Despite the ascension of automatic and super-automatic espresso machines in the coffee world, all-mechanical, manual lever espresso machines are still seriously awesome.
There is just something very satisfying about manually forcing water through the coffee grounds into an immaculate cup of coffee that tastes delicious.
If you are looking to buy a new lever espresso machine, this guide will help.
Below, we’ve listed our seven favourite manual espresso machines. We then discuss how to use one of these machines and wrap up with some final thoughts on who we think a lever coffee machine is suitable for.
La Pavoni Europiccola EL
Founded in 1909, La Pavoni has become one of the foremost producers of classic espresso machines.
Their Lever machines in particular have become iconic for their beautiful, classic design and longevity: many machines from the first half of the twentieth century are still producing tasty espresso shots to this day.
The La Pavoni Euripiccola EL Home Lever Machine is a legend amongst hobby coffee enthusiasts, having been first introduced in 1950 and later upgraded to a professional model in 1970.
The La Pavoni EL remains the benchmark for all other La Pavoni lever machines.
The stylish, compact design holds a 0.8 litre boiler that heats up in around 10 minutes and can produce approximately 8 espresso cups.
The machine has no pressure gauge, but an indicator light lets users know the boiler is hot enough to make a cup of coffee.
Flair Signature Espresso Maker
The Flair Signature Espresso Maker makes a full-flavored and full-bodied cup of espresso.
It generates 16 bars of pressure, making it as powerful as a commercial espresso machine. Yet, it has a clever design that breaks down and packs away into a handy carrying case, so you can take quality espresso wherever you go.
It also oozes minimalist style and comes in matte black, white, or chrome colourways. It is constructed of durable stainless steel and aluminium, so you can use it for years.
The Flair Signature comes with a Bottomless 2-in-1 Portafilter and is backed by a limited 5-year warranty on the press stand and brew cylinder.
Olympia Express Cremina
The Olympia Express Cremina espresso machine offers a level of design and function rarely found with lever-operated espresso machines.
It uses a pre-infusion piston system and is a manual, non-spring lever model.
The Olympia Express Cremina has a lever, which you can use to draw a small amount of water into the piston chamber and pre-infuse your coffee grounds with hot water.
You then lower the lever to force the hot water through the coffee, producing an espresso.
The electric boiler is made of chrome steel and has a capacity of 1.8 litres, which is enough for about 20 cups of classic espresso.
Inside the Express Cremina, you’ll find modern, state-of-the-art espresso equipment. The brew group, consisting of group head and portafilter, as well as the steam wand and the steam nozzle, are made of gleaming brass.
Other internal parts are made from stainless steel and chrome.
Elektra Micro Casa Lever
An iconic Italian hand-made manual espresso machine, the Micro Casa is popular thanks to its traditional design and high-quality construction.
Unlike the Olympia Express Cremina, the Micro Casa has a spring in the piston that makes steady, consistent pump pressure from one pull to the next.
Another neat feature of the Elektra Microcasa Leva is its brass piston. Some espresso machines have plastic pistons, which can crack with the heat in the group head. The brass piston on the Elektra Microcasa Leva helps to maintain the temperature in the group head.
To use the Elektra Micro Casa, start by lowering the lever to the down position, which should start to force hot water through your coffee grounds.
Then, slowly release pressure on the lever so that the spring-driven piston returns to the up position while pushing hot water through your coffee grinds.
The Micro Casa has a decent boiler capacity (18 single shots of espresso), a thermal safety switch, and an overpressure valve.
Cafelat Robot Espresso Maker
The Cafelat Robot is a small and modern manual espresso maker that makes real espresso, using no electronics. It is constructed using only premium materials, like high-quality stainless steel.
With the Cafelat Robot, you can make fresh coffee in just minutes. All you need is ground coffee, hot water from a kettle, and you’re good to go.
It also uses a commercial-sized 58mm stainless steel filter basket and a bottomless portafilter.
La Pavoni Stradivari Professional Lusso
The La Pavoni Stradivari lever machine is inspired by the world-famous Stradivarius violin. Its body is a plinth, and its lever is the bow. First released in 2005, this La Pavoni is a beautifully crafted lever machine that creates an all-around classic Italian coffee experience.
The machine takes around 5 minutes warm-up and be ready to prepare an exceptional shot of espresso.
After around 15 minutes the Stradivari can produce steam from its 1.6-litre boiler, which can be monitored with pressure gauges.
La Pavoni Expo 2015 Manual Lever Coffee Machine
The La Pavoni Expo 2015 lever machine is one of the Italian manufacturer’s most impressive and eye-catching releases.
It is finished with brass and dark wooden trim, and it has all the features found on their highest-end machines.
The Pavoni Expo has a 1.6-litre boiler, capable of producing 16 shots of espresso, and can heat up in 5 minutes for coffee brewing and 15 minutes for the steam and hot water.
How to use a lever coffee machine
Generally, a lever espresso machine creates pressurised extraction in the coffee basket by lowering the lever.
As the lever is lowered, a valve opens and pressure builds, reaching the optimum 15-bars of pressure when the valve is fully open.
Once you have established the crema and the main body of your espresso, you can gently raise the lever to end the extraction process and achieve a well-balanced shot.
For all serious home brewers and coffee enthusiasts, consistency is extremely important.
But, unfortunately, that’s not always possible with lever machines.
They can be more difficult to consistently set up, which means you may need to experiment with a variety of grind sizes.
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Lever machines have a certain appeal due to their historical significance in Italian coffee culture.
The simplicity of the lever machine makes manual espresso preparation an enjoyable experience, and the way the barista moves a lever to produce pressure on the ground coffee can add a hand-crafted feel to the process.
But if you want to control all the variables that come into play when making a cup of coffee, a lever machine may not be for you.
Lever machines are suited only for those who are willing to forgo some element of control in favour of a more artisan, romantic approach to making coffee.