Lattes, cappuccinos, and straight shots of espresso can be great ways to kick-start your day or perk up your afternoon. But buying them at coffee shops can be time-consuming and expensive. If you’re looking to save money and learn a new skill, a manual espresso machine can be an excellent investment. But how do you find your perfect espresso maker?
To help you shop, we tested and ranked the top 10 manual and lever espresso makers on the market. For each model, we’ve written an in-depth review, looking closely at features, ease of use and cleaning, value, and appearance so you can make an informed decision. Keep reading to find your new manual espresso maker!
A Quick Glance at our Favorite Picks of 2023
The 10 Best Manual Espresso Machines
1. La Pavoni Lever Manual Espresso Machine – Best Overall
The La Pavoni Professional 16-Cup Espresso Machine is a simple lever-operated machine that delivers up to 16 two-ounce cups of espresso at one time. It has an internal thermostat that keeps your water the right temperature in the 38-ounce solid brass broiler. You won’t have to worry about getting a lukewarm cup of joe anymore.
This manual espresso machine features a double frothing system to manage the different frothing for different drinks. Your milk is frothed into a microfoam for your cappuccino that nearly doubles the amount of milk you actually used. For your latte, your milk is steamed to heat the milk with just a little foam.
The only problem we saw with this machine is that the temperature is sometimes inconsistent.
All in all, we think this is the best manual espresso machine of the year.
- Lever-operated with rosewood handle
- 38-ounce brass boiler
- Internal thermostat
- Steam pressure piston
- Dual frothing for cappuccinos and lattes
- Inconsistent temperature
2. La Pavoni Europiccola Lever Espresso Machine
The La Pavoni Europiccola 8-Cup Lever Espresso Machine makes almost any kind of coffee drink you could ever want. The lever allows you to customize your favorite choice to fit your tastes. It even includes an automatic milk foamer to give you just the right amount of froth for your drink.
This machine does it all, but because of that, it can be a little complicated to figure out all the different ways to use it. One thing you won’t have to worry about is finding your measuring spoons so you don’t end up with coffee strong enough to hold a spoon up. This machine comes with its own measuring spoon and two-cup filters.
One thing you may want to be aware of is the material of the base. The black enamel option tends to chip easily. You may want to look for the brass one instead.
- Makes espresso, cappuccino, caffe latte, and other coffee drinks
- Lever allows you to customize your espresso
- Includes automatic milk foamer
- Includes measuring spoon and filters
- Made of cheap plastic
- The black enamel base chips easily
- Can be complicated to learn to use
3. Staresso Portable Espresso Machine – Best Value
The Staresso Portable Espresso Machine is a portable espresso maker that’s very well-priced. It weighs about a pound and can produce two ounces of espresso at a time.
Via a patented pump, you can produce up to 20 bars of pressure — pretty impressive for such a small device! You can choose between ground coffee and Nespresso capsules, and the company offers recipes for cold brew and even milk frothing! Plus, the espresso is tasty and topped with a thick layer of crema.
The downsides? You have to be careful not to tamp the grounds too tightly, as that can cause an unsafe buildup of pressure. This model is also made mostly of BPA-free ABS plastic, which doesn’t feel particularly high-end. There are a couple of stainless steel components, but it’s not a display piece like many of our top picks.
To conclude, we think this is one of the best lever espresso machines for the money.
- Delicious espresso with lots of crema
- Lightweight and compact
- Up to 20 bars of pressure
- 1-year warranty
- Mostly made of plastic
- Less high-end feeling
- Can be dangerous if tamped tightly
4. Flair Manual Lever Press Espresso Maker
The Flair Manual Press Espresso Maker is nice because there are no electronic parts on it that can break. It also has a detachable brewing head that can be broken down for easy cleaning.
However, it takes a lot of time and effort to make your espresso, and then you don’t even get a full two-ounce shot. We averaged between one and 1 ½-ounce. You can’t make a second one very quickly to make up the difference, because the cylinder gets extremely hot and takes quite a while to cool down. By the time it is cool enough to refill, you may not have the time to make another.
- No electronics to break down
- Detachable brewing head
- Easy to clean
- Takes too much time and effort
- Cylinder gets very hot
- Can’t get a full two-ounce shot
5. Wacaco Minipresso Portable Espresso Maker
The Wacaco Minipresso, which is similar to the Staresso, works with ground coffee and a hand pump. You’ll have to boil the water separately, but the device does everything else. It can produce up to 8 bars of pressure, and the machine’s body is made of impact-resistant, BPA-free Tritan plastic.
This model also comes with useful accessories like a scoop that doubles as a tamper and a small cleaning brush. Plus, the whole device weighs less than a pound, making it incredibly portable.
With a small water capacity of 1.7 ounces, you’ll have to set it up separately for each espresso shot. The manual pump can also be a little tricky to use, especially since you’ll have to keep it aimed at your cup. But you’ll be amazed at this tiny machine’s espresso, which features very impressive flavor and crema.
- Reasonably-priced and very portable
- Impact-resistant Tritan
- Up to 8 bars of pressure
- Works with ground coffee
- Comes with useful accessories
- Small water capacity
- Can be hard to pump
- Must boil water separately
6. DeLonghi Manual Espresso & Cappuccino Machine
The DeLonghi Manual Espresso & Cappuccino Machine is self-priming, so it is always ready when you want to use it. The frother on this unit is very difficult to clean; however, it has a removable drip tray to counteract it. It would be nice if there was more of a balance and it was all easy to get apart to clean.
This is a really small machine. If you use tiny cups, you are good with this machine, but the average-sized cup is very difficult to get under the drip head.
Another thing we noticed is that the ready light tends to turn off while you are using it. Though it doesn’t change the taste of the coffee at all, it does leave you wondering if the machine is still on.
- Removable drip tray
- Regular coffee cups don’t fit well
- Very small
- Ready light turns off
- Frother is difficult to clean
7. La Pavoni Stradavari
This very expensive espresso maker produces amazing shots — if you know what you’re doing. It’s not especially easy to use, but if you perfect your technique, you’ll be rewarded with delicious, crema-topped espresso.
The La Pavoni Stradavari has a nickel-plated brass boiler, an internal thermostat, and a safety fuse. It can produce up to 16 two-ounce espresso shots and features wooden handles and a retro pressure gauge.
Unfortunately, there are some quality control issues and reports of faulty handles and pressure valves. Though most of the machine is high-quality metal, there are a few plastic pieces. Plus, the one-year warranty seems short for such a pricey model.
- Produces amazing espresso
- 1-year warranty
- Beautiful design
- High-end materials and safety fuse
- Very expensive
- Not easy to use
- Can corrode
- Some plastic components
8. Krups Calvi Steam and Pump Manual Espresso Maker
The Krups Calvi Steam and Pump isn’t quite as manual as many of our other picks — you won’t get in arm workout while pulling your daily shot of espresso. But you do have to adjust the settings and stop the espresso shot after a single or double.
This model works pretty well, producing up to 15 bars of pressure and offering a built-in milk frother. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to pull a weak shot, so you may have to experiment to produce strong, rich espresso. The package includes single and double espresso filters, but the machine doesn’t automatically adjust to the one you’re using.
The frother shuts off automatically, which can be frustrating if you’re frothing a large quantity of milk. Krups does offer a two-year warranty, and this model is reasonably-priced.
- Built-in milk frother
- Up to 15 bars of pressure
- Mid-range price
- Includes single and double filters
- 2-year warranty
- Too easy to pull a weak shot
- Frother may shut off too soon
- Not a manual lever or pump
9. Kamira Moka Express
The Kamira Moka Express is a stovetop espresso maker that works on any kind of stove, including induction. It’s essentially a redesigned Moka pot that produces more crema. We found it interesting-looking but not especially stylish, with an admittedly intriguing design.
Pulling a shot of espresso takes up to 90 seconds, which is pretty fast. But the espresso quality just isn’t where we’d like it to be, and there have been reports of dangerously faulty pressure valves.
The package includes single and double filters so you can pull your preferred shot. The machine is made of high-quality stainless steel and protected by a good five-year warranty. All in all, it’s an interesting manual espresso maker, but you’re probably better off with one of our other picks.
- Stainless steel body
- Works on any kind of stove
- Includes single and double filters
- Reasonably fast espresso preparation
- 5-year warranty
- Faulty pressure valves
- Espresso isn’t amazing
- Not very stylish
10. Aicook Manual Espresso Machine
The Aicook Manual Espresso Machine is a decent option, with a compact silver and black body and simple-to-use dial. Unfortunately, though it’s compact and inexpensive, it doesn’t produce amazing espresso and only gets up to about 3.5 bars of pressure.
This manual espresso maker offers a portafilter, a glass carafe, and a plastic tamper, though the tamper is too flimsy to be especially useful. There’s also a removable milk frother.
Oddly, though Aicook advertises this machine as an espresso maker, you can’t use a fine espresso grind. The company recommends only using medium grind coffee — and you can taste the results. This model produces small amounts of coffee, not true espresso.
- Affordable and lightweight
- Built-in milk frother
- Includes portafilter, glass carafe, and tamper
- 2-year warranty
- Only works with medium coffee grind
- Doesn’t feel very high-end
- Only 3.5 bars of pressure
- Lower-quality espresso
Buyer’s Guide – Finding the Best Manual or Lever Espresso Machine
Here are some considerations that help you choose the best manual espresso maker for your needs:
Manual vs. Automatic
Though they may be less expensive, manual espresso machines are the most difficult type to use. If you are new to making espresso, you may prefer a more automatic model. You will need time and patience to experiment with a manual machine to figure out how to get your perfect shot of espresso every time. Manual machines will teach you quite a bit about espresso, so if you have the patience and time, they may be more satisfying in the long run.
When shopping for a manual espresso maker, here are a few things to consider:
1. How easy is it to use?
Manual espresso makers can be challenging to use in multiple ways. Some models only require you to tamp the grounds, adjust the settings, and cut off the water flow at the right time. With other models, you’ll need to do much more, including manually pumping or pushing a lever to produce the pressure.
You may want to think about how much time and energy you’re willing to put into producing your espresso. If you’re barely functional before that first cup of coffee, an arm workout may be more than you’re looking for. But if you like starting off your day with a little exercise, why not choose a manual pump or lever?
Another way your espresso maker can be challenging is in perfecting the shot. Some models are more finicky and will require you to experiment with grind size, tamping, and water temperature. Others will make it easier for you, producing a tasty shot without too much work from you.
2. How easy is it to clean?
No matter which model you choose, you’ll need to clean your espresso maker regularly. Why not make sure it’s easy to clean? Some manual espresso makers are fully or partly dishwasher-safe, which makes for easy and thorough cleaning. Others are easy enough to rinse clean. Consider how much time you’re willing to put into cleaning — and choose your model accordingly.
3. Does it produce consistent pressure and water temperature?
This question gets to the quality of the espresso maker. If you choose a great model, you’ll get rich, full-bodied espresso topped with that famous crema. But if your espresso maker doesn’t produce consistent, strong pressure and a hot enough water temperature, you may be disappointed in the results.
4. How much space do you have?
Do you have room for a bigger espresso maker, or would you prefer a model that’s easy to transport? The most portable espresso makers are handheld and weigh just a pound or two. These can be great for camping or travel, but you may be looking for a larger model to keep on your kitchen counter. And if you’re looking for a lever espresso maker, be prepared to give it plenty of space.
Still, of all espresso machines, the manual models typically have the smallest footprints.
Other types of espresso makers we’ve reviewed:
- Stainless-steel stovetop espresso makers
- Which is our favorite espresso maker for less than $100?
- The best espresso makers with built-in grinders
Choosing the best manual espresso machine can be a bit overwhelming, so let’s quickly review our top picks. Our favorite model is the La Pavoni PPG-16 Professional 16-Cup Espresso Machine, and the runner-up is the La Pavoni Europiccola 8-Cup Lever Espresso Machine. If you’re looking to save money, you may prefer the Staresso Portable Espresso Machine, which offers great value.
We hope that after reading these reviews and buying tips, you’ll be able to figure out which manual espresso machine is best for you. Happy shopping and brewing!
- 10 Best Espresso Machines in the UK: Reviews & Top Picks
- Minipresso vs Nanopresso: Main Differences Explained
Header image credit: Firma V, Shutterstock
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