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What’s Best Manual Lever Espresso Maker?

Lever espresso machines are like supercars. They represent the best of the best in coffee gear design, feature outstanding specs, and perform unlike any other tool you’ve used before.

What’s more, manual espresso machine mastery is a rite of passage for many aspiring baristas and espresso enthusiasts. But first, you need the right tool for the job and here is our top pick that can help you become an espresso guru.

TOP PICK

Elektra S1C Microcasa

With a polished chrome finish and the ascending eagle headpiece, the Elektra S1C is designed to impress. At the same time, this model is perfectly suitable for home use and the spring piston lever will make your job a lot easier.

How to Pick the Best Manual Espresso Maker From all the options..

There are plenty of espresso makers to choose from, but it seems that you are keen on honing your espresso making expertise. The switch from an automatic espresso machine to a manual can be tricky because of the somewhat steep learning curve. Don’t let that intimidate you: here are some tips and tricks that can help you narrow down the choice.

The Learning Curve

As hinted, there’s some learning to do with a manual espresso maker. However, you are not likely to spend hours every day perfecting your skill. These are the things you should know to make your progress faster and easier.

Heat Concerns

You can actually see and touch the boiler on a lever espresso machine. But you shouldn’t do it because the unit gets really hot as the temperature builds up. This is why the boiler has a handle on the top cover. (1)

Water for espresso is heated to between 195°F and 205°F – higher inside the boiler. This can cause serious burns on contact with your skin.

Boiler Refill Precautions

The boiler is, of course, pressurized and you need to fill it up manually, so there are certain precautions. Before you refill it, the boiler needs to be depressurized. The things to look at are the sight glass and the pressure gauge.

Brewing Technique

Grind your beans and carefully tamp them into the portafilter basket. In general, you should use a heated portafilter with a manual espresso machine to help prevent under-extraction.

If you want to, you can do what’s called a fancy table tamper tamp where you do more than one tamp to gently knock it off the sides.

Place the portafilter (with the grind basket) in, but don’t lock it just yet. As you lock it in, pull the lever down – this applies to spring lever machines. On piston-operated machines, pull the lever up and hold it until you feel it latch into place. After about six seconds, you will see espresso dripping through the spout of the portafilter. This represents the pre-infusion portion of the espresso shot, an essential element to getting great extraction (2). Once you see this free-run espresso, it’s time to start the pull. On a spring lever machine, slowly release the lever to let the spring do its magic; on a piston machine, pull the lever down slowly for about 30 seconds.

PRO TIP: Measuring the yield of your shot is a great way to track your skill and help ensure consistent pulls.

After the extraction, don’t remove the portafilter right away. Let the machine depressurize a little to avoid the so-called sneeze and spray coffee all over the place. You can also pull the lever down a little as you remove it.

Pressure Required 

True Italian espresso is characterized by color and crema, and it has uniform bubbles. (3) Needless to say, pressure is one of the key elements that allow you to extract a shot worthy of a master barista.

a barista using one of the best manual lever espresso machines

At the start of the pull, the reservoir needs to be at a pressure of 9 bar. There is a plus or minus 1 bar leeway, but you need to hit roughly the right amount to avoid over or under extracting your coffee. But how do you ensure you get the right pressure?

First, you need to ensure your puck is well-tamped and control the extraction time. Tamping the puck is not that much of a problem, but getting the right extraction time takes some practice with a manual espresso machine. This is one reason we recommend measuring the yield, or weight of your espresso shot.

Then, there is the machine pressure calibration. Most models come preset at 10 bar pressure which gives you 9 bar at the group head. There might also be a valve on your machine that lets you calibrate it yourself. And again, you are aiming for about 10 bar at the gauge. (4)

Did you know? The La Pavoni Ideale was among the first commercially successful manual espresso machines in the early 20th century.

The Best Lever Espresso Machine – Reviews of Our Top Espresso Maker Picks

What is the Ferrari among lever espresso machines? Keep reading to find more about the models that made the cut. There is a manual coffee machine for every budget and style.

1. Elektra S1C Microcasa – Best Overall Lever Machine 

the elektra s1c microcasa on a flat surface

 Specifications: 

  • Size: 10” x 10” x 21”
  • Weight: 22 pounds
  • Material: Chrome
  • Pressure Gauge: Yes 

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The Elektra S1C Microcasa has all the bells and whistles you want from a manual espresso machine. From the outstanding chrome-plated design to the high-quality brass boiler, this model is engineered to provide years of reliable service.

You should know that this is a spring-piston espresso maker. This means you pull down on the lever and once you release it the extraction process begins. The unit also features an analog pressure gauge. When the needle gets in the green area, it’s time for an espresso shot.

As for the brass boiler, it holds 60 oz of water and delivers steam that’s dry enough for you to easily froth milk for your cappuccino or latte. The steam wand is traditionally styled with a precision-engineered nozzle for optimal performance.

The S1C also comes with a sight glass which tells you how much water is in the system. Bear in mind, the heating element on lever machines needs to be submerged at all times. Otherwise, you risk damaging the machine or the heater.

In terms of size, this Elektra is a medium machine and it measures 10” x 10” x 21” and weighs 22 pounds. But, compactness is probably the least of your concerns when you get such a unit. 

With a machine like this, you definitely want it front and center. Not crammed in between some cabinets.

BEST SUITED FOR: The espresso fan looking for a lever machine that’s easy to operate and built to last a lifetime.

2. La Pavoni Professional Copper & Brass – Best Springless Lever Espresso Machine

a copper and brass la pavoni professional manual espresso maker

Specifications: 

  • Size: 11.4” x 12.6” x 17.9”
  • Weight: 12.1 pounds
  • Material: Copper and Brass
  • Pressure Gauge: Yes

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Coming from one of the oldest manufacturers in the world, this La Pavoni is a force to be reckoned with. The copper and brass design is hard to miss and your guests are bound to love it. But there is more to this machine than meets the eye.

As said, this is a fully manual unit and there are no springs, pumps, or fancy electronics. This means that the whole extraction process is up to you, but you shouldn’t let this scare you. There is elegance in this kind of simplicity and the La Pavoni is pretty easy to use.

The 38oz boiler, which should be enough for about 16 double espressos, is the highlight of this great machine. It’s made of copper with a lacquer coating on top for easier maintenance and greater durability. Plus, the boiler’s interior is nickel-plated for better heat retention.

There is also a sight glass to see how much liquid is in the water tank. And you also get an analog pressure gauge to nail that 9 bar pressure required for a perfect espresso. The La Pavoni also has an internal temperature switch, so you don’t need to worry about it overheating.

The machine comes with an automatic and a standard steam wand which can be switched without any tools. Finally, you get an instructional video to start you off.

BEST SUITED FOR: Someone looking for a beautiful, fully manual machine to perfect your barista skills. This La Pavoni might be right up your alley.

3. La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola – Best Lever Machine for Beginners

La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola

The La Pavoni Europiccola has a good balance of price, features, and ease of use. As such, this is the perfect entry-level model that can help you hone your manual extraction skills.

What’s more, you get everything you need to start brewing right out of the box. The Europiccola has a measuring ladle, tamp, a screen holder and a screen. The most challenging part is to calibrate your grinder to get the ideal coffee grounds.

SEE ON AMAZON

Like all La Pavoni espresso machines, the EPC-8 is built like a tank and it looks like a Ferrari. The Europiccola features polished stainless steel construction, an internal thermostat, and a traditional steam wand. It’s worth noting that the wand is not the machine’s strongest suit and the frothing can be tricky.

Other than that, you shouldn’t experience any problems with this machine. The unit is piston-operated and you should quickly master the extraction time. As for the capacity, the water tank holds 20oz which is enough to get about eight single espresso shots.

The EPC-8 is also a good choice if you are strapped for space. The machine measures 7” x 11” x 12” and weighs 14 pounds.

BEST SUITED FOR: Anyone looking to make an easy transition from an automatic or a semi-automatic espresso maker.

Related: Best Espresso Machines Under $1000

4. La Pavoni PSW-16 Stradivari – Best 16-Cup Lever Machine

La Pavoni PSW-16 Stradivari

Specifications: 

  • Size: 4.5” x 12” x 16.2”
  • Weight: 15.6 pounds
  • Material: Stainless Steel
  • Pressure Gauge: Yes 

SEE ON AMAZON

Due to their outstanding design, La Pavoni machines can be recognized from a mile away. The PSW-16 Stradivari is no different, and it lives up to its legendary name.

The model in this review comes with a silver finish with wooden handles on the manual lever and valve knobs. If this is not your thing, you can get the same unit with a chrome finish and borosilicate handles and valve knobs. Aesthetics aside, great engineering and brewing capabilities are the main assets of this coffee maker.

The Stradivari has a 38oz brass boiler with nickel plating on the inside. There is also a dual frothing system to help you get the right cream for your cappuccino. Plus, an internal thermostat prevents overheating.

For some extra safety and convenience, the PSW-16 has a reset safety fuse and a recessed power switch. The machine also sports a mounted analog pressure gauge. Finally, you get a double spout portafilter, plus one and two-cup coffee baskets.

When it comes to size, this lever machine is a medium model and measures 4.5” x 12” x 16.2” and weighs 15.6 pounds.

BEST SUITED FOR: Someone looking for a machine with all the features to extract a perfect shot of espresso, and who has the budget to match.

5. Rok EspressoGC – Best Portable Manual Machine 

ROK EspressoGC

Specifications: 

  • Size: 5.1” x 8.6” x 11. 5”
  • Weight: 3.5 pounds
  • Material: Stainless Steel
  • Pressure Gauge: No 

SEE ON AMAZON

Standard manual espresso machines are heavy and impossible to lug around. But what if we tell you that there is a model that can fit any backpack or a bag? The Rok Espresso GC gives you exactly that and it comes with a proprietary carrying tin.

The EspressoGC has a dual lever design with a centrally positioned piston with an upgraded gasket for better pressure. You pull down on the levers with both hands to extract a shot of espresso. The machine is designed for one or two shots and you get a dual-spout attachment (5).

This Rok has stainless steel construction and a glass composite pressure chamber to keep the hot water temperature at the optimum level. There are rubber legs at the base to prevent slipping during brewing. What’s more, the manufacturer provides a 10-year warranty.

The specs are impressive, but the main trick lies in the compactness. The Rok measures 5.1” x 8.6” x 11.5” and it weighs 3.5 pounds. Even with the carrying tin and accessories, it’s still super-portable.

BEST SUITED FOR: Coffee connoisseurs on the go.

Related:

6. Flair Espresso Maker – Best Affordable Manual Press

Flair Espresso Maker

Specifications: 

  • Size: 3.25” x 9” x 12.5”
  • Weight: 5 pounds
  • Material: Stainless Steel/Aluminum
  • Pressure Gauge: No 

SEE ON AMAZON

The Flair Espresso Maker falls into the budget category, but you shouldn’t let the low price trick you. This machine has a lot of tricks up its sleeve, and is among the most portable on this list. What makes the Flair so special?

To begin with, this is the complete opposite of a super-automatic machine. There are no wires, plugs, or pumps; everything is done by hand and the manual lever puts you in charge of brewing. Also, you shouldn’t overlook the build quality.

The machine’s stand is made of aluminum and the brewing head is high-quality stainless steel. What’s more, you’d be hard-pressed to find another manual espresso machine with a detachable brewing head. Dimension-wise, the Flair measures 3.25” x 9” x 12.5” and weighs 5 pounds.

The weight might be in the upper range for press models, but the size is right on the money. The package includes a travel case, so you can easily take the Flair on the road.

BEST SUITED FOR: Those who want to get a taste of manual espresso brewing. It also works great as a secondary unit for travel or camping.

Related: Best Espresso Machines Under $200

7. Quickmill Andreja Premium – Best Manual Machine for Large Households

Quickmill Andreja Premium

Specifications: 

  • Size: 11.5” x 15.75” x 17.5”
  • Weight: 46 pounds
  • Material: Stainless Steel/Brass
  • Pressure Gauge: Yes

SEE ON AMAZON

This manual coffee machine has the capacity and features to satisfy an entire espresso-loving family, as well as the neighbors. With this in mind, it wouldn’t look out of place in a boutique coffee shop or a busy office.

Right off the bat, the separate steam wand and hot water nozzle are bound to grab everyone’s attention. This machine allows you to brew your espresso and froth milk at the same time. It doesn’t have double boilers, but the heat-exchanger boiler provides steam on demand.

The Quickmill Andreja has a 54.1oz water tank which you can easily refill without removal. If used for commercial purposes, the machine can be hooked to a water source with an upgrade. The vibratory pump is another major selling point for this machine.

It’s very silent and features brass ends that stay tight even after heavy use. The boiler is insulated, so there is no need to worry about heat distribution.

BEST SUITED FOR: Large households or busy offices. This machine is designed to cater to the needs of espresso-hungry coffee lovers.

The Bottom Line

Each model in this list was carefully selected, based on the most desirable characteristics a manual espresso machine could have. However, the Elektra S1C Microcasa stands out as the best of the bunch. If you factor in exceptional engineering, large water capacity, and ease of use, this model offers the best value for the money.

And let’s not forget, the S1C Microcasa is designed to be the centerpiece of the kitchen. The only tricky thing is finding a grinder that matches the Elektra’s Italian style.

FAQs

A manual espresso machine is an espresso maker that gives you complete control over the extraction process. These machines have a boiler, a pressure gauge, and a manual lever to control the brewing time and infusion.

There are two types of manual espresso machines – piston and spring-operated. These work a bit differently, but the final result is pretty much the same.

Yes, La Pavoni is good. The company is among the oldest espresso machine manufacturers with more than 100 years of tradition. Over the years, La Pavoni has perfected the manual espresso maker design and offers a huge selection of models.

You foam milk with the built-in steam wand. It’s best to pour cold fresh milk into a jug and insert the tip of the nozzle into the milk. You should also keep the wand close to the jug side to make a vortex.

Before you start the steaming process, don’t forget to run some steam into a fresh towel to clean the wand. This way you prevent impurities and milk residue from coming in contact with the fresh milk.

References
  1. Elert, G. (n.d.). Temperature of Steam in an Espresso Machine. Retrieved from https://hypertextbook.com/facts/2004/StaceyJohnson.shtml
  2. Rao, S. Prewetting: When to do it, when not to. (2016, October 28). Retrieved from https://www.scottrao.com/blog/prewetting-when-to-do-it-when-not-to
  3. The Certified Italian Espresso. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.espressoitaliano.org/en/The-Certified-Italian-Espresso.html
  4. Stamp, J. (2012, June 19). The Long History of the Espresso Machine. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-long-history-of-the-espresso-machine-126012814/
  5. Perfect Daily Grind (2016, August 30.) ROKPresso: A Video Guide. Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2016/08/rokpresso-video-guide-manual-espresso-makers/
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