Manual lever espresso machines are beautiful and a good way to get hands on with making your espresso. But which are the best? Here’s what you want to know.
#1 La Pavoni Europiccola Lusso
The best lever espresso machine for the most people is the La Pavoni Europiccola Lusso. La Pavoni have quite a few different models but the most popular for home use is the Europiccola. Besides having a fantastically Italian sounding name, it’s a great all round espresso press.
It’s been designed in the 50’s and been in production ever since. That means at this point in time you get a very nice retro looking machine. And the best part is, the build quality is also from the 50’s meaning that it’s very well built. You can find second hand Europiccolas that are quite old and still in good working order. Because they have been built for so long, parts and rebuild kits are pretty commonly available.
The Lusso version has a stainless steel base which looks much better than the standard black base in my opinion and well worth the extra money. It’s great out of the box and will brew awesome espresso. However, if you’re into it, there is also a large community that modifies these machines to suit their specific wants and needs. Not something most people are into but if you like tinkering, it’s a plus.
#2 Bezzera Strega
The absolute best lever espresso machine. It looks just like a nice automatic espresso machine except for the lever. If it’s the best, why isn’t it in the number one spot? That would be because of the price. It costs about 3 times as much as the Europiccola. While it is better, I woulnd’t be able to justify paying that amount of money. However, if money is not your main concern, go for the Bezzera Strega.
The only reason why you might not want to pick this one is that it looks too much like a normal espresso machine. Other lever presses have a less boxy design that makes them really stand out. The Strega looks a bit more ‘normal’. Aside from the slightly conventional shape, this machine is very well built, finished and has some beautiful details.
It’s straddling the line between a machine that’s for home use and one that’s more for a professional setting. There is a version that can be plumbed in for professional use. So if you have a deli or bistro that doesn’t sell too many espressos and want something with a bit extra flair and show, this can be a good option.
#3 Elektra Micro Casa Leva
The Elektra Micro Casa Leva is a very classical looking, beautifully handcrafted lever espresso machine.
It’s actually often compared to the Europiccola. The design of the Elektra is a bit more classical and looks better overall in my opinion. The eagle on top isn’t quite my taste but yours might be different. Overall, the Elektra is on a higher level of fit and finish although if it’s worth more than twice the amount of money is up to you.
There is a little less adjustability on the machine compared to the La Pavoni. This makes it easier to use and makes better espresso with less effort than the Europiccola. That makes this machine better for people that just want espresso and don’t want to play around with all the different settings.
It’s available in three different colors. And that’s not just a lick of paint. The different colors are actually different materials. The available finishes; Copper and brass; Chrome; Chrome and brass. While they all have the same classic design, the different finishes actually make the look and feel of the machine quite different.
The flair presses in general are hard to go wrong with. I have a little trouble with where to put them on this list. They are the cheapest, have the fewest features but do what they’re designed for really well. The low price makes them great for people who want to get their toes wet in the world of lever machines.
They don’t have built in boilers and have a pretty ‘industrial’ design. That makes them a lot more affordable than anything else. It also brings some problems. The lack of boiler means you have to preheat the filter and piston by pouring in hot water before actually brewing the espresso. If you brew more than two cups a day, this does become tedious. However, if you only need one or two espressos a day, this can be a much more affordable option than the others on this list.
Most of the flair machines also don’t use a standard portafilter. Flair does have a product with standard 58 mm portafilter which is called the Flair 58. That product is also quite a bit more expensive though.
If you really just want to try pressing your own espresso and don’t want to spend a lot of money to try it out, the NEO is a good place to start. It’s the cheapest hand espresso press on the market and it’s a good way to get started. It’s good for beginners since it comes with a flow restricted portafilter. The portafilters cannot be replaced by standard form factor filters so you’re a bit limited in what you can control.
If you want something that provides more control and brew options, take a look at the Pro 2. That one has a bigger brew chamber and portafilter that is more like a normal one. It also comes with a pressure gauge so you can keep an eye on what you’re doing. It’s still not very expensive in the world of lever espresso machines but significantly more than the NEO. However, you do get a nicer fit and finish for that in return. The Pro 2 is the better choice for people that know they want a lever machine and don’t want to have to upgrade anytime soon.
#5 ROK Manual
This thing just looks so cool. If you want a conversation piece in your kitchen, any of the machines on this list will do the trick. However, the ROK manual just looks so alien, it takes it up another notch. And it does it for relatively little money. The basic concept is the same as the Flairs which means there is no boiler. Other than that, it looks very different.
Instead of one lever, there are two you press down at the same time, a little like a wine opener. Combined with the vintage design, it looks like something out of a 50’s sci-fi movie. It’s not just a gimmick though. It actually makes decent espresso and while there are some plastic parts, which I’m not a fan of in something like this, it is durable for the price.
Another big plus is that it uses a normal style portafilter unlike the flair presses. This means you can change and upgrade it as necessary. On top of that it comes in a tin with milk frother and scooper which means you have a relatively compact package that can make cappuccino.
Favorite Espresso Tools
Besides an espresso machine, there are a few other tools that can make your espresso better. Here are my favorites:
- Tamper: A nice tamper helps you tamp your grounds in the filter for the best result. Any correctly sized tamper can do the job but a nice heavy one just feels so much better in your hand than a plastic model. This Luxhaus one (Amazon) has a nice trick up it’s sleeve to make tamping very consistent.
- Beans: Good espresso starts with good beans. Using fresh beans is a big improvement over pre-ground coffee.
- Scales: Getting consistently good espresso means you have to know how much grounds is going into the machine and how much is coming out and how long this takes. A coffee scale is going to make your espresso much more consistent and also makes adjustments a lot easier. The Apexstone coffee scale (Amazon) is cheap and doesn’t look too sleek but is just as accurate as more expensive scales. The TimeMore scales (Amazon) look and feel a lot nicer but cost a bit more.
- Grinder: To make the best of your fresh beans, a good grinder is necessary. Espresso requires a good grinder to get the best results. The Baratza Sette 30 (Amazon) is a good espresso grinder that can also be used for other brewing methods and while not cheap, is good value for money. If you prefer hand grinders, the 1ZPresso JX-PRO is one of the best options (Amazon)
- Distribution tool: After grinding you can get some clumps in the coffee grounds. Those clumps should be broken up so the water can extract all the coffee grounds equally. Distribution tools are very simple things but this one (Amazon) is beautifully made and will look good in your kitchen.