Best Manual Espresso Machine | A Barista’s Guide

John Newbranch
Post date 05.17.2023

In A Hurry? Go Straight To The List


In this article I will give you my top picks for best manual espresso machines and why you might need one.

I base my findings in this article on weeks of research into the subject of manual espresso machines. 

Although I have a lot of experience with espresso as a barista I had to gather a lot of information on these products from friends and customer reviews


Manual espresso machines are a really interesting addition to the espresso scene. They strip away all the fancy equipment and let you get down to the basics. 

The sense of control you get while using a high quality manual espresso machine is addictive.

Add to that the fact that manual espresso machines are usually smaller, cheaper and easier to maintain than regular ones and you can start to see why they are growing in popularity.

Wondering what coffee beans you should get for your manual espresso maker? Check out my article on Best Espresso Beans.


Here Is What This Article Will Cover


Why Choose A Manual Espresso Machine Over A Regular One?

Cost:

A rather obvious reason for why people want a manual espresso machine is cost. And yes as a general rule manual espresso machines are cheaper than automatic ones.

But it all comes down to the quality of the machine and the coffee it produces.

In fact if you want an average cup of espresso there are a lot of cheap automatic espresso machines out there. These will definitely be cheaper than the best manual espresso machine but the difference will show in the taste.

But if you care about the taste of your espresso, a manual espresso machine is the cheapest way of achieving premium level taste.

Size:

Manual espresso machines are a great way of making espresso in places you can’t fit a regular one. For example a small office or a camper van, which is where I keep mine.

Control:

While you do sort of get control from an automatic espresso machine, the type of control is different. 

In an automatic espresso machine you usually get control over things like the drink type or strength of the espresso. 

In a manual machine however you get to actually control the process of brewing in an entirely different way. Making it a lot more satisfying. 


Best Manual Espresso Machines


Best overall – Electra Microcasa Leva 

  • Heat Exchanger Instead Of A Double Boiler
  • High Quality Build
  • Great Design
  • Premium Price Tag
Check on Amazon

Now just by looking at this thing you can see that the electra is different from other espresso machines. I mean how many machines have you seen that are topped with an eagle?

Heat Exchanger Instead Of A Double Boiler

For regular lever espresso machines with a boiler there is often only one boiler and one thermostat. This seriously limits the amount of espresso you can make in a row. 

Instead the Microcasa Leva uses a Heat Exchanger. This means that the water for your espresso is instantly heated by being passed through the boiler in a tube. Besides being kinda cool this means you don’t have to worry about how many shots you can make before overheating.

High Quality Build

It is not just the elegant mirror-finish and hy end materials that make this thing special. The quality is top of the line with nothing left to chance. Both the chrome and the copper&brass variants give you the feeling of controlling a steam train from the 19th century.

Premium Price Tag

All this quality and elegance does come at a hefty price though. This machine is not for people that are looking to get into manual espresso making. The Microcasa Leva is for people looking for the best manual espresso experience on the market and are willing to pay for it.

Final thoughts

All in all this is a great machine and everyone who has one seems to love it. So if you have the cash and are sure about your interest in espresso making this is probably the best manual espresso machine for you.


Best For Beginners – Cafelat Robot

  • Straightforward Workflow
  • Great Build Quality
  • Easy To Clean and Maintain
  • Not Always Available On Amazon
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As the name suggests this thing kinda looks like a 1950’s idea of a robot. But don’t let the quirky exterior fool you; this is a very capable espresso machine.

Straightforward workflow

The Robot’s workflow is great for beginners. The double arms makes pressing easier and if you opt for the Barista version the pressure gauge helps in keeping a steady pressure. 

The portafilter works as a brew chamber as well. This means that it is well insulated with low thermal mass so it is more forgiving about preheating the parts, perfect for beginners

This doesn’t mean the workflow is easy though. You still need to learn a few things, but once you’ve tried it a few times you’ll get a handle on it.

Great built quality

The Robot is hand built with few components. so it is no surprise that the quality is so high.

The body and base are made from die-cast aluminum and the parts that are put under the most stress, such as the portafilter, lever arms and dispersion screen are all made from stainless steel. 

Easy to clean and maintain

The materials on the Robot are high quality and will serve you for a long time. The simple design means that everything you need to clean comes out real easy and there isn’t really anything to maintain.

Final thoughts

Even if the Cafelat Robot is a bit more expensive than its competitors it makes up for it in quality and a less cumbersome workflow.


Best Cheap – Flair Classic

  • A Cheap Entry To Espresso Making
  • A bit Quirky But very Useful
  • Cleaing Is A Bit Of A Hassle
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The Flair Classic has been around for a while now. It was launched with the promise of offering you everything you needed to brew a perfect espresso and nothing more.

A Cheap Entry To Espresso Making

Priced at around 160 dollars it is one of the cheaper ways of getting into espresso making. They achieve this by making a simple design that leaves the quality of the espresso up to the user.

A bit quirky but very useful

The tradeoff to the cheap price is thankfully not quality. Instead you have to live with a few quirks on this machine. 

For starters the setup time is quite long since there’s a lot of parts. The brew head also needs to be preheated before brewing. Once you get used to these things however Classic is a useful little machine for the price.

The Cleaning Is A Bit Of A Hassle

There are a lot of parts to this machine that need to be cleaned after each use but people tend to get used to it pretty quick.

Final Thoughts 

All in all the Flair Classic makes espresso that can rival premium automatic espresso machines. Where it falls short is the amount of work and skill that you need to put into achieving that goal. 

SO while it is not the best manual espresso machine out there it certainly does a great job for the price.


Best Semi Manual – Rancilio Silvia

  • High Quality and Durability
  • Easily Flexibale at Home
  • Compact and Well Designed
Check on Amazon

A classic amongst coffee geeks around the world, the Rancilio Silvia is probably the most “battle tested” machine I can think of. Simple, reliable and high quality is how I would describe this one, and I think most would agree. 

While the design has been around for a while this is the 6th generation of updates. So classic doesn’t mean old fashioned in this case. 

Now let’s go over the features of this machine and see why I picked this as the best semi manual ( or semi automatic) machine.

High Quality and Durability

Something I value a lot with the appliances I use at home is their ability to just keep working no matter what. And that is an area where the Silvia shines, it’s truly a workhorse.

Rancilio has its competitors at this price range beaten when it comes to both feel and build quality. The metal body and robust controls gives a robust feel and kind of reminds me of using a 70’s car transmission. Not high tech, but always works.

Easily Fixable at Home

 No machine will last forever, no matter how good it is. Thankfully, the Silvia has got you covered here as well. 

The simple design makes this machine an easy DIY fix. And because it is such a popular model there is an abundance of information and spare parts for fixing it yourself.

Compact and Well Designed

The boxy shape remains in the latest version of the Silvia but it has been upgraded with even more stainless steel and new buttons. Giving the machine even more of that classic brutalist vibe that I quite enjoy.

Another benefit of the compact design is that it can be jammed into almost anywhere without issue.

Final thoughts

But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. The lack of a PID ( automatic temp control) means you might have to do some temperature surfing. It is something you get used to however and will mostly be an issue if you are making milky drinks like lattes or cappuccinos.

Being the only machine on this list that doesn’t require manual labor to extract the espresso does make it a bit more expensive. But if you are looking for a bit more convenience and are willing to pay then the Silvia won’t disappoint.


Best Small – ROK

  • Light, Simple and Easy To Maintain
  • Can actually make GOOD espresso… If You Can
  • Durable
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The ROK is probably my favorite manual espresso machine on this list in terms of character. Everything from the packaging to the actual machine gives off a 1950’s kitchen appliance vibe. This thing is truly built for function over form. 

Light, Simple And Easy To Maintain

Coming in at around 4 pounds the ROK is fairly light. It doesn’t have a lot of moving parts that can break and the cleaning process basically consists of throwing the entire thing into the sink.

Add this to the small size and you have yourself a decent travel buddy for espresso making.

The ROK Can Actually Make GOOD Espresso… If You Can

Users tend to agree that there is a small learning curve with this one. But as long as you get the process and the coffee grind right you can definitely make good espresso. 

Durable

If there is anything that tells you that a company trusts its product it’s a 10-year warranty. And with the heavy duty materials and very simple design most customers seem to agree that the ROK won’t break easily.

Final Thoughts

The ROK is obviously not only rainbows and unicorns however. As I mentioned it can be a bit tricky to master this thing and the lack of boiler and milk frother inherent in most manual machines in this price range does mean you have to purchase those things. 

Even with those things in mind this is a well liked machine by its users and a great option for a small manual espresso machine.


Best Portable – Leverpresso Pro

  • High Quality Contruction
  • Super Portable
  • Consistent and Fairly Simple to Use
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The company behind the Leverpresso pro is the South Korean manufacturer HUGH. This company has been around for a short while making budget express makers. 

But recently the company has stepped up into making high quality machines that anyone would enjoy using.

High quality construction

Now the Leverpresso has a stainless steel construction and is well made overall. This is great for something designed to be on the road with you.

Super Portable

The leverpresso gets really small when folded in. The travel case that comes with it is useful and good looking and makes it clear that this machine was meant to be traveled with.

Consistent And Fairly Simple To Use

Both customers and reviewers are regularly impressed with how easy it is to get replicable results with this thing given the size. You can even make quite a lot of espresso without getting tired thanks to the ergonomic workflow and design.

Final Thoughts

The Leverpresso is the best manual espresso machine if you are looking for something compact. However there are some inevitable downsides to an espresso machine this size. Preheating is required because of the large thermal mass on this thing and the stand leaves a bit to be desired. 

If you want the full package with funnel and tamper the Leverpresso isn’t exactly free. However all in all this is a great machine that more than makes up for it in other ways and has great reviews from people that have bought it.


FAQ

What is the best brand of manual coffee machine?

Electra and La Pavoni are the best manual espresso brands but they are quite expensive. For more budget alternatives check out Flair or Cafelat.

Is manual espresso worth it?

Yes absolutely. If you want high quality espresso for less money then manual espresso machines are the way to go. But keep in mind that you will have to work harder to get the espresso since manual machines rely fully on the user for the entire process.

How long do manual espresso machines last?

20 years or more is usually how long a high quality manual espresso machine will last you. It all depends on the quality of the machine you choose.

Is manual lever espresso machine better than automatic?

A manual lever espresso machine is more reliable, cheaper to maintain and makes better espresso for the money. However they depend fully on the user’s work and skill in order to produce the espresso. So it all depends on your skill level and your priorities.

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AUTHOR

John has been in the game of blending and brewing for years now. Originally from Sweden, he has worked as a barista at coffee shops in the US and as a bar manager at a smoothie and juice bar in Paris. Now he is the main editor for Blend Brew Enjoy where he puts all his passion and effort into helping people find their love for coffee and smoothies.