When you’re hunting for espresso machines, you have what seems like a minefield to navigate…
There’s so much choice and so many different varieties at your disposal it can be tough to determine what you really need.
That’s where we come in here at La Mano.
Our primary focus today is on highlighting the best manual espresso machines but what does that mean?
Well, an automatic espresso machine might be extremely convenient but that comes at the cost of a complete lack of control. If you’re looking to get hands-on and dial in the brewing method to your precise taste, you should opt for a manual model.
Manual espresso makers come in different variants. Small, portable presses that don’t call for any batteries or electricity make excellent travel companions. Lever-driven machines, on the other hand, work well in the home kitchen.
Today, then, we’ll guide you through a broad cross-section of the best options up for grabs. As always, our reviews are impartial and we’ll point out any flaws just as readily as the advantages. We want you to make the right decision for you based on facts.
We’ll also throw in a treasure trove of buying guidance so you can spend less time hunting for a serviceable machine and more time making coffee the way you want it.
So, if you want the possibility of making great espresso rather than something that’s merely drinkable, we can’t recommend strongly enough considering a manual approach to brewing.
If you’re impatient for the main event, here’s a snapshot of the leading benefits of the manual espresso machines on our shortlist…
I. Our Top Picks for Manual Espresso Machines
|Products & Features||Image & Price|
Flair Manual Espresso Press Our #1 Pick
AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker
La Pavoni Pro-Grade 16-Cup Espresso Machine
Wacaco Minipresso GR Portable Espresso Machine
La Pavoni PC-16 Professional Espresso Machine
Elektra Lever Espresso Machine
La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola 8-Cup Lever Espresso Machine
II. Things You Should Consider
OK, before we dive down into our full reviews of these manual presses and machines, we’ll give you some pointers on what you should consider on the buying trail.
Focus on these elements:
- Type of Espresso Maker
- Ease of Use
Type of Espresso Maker
First thing’s first, you should think closely about what type of manual espresso maker best gels with your needs.
An automatic or semi-automatic machine is a sure path to consistency but you won’t necessarily achieve excellence. While a semi-automatic allows for some manual input, a pure manual machine is entirely hand-operated.
The distinction you’ll need to make is whether you want a manual press or a manual machine. We provide plenty of options of each style so you can see which best suits.
The manual route offers you much more opportunity to customize the brewing process. You can manipulate every step of brewing and dial things in brilliantly. Once you’ve got your preferences fixed, you can roll out immaculate coffee every time with absolute ease.
The other key benefit of choosing this type of machine is the tactile and involved approach which is the polar opposite of the push-button ease of a single-serve machine.
So, all that remains is to decide which manual variant is the most suitable fit.
We typically don’t raise price as factor in most of the products we review. With manual espresso makers, however, there’s an enormous spread of prices from throwaway cheap to several thousands bucks.
If you consider your budget before you start weighing up different models, you’ll make your life easier by whittling down the options. After all, if you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful travel model, there’s not much point considering a weighty, costly, La Pavoni.
Think about budget and stick to it. Spend as much as you can comfortably afford without overextending yourself.
Ease of Use
Arguably the most vital element of your buying decision is to get a machine that’s easy enough for you to use.
Everyone is different in this regard. Think about your experience level and the amount of effort you’re
Although physically operating a lever-based machine isn’t hard, you will need a detailed knowledge of the brewing process if you’re seeking excellence.
Setting aside the fiddly nature of these machines in general, you should investigate the models on your shortlist fully to make sure you’ll be comfy with learning this new skill. Once mastered, you’ll never look back!
The size of manual espresso machines varies considerably.
Some models we explore today are expressly designed to be travel-friendly. Calling for no electricity and no batteries, you can take these dinky machines just about anywhere.
La Pavoni’s range, by contrast, are not travel models but some are still pretty compact.
All that counts here is establishing which size best gels with your intended use. Personalize your buying decision every step of the way and you’ll end up with a faithful addition to your kitchen which should last for years.
Durability and lifespan should be weighed against price so you can determine which manual machine or press offers best overall value for your needs.
Linked to this, you should think closely about how often you’ll be using your machine. If you only rack up the occasional espresso to serve with dinner, you won’t need to prioritize build quality as much as someone looking to make morning shots for the whole family every day.
We’ve drawn attention to any issues with lifespan in our reviews to make things easier for you.
While not a deal-breaker, you should check that the machine you’re looking at comes with enough accessories and attachments for your needs.
Most of these manual espresso makers give you everything you need to get started without a trip to the hardware store. Just make sure you have some great espresso beans and use a manual or electric grinder to blitz your beans right before brewing.
With all these elements in place, finding the right machine isn’t so tough.
Right, with that brief buying guide in place, it’s time to get down to business with our summary reviews of the leading models in this crowded space…
III. The 8 Best Manual and Lever Espresso Machines
1. Our #1 Pick: Flair Manual Espresso Press
Our standout winner and the best manual espresso maker you can find comes from Flair. What makes this striking press stand out, then?
Off the bat, the Flair is the perfect travel companion. Use this press anywhere with no need for electricity or batteries and throw everything in the nifty case when you’re done.
Delivering up to 10 BAR of pressure, you’ll generate tasty and rich espresso with that trademark crema in well under a minute. Extraction time comes in at 30 to 45 seconds so fine-tune within these parameters to taste.
This iteration is uprated so you’ll get an even stronger ally than ever. The base, post, and lever have all been improved over the outgoing model.
Thanks to the detachable brewing head, clean-up isn’t too time-consuming or tedious.
Get things started the right way using a burr grinder and blitz up those beans directly before brewing. Then get creative and hands-on to enjoy the espresso process in a more traditional way.
2. AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker
If you enjoy the manual process of making French press coffee but you’re not too keen on the silt and sediment that makes its way into your cup along with the bitterness, why not switch to a manual espresso press?
AeroPress is a super-compact unit that makes a wonderful travel machine or sits well in the home kitchen. You’ll get plenty of versatility with this unit.
The rapid and total immersion you get with this brewing method keeps bitterness to an absolute minimum while still generating a deep, rich espresso the Italians would be proud of. The best thing? You can enjoy this with no need for a costly and fiddly machine.
The only notable drawback is the fact pressure tends to weaken over time so bear this in mind and keep your expectations reasonable.
3. La Pavoni PPG-16 Pro-Grade 16-Cup Espresso Machine
La Pavoni has been producing espresso machine out of Milan for well over a century and this pro-grade PPG-16 brings all that expertise to the fore.
The chrome-plated brass ensures every guest will be heading straight over to the machine to see what it’s all about.
Despite the complex appearance, using this machine isn’t too tough once you get used to it. There’s a useful instructional DVD bundled so you can get started without standing on ceremony.
The oversized boiler allows you to make up to 16 shots before it needs topping up. Operation is as simple as pulling on some levers while the machine does the work for you.
A dual-frothing system expands your repertoire and allows you to make cappuccino and latte as well as espresso. Choose whether you want to pour one or two shots at a time then enjoy the spoils of first-class coffee.
4. Wacaco Minipresso GR Portable Espresso Machine
Another prodigious travel press up next from Wacaco. If the name isn’t the first brand that springs to mind, why not take a chance on something different?
Capable of delivering 8 BAR of pressure, you’ll get espresso that’s more than fit for purpose and also a joy to make.
As with many manual presses, you won’t need a power outlet and you won’t even need batteries. Throw in your preferred coffee and some off-boiling water and use the semi-automatic piston to produce a drinkable espresso even if you’re camping or in a hotel room on the other side of the world.
You’ll get an espresso cup and a scoop bundled giving you a pocket-friendly package that’s almost small enough to actually fit in your pocket. To ice the cake, this unit is priced within almost anyone’s budget so check out the Wacaco at your earliest convenience.
Note that a number of extra accessories are available for this model but you will need to buy them separately.
5. La Pavoni PC-16 Professional Espresso Machine
Another sterling entry from La Pavoni up next in the form of the PC-16. This machine is broadly similar to the model above but it’s finished in a less garish chrome and much more reasonably priced.
You’ll get the same 16-shot capacity from this generous boiler streamlining production. Cater for the whole family in the mornings without needing to constantly top up the tank.
Pouring single or double shots to taste, this machine combines the hands-on involvement of a manual extraction with the benefits of a machine. Why compromise when you can get the best of both worlds?
Grab the cappuccino attachment if you want to broaden your menu and incorporate longer, creamier coffees when you’re not in the mood for espresso.
As with all kit from La Pavoni, we’d suggest taking the time to watch the instructional DVD provided. This will minimize the learning curve and help you get started with ease.
6. ROK EspressoGC
Looking more like a wine corkscrew than a coffee machine, is this strange but attractive press any good?
Absolutely. Ease of use is uppermost but we’d advise diving deep into the manual so you can rack up your caffeine fix just the way you like it.
You get all the attachments required thrown in so you’ll be free to create crema-rich espresso right out the box without needing to buy any extras.
The previous model was somewhat lacking on the pressure front. ROK has ramped up the piston gasket on this iteration giving you a superior short shot.
Weighing a mere 3.5 pounds and standing just 11 inches tall, this press is a neat fit in small kitchens and works well as a portable press if you’re a frequent traveler looking for great coffee on the go.
Crowned by a class-leading 10-year warranty, you can buy with complete confidence and peace of mind without needing to blow the budget. This affordable and capable press is one of our favorites of the models we highlight today.
7. Elektra Lever Espresso Machine
As we edge to the end of our manual espresso machine reviews, we’ve got a mid-range offering from Elektra. Much more expensive than the cheaper raw manual models we look at but not in the same giddy league as La Pavoni for pricing, how does the Elektra slot in?
Well, you get a machine that looks the part finished in a classy chrome. You’ll get durability to match those good looks, too. Is it a case of form over function, though?
Certainly not. Every espresso machine stands or falls on the quality of its shots and you’ll enjoy a full-bodied espresso with no bitterness and a strong crema.
The lever mechanism helps you to get fully involved when you’re making coffee rather than just sitting back and pushing a few buttons. Dial things in to your liking then replicate your preferred shot with ease.
8. La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola 8-Cup Lever Espresso Machine
Last but absolutely not least is yet another stellar machine from the unsurpassable La Pavoni, this time to EPC-8, also known as Europiccola.
This model allows for up to 8 shots of espresso. While capacity is reduced, so is the overall sizing. You’ll get a compact machine ideal for apartments or cramped kitchens and you won’t need to take a hit on quality to achieve this reduction in dimensions.
The only real snag with this gem is the fact the steam generated for milk is rather limp. If you’re likely to make lots of long, creamy coffees, this might not be the best fit for you. If, on the other hand, you’re primarily looking to make espresso, you’re in luck.
1) What is a manual espresso machine?
Where automatic espresso machines give you complete convenience and automation at the push of a button, a manual alternative gives you far more control. You can take charge of the grind, the tamping, temperature, pressure, and extraction time with a manual machine. Whether you opt for a small manual press or a lever-driven machine, take full control and make coffee the artisanal way.
2) What grind size do I need for espresso?
You want a fine grind that’s not quite as powdery as Turkish coffee but coarser than the medium consistency you’d use for drip coffee. You should always grind your beans directly before brewing since beans spoil quickly when exposed to the elements. And after all, if you’re going to the time, trouble, and expense of making espresso manually, why leave anything to chance?
3) Does it matter what type of grinder I buy?
Yes. Blade grinders are cheaper but the blades crudely smash up the beans resulting in too much heat and friction. Consistency is also questionable. Instead, opt for a burr grinder, ideally with stainless steel or ceramic burrs. You’ll find you get much more consistent results with none of the degradation blade grinders bring about. Do yourself a favor and invest in a burr grinder.
4) What beans should I use for espresso?
Light, medium, and dark roast profiles reflect how long beans have been roasted for. For espresso, dark roasts work well. You can also find dedicated espresso beans. You should experiment until you find just what you’re looking for. Be prepared to make a few false turns and to try some beans you don’t like before stumbling on those that blow you away.
5) How much pressure is required to make authentic espresso?
The industry standard is 9 BAR of pressure. You should pay little attention to coffee machines marketed as having much higher pressure. It’s not a bad thing, it’s simply not necessary. None of the machines we review today are in that category, though.
6) Can I only make espresso with a manual espresso maker?
You could always use the shot of espresso to create a longer, creamier coffee. Many of the machines we review today also give you the option of creating steam for cappuccino and latte if you get the requisite attachment. If you’re looking for variety above all else, you should consider another type of machine. If you’re principally concerned with finding the ideal espresso brewing method, on the other hand, you’re in luck with a manual press or lever-driven machine.
7) Why do La Pavoni machines cost so much?
As with any industry, you’ll find upscale brands catering to aficionados and professionals. In the coffee space, that brand is La Pavoni. One of the early lights of the espresso industry, the company has been making espresso machines since the early 1900s. Along with that rich heritage, you also get equipment that’s precision-engineered, built to the highest standard, and with jaw-dropping good looks. All of this results in those stiff price tags. We would suggest, though, that if you can afford one of these costly gems, you’ll consider you’re getting great value rather than bemoaning the cost.
8) How can I get any pressure at all from a manual press?
You can achieve this with surprising ease. When you pull the lever on a manual press, the water is forced through your coffee grounds. It’s this that produces anywhere from 8 to 16 BAR of pressure and gives you the industry standard minimum pressure without needing to resort to a complex machine.
9) Are manual espresso makers difficult to clean?
Most are not, no. Look for models with removable brew heads and think about how much time you’re prepared to devote to clean-up. Many of the models we review today take very little time or trouble to keep in immaculate condition. Remember: the better you take care of your machine, the longer it will last.
10) How is it possible to call machines that need electricity “manual”?
Well, it’s the mechanism involving pulling a lever that gives these machines the manual classification. Manual presses allow you to get fully back to basics while a lever-driven machine offers similar control with a little helping hand. Choose the style that best meshes with your needs.
By now, you should have everything you need in place to quickly and easily find the right manual espresso maker for your kitchen.
If you take a step back before rushing in, you’ll soon discover that what first seems a complex decision is actually not so difficult.
Study our buying guide then compare the various options we’ve thrown your way and you should soon be drinking mouthwatering espresso the same as the Italians without needing to take out a bank loan.
Before you go, why not bookmark La Mano? We’re here to guide you throughout every step of the coffee brewing process. Check out our brewing tips right here. We’ll also bring you a broad selection of the finest products with something to suit all budgets.
Also, don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any queries or feedback. We love to hear from our readers so don’t be shy and drop us a line!