Moving from an automatic to a manual espresso machine can be a big step. Still, many people yearn for the delicious espresso shot and the ability to control every possible variable within a streamlined coffee workflow.
To make that leap easier, we’ve put together a list of the best manual espresso machines that address the common styles of manual espresso machines and the features you may need.
- Best Overall – Flair 58
- Best Electric Lever Machine – La Pavoni Professional
- Most portable – Wacaco Picopresso
Best Manual Espresso Coffee Maker: Our 7 Choices
Here is a breakdown of the seven best manual espresso coffee makers and who would benefit from their use.
1. Best Manual Lever Espresso Machine – Flair Espresso Maker Flair 58
The Flair Manual Espresso Maker Flair 58 is the product of coffee lovers at Flair Espresso, examining that coffee workflow and creating a machine that does each step precisely to industry standards. The longer handle helps to apply the appropriate amount of pressure, reducing strain on the arm.
An added electric heating system starts to preheat to one of three temperatures as soon as it’s plugged in, saving time and energy. You don’t need to preheat the components with hot water anymore.
The Flair 58 has a learning curve and can be a little awkward to preheat, load the puck, and then use it with the correct amount of pressure. With time and practice, the larger portafilter and commercial design allow back-to-back espresso shots that are as good as professionally-made espresso.
With an eye toward a simple workflow, these features make it the best manual espresso machine, even with a bit of a learning curve. Check out our Flair 58 review, you can check if this is the machine for you.
- The large 58mm portafilter is compatible with a wide range of grinders
- Available in two variants with one or two baskets
- Professional grade materials
- Minimal clean-up and maintenance
- Faster preparation than boiler machines
- It takes up quite a bit of counter space
- A steep learning curve, so it might not be perfect for beginners
2. Best Electric Lever Espresso Machine – La Pavoni Professional
Established in 1905, La Pavoni is one of the world’s oldest and best manual espresso machine makers, creating and shipping commercial-grade machines from Milan, Italy.
Their La Pavoni Professional is manufactured from sturdy chrome and pulls a great espresso shot. But the lever espresso machine’s workflow requires a bit of a learning curve.
The all-metal construction makes it durable, easy to clean, and an attractive lever espresso maker when it sits on a countertop. It’s not overly large either, and unlike other machines, the lever handle allows it to fit under a countertop. This all-metal design means you must run the valve at the top under cold water before adding more water to the boiler.
The La Pavoni Professional makes a fantastic everyday machine and is quick enough for small gatherings. The electric lever espresso maker’s 38-ounce boiler heats up quickly, and its large size means you can make up to 16 double shots of espresso, one after the other, before refilling the boiler.
A direct lever espresso machine like the La Pavoni Professional has a learning curve, even with the included manual and video guides that aim to help you pull a perfect shot. All in all, it’s consistent with a reliable pressure gauge.
- Takes up less counter space than other espresso machines
- Heats up quickly
- Durable and impressive metal construction
- Built-in steaming wand for cappuccino foam device
- Includes a manual and video guide for making level espressos
- The machine must cool down before refilling, it’s a bit hassle to prepare multiple shots
- Takes some time to master
3. Best for Hand Pump Machine – STARESSO Portable Espresso Machine Pro (Mirage)
- Portable and futuristic design
- 54 mm pressurized portable filter basket
- Pull double shot espresso within a mintue
- Great espresso with rich crema
- Beginner friendly and affordable
- Non-pressurize filter basket is not available
Hand-pump espresso machines, unlike manual or electric lever-style machines, use a hand-operated pump to force the water through the ground beans to create a shot of espresso.
The STARESSO Portable Espresso Machine Pro (Mirage) capitalizes on this technology, bringing it together in a small, portable form that requires no electricity.
Made with stainless steel inside and plastic on the outside, so the hot coffee doesn’t touch plastic, the machine pulls a double shot of espresso in seconds and can be quickly refilled. This quick turnaround means it works well as part of a small coffee cart for a home setup, camping, or working away from home.
The double shot, once it’s pulled, can be enjoyed straight from the espresso cup it is poured into that comes with the STARESSO machine. It produces a strong shot with thick crema. Creating this high-quality shot has almost no learning curve, and consistently good espresso is easy to do with this appliance.
Although it’s simple and highly portable, the STARESSO isn’t an excellent choice for large groups. We tried and tested this portable espresso maker, here is our hands-on review of the Staresso Mirage.
- Portable with no power source required
- Easy to use and clean
- Can be used with Nespresso pods
- Can be brewed with hot or cold water
- Drips after use
- Uses a pressurized filter basket instead of a non-pressurized one
4. Best Premium Option – Elektra S1 Microcasa Lever
The Elektra S1 Microcasa Lever is an impressive spring piston machine made from copper and bronze, giving it a retro look that polishes to a high shine. It packs a higher price tag but delivers a shot of espresso with class and more finesse than other machines.
It’s not just style, though. The machine boasts an intuitive workflow using a 1.8-liter boiler that can steam foam for cappuccino or pull shot after shot of espresso. It heats up quickly from room temperature and stays hot for long periods.
When operating the Microcasa Lever, there’s no need for guesswork. Pressing down the arm against the spring piston allows the hot water to escape and, in doing so, exerts the right amount of force every time.
Brewers who are looking for more than the La Pavoni Professional offers and can afford the higher price tag will enjoy the Elektra S1 Microcasa Lever’s quality. It also doesn’t have as steep of a learning curve as other machines. Pulling the first few shots takes a bit of effort, but with practice, it gets easier.
- Attractive retro design
- Spring inside allows for a more consistent press
- Large 61-ounce boiler
- Keeps temperatures consistent
- Includes a steam wand for frothing and heating water for Americanos
- The surface gets very hot during brewing
- Larger than traditional manual lever machines
5. Best for Durability – Rok Espresso Maker
Sleek, with an all-metal build and BPA-free glass pressure chamber, the Rok Espresso Maker is plastic-free, looks fantastic on the countertop, and makes high-quality espresso.
It may not be the premium level that other espresso machines are, but it has a solid build backed with a 10-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Despite lacking a boiler or frother, it can pull a single or double shot quickly, with between 5 and 10 bars of pressure. That’s enough pressure for even a light roast espresso with crema. Then it can be promptly reset with a tap of the basket and a rinse to remove the used grounds.
The workflow is very straightforward with Rok, just keep in mind that preheating the brew chamber and your portafilter is essential for consistent espresso shots.
This Rok product is highly customizable, and you can change the ground size, pressure, and water temperature. Although this presents a steep learning curve because you can change almost every setting, it still makes good espresso shots even when they’re not perfect.
With the Rok espresso maker, you’ll have fun trying out new things, and thanks to its durability, you won’t be afraid of accidentally breaking it.
It’s also portable since it doesn’t rely on anything electric and weighs just 3.5 lbs.
- Small carbon footprint
- 10-year warranty
- Wide and sturdy base
- Easy to press
- Requires preheating to get the best possible shot
6. Best for Portability – WACACO Picopresso Portable Espresso Maker
- Outstanding portability with ultra-compact design
- 20g capacity for a standard double shot espresso
- Straightforward workflow with thoughtful accessories
- Impressive espresso quality that is comparable with an expensive espresso machine
- Solid and premium design
- Require a coffee grinder that can grind for espresso
Having great espresso anywhere and anytime is a dream for many coffee lovers. But this dream requires a durable and portable espresso maker like the WACACO Picopresso Espresso Maker. The WACACO Picopresso is lightweight, weighing 0.77 lbs or 350 grams, and durable, even including a travel case for further protection. This is the smallest manual espresso maker that we’ve ever tested. Check our Picopresso review for more details.
After a few attempts and using ultra-fine espresso grounds, you can pull a double shot quickly and without any real struggle. The design allows you to pull a shot almost anywhere and doesn’t require a flat surface as many espresso makers do.
It’s durable too, and although it contains a few plastic parts, it’s more than capable of taking hot water and forcing it through the coffee grounds for a rich result. To help lengthen its durability, match it with a good burr grinder and only use as much pressure as you need.
While it’s one of the best portable espresso machines that doesn’t require electricity or batteries, it’s not as easy to clean as the larger machines.
Sometimes the water takes a while to come out, which might not be an issue if you’re only brewing espresso for yourself. This feature is a slight downside for a machine that lets you have an espresso up a mountain.
- Includes a travel case
- Fits a commercial-size basket
- Doesn’t require electricity or batteries
- Lightweight and portable
- Capable of single or double shots
- Can be challenging to get all the water out after use
- Requires dialing in for the best shot, not very forgiving to grind size
7. Easiest To Use – Cafelat Robot
The Cafelat Robot is a deceptive machine. It looks cute, and it doesn’t boast any of the add-ons like a boiler or pressure gauge, but in its simplicity, it can pull a shot of espresso that would rival the best manual espresso machines many times its price tag.
As well as pulling a great shot, the Robot is easy to clean and maintain. After brewing, the lever extends further to remove the extra water, allowing the used puck to come out without trouble.
The regular and pressurized baskets are well-made and can accommodate various grinds without getting stuck.
However,the Cafelat Robot shines in its ease of use. You can put coarser and pre-ground coffee into a filter basket, and with a little tweak for more difficult light roasts, successfully make any roast either a single or double shot.
Partially due to its lack of extras, this espresso machine has virtually no learning curve. Anyone can start using it immediately. Overall, it makes a great introduction to manual espresso machines and the world of espresso.
- Excellent value for money
- All-steel construction with no plastic parts
- Easy to use and clean
- Keeps a constant temperature, so there’s no need to preheat
- Requires quite a bit of strength to pull a shot
Manual Espresso Coffee Maker Buying Guide
Knowing what you need in manual espresso makers can help you find the perfect match.
Electric Boiler vs. Fully Manual
Both electric boilers and fully manual espresso machines have their benefits. Electric boilers are often heavier, sturdier, and usually more durable. The steam they produce can heat and help froth milk for coffee drinks.
Fully manual machines are highly customizable. The water must be boiled separately, so the end temperature is entirely in the brewer’s control. But many also require extra preheating for better extraction. Since they only brew espresso and nothing else, they’re often more portable and lightweight without needing electricity.
Lovers of cappuccinos and lattes who want to brew everything on one lever machine should consider an electric boiler. For those who want to touch every aspect of the espresso process, a fully manual machine puts all the control in your hand.
Spring, Direct, or Hand Press
The main types of manual espresso machines are:
- Spring piston
- Direct lever espresso machines
- Hand press style machines
Spring pistons and direct lever machines use a lever on the outside of the machine to trigger a press inside that forces the water through. The hand-press style is found in smaller, more portable machines.
The spring piston style does more work for you and delivers more even pressure, but it’s not as adjustable and is another component to pay for.
However, direct lever espresso machines and hand press machines are cheaper and, like fully manual machines, let the brewer adjust everything, including how quickly the pressure is released.
When it comes to the best manual espresso machines, look for all-metal or almost all-metal construction. Plastic is liable to break, and many consumers worry about exposure to plastic during brewing.
Every metal offers different benefits, but two of the most common are copper in premium models and stainless steel for a cost-effective and durable option.
Copper conducts heat effectively, keeping the temperature of the whole espresso maker at an even heat and often allowing skipping of the preheating stage after adding just off-boil water.
Stainless steel, on the other hand, isn’t as good of a conductor, but it resists limescale, reducing the need for frequent descaling and easier maintenance.
One of the most important criteria is the pressure the machine exerts on the ground beans while forcing the hot water through. This pressure is measured in bars (barometric pressure), and the perfect bar is 9.
While 9 bars is the amount to aim for, most manual espresso makers will hit between 7-11 bars of pressure. Some espresso machines can go even higher, some as high as 20, although nine is all needed for a rich, syrupy, and concentrated shot.
For smooth crema, you’ll need at least 7 bars of pressure. If a machine claims only to reach 7 bars and crema is a vital factor for you, it will provide that when brewing but might not have the same richness as an espresso maker that can reach 9 bars or higher.
Some lever machines come with a pressure gauge, so you have better control over the brewing pressure. In our testing, we found that it’s much easier to dial in with a pressure gauge. It’s highly recommended to get one if it doesn’t come with the product.
Cost is subjective, and everyone’s budgets are different. The most expensive espresso maker and the least expensive will not necessarily brew the best and worst shots, respectively.
Factors like materials, such as whether the machine is all copper or bronze, will inflate the cost, as will luxury brand names. If you’re on a budget and new to manual espresso machines, you don’t need to choose the most expensive and most intimidating machine.
Instead, look for one or two essential features, like electric versus fully manual or type of press, and choose a machine that can affordably fulfill that need. You can also purchase refurbished or second-hand espresso machines if you’re unsure what you need.
Also, look for machines with a warranty to save yourself money in the long run.
Fully manual espresso makers that don’t have a boiler or steam wand are some of the easiest to clean while still being portable. They are often smaller and take up less space on the countertop, meaning they will always be available for brewing. If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you can find more portable espresso makers in another guide.
More complicated electric coffee makers or large showpiece types are meant to be displayed. They’re works of art in addition to being coffee makers, but they can require complete disassembly for cleaning, which is time-consuming.
Mid-range espresso machines that look sleek and take up a little room on the counter can be the sweet spot that balances portability, ease of use, and easy cleaning.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions about manual and lever espresso machines.
Manual espresso coffee machines take time to maintain and require a little knowledge about what they need to stay in good shape. For example, removing limescale from inside boilers of electric machines and frequent cleanings can help to give the machine a long, productive life.
It’s not as easy as pressing a button on an automatic machine. A manual espresso coffee machine has more steps to a proper brew and takes more time and practice to let it live up to its full potential.
The ideal amount of bars of pressure is 9, but a good range to aim for is 7-11, which most manual espresso coffee machines are designed to reach.
Finding the best manual espresso machine is easy once you know what key features to look for. For example, if you’re looking for a high-quality manual espresso machine that’s still affordable, opt for a machine like the Flair Espresso Maker Flair 58 or the electric lever heavy-hitter La Pavoni Professional.
On the more affordable end, the Cafelat Robot has virtually no learning curve, making it the pick for easiest to use. Lastly, if you need a highly portable espresso maker, the WACACO Picopresso Portable Espresso Maker weighs in at under a pound, making it highly portable.