffee. They are fun to use, even though many of the more complex options take a bit of time to learn.
Our top pick for the best manual espresso machine is a beautiful example of a countertop direct lever system.
The La Pavoni Europiccola is an attractive lever espresso maker. Not only does it give you a rich and robust espresso, but the steam wand also allows you to enjoy cappuccinos, cortados, and macchiatos. It is a delightful machine and one that will fit most budgets and kitchens.