Best manual espresso machines in 2021
Even in the age of Apple Watch and self-driving cars, Swiss watchmakers and sports car manufacturers will never go out of business. We love our electronics and automation, but there's something magical about clever mechanisms and doing things by hand. That's why manual espresso makers are just as popular as their super-automatic cousins and even more desirable for foodies, bloggers, and self-taught baristas. Today we'll take you on a tour of our nine favorite devices, covering their pros and cons. We'll explain how espresso machine works and why some models cost ten times the price of others.
Brew yourself a cuppa and strap in because it's going to be a wild ride!
Who Choses Manual Espresso Machines?
It may sound outrageous, but any espresso addict can fall in love with a manual coffee maker. It's so ingenious and versatile, no automatic machine can ever compare.
Instead of listing every type of coffee drinker on the planet, let's go over the list of those who shouldn't buy a manual espresso press. It will not be a good fit for:
- Households with more than two coffee drinkers.
- Busy people who have no time to learn how to use an espresso machine.
- Coffee carts or cafes with high-traffic rush hours.
- Offices full of coffee addicts not known for their love of cleaning.
- Instant coffee lovers and Starbucks stans.
Cheap vs Expensive
Once you take a closer look at our top-9, you'll see they fall into two categories, price-wise. The cheaper models are usually under $200, and they have one thing in common–no built-in boiler. This means you'll have to stay close to a hot water source, be it a campfire or an electric kettle. Within this category, affordable machines rely heavily on plastic components that are lighter and less durable. More expensive models are mostly made of metal, so they should remain operational for years, if not decades. It's up to you to decide whether you want to replace a coffee maker every year.
The second category comprises espresso makers with price tags of $800 and above. These are usually Italian-made with a built-in boiler and boiler-related perks, such as a steam wand and a thermostat. Made of quality materials, such as stainless steel, copper, and brass, high-end models are a pleasure for the eyes as much as they are a treat for your taste buds. If you go with one of these coffee machines, look for models with overheat protection to prevent unfortunate accidents if you forget to top up the water tank. A spring piston lever is also a cool add-on for a manual espresso machine, though it may not be worth the extra expense.
What to Look For in a Manual Espresso Maker?
Now that you know the difference between cheap and expensive models, they have a few things in common that can make a world of difference when it comes to espresso flavor and crema quality.
Pressure should be the ultimate deciding factor. You won't get anything resembling an espresso if hot water pressure is under 6 bars. However, getting a machine that goes above 9 bars or all the way to 20 bars is even better. Higher pressure means water can be pushed through densely packed grounds extracting maximum flavor. As your hands generate pressure in a manual machine, levers can be a bit tough to operate, but the effort is worth it.
We've already mentioned materials among the factors affecting the price tag. And while the body made of plastic isn't such a bad idea, a plastic filter basket is a disgrace. Not only can it affect the flavor of your cuppa, but the filter is likely to fall apart fast. Stainless steel is the most appropriate choice for filter material.
As accessories can drive up the price, pay attention to the selection of add-ons included with each espresso maker. If you don't have a scoop, tamper, or filter baskets, getting them with your chosen machine is your best bet.
How Does an Espresso Machine Work?
Espresso is not your average cup of coffee because of the unique way it's brewed. Instead of steeping the grounds or filtering the water through them, an espresso machine pushes the hot water through a 'puck' of tamped grounds under high pressure. This process produces a thick and strong drink in a matter of seconds, and an espresso shot can then be drunk black or used as a base for dozens of coffee-based drinks.
Automatic machines rely on electric pumps to build the pressure of 6 to 20 bars necessary to pull a shot. Manual espresso makers use the same principle, but the pressure is generated by pushing (or pulling) a lever connected to a piston. The lever may be fully manual to push hot water directly through the grounds or supplemented with a spring that transfers the movement to the piston.
The cheapest hand espresso maker models don't even have a built-in boiler, so you need to supplement it from a kettle before pulling a shot. Pricier models come with boilers, thermostats, and other bells and whistles, like pressure gauges and steam wands.
The key takeaway here is that regardless of the looks and price tags, all espresso machines use the same physics laws to brew coffee. It's up to you to make most of them when faced with a lever machine.
Manual vs Automatic
Manual and automatic espresso machines have their devoted fans. Automatic models are unbeatable when it comes to speed and ease of use. Fill it with water and whole beans, and get a delicious cuppa at a press of a button; no need to pour over an espresso machine manual and experiment with settings. The trouble is, you have zero control over the automated brewing process, though it's usually good enough to produce a strong shot. However, automatic machines are notoriously hard to keep clean, and the abundance of parts and electronic components make them less durable than their manual counterparts.
Manual espresso machines can take weeks to master, but they provide you with the ultimate power over the taste of your cuppa. The pressure and speed of extraction can work miracles on any bean. Besides, their design is way less complicated than an automatic coffee maker, so there's less chance of failure, especially if you go for a non-electric model without a boiler. Manual models are easy to disassemble and clean out, so there's less chance of mold or clogging.
In the end, it comes down to a choice between durability and customization or speed and convenience.
Flair Espresso Maker Review
- Pressure gauge with an espresso target range
- Detachable brewing group for easy cleaning
- Price tag within an affordable range
- Trouble pulling more than one shot
- Consistent crema requires practice
The sleek and minimalist design was the first to draw our attention, and Flair did not disappoint. For one, it comes with a pressure gauge, so you'll know exactly when your efforts generate the six to nine bars perfect for pulling an espresso shot. The Pressure Kit includes a bottomless portafilter and a stainless steel tamper, so you'll have everything you need for your cuppa close at hand.
Another unbeatable advantage of this espresso maker is the removable brewing group that makes for effortless cleaning. Just be careful when removing it right after pulling a shot. The cylinder remains hot for a long time. Smart design solutions don't stop there. Flair comes with a sleek case that fits the machine and its parts comfortably, though you're unlikely to fit much else inside if you decide to take your espresso maker on a road trip.
Unlike other machines on this list, Flair doesn't come with a built-in boiler. It's great for keeping the weight and price down, but you need to stay close to a supply of hot water to be able to warm up the cylinder and hand press espresso. We still enjoy the simple design and sturdy materials, as well as a 5-year warranty for a stand and brewing head. With four color options to choose from, you're sure to find the espresso maker to fit your kitchen style, and it won't break the bank.
Find our complete Flair Espresso Maker review here.
- The powerful pump generates up to 15 bars of pressure
- Modular design is easy to use and clean
- Compatible with ground coffee and Nespresso pods
- Highly compact and portable
- Plastic parts may deteriorate under UV light
- Hot water source required
For such a tiny device, Staresso packs quite a punch generating up to 15 bars of pressure thanks to a clever pump design. And the best part is you don't have to learn the ropes or strain yourself. All it takes is a press of a piston to get a delicious cup of espresso with a flavorful body and plenty of crema. The machine fits up to 80 ml of hot water and holds up to 10 g of coffee grounds. It's also compatible with Nespresso pods, as long as you follow the coffee maker manual and punch the holes in the capsule before inserting it.
Staresso sure deserved the Reddot award in 2016 for its outstanding modular design. The coffee maker is super easy to put together for brewing and disassemble for cleaning. Besides, you can replace the broken parts without replacing the whole machine. Considering the body is made of ABS plastic, this perk might come in handy sooner rather than later, especially if you keep the machine close to a sunny window.
Judging by the comments, we are not the only ones in love with this ingenious coffee maker. For around $65, you get a machine that's as easy to operate as a Nespresso with an even better brew quality and the freedom to use your favorite single-origin beans. The one downside, if we can even call it that, is that Staresso needs you to stay in reach of a grinder to provide the espresso grind and a kettle for sourcing hot water.
Read our full Staresso review before buying.
La Pavoni PC-16 Review
- Makes 16 two-ounce espresso shots
- Gorgeous design with high-end materials
- There's a steamer for milk frothing
- Takes a while to heat water
- The steam wand is awkwardly placed
If you value finer things in life and have $1,200 to spare, getting this beauty for your kitchen is a no-brainer. Carefully designed by Italian engineers, this machine is a pleasure to behold and use. After all, there's something magical about controlling every tiny aspect of the brewing process instead of settling for super-automatic machines' factory default settings. Raise the wood-handled lever to infuse the grounds with hot water and lower it to extract every last ounce of flavor from your chosen beans.
Unlike most models on this list, La Pavoni PC-16 comes with a built-in boiler that has enough water for 16 espresso shots (2 oz), and you can even use the steam to froth the milk for your cappuccino or latte. Some buyers claim the steam wand is awkward to use, but that won't be a problem if you're not a huge fan of milk-based drinks.
We love the looks of this espresso maker, but we love the sturdy build even more. Most components are metal, copper, steel, or brass, covered with chrome for an even longer life expectancy. Some buyers claim they've had their machine for over a decade! Considering Italian craftsmanship and reliable materials used, it sure will last years without a hitch. Just make sure you don't let the water run out, and you're set for at least five years.
Check out our in-depth La Pavoni PC-16 review to learn more.
Handpresso HP WILD HYBRID Review
- Extracts coffee at 16 bars of pressure
- Compatible with ESE pods and ground coffee
- Sturdy and portable
- Only holds 7g of coffee
- Takes around 40 pumps to brew
If you're always on the go and want to enjoy quality coffee in dingy hotel rooms or wilderness, Handpresso is your best friend. This handheld device generates a whopping 16 bars of pressure, ideal for extracting the beans. It will take some elbow grease to pump the piston a few dozen times to get there, but you'll be all set even in the zombie apocalypse (as long as you find a way to boil some water and grind the beans into a fine powder).
The critical difference between the Wild Hybrid and the earlier Handpresso models is the ability to work with ground coffee and ESE pods alike. The latter are super easy to handle, while the former is a more finicky option that requires espresso grind and careful tamping. Otherwise, you'll be left with weak brown water instead of an espresso shot. Besides, the basket is so small, it can only fit 7 grams of coffee, so you need to make them count.
Handpresso costs around $125, which is on par with many no-boiler models on this list. It's a clever device and the most portable of the lot. However, the shots you get can never compare to those produced by a $1,000 machine. As long as your expectations are realistic, we're sure you'll enjoy your Handpresso. Learn more about in our detailed Handpresso HP WILD HYBRID review.
Wacaco Minipresso Review
- Extracts coffee at 8 bars of pressure
- Tiny and lightweight, perfect for travels
- Water tank for 70 ml and a larger one (120 ml) available
- Compatible with Nespresso Original pods
- Doesn't work with ground coffee or Nespresso Vertuo pods
- Takes more pumping than you'd expect
- Flimsy plastic filter instead of a metal one
If you don't expect Minipresso to replace your countertop espresso maker, you will love it. The tiny device is perfect for pulling shots while hiking or traveling, with nothing but a kettle and a Nespresso pod to help you. Note that this espresso maker doesn't work with ground beans or Nespresso Vertuo capsules; only Original pods will fit. Once you insert the capsule and fill up the tank with water, pump the piston a few times to get the pressure right and enjoy your delicious cuppa.
The standard tank fits only 70 ml of water, but there's a larger version (120 ml) you can buy separately to pull longer shots. Experienced users recommend you run hot water through the tank before brewing to heat it. Otherwise, you risk getting tepid espresso. It also seems that the manufacturer uses a plastic filter instead of a metal one, which is a bit problematic when you think about the machine's longevity.
Suppose you decide to add Minipresso to your espresso maker collection. In that case, you'll have to cough up $50 to $60, which isn't much, but adding accessories, like a case, barista towels, or a larger tank, can take your order total over $100. As long as you know what you're in for, Wacaco won't disappoint, though a Handpresso can be a more reliable and durable option.
Our complete Wacaco Minipresso review can be found here.
La Pavoni Professional Copper & Brass Review
- 38 oz brass boiler
- Manual and semi-automatic steam wands
- Water level and pressure gauges
- Overheat protection switch
- Steep learning curve
- Expensive for a manual espresso maker
Let's take a minute and enjoy this eye-candy of an espresso maker that's truly a Ferrari among manual machines. Its gorgeous copper body includes a 38-ounce boiler that's large enough for over a dozen double espressos. There's even a clear water level gauge to let you know when you need to top it up and an overheat protection switch if you miss your cue. The built-in manometer lets you choose the ideal pressure for pulling a shot and extracting every nuance of flavor from the grounds.
Pulling the lever up infuses the grounds with hot water, and pressing it down starts the brewing process. It may take a few tries to settle on the right extraction speed, and you can vary it to find the right one for every bean in your rotation. For latte and cappuccino lovers, this model includes a manual steam wand and a semi-automatic frother. The latter seems a bit redundant for a professional-grade maker, and it isn't dishwasher safe, so it may be more of a hassle to use than a manual steamer.
All these amazing features and Italian craftsmanship come at a price, and that price is around $1,400, making La Pavoni Professional the second most expensive manual espresso maker on our shortlist. Despite this, we feel it has won over our hearts, minds, and taste buds. If you are ready to invest in an espresso machine, we can't recommend La Pavoni enough. It's stylish, durable, and outstanding at producing mouth-watering espresso shots.
For a closer look at La Pavoni Professional, read our full review.
ROK Presso Manual Espresso Maker Review
- Easy setup and use
- 10-year warranty for metal parts
- Portafilter, scoop/tamp, and storage tin included
- Requires two hands and a lot of effort
- Not dishwasher safe
- No way to gauge the pressure generated
ROK might just be the most straightforward of espresso makers ever. It consists of barely a handful of parts and still produces delicious espresso with a rich crema baristas can kill for. All you need to do is scoop and tamp the grounds, fill the reservoir with hot water, and press the handles down. It does take some effort to pull a shot, but don't strain yourself if the levers are too hard to press down. Instead, choose a coarser grind and don't tamp the beans as tight.
While the espresso maker is tiny and streamlined, it comes with plenty of accessories to make your life easier. These include a portafilter, a storage tin, and a scoop that doubles as a tamp. The one thing ROK doesn't come with is a boiler, so you'll need a kettle on hand. The straightforward design is free of bells and whistles, so there's no way to tell the pressure you generate. You'll have to experiment until you find the right technique to pull a perfect shot.
For such a simple device, ROK sure isn't as cheap as we'd expected. You'll have to pay around $200 for a manual espresso maker, even if there are some automatic options in the same price range. At least, it comes with a lengthy warranty that spans 10 years for metal parts and 2 years for non-metal parts.
For more details, check out our ROK Espresso Maker review.
La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola Review
- Can brew two shots simultaneously
- 20 oz boiler for pulling shots and milk frothing
- All-steel body with a 3-layer chrome coating
- Steel filter baskets, scoop included
- Doesn't have a pressure gauge
- The manual lever can be finicky
One look at Europiccola is enough to know it's a machine built for true espresso enthusiasts. It's sturdy and fully functional with a 20 oz boiler that's enough for eight 2-ounce shots and enough steam to spare for frothing milk for your cappuccino or latte. There's even a double nozzle for brewing two shots at the same time. Though this machine is not the best choice for an office or a coffee cart, it's great for home baristas and entertaining guests.
It's worth mentioning this particular model doesn't come with a pressure gauge, even if there's a built-in thermostat for consistent temperature regulation. You can use a light indicator to identify the right moment to start brewing. Pull the lever down to generate pressure for extraction. The lever is fully manual without a spring, so it will take some time to learn the machine's ins and outs and get the hang of pulling a perfect shot.
At just under $900, this model is among the most expensive on our shortlist, but when you consider how long the machine will last, the price isn't that outrageous. While the warranty is only one year long, we've seen plenty of reviewers praising La Pavoni's durability five or ten years after purchase. Besides, even if some parts fail, it's super easy to find spares and replacements online for cheap and quick repairs.
More on that in our in-depth review of La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola.
Elektra Micro Casa Leva S1C Review
- Eye-catching classic design with an eagle on top
- Brass steam boiler holds 1.8 L of water
- Consistent extraction thanks to spring piston lever
- Pressure gauge with a clear green zone for pulling shots
- Steep learning curve
- The most expensive machine on this list
Do you think pulling shots is an art? If so, you're going to love this beauty by Elektra! They take the classic romantic design over the top with a mirror chrome finish and a soaring eagle for a cherry on top. Even the base isn't your usual rectangle, but a circle instead. It'll take your breath away and become an ultimate conversation topic for your guests for months to come. And the espresso it produces is just as delicious as you can imagine.
The spring piston lever is a genius addition to this espresso maker, as it takes over the extraction process and delivers consistent strength and crema every time. However, it's still up to you to find the right combination of the coffee grind and tamping to work with this machine. Watch Youtube tutorials and experiment until you find the right brewing parameters. You can even whip up a cappuccino or latte thanks to a large (1.8 liter) boiler that produces plenty of steam to froth the milk.
We'd add this beauty to our cart in a blink if it didn't cost over $1,600. Unfortunately, Italian quality craftsmanship comes with a steep price, and there's no way around it. You can get a super-automatic machine for the same money, but where's the fun in that?
Check out our Elektra Micro Casa Leva S1C review for more info on this model.
Summary. What Is the Best Manual Espresso Machine?
Choosing just one among the nine machines on this list was a challenge because they are all so different, and each is the best in its own right. Minipresso and Handpresso are unbeatable for travelers, while ROK is the simplest to operate. Still, when pressed, we named La Pavoni Professional Brass & Copper the best manual coffee maker for its gorgeous looks, outstanding shots, and high-quality materials and build that guarantee you'll stay a La Pavoni loyalist for years to come.
What’s the Best Pressure for Espresso?For such a straightforward question, there's no simple answer. While most sources and baristas agree on a range, there's rarely agreement regarding an exact number. Optimal pressure can be found between 6 and 20 bars. The higher the pressure, the easier the water will go through the tamped beans, and the more flavor you get. However, if the pressure isn't enough to push the water through the grounds, over-extraction will turn your cuppa into bitter, undrinkable swill. Luckily, with manual machines, all is in your hands, and you can experiment with tamping and pressure to your heart's delight.
What Is the Best Grind for Espresso?The finer, the better is the general rule of thumb. However, with manual machines, there's such a thing as too fine beans. When tamped tightly, they will require too much pressure that you won't be able to generate with your bare hands. So stick with the pre-ground beans suitable for espresso machines or ask your local roastery to set the grinder to the finest setting. If you decide to invest in a grinder, go with a burr model, as blade grinders will never produce the right grind.
Is a Manual Lever Espresso Machine Worth It?It sure is if you love espresso and have the time to experiment and perform a daily brewing ritual. However, if you have no time to play around with extraction speed and pressure, and you need your shot to be ready by the time you crawl out of bed in the morning, an automatic coffee maker is your best bet. Or you can have both if you want the best of two worlds and have the counter space to spare.
Are Lever Espresso Machines Better than Others?Lever machines are among the oldest and most reliable options, though air-pump-driven models have taken off recently. The former provide you with more control over extraction pressure and speed, but they are usually bulky and expensive. The latter, like Aeropress, Handpresso, and Minipresso, are easy to operate, small, and portable, but less suited for a true coffee gourmet looking to experiment with single-origin beans or blends.
Can I Use Regular Coffee Beans for Espresso?You can brew any beans in an espresso machine, but there are two important considerations to remember. First, you must use the fine (espresso) grind whether you choose pre-ground beans or grind them at home. A coarse grind will produce nothing but a weak and sour cuppa. Second, darker roasts usually taste better, as fast extraction retains the toasty notes and benefits from reduced acidity. Still, you can try to use your favorite light roast; it may taste just as delicious.