The 8 Best Manual Espresso Machines And How To Use Them

manual espresso machine being used at hometo make espresso shots

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The lever espresso machine is an aesthetic piece of art.

You can get convenience, easy operation, and modernization with semi-, fully-, and super-automatic features, but the true ecstasy of being a professional, authentic barista lies with manual espresso brewers.

With a manual espresso machine, you are the pilot, the navigator, the instructor, and the controller of your personalized coffee. 

The really cool aspect is how today’s models still inherit the same design and construction of the first ever-made lever machine; only the present-day models are a smaller version of what we had in the 50s. 

The very first model was more significant and reached a height of 5 feet (approx). The present-day model of manual espresso machines is a handy tool and only 1-2 feet tall. 

This article is a detailed tour of eight aesthetically-pleasing manual espresso machines with all the possible pros and cons to letting you decide which one is for you. 

Prices and images pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

What is a Lever Espresso Machine?

The exclusive feature of a manual espresso machine is its variety of providing the users control over the pressure.

Unlike automatics that use no-variant 9-Bar pressure and low pre-infusion, manual devices allow you to decide and apply pressure variations.

With this machine, you determine the pre-infusion, pre-infusion period, extraction pressure, extract pressure period, double shot extraction pressure, double shot extraction pressure time. 

Not only this, they allow you to conduct the complete brewing process except for heating the water and the temperature. 

You grind the beans manually and separately, either by a manual or electric grinder. You dose, tamp, and locate the portafilter manually. Then, you use the piston to extract your espresso; your way. 

They also come with a beautiful steaming wand to create amazing microfoam and frothed milk. 

The two types of manual espresso machines: spring-piston and direct lever machines, further classify your manual performance. 

With a direct lever machine, the absolute pressure is in your hand. The piston lacks a spring to control and coordinate the pressure. Thus, you manually apply and release the tension. 

Direct lever devices are more complicated than spring-piston because it demands precision, correct timing, correct pressure to brew and extract the perfect shots. 

On the other hand, spring-piston espresso machines direct you throughout the brewing process. With this machine, you and the spring together apply and release the pressure to extract rich-flavored crema. 

Close-up of shiny wood and still lever espresso machine. Selective focus.

Why use a lever espresso machine?

These machines are also called Manual and Piston-driven (previously, these were called steam espresso machines because steam was used as the pressure factor)

Why would you purchase a manual when automatics are here to provide you everything from convenience to affordability, perfect brews, crema, time, and modernization. 

The answer is simple and can highly depend on the preferred way of life. Some individuals prefer authenticity and artisan aspects of life over convenience and affordability. 

Another reason why people prefer these machines is the manual availability of pressure and power over the complete espresso machine and thereby the espresso shots. 

Control

The pressure is the leading force while extracting espresso shots. Once you have chosen the correct roasted beans, have them finely ground, dosed, and tamped them, the end-game depends on the pressure which is in YOUR HAND!

The exact pressure and extraction period can forgive a lousy grind, a bad tamp, and bad beans because, with the right amount of manual pressure, you can change the strength of the coffee (less pressure for extra fine coffee and more pressure for coarse coffee ground) 

These delicate details allow you to brew the most authentic and ancient cup of espresso.

You are the one that opens the junction for the water to reach the coffee container. You are the one that allows the water to meet coffee ground and pre-infuse; the pre-infusion period is also in your hand, and so is the extraction time. 

Artisanal style

The concept hasn’t been filtered down by modernization. They still hold the old-school prototype, mechanism, and authenticity. 

Manual espresso machines still treasure the old, beautiful design, not to kill its aesthetics. 

They come in many shapes and sizes with beautiful brass/stainless steel/aluminum bodies, attached with a side-display pressure gauge to complement its exclusive exterior and interior.

Lever espresso machines are a beautiful entanglement of classy metals, especially brass, cylindrical transparent glass to exhibit water’s volume, wooden piston handles, and wooden portafilter handles. 

They offer big screws to hold back and release the steam. The body is precise and content with enough capacity for the boiler and the drip tray. 

So, they are not merely a showpiece on your kitchen counter; they are equally functioning, conceptual, and personally designed for a warm evening and cold lonely mornings. 

Of course, the barista-feel this machine gives away is unmatched. You actually feel and hear the whole process and witness it personally, more intimately. 

1. Elektra S1C

With a beautiful brass exterior, wooden piston, a pressure gauge, a glass water window, and a stainless-steel wand, Elecktra is a compact, spring-piston model. 

Unlike direct lever espresso machines, Elektra uses human-power along with the spring to exert pressure. Its piston’s resting position is upright, and the pressure is applied when you pull down the handle.

Elektra is more forgiving in terms of pressure application, thanks to the spring. It will expect pressure, but pulling a shot won’t be as severe. 

Also, comparatively, Elektra automatically releases the pressure slowly after the shot is extracted without manual support. 

Elektra offers one of the most prominent brass boilers with a capacity of 1.8 liters. This boiler has a beautiful eagle (made of brass) cap. This eagle is Elektra’s logo, and they do a beautiful job of displaying it on the top of the boilers. 

Pros

  • There’s a heating warning light to display when the machine is hot to pull the shot. 
  • Boiler pressure relief is present inside the cap to protect you from direct steam. 
  • The water boiler is also made of brass and delivers dry steam to microfoam the milk. 
  • The machine comes as it is. You only need to attach the steaming wand. 
  • The steaming rod has a separate knob (Screw) to open the steaming valves. 
  • Accessories included are tamper, scoop, one-shot, and two-shot baskets. 
  • Entirely made of brass. 
  • Spring-piston
  • It comes with a pressure gauge and an approx pressure measurement to convey the right pressure.
  • Hand-crafted

Cons

  • The device’s external surface is going to be very hot. You will need to wear mittens while brewing with Elektra S1C. 
  • The brass will lose its shine and might require polishing. 
  • The tamper and scoop this machine provides are made of plastic. 
  • It’s not for novice groups. It demands accurate barista skills, precision, and knowledge. 
  • Elektra can never entertain a party. It’s built for an intimate morning cup. You can brew 2-4 espresso shots, ristretto. 

2. La Pavoni PC-16 Professional Espresso Machine

La Pavoni PC-16 espresso machine, also known as the Professionals, is an affordable bargain amongst the many high-end expensive devices. 

With a manual piston, budget-friendly price, water level window glass, a pressure gauge, and a manual steaming wand, La Pavoni has a lot to offer despite its compact size. 

This manual espresso machine comes with an automatic cappuccino nozzle to froth your milk from a separate container.

It’s quite ironic to have automation in a manual espresso machine, but it doesn’t hurt to have extra features at hand. 

You can attach this automatic cappuccino nozzle easily by replacing the manual steaming wand. 

La Pavoni offers an adequate boiler with a capacity of 1.6 liters. It takes 5-6 minutes for the machine to heat quickly. 

The pressure gauge indicates the temperature of the machine and when it’s ready to brew.

It will read 1.8-Bar pressure when the temperature is 250 degrees Fahrenheit. You can sink the temperature by loosening the steaming knob and releasing some steam out from the wand. 

La Pavoni has a metallic body with a high-quality brass boiler, 52mm portafilter, double steaming wands, two filter baskets, a plastic tamper, and a scoop. 

Now, this machine is a direct lever espresso machine. It doesn’t come with a spring piston, and every control is in your control.

There’s no spring to exert pressure; you will have to pull the piston upright/down to apply/release pressure. 

Pros

  • Unlike the spring piston models, you have complete control over the pressure. 
  • La Pavoni Professionals has a compact body that satisfies a smaller counter. 
  • The boiler is locked with a safety valve to protect you from steam burns. 
  • It comes with a steam knob to adjust the steaming pressure, and it also removes false pressure build-up inside the boiler. 
  • An on/off switch facilitates easy access. 
  • It has a thermostat to stabilize the temperature during the brewing process.
  • La Pavoni also offers pressure stat to optimize pressure inside the boiler.
  • The steaming wand has three holes to deliver strong steam in the milk. 

Cons

  • The water boiler has a small capacity compared to other products, but it’s entirely valid for the price. 
  • It offers a plastic tamper, which is not a great accessory. You will need to invest in a proper stainless steel tamper to get good results. 
  • The steaming wand has a congested angle that makes it challenging to steam manually because there’s no space to place or adjust the milk jar. 
  • The grill is made of plastic, and the drip tray is small.  
  • The complete body is not made of brass. 
  • The screws, knobs, piston’s handle, safety pressure valves are all made of plastic. 

3. La Pavoni PSW-16 Stradivari 16-Cup Espresso Machine

An extravagant design with wooden knobs and handles to meet your aesthetic demands at a comparatively lower price is La Pavoni Stradivari.

This classic, compact La Pavoni design comes with a concise boiler and a giant group head. 

La Pavoni draws the best direct lever espresso machines to provide users full control over their espresso shots.

The device has a unique curved piston, positioned down when resting. This piston does not activate a spring but requires actual human power. 

To initiate pressure and induce water in the coffee puck, you will need to pull the lever entirely up and then pull it down slowly and manually.

For preinfusion, pull the lever halfway through (up) until the pressure gauge read 1.2-1.4-Bar pressure. 

La Pavoni endows a beautiful brass boiler with a three-layer coating of chrome.

The whole device is made of stainless steel and is complemented beautifully with wooden textures of the piston handle, screws, safety valves, and even the portafilter. 

Like the La pavoni’s Professional model, Stradivari also comes with a dual steaming wand: a manual stainless steel steaming wand and automatic cappuccino milk frothing wand.

You can easily attach/detach either of the rods manually; it’s pretty simple. 

Additionally, it comes with a pressure gauge, a water window, and a safety relief knob as the boiler’s cap. 

Pros

  • Stradivari is a direct lever espresso machine if you enjoy complete freedom over the cup of joe.
  • It has wooden finishes, which makes the device look like a real-pricey antique.
  • Despite the elegant looks, Stradivari is not as expensive as other average-looking models. 
  • It comes with a single-touch button at the center. 
  • A steam-pressure knob to adjust the pressure and sink it accordingly. 

Cons

  • The machine comes with a plastic tamper. It’s not ideal for tamping.
  • Stradivari is a direct lever espresso machine and won’t be as forgiving as the spring pistons. You will need to go through many learning curves to properly use it
  • The bottom stand is made of plastic, a downside for a machine that costs this much. 
  • The drip tray is prone to corrosion. 
  • The water reservoir capacity is 38 ounces, which is comparatively low.
  • Its small drip tray can dirty your kitchen counter.

4. Elektra Microcasa Lever Espresso Machine Finish: Chrome and Brass

Elektra MICROCASA S1CO is the replica of Elektra MICROCASA S1C. It also goes by the name Casa Leva S1CO. The significant difference between both devices is their metal finish. 

While the S1C has a complete brass finish, the S1CO has a combination of brass and chrome. 

Both the machines have the same body but different color combinations. 

Appearance: Elektra S1CO has a double color combination of golden and brass with a hint of chrome finishes.

The golden color can be seen on the boiler, the water window, steaming wand attachment, piston, the grill of the drip tray, the pressure gauge, and the eagle LOGO of Elektra. 

The silver color can be found on the boiler’s cap, the steaming wand, the extra big group head, portafilter, the baskets, and the complete base, including the drip tray.

You will find a contrast of black plastic knobs, piston handle, portafilter’s handle, rubber-tight ends. 

Performance: S1CO is a semi-manual machine; it comes with a spring-piston that needs to be pulled down to exert pressure on the spring.

Overall, this machine is aesthetically pleasing to the eyes and brews the ideal shot for your perfect morning. 

Elektra S1CO comes with two baskets (single and double shots), a plastic tamper (Please, buy a new stainless steel tamper to get better results), a pressure gauge to display optimal temperature (the green lines indicate optimal temperature for the initial shot)

Pros

  • The color contrast is unbelievably beautiful, and the manual espresso machine is a treasure for any espresso enthusiast. 
  • The group head is more prominent and stabilizes the temperature better than a device with smaller group heads.
  • The water tank/boiler has a capacity of 1.8 liters, which is considered ideal for this size machine. 
  • The chrome coating picks up your kitchen’s shades of color and looks beautiful on the countertop.
  • This manual espresso machine doesn’t mind a lousy grind, bad tamping, or novice barista skills. It’s forgiving enough to brew specialty cups with the worst to worst picks. 
  • It comes with a warning light to indicate the temperature. 

Cons

  • This machine comes with a plastic tamper. A plastic tamper can never give you an even surface for brewing. You will need to invest in a stainless steel tamper and a high-quality grinder to brew perfect shots, which adds up extra expenses in the already expensive espresso machines.
  • The drip tray is small. 
  • The machine will be hot to touch, and you will need to regulate the temperature down manually. 

5. ROK Manual Espresso Machine

The very first boiler-less machine to hit this list is ROK manual espresso maker.

The ROK manual doesn’t require electricity to function; it solely depends on the human power and pressure you apply.

The double-arm levers allow you to have more stability and control over the machine. 

Appearance: This elegant model has an upper water chamber to refill one/two shots at best (50ml), the group head presents itself right below the water chamber, and an outline that resembles the bell-shape. 

There’s a lot of space between the portafilter and the bottom; you can easily accommodate giant American cups. 

ROK manual pistons are present at opposite sides of the bell and exert pressure when you pull them entirely up and down.

For pre-infusion, allow the arms to rest for 10-12 seconds halfway through, then completely lift and lift down until the timer reads 25-30 seconds. 

Its 49mm portafilter comes with a double spout to brew double shots. It also offers a two-in-one plastic scoop and a plastic tamper. 

ROK comes with a manual milk frother that induces bubbles in the milk manually.

The frother has a whisking tip that you can continuously pull up and down to source air and render it in the milk. 

Pros

  • You don’t need electricity to operate this device. 
  • It comes in aluminum packaging for traveling purposes. The frother is decently packed as well. 
  • Applies optimal pressure to extract rich espresso and dense crema.
  • The complete body is made of aluminum, which is considered one of the best metal-materials to insulate heat. 
  • The device is inexpensive and saves you thousands of dollars compared to high-end boiler manual machines that work on electricity. 
  • This affordable product introduces you to manual pump pressure at a lower cost. You can learn and practice manual lever pressure with this cheap model before investing in a high-end brand. 
  • ROK manual espresso device has a gorgeous design and looks almost ancient to please the inner historian in you. 
  • It comes in two finishes: Aluminum and black-powder.
  • ROK manual espresso machines give you a ten-year warranty.

Cons

  • Due to the lack of the boiler or electricity, you can only brew one/two shots before having to refill again. 
  • You will have to boil the water on the stove, which is time-consuming. 
  • The shots will never be as hot as the boiler because heat dissipates faster in an open medium. 
  • The milk frother is not for commercial or quality purposes. It merely creates bubbles in the milk and not microfoam. 

6. La Pavoni Europiccolo

La Pavoni europiccola is the smaller replica of the La Pavoni Professional.

To satisfy you with a compact design for a small kitchen under the correct budget, La Pavoni manufactured EPC-8 Europiccola. 

As the name suggests, this machine can brew eight cups of espresso shots with a single-filling of the boiler/water reservoir.

The water tank has a capacity of 0.5 liters. Although it’s considered small, eight cups are more than enough for a personal, private cup. 

La Pavoni Europiccola’s body is made of stainless steel. Its boiler is made of brass with three-coating chrome and is nickel-plated.

You will witness a couple of plastic wares, including the tamper, scoop, drip tray, etc. 

Europiccola has a small group head to maintain pressure along with the surface area. The smaller the surface area, the more precise the pressure would be.

More oversized group heads will demand a more significant amount of pressure. 

Pros

  • The machine has an elegant craft. 
  • Compact size,
  • Double switch to skip between the temperatures for brews and the steaming wand.
  • It comes with a water glass window, steaming rod, steam knob, safety relief knob for the boiler.
  • The machine is equipped with a thermostat to stabilize pressure and temperature. 

Cons

  • La Pavoni Europiccola doesn’t come with a pressure gauge, which is a big downfall for a machine that costs $1000.
  • It comes with a plastic tamper that is of low quality. Also, the drip tray is plastic, and so is the grill for the cup. 
  • La Pavoni has a small water boiler and has a capacity of 0.5 liters. 
  • It’s not produced for entertaining multiple cups back to back. 

7. La Pavoni Romantica

On the classic notes of La Pavoni, PGL-16 Romantica is one of the most lavish designs.

Romantica has a blend of stainless steel with brass-coating and wooden handles with an eagle-top cover for the boiler. 

With a side water window, a pressure gauge, a steam knob, and the steaming wand, La Pavoni offers an affordable and artistic device. 

Romantica has a more oversized boiler and thus maintains a stable temperature inside the device.

However, if you leave the machine on for too long, the temperature would rise to levels that will burn your espresso shot along with your milk. 

Like other La Pavoni models, Romantica also comes with an automatic cappuccino frother and a manual steaming rod. Like every other model, this machine is also a direct-lever type. 

So, if you want Elektra’s exact look-a-like at a cheaper rate with total control over the pressure, La Pavoni Romantica will serve you good espresso shots. 

Pros:

  • It has a bigger water tank compared to other La Pavoni’s.  
  • It has triple chrome-coating
  • Internal thermostat
  • The boiler is made of brass and is nickel-plated
  • Reset switch

Cons:

  • It has a small drip tray that leads to more mess than accumulation.
  • The steaming wand is at an awkward angle, and you will need to adjust to the position. 

8. Flair Espresso Maker

The second affordable boiler-less machine with manual levers to pull down the best espresso shots is the flair espresso maker. With a unique design and low prices, Flair is developed for traveling outside. 

You can quickly assemble or disassemble every single part of the Flair to fit in the portable bag it comes with. Flair brews slow espressos; it can take anywhere between 30-40 seconds for the machine to brew. 

Appearance: The disassembled parts include the oval main stand, attached with a slightly curved arc to hold the lever on top of the machine.

A central projection of the hook has a frame to adjust the filter basket. A group head is positioned above the filter basket. 

Surprisingly enough, every part of the flair espresso maker is made of aluminum—excellent service at such a low price. 

Performance:

  1. Add coffee grounds in the filter basket, tamp, and close it with the mesh.
  2. Put the filter basket on the stand and adjust the group head above it.
  3. Fill the group head with hot water, and pressure it down with the lever present above.

It’s lengthy but straightforward. 

Pros

  • It comes with a portable bag and disassembled parts for easy traveling. 
  • The machine is very affordable. The second kit includes a tamper and a pressure gauge, but it will be slightly expensive. (in my opinion, the complete kit with the tamper is a much better deal)
  • The tamper+pressure gauge kit comes in three color combinations: Black stainless steel with a peach-chrome filter-stand, white-gray with a pink-chrome stand, white and pink. 
  • Bottomless portafilter
  • The item is very sturdy.

Cons

  • You will need to refill the group head after every brew. 
  • The preheat setup is lengthy and can take 15-30 minutes.
  • Brewing is lengthy as well.
  • It doesn’t come with a pressurized portafilter. You will need to purchase a high-end espresso grinder. 

Questions to ask before you buy a Piston-driven espresso machine.

The very first question to put forth is, 

  • Can you operate a manual espresso machine?
  • Have you ever tried other manual or automatic brands?
  • Do you know the basis behind pulling every shot? Having a background of what you are going to do and how you will do it helps a lot. 

Luckily, we have answered every question including, the pressure you must attain, the extraction period, how to operate lever espresso machines and spring piston machines, etc., down below. 

Is it easy to use?

Lever espresso machines demand precision, firmness while exerting pressure, confidence when extracting the shot, and stature while pulling the lever down. 

Least to say, they are not easy-to-operate, so you will need time to master the art of brewing with manual pressure. 

Surprisingly, they have a variety of forms to satisfy different users. The most heard and discussed machines are spring piston-driven and direct lever espresso machines. 

Spring piston will be an easy choice compared to a direct lever because you will be directed by the spring while applying the pressure, which is not the case with direct lever espresso machines.

Next in the game is the double piston manual espresso machine, which comes with two lever arms present at opposite sides to exert pressure.

With this, you will need to pull down both lever arms to extract a rich cup of espresso and smooth-textured crema. 

These models are usually cheap and do not require electricity because they don’t come with a boiler.

You will need to pour boiling water into the water outlet to extract the shots.

If you are looking for an easy-to-operate option that also costs you less, double lever machines will be a great choice. 

Finally, the second most-affordable, single-piston, and boiler-less is the Flair Espresso maker.

It’s very easy-to-use once you assemble all the parts. This maker doesn’t require electricity, just a grinder, a separate water boiler, and you are good to go! 

Is it portable

The essential feature of manual espresso makers is if they are portable or not!

Unfortunately, high-end manual espresso machines that come with a boiler will need electricity to heat the system. You can not port an electric model to a switchless location. 

So, ask yourself if you’d be wanting this for traveling purposes.

If so, look for one that doesn’t need electricity to brew your hot cup of joy. Plus, boiler manual machines are giants to accommodate more water; it’d be hard to port them. 

Please note: Boiler-less machines will also need separate boiled water to brew outside. So, make sure you have a stove/induction/fire to boil the water for brewing.  

Many non-electric manual machines come with a portable bag and can be disassembled to fit in for traveling. 

Is it durable

With manual machines, that’s the other befitting feature you get, durability.

They are known for their continuous yearly service. They are a life-long purchase and will only ever need a couple of replacements to provide you thousands of espresso shots. 

Many of the manufacturers offer 5-10 years of warranty with their products, which tells a lot about their sturdy infrastructure.

they are durable because they use the least amount of internal electronics, technology.

Technology tends to wear off with years, but that’s not the case with manual machines. 

Every part of a manual espresso machine can be replaced, unlike automatic machines that will cost a fortune for replacement and might not provide the same quality. 

Ones that require electricity to boil the water will be less durable than non-electric, cordless devices. 

Similarly, a plastic manual device is more prone to wear off than heavy metal manual espresso machines.

Luckily, you can still get the cords replaced; plastic parts replaced without worrying about the fuse or the whole device being a dump. 

High-end, expensive machines are usually made of brass; brass’s color can wear off and needs yearly coating to get back its shine, which is a natural and inexpensive expenditure. 

How large is the water reservoir?

Piston-driven brands do not have a water reservoir. They have a single boiler with dual functions to boil water and store it for the beverages together.

Surprisingly enough, high-end manual espresso machines that come with a boiler can accommodate ample amounts of water. 

Depending on the shape and the size of the device, you can expect the water capacity anywhere between one liter to 1.8 liters. 

Manual espresso machines without the boiler will have a capacity of single/double cups of water to brew single/double shots.

With these boiler-less machines, you will need to boil water separately, which can be hectic when outdoors.

Nonetheless, if you are hiking and can arrange a bonfire, you will be tasting one of the most authentic, natural, and personalized espresso shots. It’s almost adventurous. 

But, if you want to entertain yourself with a significant number of espresso cups, a machine with a boiler will be a better choice, but it’s going to be expensive. 

You cannot entertain bigger parties with this machine because refilling in these is a dangerous chore.

You will need to remove the pressure and allow the machine to cool down (the boiler heats every part of the metal machine, not just the water)

What type is it?

Does it have a spring-piston? Is it equipped with double levers? 

Is there a boiler, thermometry, pressure gauge, and a steaming wand?

What would you instead prefer in a manual espresso machine?

If you are looking for high-functionality, high water capacity, a pressure gauge, water level window, a steaming wand, dual heating system, spring-piston- A high-end, expensive model such as the Elektra S1C will be a choice to chase. 

Depending on your budget, you can choose different machines with different features. There’s a great variety to choose from.

We discussed boiler and boiler-less, electric/non-electric, spring-piston/direct lever espresso machines, but the choices do not end here. 

You can also choose between a machine that comes with a steaming wand or doesn’t come with one.

Some expensive devices also offer a manual steaming wand, plus an automatic cappuccino frothing wand. 

Expensive machines will have more features than inexpensive espresso makers. The pressure gauge is one such feature that will be present in high-end options. Most of these machines will have a permanently attached pressure gauge.  

Portable espresso brewers come with a detachable pressure gauge (It’s going to charge extra dollars) 

How well does it regulate temperature?

Like any entry-level semi-automatic, manual espresso machines also take 15-20 minutes to heat the system adequately.

Temperature can be inconsistent throughout the brewing process because it doesn’t come with a controller. 

There are many manual learning curves to adjust the temperature (Decrease/increase) depending on the machine.

Before that, please note: A more oversized boiler will have more stability over the water temperature than the smaller ones.

Unless you want to experiment with manual temperature stability, it’s best to purchase one with a more oversized boiler and a more oversized group head. 

The ideal brewing temperature: 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit.

The ideal drinking temperature: 160-180 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Since most of the lever espresso machines will have a smaller boiler, temperature stability is a bit of a chase.

It’s advised to use a thermometer stick to measure the temperature of the machine/brew to be consistent. 

How to stabilize the temperature when it’s cold?

  • Always blow off the steam through the steaming wand to dissipate the false pressure inside the boiler. If the steam is left inside it, it will disturb the water’s overall temperature.
  • Pull empty shots to heat the group head, portafilter, portafilter baskets, and the overall outlet. You will see a drastic increase of 5 degrees by backflushing the group head. 
  • Pull the lever up half the way for a couple of seconds to rush boiled water in the group head. Pull it down again. This is for direct lever espresso machines/springless.
  • Allow pre-infusion.

How to stabilize the temperature when it’s too hot to brew?

The machine can get a little too hot and cannot decrease the temperature by itself. Steaming the milk requires much more heat than extracting the shots in manual espresso machines. 

While some machines come with a dual thermostat to heat the water and the milk separately, some come with high-advanced heat with a single switch for both actions. 

  • If your device is too hot after steaming the milk, and you need to pull another shot, dip the portafilter, and the baskets in cold-icy water to decrease the temperature.
  • The pressure gauge can tell you a lot about the temperature. At 1.8-Bar pressure, the temperature is 240-250 degrees Fahrenheit. Reduce the pressure further down to meet with an optimal temperature of 200 degrees. 
  • Switch off the machine once the boiler is done using the electricity. You can operate these manual machines without electricity once the temperature is met. Switching off the unit will stop temperature increments. 

What is it made out of?

High-end manual espresso machines are mostly made of brass, including the boiler and the portafilter.

You can also expect an intermix of different metals, including stainless steel, aluminum, chrome, and wood. 

With high-end manual espresso machines, most of the body is made of brass with beautiful wooden screws, knobs, and piston handle. Please note: The brass coating will wear off over the years, thanks to oxidation.

Nevertheless, you can recoat the complete antic with polymers or suggested metal polish. 

Some of the less-expensive manual espresso machines might also add extra plastic in the drip tray, the piston’s handle, and the screws or the steaming wand. 

You can expect a chrome finish in the grill tray, a nice feature; these machines also have metallic, chrome finishes. The colors may include chrome, brushed steel, black metal finish, brown, bronze, etc. 

Brass finish will be more expensive than stainless steel or aluminum. With manual espresso machines, brass metal tops the list, seconded by stainless steel, and the third-best metal is aluminum. 

Please note that the metal will be burning hot, so keep the children away from the device and always use safety precautions while handling the device. 

Does it have a covered boiler to prevent burns?

Although the boiler is present inside the water reservoir, the whole machine heats up pretty quickly and is not safe to touch.

With advanced designs, many high-end espresso machines now provide a steam-safety relief that protects you from direct, strong steam, but it’s still pretty hot to conduct the machine without mittens. 

The pressure relief valves are present right below the boiler’s cap. These valves act upon the intensity of the pressure build-up.

If the boiler has a lot of pressure buildup, these valves release that pressure until it reaches an optimal level. These valves also shut down once the steam pressure is back to normal.

Many expensive espresso machines come with safety valves to protect you from extensive burns upon opening the boiler.

Please note: You will have to completely shut down the unit, allow the espresso machine to cool off and then only touch the device for refilling the water reservoir. Please do not touch the boiler until it completely cools off. 

Is it able to measure the pressure?

Expensive manual espresso machines are equipped with a pressure gauge, mostly at the left side, standing tall on the cylindrical water level window.

Less-expensive espresso machines might not come with a pressure gauge. 

If you are unaware of your piston pull’s consistency, it’s best to choose an espresso machine that offers a stable pressure gauge.

Of course, it’s going to be expensive, but at least it’d be a healthy investment and not an affordable waste. 

Many inexpensive boiler-less manual espresso machines will come with an optional pressure gauge. 

You may purchase the device without investing in the pressure gauge, or you can buy an entry-level, simple manual espresso machine with a pressure gauge (Easily attachable in the system) 

What is the difference between spring piston and direct lever machines?

The two primary varieties of manual espresso machines are spring-piston (semi-manual) and direct lever espresso machines (completely manual).

Depending on your choice of freedom, control over the device, and your budget, you can invest in either machines.

Direct lever manual machines will be an inexpensive purchase compared to spring-piston espresso machines. You can observe a whopping dollar difference between the two ($500-$1000)

A spring-piston will be more relying and forgiving than a direct lever espresso machine in terms of functionality. 

You will have more freedom, complete control, and precision with the lever espresso machine than compared to spring-piston devices. 

Spring Piston Manual Espresso Machines

The distinguishable feature that differs spring-piston from the direct lever espresso machine is the piston’s upright resting position.

The mechanism of a spring-piston espresso machine is pretty simple. 

When you pull down the uptight piston with force, it builds pressure in and around the spring. This declining manual pressure positions the spring for the actual pressurization. 

Once you let go of the piston handle, the spring starts to push the water in the coffee puck. 

The piston slowly and automatically starts to go up and back to its upright position. For double shots, you can pull the lever down and re-release it. 

Now, it’s not just the spring that exerts pressure; you work as the pulling-kinetic force for the spring. Without your manual actions, the spring cannot function and extract the desired espresso shots. 

Not only the spring but you, as the barista, are also responsible for the pressure build-up. 

That’s not all; with a spring-piston manual espresso machine, you have the power to decide the preinfusion, resting period, and extraction time.   

How to initiate and control preinfusion: 

When you pull down the lever halfway through, allow the pressure gauge to read 1.2-1.4-Bars.

At this pressure, the junction between the boiler and the group head will open slightly and allow water to mix with the coffee puck neutrally. 

The preinfusion time and the amount of water that goes inside the coffee puck depend on you. You can control the amount of water throughout the brewing process. 

To exert absolute pressure and stop preinfusion, pull the spring piston further down to open the water gates entirely, and then let go.

Use a coffee scale/timer to be consistent with your extraction time and extraction weight.

A direct lever espresso machine 

The pulling force and the real pump in the direct lever machine are solely you without automatic spring interpretation. Unlike spring piston, direct lever espresso machines have their lever in the downright resting position. 

To exert pressure, you, like the pump, pull up the piston and allow the water flow to commence the brewing process.

The direct lever mechanism is more complicated than the spring piston machine. With lever machines, you will also need to pull down the piston, you cannot release it. 

Is La-Pavoni worth it?

La Pavoni is the only water-boiler electronic-manual espresso machine that gives you perfect espresso shots at a low price.

There’s a difference of $500-$1000 between a high-end espresso machine and La Pavoni.

Despite the low price, La Pavoni offers some of the best manual features along with side-hand automation.

Before everything, La Pavoni produces direct lever espresso machines. Thus, ensuring your upper hand in the whole brewing process. 

Unlike other spring-piston models, La Pavoni cannot brew and steam at the same time. Direct espresso machines have a dual thermostat to maintain different temperatures for different purposes. 

Although most of the La Pavoni manual machines will not brew and steam together, some new models will steam and brew for you together like the La Pavoni professionals,

Yes, La Pavoni is worth it for many reasons:

  • These manual espresso machines are compact and can fit in your kitchen counter easily. This allows more space for you in the kitchen without suffocation. 
  • La Pavoni is an inexpensive investment and can settle your budget-friendly purchase. 
  • This device offers an automatic cappuccino frothing tool, which is exclusive to the brand. You will not find another brand to offer complete manual actions along with automation. 
  • It provides multiple functions and services, including a double pressure gauge for steam and brewing profiling, comes in three filter sizes, steaming wands (two steaming wand of different diameter holes and one automatic cappuccino wand)

Cons

  • Smaller budget espresso machines have a congested interface with weird angles for brewing. 
  • The steaming wand acquires an awkward angle along with the device, it’s almost impossible to steam correctly with the manual steaming wand. (You will need to adjust the milk jar appropriately)
  • Most affordable models have small group heads, small water tanks (boiler), and drip trays. 
  • You can expect a lot of plastic in the machine, especially at the base, the handles, and knobs (High-end La Pavoni models will have wooden and chrome finishes. The price range would be $1000-1500)

Electric VS Manual

Electric manual espresso machines will be the most expensive investment; their prices surpass super-automatic espresso machines.

These machines do not even provide a grinder; it’s that expensive. 

Thus, a proper cost-comparison is compulsory before investing in a high-end electric espresso machine. 

As a coffee novice, I’d suggest investing in a manual non-electric espresso machine before a boiler one to get acquainted with the manual pump pressure mechanism. 

It would be best if you later switched to an electric manual espresso machine once your budget and your espresso knowledge allow you to.

Electric Espresso Machines

Electric espresso machines have a wide range of models and different mechanisms.

These include manual, semi-automatic, fully-automatic, and super-automatic espresso machines. Now, you might wonder, why do manual espresso machines fall under this category? 

Manual espresso machines give the freedom to apply human-power pressure instead of a self-induced electronic pump that only ever uses 9-Bars of pressure without any variations. 

Manual espresso machines still need electricity to boil the water. The high-end espresso devices come with a boiler to heat the water for hot extraction.

This boiler demands adequate electricity to heat the system, the water, and steam for steaming the milk. 

Electric manual espresso machines have further subclasses: spring piston and direct liver, as discussed. The benefits of an electric manual espresso machine are:

  • An accurate boiler with enough water capacity to brew 10-12 cups of espresso shots. 
  • Electricity will ensure optimal temperature for the brew. 
  • Electric manual espresso machines will afford a steaming wand and excellent micro foaming.
  • These devices are usually more prominent and more beautiful than non-electric espresso machines. 

Semi-automatic espresso machines automatically pump the espresso. You will still have control over the grind, the dosing, tamping, and manual brewing (extraction time). You will also manually steam milk. 

Fully-automatic espresso machines will automatically pump your espresso shots and automatically brew and steam without any manual demands. These devices will still allow you to grind, dose, and tamp manually. 

Super-automatic espresso machines will grind, dose, tamp, brew, apply pressure, and steam automatically. 

All these four varieties function on electricity. Without electricity, you cannot operate them.

Manual Espresso Machines

Completely manual espresso machines do not require electricity and will not come with a water boiler.

A boiler-less manual espresso machine is cheaper and allows you to try manual pump pressure without investing dollars. 

The manual espresso machine’s exclusive features are portability given its small size, traveling-friendly mechanism, and disassembling.

You can easily port and enjoy a pumped espresso machine without electricity on barren lands if you have a bonfire to boil the water.

Unlike high-end boiler espresso machines, manual espresso machines are smaller in size, lighter in weight, and easy to disassemble. You can easily carry them on adventure trips. 

  • Affordable. It will only cost you $100-$300
  • Portable.
  • Traveling-friendly
  • Small in size. 
  • Provide the exclusive experience of pump pressure. 

Why are Lever espresso machines so expensive?

The authenticity, exclusiveness, and aesthetic renaissance of these manual espresso machines aren’t the only thing that increases its overall expense.

Manual espresso machines demand artistic science, expensive material, artisans to custom-design every small detail of the device. 

There is a wild difference between art and commercial science. Simultaneously, automatic espresso machines are made of stainless steel sheets infused with a couple of motors and pumps. 

The manual espresso machines are carved out of brass, metals, chrome to mold beautifully as an artistic design.

Every detail of manual espresso machines is hand-crafted, thus the exclusive price. Brass as a metal is comparatively more pricey than stainless steel. 

Also, piston pumps are more expensive than automatic 9-Bars of pumps in the automatic espresso machine. 

Are Lever espresso machines challenging to use?

Every science and art demands patience, practice, knowledge, and history of the device before actually excelling it with precision.

Manual espresso machines are one such device. You will need a tremendous amount of patience while dealing with manual espresso machines. 

Briefly, yes, these devices are difficult to use, but that’s what romanticizes the whole essence of brewing espresso cups.

Automatic espresso machines will give you demanded, quality-tasting espressos, but they will lack romance. 

The real romance between a barista and the espresso shots begins with the beauty of a manual espresso machine. These machines give you a personalized, hands-on barista experience. 

High-end manual espresso machines will require an efficient grinder that grinds the finest whole coffee beans. 

You will also need a stainless steel tamper, espresso theory, extraction time, pre-infusion time, pre-infusion pressure, and extraction pressure. 

Unlike automatic espresso machines equipped with numerous buttons to control, the only that you’d need to master is the piston/Lever. 

So, your complete focus must stay at the pressure level and where the maximum pressure is for pre-infusion and where it is for the whole extraction. 

Once you understand the whole manual espresso machine mechanism, you will be witnessing heavenly, rich, full-bodied, smooth espresso shots with rich-creamy-oily crema.

There’s no comparison of the quality-shots a manual espresso brews.

How do you use one?

The whole aura of a manual espresso machine is quite intimidating. As extravagant as the espresso machine looks, the more intimidating its mechanism will appear. 

Still, every espresso machine demands a little study, a little knowledge, and a few practical settings to brew the perfect espresso shots. 

As mentioned, unlike automatic espresso machines, you don’t need to stumble on multiple buttons; a single lever allows you the space to brew the most authentic espresso shots.

So, the only thing you need to master is the piston, its movement, and the timing. 

  • Once you plug in the machine and switch on the button, it will take 10-15 minutes for the device to heat up properly. This depends on the independent machines; some heat up within 5 minutes, some take 15 minutes. 
  • The warning light, including the pressure gauge, indicates when the device is ready. Your pressure gauge’s arrow must line up with the green curves. 
  • Once the machine reaches an optimal temperature, you will need to sink the boiler’s buildup steam. If not dropped, this steam will act like the false pressure and diminish the brew’s temperature. 
  • To decline the pressure, turn on the knob present at your left and turn it back off once the steam escapes through the steaming wand. 
  • Pull a couple of blind shots with the portafilter locked in the group head to warm the group head, shower screen, portafilter, and the basket. This will increase the temperature by 5%.
  • Dose and tamp the coffee puck and lock in the portafilter. 

 For spring piston

  • If it’s a spring-piston, gently pull the Lever down without inducing air inside the system. You can stop the piston midway for the water to pre-infuse, according to you. Or you can allow the machine to pre-infuse and extract itself by pulling the complete Lever down. 
  • Once you notice a couple of espresso drops, let go of the piston. The spring will automatically move upward, extracting espresso in the motion. 
  • The pre-infusion time depends on you; the water amount depends on you. You can stop the Lever for pre-infusion as long as you want (we’ll discuss this in more details ahead)

For direct Lever 

  • If it’s a direct lever piston, you will need to pull the Lever up instead of down. Again, the pressure applied to remove the Lever up should be gentle and not abrupt or aggressive. 
  • The rude or aggressive pull will introduce air in the system that will disturb the coffee puck and will lead to air bubbles in the shot. 
  • Direct lever piston will not go down by themselves because they lack a spring for automation. You will need to pull down the Lever just as gently as you uplifted it up. 
  • This down pull will extract espresso shots right after the pre-infusion. 

How long do you want it to pre-infuse?

With manual espresso machines, pre-infusion pressure and pre-infusion time both are in your hand.

Before that, a quick summary of pre-infusion, pre-infusion stress, and pre-infusion period will give us an idea of our ideal timing. 

Pre-infusion is the collision of coffee grounds with water at neutral pressure.

This neutral pressure allows the coffee ground to soak in the water, just enough to wet the grounds and tone the water with coffee’s flavor, aromas, and texture. Pre-infusion allows the coffee to extract full flavors without any uneven extraction. 

The demanded pressure for pre-infusion is 1.2-1.4-Bars. So, you don’t need to pressure down the Lever thoroughly, but just enough (halfway) to open the water gates between the group head and the boiler and allow water to enter the coffee puck. 

Pre-infusion period: The ideal pre-infusion time for any espresso machine is 10-12 seconds. While other automatic espresso machines do not allow you to experiment with the time and pressure of the pre-infusion, manual machines do! 

You can cock the spring halfway through to commence pre-infusion, hold the position for 5-6 seconds and then recock the spring for full pressure by pulling the Lever completely down/up.

Once the maximum pressure is applied, wait for the first few espresso shots to drop after 5-6 seconds and then let go of the spring piston and pull down the direct Lever manually. 

How much water do you want to push through the coffee? 

The ideal ratio between the coffee ground and extracted espresso shot is 1:2. One ounce of coffee grounds must deliver you two ounces of a pulled espresso shot.

For instance, if you are using 2 grams of ground, you will need 2-3 grams of water to remove the perfect ratio. 

You can never adjust the amount of water in the automatic series of espresso machines, but with a manual espresso machine, you have the handles to open and close these water gates. 

When you pull the Lever down/up in either of the machines, direct lever or spring piston, the water gates inside the group head open up to allow water inside it.

This happens when the Lever is fully engaged or when the spring is fully cocked down. 

Your espresso shot shouldn’t be too dense, and neither should it be too watery. A dense shot will only appear as a couple of drops, and a light shot would be too flowy and will have air bubbles. 

Operate, cock, and recock the spring, apply the pressure and finish the whole brewing process in 25-30 seconds for the perfect water amount, pressure, and temperature. Anything more or less will not do.

Your extracted espresso shot should be thick enough to drip with a steady flow. 

Pre-infuse water with coffee for 10-12 seconds, not more. Recock the spring for full extraction for 13-15 seconds, not more! The entire extraction time should be 25 seconds. Use a coffee scale with the timer for accuracy. 

What does re-cocking the spring mean?

As discussed, spring-piston espresso machines use spring+human power to apply pressure while brewing. 

Cocking of the spring means compressing the spring to allow the water to flow inside the group head. You cock the spring by pulling down the piston from its upright resting position. 

When you pull down the lever, the spring starts to compress depending on the pressure applied. Spring does not compress down with gravity; they work with the opposite mechanism. 

The springs begin to compress upwards (not downwards). This upward compression of the spring or cocking of the spring allows the water gates to open. 

Once the water starts to get mixed with the coffee puck, you can wait for the pre-infusion period and allow the amount of water to enter the group head. 

To stop pre-infuse, let go of the spring and piston. Then, re-cock or re-compress it again wholly, thereby making sure the cavity between the boiler and group head is entirely open to accept the water. 

Reloading the spring after water infusion is called recocking of the spring. For recocking, you will need to pull down the lever completely and then let go slowly. 

Once you let go of the spring piston, it decompresses slowly. This decompression of the spring stretches its length and applies pressure to the water sitting in the coffee ground to extract down.  

When is the best time to pull the shot?

Three crucial factors while brewing the espresso shots are:

  • The ideal temperature in the group head
  • The brewing time/extraction period
  • Shot volume
  • Pre-infusion time

Temperature

The ideal temperature in the group head and throughout the brewing process should be 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Since manual espresso machines cannot include automatic temperature stabilizing technologies, they engineer the espresso makers to dissipate heat while brewing. 

The machine can optimally stabilize the single-shot temperature because it dissipates once it reaches the group head cavity, the cold portafilter, and the basket. 

Extracting and pouring further heat sinks the espresso’s temperature bringing it to an optimal drinking temperature. 

Please note: You can pull a couple of blind shots if the group head is not between 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a temperature stick on the group head for accuracy. 

This is only valid for a single/double shot. When you start to pull back-to-back tries, the machine will have less time to recover or dissipate the heat.

As a result, the temperature will increase by many degrees. 

It’s best to switch off the machine when it’s too hot. You can still brew and extract tranquilizing flavors without electricity.

Electricity in electric-manual espresso machines is to boil the water. Once the water is boiled, you can switch it off and operate the device without the electricity. That’s another way of heat sinking. 

The Pre-infusion time and extraction time

Preinfusion and extraction should both sum up between 25-30 seconds.

When you pull the lever down in spring-piston machines, you are pre-infusing. When you let go of the spring piston, the extraction starts. 

If your timer doesn’t read 25-30 seconds, change your grind size settings. (If it brews too quickly and is also light and runny, set your grinder to a more refined finish.

If the brew is taking too much time and only comes out as drops, set the grinder to the coarser range)

What is the correct pressure for a manual espresso machine?

The correct pressure for a manual espresso machine is 7-Bars to 9-bars. You can exert the right pressure by cocking the spring for pre-infusion.

Preinfusion should be done at 1.2-Bars to 1.4-bars of pressure. Let go of the piston to build the complete pressure again. 

To recock the spring completely or apply full manual pressure, pull down/up the lever completely. Don’t slow down, don’t pause, and don’t go too abruptly either. 

If possible, try to imitate how the spring piston automatically goes back to its upright position.

Many espresso brewers come with a pressure gauge to display the pressure and predict the optimal temperature. 

What is the best type of bean to use with a lever espresso machine?

The coffee beans can highly depend on the espresso grinder you have or are planning to purchase.

Typically, the finest grind will work best for lever espresso machines. So, the whole beans’ right choice would be medium-dark roasts with a roastery date of one month. 

Medium roasted beans will blend more finely than the darkest of the whole beans. 

The darkest whole beans would be a little harder, crunchier to grind. 

It will take an exceptional, expensive grinder with infinite fine-grind size settings to grind crunchy beans. Thus, if you have an entry-level grinder, go with a medium to medium-dark roast. 

Also, please dry your espresso beans and get rid of the surface oil to keep your grinder unclogged.

Oils tend to clog super-automatic espresso machines. That should be a universal recommendation for every device. 

What grind size works best for manual espresso machines?

Manual espresso machines will demand a fine grind, but some over-the-top espresso machines might not mind a lousy grind size setting.

It’s still best to choose a good grinder that will provide multiple fine-size settings to test different levels for your espresso shot. 

Conclusion

Brewing espresso is a romantic ritual, and what would be better than an aesthetic, ancient lever espresso machine?

Manual espresso machines haven’t changed much of their beautiful architecture for ages. 

The vintage model of these espresso machines still entices most espresso enthusiasts, but are you ready for it? YES! If you read this article in detail and have reached the comment section to learn more, believe me, you are more than ready. 

Still, theoretical knowledge is not enough; you will need manual pump pressure practice as well. 

Thus, let’s try this manual espresso journey with a non-boiler espresso machine first that doesn’t explode your budget and still teaches you the in-depth manual espresso machine’s mechanism.

Then, switch to a high-end, expensive, over-the-notch, budget-kicking manual espresso la Pavoni or Elektra.