Why Use a Manual Lever Espresso Machine at Home?

If you think automatic espresso machines can't satisfy your cravings for an authentic espresso, you might just fall in love with the Manual Lever Espresso Machine. 

why use a manual espresso machine

But why use a Manual Lever Espresso Machine if there are a lot of automatic ones available?

Because a Manual Lever Espresso Machine doesn't only look classy and elegant, it also makes great tasting espresso.

It has a large lever on the outer part of the machine, which the user has to push down to let the water reach the coffee grounds, thus producing an espresso. 

Unlike the automatic and semi-automatic espresso machines, this one doesn't have a pump to push the water through the portafilter. 

Manual Lever Espresso Machine: Who is This For?

Just like any other coffee equipment out there, the Manual Espresso Machine isn't for everyone.

This kind of espresso machine is a perfect choice for those who love to pull their espresso manually.

Unlike the automatic and semi-automatic ones, where all you need to do is just click a button, with the Manual Lever, you'll have a control over the water flow.

Thus, you have all the means to customize your espresso from the coarseness of the grind, up until the flow of the water.

This may take a few practices or a lot of coffee grounds for doing the trial and error, but an authentic espresso will always be worth it!

It would actually help if you already have a previous experience with any espresso machines, and have an idea on how to make an espresso.

Though in the beginning, it's really challenging to perfect good shots of espresso, the reward is definitely sweet.

Plus, this kind of machine lasts a lot longer compared to a fully automatic or a semi-automatic, since it has lesser parts.

Once you learned what the perfect grind is, when to push down the lever, and you mastered using it, you'd be assured of an authentic, high quality, and customized espresso.

Overall, this kind of espresso machine is a good fit for those who are hands on espresso enthusiasts and those who can invest some time learning.

How Does it Work?

Before getting very excited about getting one, let me guide you to set your expectations about Manual Espresso Machines right.

Just like in any other coffee machine, a high-quality coffee starts in getting the right coffee beans.

Then you have to select the right grind size for espresso, it has to be finer than sugar but coarser than flour.

After that, you have to place the coffee grounds into the portafilter, and start tamping.

Proper tamping should result in having a flat and even coffee grounds, without any weak spots.

Once you tamped the coffee grounds, place the portafilter into the group head, similar step when using the semi automatic espresso machine.

After that, you need to bring the water from the reservoir to the portafilter.

Unlike the semi automatic and automatic, this one doesn't have a pump to push the water.

As the term "manual" suggests, you'll be the one to manually push the water by using the lever.

Once the water has reached the coffee grounds on your portafilter, you need to continue to push up or down the lever to finish the extraction process.

So, the dripping time of your espresso depends solely on how hard or light you push down the lever.

The idea of using Manual Espresso machine might not sound appealing to those who drink coffee while rushing to get to their office.

But it definitely sounds exciting to those very critical about their morning cup, those who can't stand an instant coffee.

What's so special about this is that you have the control over the coarseness of the grounds, the tamping, and even the flow of the water.

Once you mastered using a Manual Lever Espresso Machine, you'll taste an espresso that's truly worth the wait.

Before you get too excited experimenting on your Manual Lever Espresso Machine, let's go ahead about learning all of its parts.

Components

  • Water Reservoir
  • Heating Element
  • Large Lever
  • Pressure Gauge
  • Porta Filter

Mechanisms

Don't get overwhelmed because a Manual Espresso Machine is a simple machine with a very few parts:

  • Water Reservoir - To start using the Manual Lever Espresso Machine, you'll have to fill the water reservoir with filtered water. Some people call this part Steam Broiler, too.
  • Heating Element - Once you filled the water reservoir with enough water, you can now turn on the machine and the heating element will heat up the water. Usually, Manual Espresso Machines have 15-20 minutes of warm-up time.
  • Pressure Gauge - Aside from the heating element, you will also need to reach a certain pressure before being able to extract an espresso. Usually, there's a green and red indicator of the pressure gauge, and the green indicates machine readiness.
  • Large Lever - With the absence of the pump, a Manual Espresso Machine uses a lever instead to push the water through the coffee grounds. Pushing the espresso machine's lever up and down may sound really simple, but honestly, this is a very steep learning curve. And when you become familiar with the lever, you're done with the hard part, and it's time for you to enjoy a great espresso!
  • Porta Filter - A portafilter is an essential part of any espresso machine, whether manual, semi-automatic or fully automatic. It's where you place and tamps your coffee grounds, then attach to the espresso machine's group head. You just need to lock it properly to your machine until the espresso extraction ends.

Why Some People Find it Difficult to Use?

If you get used to making coffees with k-cups or the super automatic espresso machines, this one might overwhelm you a bit.

And here are some challenges also experts encounter when using a Manual Lever Espresso Machine.

Getting the Right Grind Size

Actually, getting the right grind size isn't only challenging when using the Manual Espresso Machine, it's a challenge to everyone who makes espresso.

Aside from having a high-quality coffee bean, your grind size highly determines the taste.

To have an idea on how your coffee grounds should look like, always remember that it should be finer than sugar but coarser than flour.

If the grind is too fine, it's either the espresso will not drip at all or the espresso will drip very slowly. If an espresso dripped more slowly than usual, it becomes over-extracted, with a bitter and burnt taste.

On the other hand, a very coarse grind will not give a nice and golden crema to your espresso. If you will use coarsely ground coffee beans, it will result in under extraction.

Thus, getting the right grind size is very crucial in espresso-making, whether automatic or manual.

To ensure consistency of your grind size, you have to keep your coffee grinder calibrated, at all times. 

Some grinders have a calibration for the coarseness of the coffee grounds and for the weight of each dose.

But just in case your grinder can't provide consistent measurement, you can always use a weighing scale.

Using the same amount of coffee grounds will definitely help you achieve consistency.

Check out this helpful video.

After getting the right grind size, you'll also have to learn another essential step...

Proper Tamping of Ground Coffee

If you're after the convenience, using super automatic espresso machines with k-cups would be ideal for you. There's no need to learn about the grinding and tamping, you just have to press the right buttons.

But if you can't get enough of the distinct flavor of espresso made from freshly ground coffee beans, you'll never go wrong with a Manual Lever Espresso Machine.

And part of using a Manual Lever Espresso Machine includes learning how to properly tamp coffee grounds.

When tamping, you'll need a Tamper and a portafilter.

Once you dosed the coffee grounds into the portafilter, you'll have to level the grounds using your finger, without pressing.

Then, place the portafilter on top of an even surface, holding it like it's an extension of your arm.

After that, gently press the grounds using your tamper, creating compressed coffee grounds.

To learn what amount of pressure to apply, you just have to do this more often.

When tamping your coffee, just remember that the coffee grounds should be compressed and even, without any holes.

Lastly, you'll place the portafilter into the group head, so we can now start the extraction.

This is an excellent video tutorial on how to properly tamp for espresso

And all this then leads to another step, that some find challenging...

Knowing When to Push the Lever Upwards and Downwards

As mentioned above, Manual Lever Espresso Machines do not have a pump to push the water towards the portafilter.

You'll have to push the water manually by using the lever, thus the name Manual Lever Espresso Machines.

There are two different ways to push the lever, and it depends on the type of espresso machine you use.

The two types of Manual Espresso Machines: the Direct Lever and the Spring Piston.

You'll find a more detailed explanation of each type in the next section.

For now, I'll just let you know why some people get overwhelmed with the lever.

First, it is because the most common espresso machines, at home or in coffee shops, have pumps. And seeing a machine without this vital part would only cause confusion.

Imagine having to learn another step, when you already mastered espresso-making with an automatic espresso machine.

And second, you'll not learn by just pushing the lever once, you'll need to do it more often to do it right.

But after investing some time and some coffee grounds learning this, you'll be rewarded with a sweet and authentic espresso.

Safety Features

Some of the Fully Automatic and Super Automatic Espresso Machines are kid-friendly and user-friendly.

But that is not the case with the Manual Lever Espresso Machine, this classic piece does not sell itself for having user-friendly features.

Its selling point is that exciting moment when you have to manually pull your own authentic espresso, the elegant look is just a bonus.

However, you must be very careful when using this espresso machine.

First, this machine has an exposed boiler (remember the water reservoir with the heating element inside?).

Unlike the bulky espresso machines that cover most of the extremely hot parts, this one does not.

The exposed boiler has up to 250 degree Fahrenheit, and you should not touch this to avoid getting burnt.

Also, after completing the steps in espresso making, you should not remove the portafilter right away.

There are cases that the coffee grounds exploded and the portafilter flew away after immediately removing them.

You will have to wait for about 10-20 seconds before removing the portafilter to ensure safety.

By the way, these few reminders just wanted to help you make a better decision, and to know what you're getting into.

Different Types of Manual Lever Espresso Machines

I mentioned above that there are two types of Manual Lever Espresso Machines, and here's the section where you'll find everything you need to know.

Spring Piston

With the absence of the pump, a Spring Piston has a spring that pushes the water into the coffee grounds.

Physically, you'll see the lever of a Spring Piston on an upward position when rested, because this is connected with the spring. When this espresso machine is rested, the spring is just expanded.

During the extraction process, you will bring down the lever and the spring inside will be compressed.

After that, you'll just leave the lever that way, and the spring will have a declining pressure which pushes the water into the portafilter.

Once you let go of the lever, you will see that it will automatically rise back up as the spring goes back to its original position.

To help you understand better, let's take the time to know the details of each step.

Temperature Management

Before turning on the machine, make sure to fill the water reservoir with filtered water first. And in case you need to refill the water reservoir, wait for the pressure gauge to drop first.

The heating element inside the water reservoir will heat up the water inside and making the outer part of the machine extremely hot, too.

The warm-up time for both the Spring Piston and the Direct Lever espresso machines is about 15-20 minutes.

So where does the temperature management comes into place, then?

Even when the heating element in your water reservoir gives off a very high temperature, the water temperature slightly drops when it reaches the brewing chamber.

And when the water reaches the group head, its temperature will be likely ideal for the brewing process.

But just in case you want to brew in a lower temperature, it's acceptable to use a cold portafilter when making an espresso.

Just soak the portafilter in a room temperature water before placing it in the group head.

Pre-infusion

Don't worry if it's the first time you've ever heard of the term "pre-infusion".

Pre-infusion is actually a term used when you are using a Manual Lever Espresso Machine.

It is the moment when the water from the steam boiler reaches the portafilter, and the hot water sits in the coffee for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

This starts to happen once you brought down the lever, and the spring compressed, a water port is created.

The water from the steam boiler (water reservoir) with about 1-2 bars of pressure will slowly reach the coffee grounds.

And you'll notice tiny droplets of espresso will start to drip, that's the time you will have let the lever go.

The declining pressure of the spring will then push the water to fully extract the coffee grounds.

As simple as it may sound, but the overall process of using a Spring Piston takes a little while to perfect.

Let's now go ahead with the second type of Manual Lever Espresso Machine...

Direct Lever

The Direct Lever Espresso Machine is highly similar with the Spring Piston, it's just that the Direct Lever doesn't have a spring.

And since the Direct Lever doesn't have a spring, the resting position of its lever is downwards.

Similar to a Spring Piston, a Direct Lever also has a Pre-Infusion.

To create a water port, you'll have to push the lever into an upward position. This step allows the water to reach and saturate the coffee grounds, making your espresso richer and more flavorful.

There will be few droplets during the pre-infusion, and once you notice it, you have to start pushing down the lever.

If you're not satisfied with the flow, you can push the lever upwards again while you're halfway downwards.

Then push the lever downwards to end the espresso extraction.

Take note that the pressure applied varies with the type of coffee beans, coarseness of the ground coffee, accuracy of your tamp, and type of your espresso machine.

What's really exciting about this is you have so much to learn, and you get a personal touch with your morning cup, isn't it romantic?

Here is a video on how to use a lever espresso machine.

Spring Piston vs Direct Lever: What Are their Differences?

If you've decided to get a Manual Lever Espresso Machine, and still can't decide whether Spring Piston or Direct Lever, then let's compare the following:

  • how they work
  • the results (espresso)
  • pros and cons of each type

How They Work

Most of the features and functions of the Spring Piston and the Direct Lever are just the same, except for the "spring".

Physically, the resting position of a Spring Piston is upwards while the Direct Lever is downwards. The difference in their resting position is caused by the spring.

During the pre-infusion, you have to push the lever of the Spring Piston downwards to compress the spring, and once the coffee starts to drip, you'll release the lever and it will have a declining pressure. That declining pressure will extract the espresso from the portafilter.

On the other hand, you'll have to push the lever upwards to start the pre-infusion, if you're using a Direct Lever. And once the coffee drips, you'll have to bring the lever down manually, because it doesn't have the declining pressure of a spring.

Aside from this major difference, most parts of these two manual espresso machines are very similar.

See them in action in this video.

The Results (Espresso)

As I mentioned a couple of times already, Manual Espresso Machines result in great-tasting and authentic espressos.

Both the Spring Piston and the Direct Lever can deliver high-quality espressos.

But then again, it will take a lot of practice before you get the desired results.

The quality of espresso isn't dependent on which type of manual espresso machine you use, but on how well you know what you're doing.

Pros and Cons of Each Type

Spring Piston

PROS

  • The spring's declining pressure helps with the consistency of your espresso
  • It's a quiet machine due to the absence of the pump
  • Makes authentic Espresso
  • Classic and Elegant Design

CONS

  • Exposed Heating elements
  • Requires caution when removing the portafilter
  • Less control over the espresso

Direct Lever

PROS

  • Allows you to experiment on the process of pulling the lever
  • It's a quiet machine due to the absence of the pump
  • Makes authentic Espresso
  • Gives you a more traditional espresso-making feel

CONS

  • Steep Learning Curve
  • More prone to error since it doesn't have a spring
  • Exposed Heating Elements
  • Requires caution when removing the portafilter

Wrap Up

Even some professional barista might find the topic about Manual Lever Espresso Machines uncommon.

But after all the things discussed in this article, I hope you can now confidently answer the question "What is Manual Lever Espresso Machine?".

Unlike most of the espresso machines we know, a Manual Lever Espresso Machine does not have a pump, it has a lever instead.

And that lever is used to extract the espresso, an authentic and romantic way to make one.

It's also important to remember the two types of Manual Espresso Machines: Spring Piston and Direct Lever.

At the end of the day, it's you who will decide whether a manual lever espresso machine is a good fit for you or not.

Please share this informational piece, and let me know what your thoughts are on the comment section below.

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