What Is A Manual Espresso Machine?
Manual lever espresso machines have a piston that is operated by a hand lever to apply pressure for espresso extraction. When the first espresso machine was invented by Angelo Moriodo in 1884, it had a manual piston.
This is a photo of one of the earliest La Pavoni espresso machines.
How Does a Manual Espresso Machine Work?
Manual or lever machines are completely hand operated and don’t usually have pumps, although some higher end lever machines have pumps to refill the boilers after use, but they don’t have brew pressure pumps. Rather than having a pump that controls the brew pressure, a lever machine allows the barista to have complete control over the extraction process, which is why there are numerous home espresso aficionados and professional baristas that prefer lever machines over all other types of espresso machines. Some lever machines require a lever to be lifted, others require a lever to be lowered, in either case, the barista puts tamped, ground espresso into the portafilter basket and puts the portafilter onto the machine. The lever is then moved from it’s resting position and moved in the other direction until it won’t move any more. It is held in this position to allow water to fill a chamber with water, at this point the lever is released on spring lever machines, or on manual lever machines the barista starts applying pressure towards the resting position. This action will force the water through the ground coffee at very high pressure, there in extracting the coffee, creating espresso.
Here is an example how how the La Pavoni lever machine works:
When you turn the machine on, the lever should be in the down position. When the water inside the boiler reaches operating temperature, you are ready to brew your shot.
After you put coffee in the coffee handle, or portafilter, lift the lever. When you do this, water from the boiler enters the brew group. Hold the lever in this position for a few seconds to allow the water to fill the group and to allow water to preinfuse the ground coffee.
Now you get to the final step, lowering the lever to extract the espresso, or "pulling a shot".
That's all there is to it. Three main positions. With some machines the resting position for the lever is in the upright position and you lower it to fill the group head, and raise it again to extract the espresso shot.
Pulling a Double Shot on a La Pavoni Lever Machine
Are Lever Espresso Machines Better?
Lever espresso machines can pull great shots and many of the shots can be better when compared to pump driven espresso machines. That being said, a lot of the drink quality will be dependent on the barista’s skill level. Out of all the different espresso machine types, the manual lever machine is the hardest to master. Spring lever designs are also harder to learn how to use correctly, but since pressure is being applied by a spring, pressure application is more consistent and therefore, shots are also more consistent.
Espresso machines that extract using pump pressure usually have a flat pressure profile. Meaning they have a constant pressure during the entire extraction. For example, a machine like a Rocket R58 has a brew pump. When a shot is extracted on a machine like this, it will have about 9 bars of pressure being applied to the coffee during the whole 25 second or so of extraction time. With a lever machine, you might start with one bar of pressure and slowly raise to 9 bars for the first half of the pull, and then slowly lower back down to zero bars of pressure for the rest of the extraction time. There are different flavors extracted at each level of pressure so you can get a fuller depth of flavor with a lever machine when compared to a pump machine. If used correctly!
What Is The Best Manual Espresso Machine?
In the lower price range, the Flair espresso maker and the ROK espresso maker are commonly purchased machines that do a good job for the price range, but very high quality shots will be difficult to achieve due to lack of temperature control and stability.
The most common manual lever machines are La Pavoni lever machines. The La Pavoni Europiccola and the La Pavoni Professional and La Pavoni Esperto are great tried and true designs that are probably the most reliable machines on the market today. It is not uncommon for machines that are 30 or 40 years old to still be in operation.
In terms of spring lever machines, the Elektra Micro Casa a Leva espresso machine is a great machine and is easier to learn to use compared to the La Pavoni manual lever machines. Other good spring lever machines that are less common due to the higher price point include the Bezzera Strega, Izzo Alex Leva and Pompeii, and the Quick Mill Achille. These machines have things like larger boilers, thermosiphon group head designs, insulated boilers, direct water line connection and PIDs that provide for better temperature stability and better, more repeatable results and flavor profiles.
Do Manual / Lever Espresso Machines Require Electricity?
In most cases, they do still require electricity. This is because the machine needs a source of heat to warm up the water in the boiler. There are a few machines like the ROK where you can use water that is already hot, but that can be kind of a pain to use.
Are Lever Espresso Machines Reliable?
Since lever machines have fewer electrical parts than other types of espresso machines, lever machines are the most reliable type of espresso machine on the market. If you know of a very old espresso machine that is still in operation, it is very likely a lever machine. A lot of times the only reason a lever machine has to be retired is because the manufacturers stops making normal wear and tear items like gaskets.
Are Lever Machines Easily Portable?
Yes, there are several lever machines that are more portable than most other kinds of espresso machines. La Pavonis and Elektra levers are prosumer machines that are quite portable. We have quite a few customers that have told us that they bring them along in their RVs or campers.
Are Used Lever Machines Any Good?
Yes, used lever machines can be good purchases if they were well taken care of and if the previous owners didn’t use hard water. If hard water was used, the heating elements and other internal components could be ruined. We don’t sell used espresso machines, other than customer returns that are clearly labeled as such, but if you look on coffee forums, facebook marketplace or similar online locations you can sometimes find a good used manual lever espresso machine.
Do Coffee Shops Use Lever Espresso Machines?
Yes, while lever machines are not very commonly used in coffee shops, especially in the USA, they are still used in some artisan coffee shops. We estimate that about 5 percent of coffee shops in the United States use a lever espresso machine. In Europe we won’t make an estimate, but it’s a lot higher percentage, especially in Italy. One of the drawbacks of having a lever espresso machine in a coffee shop is that it’s harder to train new employees to use the machine correctly, so most coffee shop owners opt for more automated equipment.
Cheapest Lever Espresso Machines
The cheapest lever machines we are aware of are the Flair espresso maker and the ROK. We don’t sell these machines, but you can purchase them via the links.
What Are Hand Pump or Hand Pull Espresso Machines?
Hand pump and hand pull are common terms used to refer to lever action espresso machines. They are the same thing. The formally correct term is lever or manual espresso machines, but if you prefer to use the terms hand pull or hand pump to refer to them, that is perfectly alright!
What is the Best Rated Lever Espresso Machine?
The best rated home lever espresso machine is the La Pavoni Professional. Once people master them, they tend to love them and customer satisfaction is very high, even after many years.
How to Make a Lever Espresso Machine?
Can you make your own lever espresso machine? Yes, it is doable and there is a guy name Mike who was kind enough to provide free instructions for you to do so if you so desire. Here is a link to his website.
Where To Buy Lever Espresso Machines?
You can purchase Elektra, La Pavoni, Bezzera, Quick Mill and Izzo lever espresso machines from us at Espresso Outlet. On the commercial side, we sell La Pavonis, Astoria, and Victoria Arduino lever machines. If you have any questions about these machines we are happy to help.
Lever Espresso Machines We Don’t Sell
We have a nice offering of lever espresso machines and we think they have great features for prosumer home users, but there are some models that we don’t sell, including the following:
- Faema (home models)
- La Marzocco
- La Cimbali