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Manual espresso machines are probably the most underrated brewers. They are great alternatives for pulling a shot for many reasons. The most important reason is the low tech design, with no electrical parts. They can be used anywhere, even in remote areas where there is no electricity.
But what is the about manual espresso makers, is the great control over the brewing process. That control comes at a high price: inconsistency. You can ruin your shot very easily. Well, you can get a consistent shot, but you have to master the technique. But we’ll get back to this later in the article.
Lever operated machines were the precursor of the semi-automatic espresso maker, as we know it today. They are very temperamental since the pressure is controlled manually. A little hand hesitation and your shot is ruined. On the other hand, if you master the art of handling the lever, you can pull perfect shots.
Manual espresso machines are often perceived as relics. The general perception is that only coffee snobs use them to show off. This is only partially true. Yes, it’s quite difficult to use a hand espresso maker, and lots of shots have been ruined by them. But espresso enthusiasts love them because it allows pressure profiling, and gives them an unfair advantage in their quest of getting the “God shot”.
Often times people call semi-automatic espresso machines - manuals. While compared to a super-automatic, there is a lot of work to be done by the barista, a semi-auto is a long way from a fully manual machine.
Portable or Hobbyist - Different Manual Espresso Machines
You can go fully manual, with a device that creates pressure by operating a small pump that looks very similar to a bicycle pump. With this device, you dump your grinds into the brewer, pour some hot water and pump to make enough pressure to pull the shot. You can create more than the 9 bar needed for an espresso. Once the pressure is created, you press a button to pull the shot.
The advantage of these devices is the small footprint and portability. You can take these with you anywhere, and brew a coffee. The disadvantage is the lack of consistency. You can pull great shots, but also you can fail some. The learning curve is somewhat steep. But if you are a die-hard espresso fan, you will love this on your next trip. These devices are also called hand pump espresso makers, and their major feature is portability.
Manual Espresso Machine – Handpresso WILD
Are you an espresso addicted and cannot live without your daily shot? Or maybe you want to impress your friends with an espresso on your hiking trip... It is perfectly possible with the Handpresso WILD, a portable manual espresso device, easy to carry everywhere, no electricity required and extremely easy to use. The manual espresso machine uses coffee pods, which makes it even more easy to use, makes no mess, and deliver a great espresso. Watch the video below to see it in action.
These devices give you more consistency and better control over the brewing process. This manual espresso press is great in remote areas without electricity. The disadvantage is the steep learning curve. You will pull a lot of average and underwhelming shots until you will consistently pull awesome espressos. You can pull shots head to head without having to wait in between.
ROK Presso Manual Espresso Maker
This is a fully manual espresso machine, that doesn't need any electricity. It only needs hot water. The biggest advantage of a machine like this is that allows to fully customize your shot. The pressure is manually controlled, and this allows for a low pressure at the beginning, and higher pressure at the end of the extraction, which will improve your coffee dramatically.
The machine looks great, is easy to use, and it is extremely reliable and durable. If you want this for your cabin, make sure you take pre-ground coffee with you, and you are ensured to have your daily dose of coffee perfect, as you wanted.
Another option is the hybrid, lever operated machine, with manually created pressure, but with water heated electrically. The advantage of such a machine is the convenience of having the water heated up within the machine. This machine has an electrical boiler that heats up the water, instead of you having to heat it separately, and then pour it into the brewer.
These machines don’t have a thermostat to control the temperature in the boiler. They overheat after the first few shots, and this means you have to wait 20 to 30 minutes until the boiler cools down. These machines are ideal for pressure profiling since some of them include a pressure gauge.
These are, in my opinion, the best option to play with pressure profiling, as discussed in this awesome thread at Home-Barista.com.
For the espresso enthusiast who aims perfection, and likes to play with coffee, this is the perfect machine. The disadvantage is that this type of machine has a steep learning curve, and you can’t pull more than a few shots, and you need to let it cool off.
Jim Hoffman explains in his post about pressure profiling why lever espresso machines work so well and are able to pull “distinctive and delicious espressos”. He attributes this to the low-pressure-high-pressure-low-pressure profile specific to spring piston lever machines.
La Pavoni PC-16 Lever Espresso Machine
La Pavoni lever operated espresso machines are among the most popular manual espresso makers. The PC-16 is a reliable machine, it will last you a lifetime and more.
With a large boiler, it can pull 16 shots at a time, which is a decent amount compared to smaller boiler machines. The machine has a thermostat and a pressure gauge. The pressure gauge is the perfect addition for espresso enthusiasts who want to perfect their technique.
The machine looks gorgeous and you will absolutely love to see it every morning in your kitchen.