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Best Manual Espresso Machine

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Last updated: November 23, 2023

This is my roundup of the best manual espresso machines.

I own a manual espresso machine, namely the ROK Espresso GC, and spent a whole day researching these machines by watching YouTube product demonstrations, trawling through users’ experiences on r/espresso, and reading reviews of them on Amazon.

Let’s get started.

Top Picks

There are four manual espresso machines that I would recommend depending on your specific needs. These are:

Best Overall: Elektra Micro Casa Lever S1

Best for Beginners: Cafelat Robot

Best Affordable: Rok Espresso GC

Best for Making Milk-Based Espresso Drinks: La Pavoni PC-16 Professional

I’m now going to go into each of these four machines in more detail so you can understand exactly which one is best for you.

Elektra Micro Casa Lever S1 – Best Overall 

The Elektra Micro Casa Lever S1 is, in my opinion, the best manual espresso machine. It looks like it has come straight off the counter of a 1940s espresso bar and its superb engineering allows you to pull consistently excellent shots and steam milk for lattes and cappuccinos.

Quality of Espresso

The machine does not give you the control over your brewing that some other manual espresso machines do. However, it is finely calibrated to produce consistently excellent shots if you get your coffee dose and grind right.

Brewing Pressure Control

The Elektra Micro Casa Lever S1 has a spring piston lever, meaning the machine controls brewing pressure for you. This eliminates one of the most tricky variables to get right when trying to brew the perfect shot.

The piston is excellently calibrated, with the vast majority of reviewers of the machine saying that they can make espresso which rivals that of an artisanal coffee shop once they get their grind and dose correct.

The machine has a pressure gauge and overpressure valve, meaning that you can release any excess pressure created in the machine by steam from the water it boils. 

This prevents you from over-pressurizing your shots.

Brewing Temperature Control

While many machines have an issue with brewing at too low a temperature, the Elektra Micro Casa Lever S1’s slow heating mechanism means the machine is very hot when it’s ready to brew. 

You definitely do not need to worry about its brewing temperatures being too low.

After the second or third espresso, you make with the machine in a row, it might actually be too hot to brew with. You can cool the machine down by applying a cold, damp cloth to its group head.

The machine’s brewing temperature should be spot on for the first couple of shots you pull.

Dose Control

The machine’s spring piston lever also controls the amount of water that is pumped through your shot. You can make a preset single or double shot depending on how far you cock the piston lever before you release it. 

True to tradition, single shots are set to 25 ml and doubles are set to 50 ml. 

With all these inbuilt features calibrating your shot for you, all you need to get right are your grind and coffee dose. 

While the machine won’t dose your coffee for you, its base is wide enough to accommodate a scale. 

This means that you can weigh the liquid that ends up in your cup per shot and work out how much coffee you need from this figure.

Quality of Espresso Rating: 9/10

The machine is calibrated to allow it to make excellent espresso. It does not, however, allow you as much control over your brewing conditions as direct lever-operated machines.

User Friendliness

The machine’s piston-operated lever makes it easy to pull a good shot compared to other machines. 

It does not require as much trial and error as machines whose brewing pressure is directly controlled by the amount of force that you apply to its lever(s).

You can find a video of someone using this machine below:

There are two issues that I have with this machine as far as user experience is concerned.

The first of these is that the machine gets very hot once it’s boiled water. I’d suggest using an oven glove if you need to touch any part of the machine (except for the portafilter handle) once it has heated up.

The second of these is just how long the machine takes to heat water. It takes around 10-15 minutes to do this, depending on how full you fill the water tank.

This means that if you forget to heat up in advance and you’re in any sort of rush then you’re going to have to skip that espresso.

Despite these drawbacks, the old-school look and feel of the machine, combined with the fact that you can make an amazing espresso with it without endless tinkering, does make it very nice to use.

Overall User Friendliness Rating: 7/10

The machine is very satisfying to use if a bit (or rather, a lot) on the slow side.

Design and Aesthetics

This. Machine. Is. Stunning

Image from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuwVI6Rs_Kg

It will make your kitchen feel like you’re in 1940s Milan.

The build quality of the machine is exceptionally high, being made out of chrome. Its weighty bottom means it will never move around when you operate its lever or attach your portafilter.

The only area where they have skimped a bit is with the tamper, which is made out of plastic. 

I’d suggest buying a weighty metal tamper to go with this machine. 

The portafilter basket is 49 mm in diameter so make sure that you get a 48 mm portafilter for it.

Design and Aesthetics Rating: 10/10

This is the best-looking manual espresso machine available.

Value for Money

The machine is the most expensive on the list (bear in mind that prices of all machines may vary online) but justifies this cost. 

The machine’s superb attention to detail in its design and build quality means that you will feel like you are getting value when you use it.

Value for Money Rating: 7/10

The machine is expensive but justifies this price.

Cafelat Robot – Best for Beginners

The Cafelat Robot is one of the easiest direct lever-operated machines to use. It strikes a nice balance between being easy to use, making good espresso, and being affordable. This makes it a perfect first manual espresso machine.

Quality of Espresso

The Cafelat Robot is smartly designed to make controlling brewing temperature and pressure as easy as possible for a direct lever-operated machine. Dose control isn’t the easiest with this machine as you cannot fit a scale underneath your cup.

Brewing Pressure Control

The Cafelat Robot comes with a pressure gauge as standard so you can see how much pressure you are applying when brewing. 

The gauge is not the best designed, however, as it can only be seen when you are facing the machine. You will usually be standing above the machine when brewing so you will need to crouch to see the gauge.

Still, many manual espresso machines in this price range do not have a gauge, so simply having one is a big plus for this Robot.

Brewing Temperature Control

The Cafelat Robot has an unusual system where hot water is added directly to the loaded portafilter.

A metal dispersion screen sits between the water and the grounds so the water disperses evenly over the coffee.

Directly adding the coffee to the water means that there will be minimal heat loss between the coffee leaving the boil and your brewing. 

This is exactly what you want when making espresso.

Dose Control

Unfortunately, this machine gives you no measurement lines when filling the machine with water.

What’s even more concerning is that the base of the machine is too narrow for you to fit in a scale underneath. 

This means that you have no way of weighing your final espresso and therefore no data to go on when dosing out your ground coffee.

Quality of Espresso Rating: 7/10

The Cafelat Robot gives you excellent control over brewing temperature and pressure but the inability to put a scale under your cup when making espresso does put a limit on how accurately you can control dosing.

User Friendliness

Since water does not actually run through the machine, you do not need to warm the machine up prior to using it.

This puts to bed the biggest headache when using a manual espresso machine.

The machine’s deep brew basket also means there is a lot of room for error between putting in the correct amount of water and overfilling your basket and spilling water everywhere. 

You, therefore, are unlikely to ever make a mess when using this machine.

The only drawback that the Cafelat Robot has, as far as usability is concerned, is its pressure gauge.

The gauge faces forwards and you cannot adjust its position. 

Since your head will usually be above the machine when using it, that means you have to crouch or crane your neck to read the gauge.

This is not very ergonomic, but not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things.

User Friendliness Rating: 9/10

The Cafelat Robot has clearly been designed to make pulling a good espresso as easy as possible. This is why it is so well suited to those who have never used a manual espresso machine before.

Design and Aesthetics

The machine looks really cool.

It’s taken a very different approach to the Elektra, going for a futuristic look rather than a classic one, but pulls it off almost as well (and that’s saying something).

Cafelat collaborated with Danish Artist Karina Mencke to design the machine and this attention to aesthetic detail has really paid off.

Design and Aesthetics Rating: 9/10

Value For Money

As of August 2022, the Cafelat Robot retails at around $450.

While this is not cheap, it still puts it at the lower end of manual espresso machines.

Considering how easy it is to make a good espresso with this machine, I’d still say that it offers good value for money.

Value for Money Rating: 8/10

This is a top-quality manual espresso machine priced right in the middle of what these types of machines go for. That’s a good deal in my book.

Rok Espresso GC – Best Affordable

The Rok Espresso GC is quite challenging to pull a good shot from. However, it is relatively inexpensive and well built, meaning that if you know what you are doing with manual espresso machines then it represents amazing value for money.

Quality of Espresso

The Rok GC’s stripped-back features mean that it lacks a lot of the things needed to help you make a good espresso on a consistent basis. 

You by all means can make excellent espresso with this machine, but you will need to know what you are doing and experiment with it a fair bit.

Brewing Pressure Control

The Rok GC is direct lever operated and has no pressure gauge. This means that you have to know a way of knowing how the force that you apply to the levers translates into brewing pressure.

The machine is well calibrated, meaning that if you dose and grind your coffee correctly then applying enough force for a 25-30 second brew time should result in the correct amount of brewing pressure.

However this, admittedly, is asking a lot of the user.

Brewing Temperature Control

Water passes through the machine before hitting the ground coffee, meaning that achieving the correct brewing temperature is difficult with this machine.

Ideally, you want to run a couple of blank shots (shots without any coffee) to warm up your machine and portafilter before brewing your espresso.

Again, this makes the espresso-making process a bit of a chore.

Dose Control

The machine offers you no way of measuring how much water you put into it. It will use all the water that you load within its brew.

The base of the machine is wide enough that you can put a scale underneath your cup. This at least gives you some useful data to go on when it comes to dosing your coffee.

Quality of Espresso Rating: 5/10

Don’t get me wrong, the Rok GC can make a good espresso. However, the machine does little to make achieving consistently good shots easy for you.

User Friendliness

The Rok GC can be best described as “easy to use but hard to master”.

It is very simple to use. Just pour boiling water into the top of the machine, attach the loaded portafilter, lift up the arms and let sit for 15-20 seconds, and then press down.

Just doing this will get you very average results, however.

To get a good shot from the machine you need to first warm up the machine by running some blank shots through it. 

You also need to be able to time your brew to get a rough idea of how much pressure you are brewing under.

All this makes the process of pulling a good shot quite time and effort intensive.

The machine’s simple design does make it very easy to clean and means that there are very few points of failure. I cannot see maintenance being an issue with this machine at all.

User Friendliness Rating: 7/10

Having to warm up the machine is a pain, but other than that it is simple enough to use.

Design and Aesthetics

I like the way the machine looks. It has a clean and simple design, reminiscent of a high-end corkscrew.

The machine is very compact, meaning that you could travel with it if you wanted to. 

It is weighty enough that it won’t move or topple when you use it but it also isn’t a burden to carry.

Design and Aesthetics Rating: 8/10

Value For Money

The Rok GC is the most affordable high-quality manual espresso machine on the market. 

It is about a third of the price of the Cafelat Robot and, if you know what you are doing with the Rok, then you can make almost as good espresso with it.

For the right person, it represents the best value for money for all these machines.

Value for Money: 10/10

The Rok GC is excellent value for money. All manual espresso machines in this price bracket are far inferior to this, and many more expensive machines aren’t as good as this machine.

La Pavoni PC-16 Professional – Best for Milk-Based Coffee Drinks

The La Pavoni PC-16 Professional combines the ability to make excellent espresso with a steam wand with two detachable heads, one for steaming and one for frothing. This makes it perfect for those wanting to make cappuccinos and other frothed drinks with their machine.

Quality of Espresso

The La Pavoni PC-16 Professional allows you to control many, but not quite all, of the variables that go into making excellent espresso.

Brewing Pressure Control

The machine heats up its own water and has a pressure gauge and over-pressure valve meaning that you can reduce the amount of pressure that builds up in the machine when it boils water.

This means that the steam in the machine will not over-pressurize your espresso.

Unfortunately, the machine’s pressure gauge does not measure the pressure that you are exerting as you push down on its lever to brew your espresso. Getting the right brewing pressure can therefore only be achieved by trial and error on your part.

The machine’s lever system is superbly designed. This means that the force you apply to its lever should translate into a consistent level of brewing pressure shot after shot.

Brewing Temperature Control

The machine heats water internally so it will come to temperature naturally once it has heated your water. There is no need to brew blank shots with this machine to bring it to temperature.

The group head can get too hot once you have pulled a couple of shots from it, so you might need to wait between shots to avoid burning your espresso.

I wish the La Pavoni Professional’s brew head had some means of displaying its temperature to you. 

You can buy a temperature strip and stick it on the brew head to do this, however it does not come with the machine.

Dose Control

The machine will show you how full its water tank is via a visible spirit level on the side of the machine. However, since the water tank holds up to 54 oz of water, the loss of a single shot will not make a visible difference to how full the tank is.

You cannot, therefore, measure your water dose from the machine alone.

The machine has space for you to fit a scale under your cup when you pull espresso, so you can measure your coffee dose by working backwards from this weight.

Quality of Espresso: 7/10

The machine’s high build quality means it can make near-perfect espresso, however, I wish it did a bit more to guide you to this end. You will need to go through a lot of trial and error to get there.

User Friendliness

The La Pavoni Professional makes old-style espresso making as easy as can possibly be. 

Its milk wand with a frothing head also greatly increases the number of espresso drinks you can make from it.

The machine takes about six minutes to heat up. While this is hardly fast, it does make it one of the fastest manual espresso machines with its own built-in boiler to heat up.

The machine is nicely designed. Its portafilter fits in easily and its lever is very smooth when you apply pressure to it.

A highlight of the machine is its milk wand. It steams milk gently, making it easy for beginners to use. I also love that it has a frothing attachment which allows you to make microfoam for cappuccino and macchiato without having years of barista experience.

There are two very small weaknesses of this machine as far as user-friendliness is concerned.

Firstly it can get very hot. I would recommend using an oven glove if you need to touch any metal part of the machine while it’s on.

Secondly, its drip tray is quite shallow. You need to flush out the brew head after every espresso and this causes the drip tray to fill up very quickly. 

You more or less need to empty the drip tray after every other espresso that you make and this can become quite tedious.

User Friendliness Rating: 8/10

The machine is a joy to use, combining a classic feel with modern convenience. The steam wand with multiple heads is a particular highlight.

Design and Aesthetics

La Pavoni has not changed the way their machines look since the mid-20th century. If you want a classic-looking espresso machine then this will certainly fit the bill.

The machine might not quite be as elegant as the Elektra, but it is far more compact.

La Pavoni is considered a classic design among espresso geeks so its look is iconic and sure to spark some jealousy among your espresso-loving friends if you can get your hands on it.

Some of these machines have been known to still be in operation after 50 years of use. This is a further testament to their superb design and builds quality.

Design and Aesthetics Rating: 9/10

The La Pavoni machines are considered a design classic and their build quality means that they should be able to stay in operation for several decades.

Value For Money

The La Pavoni Professional is not cheap and due to it being a “name” in the espresso world, this may inflate its price somewhat.

That being said you cannot fault the machine’s attention to detail and build quality, so you are for the most part getting what you pay for.

Value for Money Rating: 7/10

The machine is not cheap but it justifies its price tag.

What to Consider When Buying a Manual Espresso Machine

Below are the following questions that you should ask yourself when you are deciding which manual espresso machine you should buy.

Does the Machine Heat its Own Water?

Some manual espresso machines have a built-in water heater, whereas others need you to add water boiled from the kettle.

The main advantage of buying a manual espresso machine that heats its own water is that the entire machine warms up while it heats your water.

You want to brew an espresso with a warm machine so that the water that you brew with does not cool down during brewing. Brewing with water under 194 Fahrenheit (90 Celsius) will reduce the efficiency by which your water extracts flavor from the ground coffee.

If your espresso machine does not heat its own water, then you will have to brew a few “blank shots” (shots without any coffee in the portafilter) to warm the machine up before you pull your espresso.

This significantly adds to the amount of time and work it takes to make an espresso with your machine.

Machines that heat up their own water can become very hot, especially if you pull several shots simultaneously. 

This can reduce the enjoyment you get from using the machine, as you have to be vigilant to not burn yourself when pulling shots.

The table below shows which of the four machines heat their own water, and which ones do not:

MachineDoes it heat its own water?
Elektra Micro Casa Lever S1Yes
Cafelat RobotNo
Rok Espresso GCNo
La Pavoni PC-16 Professional Espresso MachineYes

Machines that heat their own water tend to be more expensive than ones that do not, and this is reflected in these four machines.

Does the Machine Operates Using a Spring Piston or Direct Lever?

The lever that you use to push the water through the coffee grounds in these machines is either operated using a spring-piston or by using your direct force.

As a very general rule, direct lever machines are harder to master than spring piston machines, but give you more control over your brewing conditions. 

Spring Piston

Spring piston systems pressurize your brewing water through a spring system rather than directly through the force applied by the user. 

With a spring piston-operated machine, the lever is upright when the machine is at rest.

Once you load the machine with coffee and water, you then cock the lever down. This loads the spring mechanism.

You then release the lever when you want to brew. The loaded spring will push the lever up for you, applying a consistent amount of pressure to every brew that you make.

The video below shows someone using a spring piston-operated system (the Elektra Micro Casa Lever S1). Note how the lever is rising by itself from 4.08 in the video.

The main advantage of a spring piston machine is that every espresso that you brew is consistent in terms of pressure.

These machines are engineered to brew under five to nine bars of pressure. The better quality the machine the closer to nine bars this will be.

Nine bars is the pressure that espresso is traditionally brewed under. In reality, only high-end commercial machines reach this.

The main disadvantage of a spring piston machine is that you do lose ultimate control of the brewing pressure. 

That being said you can still customize your espresso with these machines by adjusting the coffee and water doses and the pre-infusion time.

Direct Lever Operated

Direct lever-operated machines pressurize the brewing water through your direct force when you pull its lever.

This gives you full control over brewing pressure. You can adjust pressure by changing the amount of force you apply to the machine’s levers.

Direct lever-operated machines are difficult to pull consistent shots from.

A small change in the force you apply to the machine can significantly change the pressure that your espresso is brewed at.

That being said, these types of machines allow you to play around with brewing pressure to a very fine degree. With enough practice, you can get more precise brews than you could with a spring piston-operated machine.

The table below shows which of the machines featured in this article are spring piston operated and which are lever operated:

Machine NameSpring Piston or Direct Lever Operated?
Elektra Micro Casa Lever S1Spring Piston
Cafelat RobotDirect Lever
Rok Espresso GCDirect Lever
La Pavoni PC-16 Professional Espresso MachineDirect Lever

As spring piston machines have a more complex design than direct lever-operated ones, they tend to be more expensive.

Does the Machine Have a Pressure Gauge?

Ideally, you want a manual espresso machine with a pressure gauge so you know how the force you are applying to the machine’s lever translates to brewing pressure.

This is necessary to accurately calibrate your use of the machine to make espresso in the exact way that you want.

It is particularly important for direct lever-operated machines to have a pressure gauge, as you have complete control over brewing pressure with these machines.

You still want a pressure gauge on a spring piston machine but for a slightly different reason. 

The steam created from the boiling water in these machines creates its own pressure which can change the amount of pressure that the machine is calibrated to produce when brewing.

You, therefore, want a pressure gauge so you can see how much pressure the steam is producing in the machine. 

In many cases, you will want to release some of this pressure prior to brewing, and most machines have an over-pressure valve to allow you to do this.

The table below shows which of the featured machines have a pressure gauge, and which ones do not.

Machine NameDoes it Have a Pressure Gauge
Elektra Micro Casa Lever S1Yes
Cafelat RobotYes
Rok Espresso GCNo
La Pavoni PC-16 Professional Espresso MachineYes

How Tall is the Machine at its Maximum Height?

Some manual espresso machines can be much taller than other types of coffee machines. This is especially likely if their lever points straight upwards when it is in the upright position.

If you have low counter-to-cabinet clearance then some manual espresso machines just won’t be practical for your kitchen. 

You should therefore try to find out what the maximum height of a manual espresso machine is before you decide to purchase one.

The table below shows the maximum heights of the four espresso machines featured in this article:

Machine NameMaximum Height
Elektra Micro Casa Lever S119.3 inches / 49 cm
Cafelat Robot19 inches / 48 cm
Rok Espresso GC11.5 inches/ 29 cm
La Pavoni PC-16 Professional Espresso Machine12 inches / 30 cm

Do you Like the Look of the Machine?

With there being a huge number of espresso machines that make excellent espresso with just a couple of button presses, part of the reason why you would want a manual espresso machine is because it looks cool and is fun to use.

These machines are going to be one of the statement pieces of your kitchen.

If you don’t love the way your machine looks, then it loses a lot of its value to you

Make sure you have a solid understanding of how a manual espresso machine looks before you decide to buy it. 

Watching videos of the machine in action can help with this because you get to see how it looks in a kitchen environment.

For what it’s worth, I think that the Elektra Micro Casa and the Cafelat Robot are the two best-looking machines featured in this article.

Final Thoughts: The Elektra Micro Casa Lever S1 is the Best Manual Espresso Machine

The best manual espresso machine is the Elektra Micro Casa.

The machine is absolutely stunning and really delivers on that “old school” look that people looking to buy a manual espresso machine want.

The machine takes a while to warm up, but its over-pressure valve and spring piston system mean, that once it heats up you can pull excellent shot after excellent shot without too much trial and error.

It might not be the most suitable for a single person with a small kitchen but if you want to make world-class espresso with a machine that looks like it came from the 1940s then this is your best option.

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