If you’re looking for an espresso machine, it can initially be confusing due to the sheer number of options at your disposal.
We’d strongly recommend you first check out our detailed guide to espresso right here. We explore a huge range covering 20 of the strongest models in a crowded market catering to all tastes and budgets.
How about if you’re more of a purist and you want maximum control over the brewing process?
Well, a manual espresso maker gives you many of the advantages of an automatic or semi-automatic machine but with a great deal more flexibility.
Today, we’ve highlighted the results of some extensive testing and we’ve stripped down the products we tried out to bring you only the 8 most effective manual methods of getting a short shot in the morning.
We’ve got everything for you today from a small budget model to espresso machines ideal for use on the road. We’ve also got a great commercial option for anyone with a small coffee shop and 3 classic machines from the legendary brand La Pavoni.
If you love your coffee short and strong just like the Italians drink it, you’re in for a treat today!
After our reviews, we’ve got the usual handy hints and frequently asked questions to streamline every stage of your buying journey.
We’ll launch straight in now with a curated batch of the finest manual espresso machines money can buy…
Table of Contents
I. Top 8 Best Manual Espresso Machines
1. Our Pick: Flair Espresso Maker Bundle Set
To kick things off, our overall pick for best manual espresso machine comes from Flair.
This commanding black and red beauty makes a real conversation piece in the kitchen but is it a case of form over function?
In a word, no. If you’re not in a rush and you want to get back to basics making espresso just the way you like it, you’ll be amazed at the performance of this majestic manual machine.
Stainless steel and aluminum build gives you a solid base to work from. If you opt for the bundle set, you’ll also get a stainless steel tamper along with an extra brewing head to make 2 espressos simultaneously.
You’re better off grinding your beans directly before brewing. If you’re looking for a manual espresso maker, we guess you already know that, though. You’ll then be able to rustle up a 45ml shot in 30 to 45 seconds so you won’t be standing on ceremony by forsaking an automatic machine.
With lever pressure of 6 to 10 BAR, you’ll be able to enjoy espresso the way the Italians make it while feeling more connected to the brewing process. We can’t recommend the Flair strongly enough if you appreciate the finer things in life.
Things We Like
- Bundled version comes with an extra brewing head and tamper thrown in
- Rapid extraction time in well under a minute
- Class-leading 5-year limited warranty
Things We Dislike
- Not the cheapest machine but still outstanding value
See Also: Top 10 Best Espresso Machine Under $200
2. Runner-Up: ROK EspressoGC
For stripped-down simplicity and the chance to make espresso at its finest, think seriously about this no-nonsense manual model from ROK.
Sitting just 11 ½ inches tall and tipping the scales at a mere 3 ½ pounds, this nifty metal number is the polar opposite of a countertop machine in terms of portability. If you’re often on the road but not prepared to go without your morning espresso, this is a rock-solid choice.
As well as the machine itself, you’ll get a portafilter thrown in along with a spout attachment and measuring cup. You’ll have everything you need except the coffee to get going right out the box.
With no electricity required and no noise generated, all you need to do is load up the ROK with freshly ground beans and pull down on the pair of levers to get a nicely extracted espresso without any fanfare.
The piston gasket has been uprated to deliver all the pressure you need while the chamber is insulated so you’ll get the temperature you need for sublime short shots.
Thoughtfully placed small holes on the shower screen – another area improved with this facelift model – give you the even and clean extraction you’d expect from a coffee shop espresso without needing to leave home.
Things We Like
- Extremely portable model so ideal if you travel regularly
- Simply squeeze 2 levers for a rich and full-bodied espresso for the ultimate user-friendly device
- Outstanding 10-year guarantee on all metal parts
Things We Dislike
- While the warranty is honored, if you need replacement parts, the cost of shipping charged is high
3. Best for Travel: Wacaco MiniPresso Portable Espresso Machine
Many people today have incredibly busy and fluid lifestyles. If you’re always on the road and you can’t go without a fresh morning shot of espresso, the Wacaco is another travel-friendly manual espresso maker that looks great and packs a real punch.
Do you sometimes find a regular shot of espresso just a little too small? If so, you’ll appreciate the flexibility with this model since it allows you to pull longer shots up to 100ml.
The onboard piston is semi-automatic translating to incredible ease of use. With small amounts of water forced through into the adapter, all you need to do is push a couple times to yield an amazingly strong and rich espresso.
Whether you prefer super-short espresso, lungo or ristretto, you’re spoiled for choice with this magnificent manual model from Wacaco.
The only thing we can really say to knock this machine has nothing to do with operation but the absence of any kind of return policy. While we experienced no issues during our brief testing, it does leave you somewhat exposed if anything happens to go wrong.
If you’re prepared to take a chance, though, you could be enjoying gourmet espresso without that stiff weekly bill at Starbucks.
Things We Like
- Elegant aesthetics in a compact form factor perfect for travel purposes
- No need for electricity, cartridges or compressed air with this no-nonsense manual solution
- Make longer shots up to 100ml to widen your repertoire
Things We Dislike
- Lack of return policy is a disappointment
See Also: Top 10+ Best Automatic Espresso Machines
4. Best Suited for Small Coffee Shop: Elektra Microcasa Semiautomatica Commercial Espresso Machine
First thing’s first, if you’re looking for a cheap manual espresso machine for your home, this is absolutely not the model for you. If, however, you’ve got extremely deep pockets or a small coffee shop, this costly but lethally effective commercial espresso machine is tailor-made.
Crowned by a soaring brass eagle, the Microcasa from Elektra is the oldest continuous heat exchanger machines on the market and still going strong.
Capable of returning first-class espresso along with steam for cappuccino, using the Semiauto (this model is frequently abbreviated as such), is blissfully simple. With switches for the power, boiler fill and brewing, you won’t need a PhD to operate this machine.
A generous 2-liter water reservoir allows for the continuous operation essential in a commercial setting.
With an 800-watt heating element and a 3-way solenoid valve along with a super-powerful pump, you’ve got everything you need up your sleeve to delight your customers and keep them coming back for more.
Things We Like
- Jaw-dropping design to make a real statement on the countertop
- Unbeatable brand heritage from an industry legend
- Powerful pump matched with commercial-grade heat exchanger
Things We Dislike
- Eye-wateringly expensive but consider it an investment rather than an expense
See Also: Top 10 Best Coffee Beans For Espresso
5. Best Budget: AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker
Next up, the AeroPress is not strictly speaking an espresso machine at all but you’ll be able to rack up your preferred short shot using the manual press.
Make no mistake, you’re not going to get a legitimate espresso since you don’t have enough pressure on tap but you can certainly make a rough approximation. In our opinion, the result is best used as a base for longer drinks than taken as it comes.
Where a French press can kick out some grinds into your cup, the microfilter in place here means there’s no chance of that happening. You’ll get clean coffee that’s free of all sediment with remarkably little fuss.
Plastic parts are all BPA-free and contain no phthalates so you can enjoy your morning caffeine fix with a clear conscience.
Lightweight and portable, this is another manual approach to espresso making that’s perfect to take with you camping or travelling. You’ll even get a tote bag thrown in to streamline everything and keep it in one place.
Things We Like
- Incredible value for money without compromising performance
- Make an espresso in 30 seconds flat to drink as it comes or to use as a base for longer drinks
- Zippered travel bag thrown in which is a nice touch
Things We Dislike
- Inadequate pressure to make an authentic espresso so not one for purists
See Also: Top 10+ Best Nespresso Machines
6. La Pavoni Europiccola 8-Cup Lever Style Espresso Machine
We’ll round out with a trio of models from La Pavoni starting off with the classic lever style Europiccola.
La Pavoni don’t make cheap espresso machines but if you’re looking for a top-notch manual method of enjoying your short drinks just the way you like them, investing in one of these machines is not something you’re likely to regret.
Despite a focus on aesthetics, this is matched by a rugged build quality that should give you a lifetime of use if you care for the Europiccola properly. The base comes in triple-plated chrome, the boilers are brass and the heating elements made from robust stainless steel.
You’ll get no spring lever with this model but the user-controlled piston gives you complete freedom to dial in the brewing process just the way you like it.
The onboard steam wand is a nice touch and gives you a little more flexibility than a straight-up espresso maker normally offers.
If you’ve got a fluid budget and exacting tastes, the Europiccola is a must-have for any discerning coffee lover.
Things We Like
- Everything you need included down to a cappuccino attachment
- Eye-catching design married to enviable build quality
- Nifty instructional video to help you get started right away
Things We Dislike
- Reasonably difficult to master straight out the gate
7. La Pavoni Professional Espresso Machine
If you’re looking for complete consistency every single time, you might find this manual piston model from La Pavoni comes up short. If, however, you appreciate the artisanal nature of making great espresso and you’re prepared to tolerate a little variation, the Professional lives up to its name.
The 38oz boiler gives you the scope to make a full 16 cups with 2oz shots. This machine makes perfect sense if you’ve got a bigger family all clamoring for coffee in the morning and you don’t want to wait around.
The pre-infusion stage is key with this machine but once you’ve got to grips with that, you’ll come to embrace the flexibility you’ve got to serve up espresso just the way you love it.
The only real downside of this machine is the unbalanced nature of the design meaning you’re well advised to hold the base when you’re pulling your shots. Frankly, we’d expect more attention to detail at this price-point.
Things We Like
- Ability to make 1 or 2 cups at a time
- Pressure gauge to make your life easier
- Generous capacity so ideal for larger families or heavy coffee drinkers
Things We Dislike
- Manual piston makes consistent brewing a little awkward
8. La Pavoni Chrome Professional Espresso Machine
The all-chrome PC-16 completes our La Pavoni trio in fine style.
Before anything else, we should point out this is not a machine for absolute beginners or anyone without a little patience. The PC-16 is tasky to use and can play up at times but, once you’ve got things down pat, results are top-tier.
You can pull 1 or 2 shots at a time and you’ll get enough capacity in the boiler for a sprawling 16 shots.
Warm-up time can be as long as 15 minutes. Again, pack your patience as it’s worth the wait.
Once everything is fired up, the internal thermostat and mounted pressure gauge make your life easy as you’re pulling your espresso. There’s also dual frothing functionality in place offering you both a manual wand and the choice of automatic frothing if you want to prepare milk for longer coffees.
If you’re prepared to tolerate its idiosyncrasies, the PC-16 from La Pavoni is a modern classic.
Things We Like
- Oversized boiler yields a full 16 shots
- Make 1 or 2 shots according to preference
- Relatively small footprint despite such robust functionality
Things We Dislike
- Calls for a reasonable amount of maintenance and can be temperamental
With our reviews nailed, we’ll address some of the most common questions you might have when considering whether to take the manual approach.
The first thing on most people’s minds is the issue of whether or not these manual models are awkward to use so we’ll clear that up right now.
II. Are Manual Espresso Machines Difficult to Use?
It’s all well and good to have complete control over the brewing process but are manual espresso machines difficult to use?
What we should clear up straight off the bat is that using a manual machine is not too tough in and of itself but the inbuilt problem is the level of knowledge required when it comes to the brewing process…
If you’re a complete beginner to the art of coffee making and you don’t know too much about making espresso, you’re highly likely to struggle. The core purpose of a manual machine is to offer you complete control. If you’re not fully confident of what, precisely, you’re trying to control, you’re going to miss the mark.
We say this not to put you off or to suggest making espresso is a lifetime’s work. Rather, we mention this front and center to avoid you making a costly mistake. If you’re just starting out, you might be better off investing in a semi-automatic or fully automatic machine. In this case, check out our look at the best espresso machines to help you with that decision.
The alternative for beginners is to take a little time and trouble to learn the basics of making espresso before investing in a manual machine. Time spent at this stage will return dividends later when you unbox your machine with the confidence to get going right away.
Even if you’re already fully conversant with making espresso, not all manual espresso makers are created equal.
Some lever-based machines are more awkward to use than others and we’ve drawn attention to any models that are more temperamental and better suited to experienced hands.
As with any buying decision, you should take the time before launching into purchase mode to establish fully what you want from your manual machine. Think about your brewing preferences and be honest, too, about how much patience you have. How much do you value making small tweaks when set against the convenience offered by a more automated espresso maker?
There are no right or wrong answers here and we’re not encouraging you to go manual unless you’re convinced it’s the right solution for you.
If you’re happy with the ease of use factor and you’re prepared to experiment a little, the joys of owning a manual espresso maker come fully to the fore and you’ll get a personalised brew with less trouble than you might imagine.
So what should you look out for when you’re on the buying trail?
III. Manual Espresso Machine Buyer’s Guide
When you first consider buying a manual espresso machine, you might think it’s a very simple product but you’ll be surprised at the number of variables to consider.
Double down on these areas and you’ll increase your chances of getting the most appropriate machine for your needs…
- Type of Machine
- Ease of Use
- Build Quality
- Tank Capacity
Type of Machine
Perhaps the first thing you should take into account is whether you’d prefer a spring piston machine or a model that uses a direct lever instead.
If you’re resistant to steep learning curves and you want a more user-friendly machine you can get to grips with quickly, a spring piston model makes perfect sense. You’ll also get more consistent pressure with this variant and the pressure tends to be higher. On the flipside, you’ll generally need to dig a little deeper for the privilege. You also won’t get quite the same degree of control as with your other main option…
Direct lever espresso makers afford you maximum control but they will take some time to fully master. You’ll be able to pick up one of these machines quite cheaply but don’t let that give you the wrong idea. In skilled hands, one of these models is capable of producing coffee shop grade espresso.
Portability and Footprint
You can find many highly portable manual espresso makers but this is only something you should prioritize if you intend to take your coffee maker on the road whether you’re traveling abroad or camping. It’s senseless angling for a portable machine if you won’t make use of it.
If you don’t plan to travel with your machine, you should think closely about how much room it will eat up on the countertop and how much space you have to accommodate it. If you live in a small apartment or you’ve got a kitchen overspilling with equipment, we’ve outlined several compact models that would make a neat fit.
Ease of Use
Here, you should think about your skill level and how willing you are to master a new skill set against the general ease of use of the espresso maker you’re considering.
Some models require precious little effort and you’ll be able to brew pretty much straight out the box while others have a relatively steep learning curve and demand some effort to get to grips with.
Pay close attention to our reviews when we lay bare how easy or otherwise each machine is to operate and buy accordingly.
Rather than obsessing purely over the bottom line, you should weigh up price set against performance and build quality.
While the more expensive machines we looked at today might cost a little more at the point of purchase, you’ll be investing in an espresso maker that could keep going for a decade or more.
Look for stainless steel and brass components and take careful note of any reported issues with build quality.
Last but by no means least, you should think about how much water the tank holds.
Machine that only allow you to make a couple shots before the reservoir needs refilling can be remarkably tedious, especially if you’re a committed coffee fiend or you’ve got a larger family.
Those with more generously sized tanks are capable of making fully 16 shots before they need topping up. Again, think about your intended usage and buy in line with that. There’s no fixed answer to the right sized tank, simply the right size for you.
With those points borne in mind, you can go shopping secure in the knowledge you’re highly likely to end up with the best machine for your needs rather than an expensive mistake you’ll use once or twice then leave gathering dust.
We’ll round out today with a handful of the most frequently asked questions about manual espresso machines…
IV. Manual Espresso Machine FAQs
1) How long can you expect a manual espresso maker to last?
There’s no clear-cut answer here. If you spend a little more and take good care of your machine, it could easily last a lifetime. If, on the other hand, you buy a budget model, you should obviously be more realistic with your expectations.
2) What happens if something goes wrong with the machine? Are they easy to repair?
In a word, no. Unless you’re buying in at the very bottom end of the market, you should look closely at the return or repair policy in place along with the strength of the warranty. More specialist machines like those from La Pavoni or Elektra need professional repair by someone who knows exactly what they’re doing.
3) Are all manual machines possible to use with no need for electricity?
They’re not, no. Many manual machines still need to be plugged in for the purposes of heating up. If you’re looking for a manual model to take camping or to any remote location with no power supply, though, you’ll still have plenty of options. Just make sure you check before you buy so you don’t get a nasty surprise.
4) Are the more expensive manual machines really worth it?
Only you can answer that. The Elektra we look at, for example, is targeted at owners of small coffee shops. If you’re buying a machine like this for commercial purposes, it’s an investment that can return dividends very quickly. With regard to costly models from La Pavoni intended for home use, value is subjective. If you can afford one of these machines, you’re highly unlikely to feel shortchanged once you experience the first-class results.
5) Which is the easiest type of manual espresso maker to use?
Without a doubt, a spring piston machine is much simpler to operate than the direct lever alternative.
With any luck, you’ve now got a clear idea of whether or not a manual espresso maker is the best fit for your kitchen.
Don’t be ashamed if this is not the right solution for you. Much like a manual Porsche is not to everyone’s taste when you can go for the cushioned ease of an automatic Mercedes, a manual espresso maker simply isn’t the best fit for everyone either.
If, though, you’ve got the skills or the willingness to learn, going manual could be the best decision you ever made.
Whether you want the elegance and finesse of a machine by La Pavoni, something for a small commercial coffee shop or a compact travel espresso maker, we tried to cover all bases for you today. If you do go ahead and buy one of our suggestions, please take a few minutes to drop us a line and let us know how you got on.
Remember to bookmark The Prince LA and come back any time you want some impartial guidance on kitting out your house with the best possible products. We’ll never urge you to buy anything you don’t need and we’ll always accompany our frank reviews with some pointed hints to save you time and money.