Everyone has a preference for how they like their coffee fix, and the best manual coffee machines are for those who are especially particular about theirs.
Offering greater control of the entire brewing process and, thusly, the drink that ends up in your cup, anyone who proudly identifies as a “coffee snob” (and wouldn’t be caught dead with a Starbucks olive oil cold brew) ought to have a manual coffee machine in their armoury.
Coming in a variety of styles, manual coffee machines range from small and affordable portable devices to immaculately designed brass or stainless steel appliances from brands steeped in Italian heritage. And, while they may lack the convenience factor that bean-to-cup or pod-compatible machines provide, they make up for it by facilitating the art of a more customised and consistent end product – all the better for your 9am fix.
Looking to make the switch to manual? Before you commit, here are a couple of things worth considering.
First and foremost, a manual coffee machine is for those who value the drink for more than its ability to make you look alive the morning after a late night. Think of them as you might think of a hardback book compared to a Kindle, or a Maserati Bora to a Tesla Model S. There’s an element of having to love the culture and the process that comes with manual machines that isn’t often required in today’s smorgasbord of on-demand varieties.
As a result, you’ll have much greater control of every step of the process and, once you’ve experimented with your ideal combination of grind size, water temperature and brew time, should have a cup much better suited to your preferences.
At the higher end of the market, manual coffee machines come built with high-quality materials and are therefore much more durable than bean-to-cup and pod machines, which are notorious for breaking down and require an engineer to repair. They also often come in smaller than the automated alternative if you’re working with limited counter space. The smallest and most affordable options also come with the portability factor, so you won’t have to get by on instant coffee when you’re in the sticks.
As we’ve said, manual coffee machines come in a variety of shapes, sizes and mechanisms, but when looking to invest, it’s worth thinking about the following:
Don’t be fooled into thinking a manual coffee machine negates the need for a manual – by taking the whole process into your hands, there’s a slightly steeper learning curve than with coffee machines that boast LED screens and pre-set flat white options.
There are several different types of manual coffee machine, including lever-operated and pour-over contraptions, and the precise steps for using them will vary depending on which you opt for.
Whichever you choose, you’ll be working with ground beans, which can either be purchased as described at the supermarket or done at home by using a bean grinder. A medium to fine grind consistency tends to work best when making espresso in a manual machine.
For lever-operated manual coffee machines, ground coffee beans are loaded into a portafilter, then firmly pressed down using a tamper. The more you can cram in, the stronger the cup, but different bean varieties also play their part in that.
The portafilter is then locked onto the group head of the machine, ready for hot water to pass through at the pull of the lever. This process, which last between 20 and 30 seconds, forces water through the coffee grounds at high pressure and out into your coffee cup. Et voila, you’re a bona fide barista.
See the best manual coffee machines below
Best for: overall
A renowned Italian brand with more than a century in the biz, La Pavoni’s manual coffee machines are truly the crema. The Professional Lusso machine is held in high regard by coffee connoisseurs well beyond the boot, lusted after by anyone who values an aesthetically on-point kitchen worktop.
So confident is the brand in its design that it’s remained virtually unchanged since its inception, with a high-quality, corrosion-resistant chromed brass build, finished with luxurious wood handles on its lever, tamper and portafilter.
A large boiler can handle as many as 16 cups of espresso in one use, while a delightfully retro-looking pressure gauge guides you on when it’s time to brew.
Completing its barista appeal, the addition of a steam wand means you can also foam milk for frothy cappuccinos.
Buy now £900.00, Selfridges
Best for: affordability
More than being a manual coffee maker for budget-conscious bean counters, the AeroPress carries some serious clout even among coffee snobs. Compact and innovative, its conjoining plastic tubes assemble together and, alongside a paper or metal filter to remove sediment, utlises rapid, total immersion to produce a surprisingly smooth cup of Joe.
Get to grips with the mechanism and the process quickly becomes like riding a bike, plus there’s a vast catalogue of online tutorials that’ll help you get to grips with brewing time, grind size and water temperature.
Naturally, the lightweight build (and accompanying carry pack) makes this the perfect manual coffee maker to bring with you on hikes and remote holidays, but equally, you’ll come across many a coffee snob who swears by the AeroPress as their primary source of coffee at home.
Buy now £30.00, Amazon
Best for: luxury
Elektra’s Micro Casa Leva is a manual coffee machine that hits all the right design notes thanks to a luxurious handcrafted brass and copper build (other metal combinations are also available to tailor the finish to your kitchen).
Key to its appearance, an eagle sits atop the machine’s boiler; a common decorative motif for the Italian maker that symbolises strength, power and rebirth (three things we look for from a cup of coffee).
The emblem is to coffee machines what the Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet ornament is to a Rolls Royce – hence the rather elevated price tag. If you’ve got the cash to splash, though, this is far from a case of style over substance.
A 2L water tank ensures you’ll get plenty of pours from a single use, its spring piston lever makes the brewing process all the smoother, and a built-in pressure gauge assists with perfectly controlled extraction. Bellisimo.
Buy now £1338.00, The Espresso Shop
Best for: enjoying the process
On first impression, much of the Flair Espresso Maker Pro 2’s appeal is its ability to pour coffee like you’re pouring a pint. In reality, this machine does a great job of capturing the many pros of owning a manual coffee machine, breaking down every step of the brewing process with multiple opportunities to leave your own stamp.
The seven-step making process might seem intimidating at first, but afficionados will quickly find enjoyment in the customisation opportunites, from boiling the water to preheating the brewing head to lowering the lever.
An upgrade of the brand’s original model, some of the Pro 2’s pros include a detachable stainless steel portafilter and an improved brewing head for better precision and control.
It also comes with a neat carrying case, meaning you can bring it with you on trips to enjoy freshly brewed espresso whenever and wherever you fancy. We’ll take that over a service station paper cup every day of the week.
Buy now £358.00, Amazon
Best for: portability
A manual coffee maker so lightweight and compact you could probably whip it out and brew up on a central line commute, Wocaco’s Nanopresso is a perfect travel companion for coffee obsessives.
Swapping levers for a manual pressure-generating hand pump that will pour a cup of coffee in approximately 25 presses, the compact design is made all the more impressive by clever space-saving accessories such as a scoop that doubles as a tamper.
Granted you’re relinquished of some customisation afforded by more countertop-friendly devices, but up to 18 bars of pressure is nothing to be sniffed at of a machine this size, and a built-in 80ml water tank will see you through several shots.
Buy now £69.90, Amazon
Best for: rich crema
Offering the best of reliable manual coffee making and easy portability, Rok’s coffee machines are no-frills favourites among coffee lovers.
Thanks to three different portafilter options – standard, naked and crema-plus – despite its austere metal design, the EspressoGC Explorer Edition offers valiant versatility. Rok’s machines are easily identified by their two winged levers, supposed to be pushed down simultaneously a bit like a corkscrew.
Best for personal use thanks to relatively smaller volume capabilities, four rubber legs keep it stable on kitchen worktops and jagged rockfaces alike, should you want to use it as its name suggests it’s intended.
Buy now £219.00, Amazon
Best for: simplicity
In some Italian households, the Bialetti Moka Pot is as essential as pots and pans; knives and forks; salt and pepper (you get the gist). A staple for nearly 100 years, its appeal has extended far beyond the espresso’s European heartland. Sometimes referred to as a “stovetop” in this country, the aluminium, octagonal Moka Pot is known for making strong, rich espressos with next to no faff.
It’s operated by heating water in its bottom chamber, which then rises through a funnel and passes upwards through an internal basket of ground coffee beans, into an upper chamber that’s ready to be poured.
Imprinted with a moustachioed caricature of Bialetti’s namesake founder (known as L’omino con i baffi – the little man with a moustache), the Moka Pot is available in a variety of sizes to cater to your coffee needs, from miniature single-servings to the family-sized 12-cup capacity.
Buy now £24.00, John Lewis
There’s a large disparity between the most basic, budget friendly manual coffee machines and the top-tier, but if you’re in pursuit of the perfect cup, an investment in La Pavoni’s Professional Lusso coffee machine is not one you’re likely to regret. Boasting durability, timeless design and additional barista-level features, it’ll be command all the attention in your kitchen and will last a lifetime if maintained well.
That said, there’s room in every coffee aficionado’s cupboards for something a little more portable, so adding an AeroPress to cart for on-the-go cups of Joe is also worth doing.
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