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Are Lever Espresso Machines Worth It?
Written by: Garrett Oden
If you’ve ever been drawn to the romance of pulling espresso shots using an old-timey machine, you’ve probably asked this question: Are lever espresso machines worth it?
Lever machines, often called manual espresso machines, have an attitude of reminiscence and class, but are they easy to use? Do they wear you out more than electrically-powered machines? Do they require different types of maintenance? Are they more cost-efficient?
So many questions would scare most away from the thought of investing in one of these classic and effective machines, but those most determined press on to discover the answers.
I’d love to help you find out if this type of espresso machine is right for you. Here are the things you need to consider.
The Hands-On Satisfaction Is Real
With a lever machine, pulling a shot is never just pressing a few buttons. It’s a process that invites your whole body to participate. Pulling down that lever isn’t exactly hard, but it’s not super easy either.
This hands-on approach turns off quite a few onlookers. I get it—a lot of people just want a good shot the easy way. But there’s something about putting your mind and body to work to create something delicious.
The satisfaction of a great shot with a semi-automatic machine is powerful. The satisfaction of a great shot with a lever machine is even more amazing.
If you like to take the driver’s seat with things you love, a lever machine may be a great fit. You pull the lever, you hold the lever, and you control your shot. It’s empowering, it’s satisfying, and it’s personal.
However, it can be difficult to get the hang of.
There Will Be A Steep Learning Curve
Lever machines require you to learn a few things that electrical machines don’t. For example, the speed at which you pull down and release the lever can impact your shot.
In a semi-automatic, there are only two or three settings: Off, On, and Preinfusion.
There’s more to fiddle with in terms of pressure with a lever machine. Getting the hang of the process takes some time, and learning to repeat that winning process consistently day after day is another challenge.
And here’s the thing: great home espresso is already a huge challenge.
You’re working with a super-concentrated form of coffee, after all, so small changes to the technique can mean big changes in flavor. It’s frustrating, even infuriating at times. Adding the lever into the mix makes things a little more complex, but not so much that newcomers should stay away.
If you have the will and patience to learn home espresso, you have the will and patience to learn lever machines.
Piston VS Direct Lever Machines
There are two main types of lever espresso machines: spring piston and direct lever.
One is hands-on. The other is… even more hands-on.
- Spring Piston machines have a calibrated spring that forces water through the grounds for you. When you pull the lever down, you compress the spring. When you release the lever, the spring applies the pressure to the grouphead and pulls the shot.
- Direct Lever machines don’t have this spring. In fact, there’s no mechanism that applies the pressure automatically. You apply the pressure by holding down the lever. Sure, there are some gears that enhance the pressure, but it’s you creating it—not a spring.
Want the hands-on experience, but want to know a consistent amount of pressure is being created for every shot? A spring piston machine sounds right for you.
Want the complete hands-on experience? You’re a brave soul. Go with a direct lever.
They Tend To Be Less Expensive
Manual lever machines typically have lower price tags than their electric cousins. However, it’s a bit of a misnomer to say that manual machines aren’t electric.
- They still have water reservoirs that remain hot
- They can still have shot timers and temperature displays built in
But without having to connect as many electrical gadgets to the pump itself, the cost of the machines lowers—sometimes by a lot. While a prosumer-class espresso machine will run you $2,000 or more, a prosumer-class lever espresso machine can be bought for as little as $800.
Lever Espresso Machine Suggestions
There are many lever espresso machines out there, and most of them look the same
Let me help you out with connecting you to some of the highest-rated lever machines currently on the market.
- La Pavoni Europiccola ($800) - A no-frills brewer with a 20oz boiler capacity that heats up in just 5 minutes and stays around 200 degrees. The direct lever mechanism doesn't have a spring, which means this is a very hands-on machine. The build is very high-quality and will last for years.
- La Pavoni Stradavari ($1,300) - Stainless steel with wooden accents makes this lever machine not only effective, but gorgeous. Featuring a large 38oz boiler, it’ll pull up to 16 shots before needing refilling. Still a direct lever machine.
- Microcasa A Leva ($1,550) - A higher build quality than the La Pavonis, but with a higher price as well. The massive 61oz boiler will last you days or weeks and the spring piston will streamline shot pulling for greater consistency.
- Flair Espresso Maker ($150) - This last low-cost lever machine is actually a lever machine. It generates the full amount of pressure using the direct lever, but it has zero other functions. There’s no water boiler, which means you have to heat water elsewhere and pour it into the reservoir. There’s also no steam wand. It’s a great low-cost option if you just want to dip your toes into lever espresso brewing.
There are many other lever machines making waves out there, but these continually come up in conversations in a positive light. Think one of them may be right for you?
So what do you think? Are lever espresso machines worth it for you? If so, I wish you patience and good learning, and I’m a little jealous as well.
Just remember, learning espresso is so much harder when you’re not starting with high-quality coffee beans. Low-grade beans are bitter and inconsistent, which makes it hard to tell if you’re making mistakes or using the lever correctly.
Instead, get yourself some freshly roasted, specialty grade beans. The rich, balanced flavors will let you know when you’ve pulled a good shot by rewarding you with vibrant aromas, crisp acidity, and a juicy sweetness.
We’ll send you these stellar beans via our Coffee Club, if you’d like. We source beans from the best farms in the world. Then, we roast them with precision and ship them to you on the very same day. That way you can enjoy them while they’re at peak freshness and flavor.
Sound good? Check out the Club!