Best Manual Espresso Machine: How To Use A Manual Espresso Machine

best manual espresso machine

The manual espresso machine has been around since 1884 (1), when it was patented by Angelo Moriondo, an inventor from Turin. The machine has been tweaked and perfected since then, and modern machines come in various sizes and shapes.

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Even though automatic espresso machines are out there, most coffee and espresso enthusiasts believe that you still get your best cup of espresso from the manual machine. So, do these belong on our top espresso machine list? Let's see!

Manual Espresso Machine

Manual espresso machines consist of a lever that pushes water over the grounds. Some will add a pressure gauge or a water reservoir to hold the water for more than one cup. There can also be a heating source. If the espresso machines don't have a heating element, you will have to add preheated water.

The lever controls the stream of water through the grounds. Though it sounds like a simple process, it can take a lot of practice to master the perfect cup. However, most agree that it is worth the learning curve. In fact, the lever machine is how most people learn how to make espresso without a machine.

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What is Manual Espresso

Espresso is a very concentrated form of coffee made when you push pressurized heated water through coffee grounds. Manual espresso machines are also known as a lever espresso machine. It puts you in control of creating every aspect of the shot. 

With a manual machine, you put the water in, let it heat up, and when you decide it is ready, you pull the lever and shoot the water over the coffee. You make the pull, so you choose how much water is run over the beans at your specified temperature.

The type of manual machine can affect the espresso. There is the direct lever kind or spring piston machine kind. Spring piston machines will rest in the up position, direct lever rest in the down position. 

A direct lever allows you to control your water pressure more, the spring piston lever is slightly easier to use, but you also lose some control.

Best Manual Espresso Machine

Now that you know how the manual espresso machine came about, let's take a look at our top 5 manual espresso machine recommendations.

1. Flair Espresso Maker

flair espresso maker

The Flair espresso maker was developed for people that want to make espresso an experience. The unit is a sleek machine built to last with tough stainless steel and cast aluminum. The brewing heads are removable, so cleaning this unit is a breeze. 

The company wanted manual machines that gave you exactly what you needed for a cup of espresso. You are the only source of power to this unit, so it never has to be plugged in or charged. You add water right from a boil and pull the lever to deliver a quality cup of espresso every time.

The Flair comes from the idea that making espresso is an art form. They want you to enjoy every aspect of your drink, from creation to consumption. People love how simplistic the unit is. It was made for one thing, and it does that one thing well.

The simplicity of this product makes it very durable. The removable brewing heads have a five-year warranty, so you will be able to use this product for a while.  

The Flair is easily portable and only weighs five pounds. When you want to take it with you, it comes with its own padded carrying case, so you can enjoy your manual lever espresso wherever you may find yourself during the day. 

On the downside, this kind of unit doesn't heat water. To use it, you have to find a way to heat your water. It also has a lot of little pieces to put together, which can lead to problems, especially if you are in even a slight hurry.

These lever machines are made to help you enjoy the whole experience of making espresso. You can make the entire activity an art form. If you don't mind sometimes having to play around with the fit of some pieces, this is a handy manual espresso maker. 

2. The NEO Lever Espresso Machine

The NEO Lever Espresso Machine

The Neo was made for people that want to enjoy a cup of manual lever espresso but haven't become a barista at the pull. This simple unit has a filter that helps control the water. This flow control means that you don't have to worry about the pull or how fine the grounds are. 

These lever machines' design is very similar to the signature Flair espresso makers, with the main difference being the flow-control portafilter. It is made of cast aluminum and stainless steel. It has the same removable brewing heads for easy cleaning. 

It is still lightweight and portable, weighing in at only five pounds. It doesn't need electricity to function so you can use it anywhere as long as hot water is available. The lack of a heating element does add an extra step to the process. This model doesn't have a padded travel case. 

One of the biggest problems with this maker is that the ease of use means losing some of your control in the brewing process. Long time espresso users or people who like the control manual offers would not be happy with this unit. 

These lever machines are easy to use. If you are new to the hobby or don't want to fiddle with grinding the beans fine enough, this is a very reliable option. However, if you are a barista or want to play with and perfect your espresso skills, this unit will be too simplistic for you. 

3. La Pavoni 8-Cup Lever Style Espresso Machine

La Pavoni 8-Cup Lever Style Espresso Machine

La Pavoni created this espresso maker small and compact enough to fit in any kitchen easily. It gives an antique look, but it comes with the features and benefits you want in your lever espresso machines. It is made with durable steel under beautiful chrome plating. 

The manual machine comes with a heating element and an automatic milk foamer with a steam wand that can help you make many high-quality drinks that you enjoy. Everything to make your favorite espresso is built into this unit. 

With the La Pavoni, you get plenty of additional features. These include a tamper, two filter baskets, a measuring spoon, and a cappuccino attachment. These will help you make many of the drinks you might want to try.

You can make two cups of espresso at one time, and you can create up to eight total cups from the 20-ounce reservoir. The heating element can heat up quickly, letting you make your espresso fast with just a pull of the lever. 

The drawbacks to this lever machine are that some people have complained that it can be challenging to use, especially if you aren't well versed in espresso making. Some also complain that the steamer is slightly lower in temperature, making the milk drinks a little less foamy.

If you are new to making your espresso manually or focusing on milk-based drinks, this may not be the machine for you. However, if you want a very versatile unit that allows you to make your whole espresso drink, this is a very helpful option. 

4. La Pavoni 16-Cup Espresso Machine

La Pavoni 16-Cup Espresso Machine

La Pavoni makes manual machines that would look right at home in a coffee shop at the turn of the 20th century. The unit is made of brass that is triple chrome plated. The handles are solid rosewood. It is an elegant model that looks good, even when not in use. 

This lever machine does have a heating element, which means that it has to be plugged in. Everything you need to make a shot of espresso is built into this unit, and there are even additions for making other coffee house style drinks.

The La Pavoni has features like a steam wand for making milk-based espresso drinks. It also has a cappuccino attachment. With that, you can add the air to your milk to get a fluffy and fun experience with all the different drinks you want to make. 

The pressure gauge on this unit lets you know exactly how much pressure the press and steamer are producing. This information gives you more control over the whole process and is one less factor left to chance. 

You can make 16 cups of espresso with this maker's 38-ounce capacity. That, combined with the two cup portafilter, allows you to make a lot of espressos quickly while only waiting for the unit to heat up once. 

The machine gives you a lot of freedom to make your espresso, which means there is a lot of room to learn when using it. One of the biggest complaints of this unit is the steaming wand placement. If you are not careful while using it, you may get burned. 

The La Pavoni is a versatile espresso machine. It can make a lot of espressos on a single fill-up. You gain a lot of control with this unit, which means there might be a bit of a learning curve to pull perfect espresso shots, but you can have fun while learning. 

5. STARESSO Portable Espresso Machine

STARESSO Portable Espresso Machine

The Staresso portable espresso machine is different from every other machine on this list because it is a pump espresso machine instead of a lever machine. This change in design does allow this unit to be the most portable option for making espresso shots. 

It weighs about a pound, and you place the cup directly into the set up of this machine so that it doesn't slip or slide. The whole unit is extremely compact. Even the pump handle retracts so it can pack away with ease.

This unit doesn't have a heating element, so it doesn't need to be plugged in. However, you will need to have some way of adding heated water. You can also make cold brew espresso with this unit, so you may want to experiment with your options. 

You can add air to your milk easily with this machine. You pour your milk in and press the pump. It doesn't add heat, but it does add air to the milk making it frothy and perfect for your milk-based drinks. 

This maker isn't a lever machine. It uses a different mechanic for making your espresso, which means that the learning curve can be very steep, even for seasoned espresso makers. The curve will be much less noticeable if it is your first lever espresso machine. 

If you are looking for a super portable espresso maker and don't mind learning a slightly different shot method, this is a useful option. The lack of a heating element does add an extra step, but the opportunity to make cold brew helps negate that problem. 

How to Use a Manual Espresso Machine

how to use a manual espresso machine

To use lever espresso machines, you will have to follow a few easy steps. 

1. Prepare the espresso machine

Start by filling the water tank and turning on the heating element. Once that is underway, you will want to set up the grounds. Some say that for best results, you should preheat both your brewing head and cup. Preheating involves pouring in hot water, letting it sit for a moment then pouring it out.

2. Grind the coffee

There are a few ways you can get the grounds. You can either buy pre-ground coffee or you can grind your own whole coffee beans. If you buy ground, make sure it is espresso grounds which will be very fine. They have to be much finer than your normal ground coffee so that the water can pass through them quickly enough. 

If you aren't sure how fine to grind the coffee beans, it is usually about as fine as sugar, if not a little finer. The finer the coffee grounds, the better your shots of espresso will taste, so it is essential to get the grounds just right. Even an experienced barista can have trouble with this.

You may want to get a good coffee grinder for your espresso. We strongly recommend a burr coffee grinder. You will get a more consistent and finer grind from a burr grinder.

3. Prepare and tamp the coffee

Once you fill the portafilter, you will want to tamp it or pat down the coffee. You want it to be loose enough to get hot water all the way through but not loose enough for the water to pass through too quickly which will under extract the shot of espresso.

The right tamper on the coffee grounds should take about 30 pounds of pressure, or one decent press down. Next, tap it on the counter and press it again. You will want a solid and firm press, but you don't want to strain on this step. 

4. Prime the pump

Place the portafilter in the machine, and you're ready to pull the manual lever. This step is where the style of lever comes into play. On direct lever machines, you have to pull the lever up to prime it. Some like to double prime it by doing a full pull up, then down a little, and back up. 

5. Pull the espresso shot

Press the lever down slow and steady to run the water over the grounds. With proper pressure for espresso, you should see a steady stream on each side. With a spring-piston machine, you pull the lever down and release it. Then wait as the espresso comes out. The lever returns to the up position on its own. 

You can see how you gain a little more control with the direct lever options, but spring-piston can still give a great cup of espresso. The goal is to make the perfect espresso. One key to getting consistent espresso every time is to replicate your process as close as you can. 

6. Enjoy

Finally, and this is the most crucial part of using the best manual espresso machines, Enjoy. 

Lever Espresso Machine Final Verdict

manual lever espresso

Using a manual espresso maker is not something you want to do if speed is the top motivation behind getting your espresso shot. It is an art form to make the perfect shot of espresso so it can take longer. If you have the time and the passion, it is the best way to make espresso.

The basics of the best manual espresso machines are very simple. All it needs to have is a pump to push water over coffee grounds. Machines can add many other features to help make the experience easier and more customizable, but you can make the espresso if you have the pump.

Picking the right manual espresso maker is going to depend on how you want to make your shot. Do you want a unit that offers everything to make the espresso and other coffee house drinks, or do you just need the basics to pump out high-quality espresso? 

Do you want to control every aspect, or are you ok with a little bit of help to make sure you get a good cup? With full control, you have the chance to make amazing shots of espresso, but you can also get crummy ones. With help, you get a good cup every time, but will it ever be amazing? 

Once you answer these questions, you will find the manual espresso machine that will work the best for you. Once you pick out your machine, you can start learning how to make the best espresso shot you can. Enjoy the process and the espresso.

Our Top Choice - Flair Espresso Maker


(1) Smithsonian

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Parker Russell is a coffee professional and the founder of Black Ink Coffee. As an expert in the field of coffee roasting, cupping (professional Q-Grader) and brewing, Parker has established Black Ink as brand that fuels the grind of dreamers.