Manual espresso machine technology is evolving rapidly. Home espresso devices are getting smaller and smarter, empowering regular coffee lovers to produce as much as 15 bars of pressure to pull shots (like a real commercial machine).
There are several stellar options if you’re looking for a light, compact, travel-ready espresso maker. However, when it comes to larger countertop devices, two devices hold most of the spotlight: the ROK and the Flair.
Home espresso enthusiasts love these two devices, but you don’t need to get both (that’s overkill). In this manual espresso machine showdown we’ll consider each machine’s features, benefits, and limitations so you can pick the one that’s best for your habits, circumstances, and counter space.
The ROK: The Tried And Tested
This beloved manual espresso machine has been around since 2012 and is the flagship device of ROK Kitchen Tools. The general consensus is that, while it’s not perfect or super easy to use, it does have the capability of pulling delicious and balanced shots.
The ROK’s body is made from high-grade aluminum that’s shiny and sturdy. The device is essentially a BPA-Free plastic water chamber connected to two arms that, when pushed down, create 5-10 bars of pressure to pull a shot through the attached portafilter.
The aluminum pieces are covered by the warranty for ten whole years, though the plastic pieces are only covered for two (though they’re not expensive to replace, should you need to).
The espresso maker, because of its side-raising arms, requires a decent amount of counter space. It’s not too heavy, but at seven pounds, it’s not exactly light either.
When it comes to pulling shots, the ROK’s not the simplest espresso maker out there. You load the portafilter with 7-8g of espresso-fine grounds (enough for a single shot), tamp, attach it to the brewer, and fill the water reservoir with boiling hot water
Next, you lift the aluminum arms, which allows the water to “pre-infuse” the grounds. After five seconds, you press down hard on the arms for 20-30 seconds, maybe lifting and pressing again about halfway through. When your shot glass has 25ml or so of espresso and crema, stop pressing down on the arms.
You’ve successfully pulled a single shot of espresso! Not difficult or confusing, but not easy.
Since the ROK doesn’t have a heating element, the device is likely to be cool when you use it. If it’s too cool, it’ll suck the heat from your water, which will result in you pulling an under extracted shot. Some users prefer to run a ‘clean shot’ of hot water through first to preheat the brewer.
Shots pulled from the ROK can be rich, delicious, and balanced. A fine, light layer of crema can form if the ground coffee is fine enough.
However, some users report that their resulting shot is more like “very strong black coffee” than actual espresso. This likely because they aren’t grinding their coffee fine enough (seriously, it’s gotta be like flour powder).
The ROK At A Glance
Pressure: 5-10 bars
Mechanism: 2 Side-Mounted Arms
Material: Aluminum, BPA-Free Plastic
Included: Carrying Tin, Milk Frother, Scoop/Tamper, Double Spout Attachment
The Flair: The New Kid On The Block
Despite being the newcomer in a saturated market, the Flair raised over $50,000 in its late 2016 Kickstarter campaign. It’s since become one of the world’s favorite manual espresso makers—and it’s even converted some long-time ROK users.
Like the ROK, the Flair is built with high-grade aluminum, though it features stainless steel where the ROK has BPA-Free plastic.
The device is essentially an aluminum frame attached to a long arm that generates pressure inside a ‘brewing head’ located below. The single arm doesn’t get pressed to the side—you force it down towards you. Some people find this more comfortable, though others prefer the side-mounted arms of the ROK.
One way the Flair is quite different from the ROK is that it can come apart for easy cleaning and storage. The brewing head detaches, making cleanup a breeze (just rinse it under running water), and the rest of the brewer can detach and lay flat in the included carrying case.
When you’re ready to pull a shot with the Flair, add 16-22g of coffee into the brewing head, tamp, and lock it into the frame. Next, attach the piston and begin pressing down on the arm slowly to create a steady 10-16 bars of pressure. It should take between 25 and 45 seconds to pull the double shot of espresso.
Once again, this process isn’t difficult or confusing, but it’s not exactly easy either. One thing definitely is easier though: cleaning. Simply detach the brewing head and rinse it under running water.
Most users recommend preheating the brewing head with warm water, as the stainless steel can be cold and suck the heat from your water, resulting in under extracted shots.
Generally, users seem to love the Flair. The shots are rich and balanced, and a fine crema is usually present as long as the grind is fine enough.
In fact, it almost appears as if Flair is converting many ROK users. However, these are folks that tend to obsess over home espresso and may have purchased the Flair even if they doubted it would produce better espresso. Either way, feedback is very positive.
The Flair At A Glance
Pressure: Up To 16 Bars
Mechanism: 1 Front-Facing Arm
Material: Aluminum, Stainless Steel
Included: Carrying Case, Scoop/Tamper
No matter which device you choose, it’s the beans, not the brewer, that makes the biggest difference when it comes to espresso quality. Great beans can shine even in the strangest of brewers, but the best espresso machine in the world won’t make low-grade beans taste good.
Make sure you’re using freshly roasted, specialty-grade beans if you want to enjoy espresso that’s vibrant, exciting, and balanced. We can help with that.
Our JavaPresse Coffee Club sends subscribers coffee beans every other week. We source stellar beans, roast them to perfection, and ship them to you on the same day. That means you get the beans when they’re uber-fresh (and uber-flavorful).Check out the Club for yourself!