The best hand pull espresso machine you can buy for your home is, in our opinion, the Olympia Cremina. However, if you’re in the market for a hand pull espresso machine (also known as a “lever” or “manual” machine), there’s no need to go straight to the high end. Great machines can be yours at just about any price point.
Our top pick for a manual espresso machine
If you’re looking for value, the best hand pull espresso machine is the Flair Signature Espresso Maker. It won’t cost you much more than a couple of weeks worth of groceries, and with a little practice you can use it to produce espresso that equals what you get at specialty coffee shops.
We’ll explore the Flair Signature in more detail below, along with six other quality machines at various price points. But first, let’s go over the basics of this style of espresso maker.
What is a hand pull espresso machine?
A hand pull espresso machine uses a straightforward mechanical design to harness the physical effort of the barista and produce the pressure needed to brew espresso.
True espresso requires about nine bars of pressure to achieve the quick, thorough extraction that produces the intense, concentrated coffee drink we all know. A manual machine puts all the power in your hands instead of relying on an electric-powered pump.
How do you use a hand pull espresso machine?
You start with fresh coffee, ground to just the right size, tamped into a portafilter. In this respect, using a hand pull espresso machine is no different than using any automatic or semi-automatic machine.
Where the hand pull machine departs from others is in the actual extraction process. There’s no built-in pump. You are the pump.
With most manual machines, you manipulate the lever to allow hot water into the group head and soak the coffee in the portafilter. Then you use the lever to push the water through the grounds at high pressure for 25-30 seconds—the ideal brew time for espresso. Some levers rely entirely on your arm strength, while others include a spring that does some of the pushing for you.
Either way, you have much more control over the process than you would with an automatic or semi-automatic machine.
Are hand pull espresso machines better?
Hand pull espresso machines are more challenging and more rewarding, but whether they are better really depends on the relationship you want to have with your espresso machine. Because you control just about everything, these machines force you to learn. The more you use them, the more intimately familiar you become with all the variables that can affect espresso.
Take grind size, for example. If you’re brewing with an automatic machine and you grind too fine, you won’t discover this until you taste your espresso and realize it’s bitter and over-extracted. On a manual machine, you can feel it. As your hand pulls the lever, you feel the resistance and realize that your grind is too small or you’ve packed the grounds too tightly. With experience, you may even be able to make small adjustments in mid-pull to correct the shot.
Some people love all this learning, even if it means wasting quite a bit of coffee along the way. Other people can’t be bothered, and just want a good espresso every time without any fuss. You should know what’s right for you.
One thing all lever machine aficionados agree on is this: Once you get in tune with your coffee, your machine and your process, you can achieve espresso nirvana with a manual machine. As one Reddit user said: “The value is that a person who cares to, can, with a lot of practice, consistently extract a perfect cup of coffee. Not a good coffee, or a great coffee, or even a perfect coffee sometimes … a perfect cup every time.”
Another big benefit of hand pull espresso machines is their durability. Because they rely on mechanics rather than electronics, there aren’t many finicky parts to break down. A faulty water pump often needs troubleshooting in other espresso machines; it doesn’t even exist in a manual machine. These machines are built to last and any fixes they might need are relatively straightforward.
And, they are very quiet. They have no running motor.
What to look for in a hand pull espresso machine
Consider some of the features that vary between manual espresso machines, and what you might want to think about when making your choice.
Spring piston or direct lever?
These are the two main categories of lever espresso machines. What they have in common is a brewing chamber, usually cylindrical, and a piston that comes down to force the water out of the chamber and through the coffee into the cup.
In some machines, this piston is powered by a spring. When you pull the lever down, you cock the spring and allow water into the chamber. Releasing the lever uncoils the spring which pushes the piston through the chamber and creates the pressure for brewing. You don’t really control the pressure because the spring takes charge of that, but you do control how long you pre-infuse the coffee grounds with water, how much water you allow to pass through the grounds, and how quickly that water passes through.
With a direct lever machine, you literally pull the lever down to push the piston through the chamber. They are directly connected. You control everything—pressure, speed, volume, the works.
As you might imagine, a direct lever machine asks a little bit more of you and requires more learning. If you want to replicate your best shot, you really have to remember all the little details about how you pulled it. A spring machine takes some of this work off your hands. It is probably a better bet for an entry-level machine.
To learn more about spring piston vs. direct lever machines, check out the in-depth post at CoffeeGeek.
Size and weight
Hand pull espresso machines can vary widely in size. We’re going to show you a couple that are great for travelling, and a couple of others that you’ll barely be able to lift off your counter without help!
So think about how much space you have for your machine and whether you may need to move it around fairly regularly. How much clearance is there between your counter and the bottom of your kitchen cabinets? Some machines are quite tall, especially when the lever is up.
The reservoir holds the water used to brew your espresso and, in some machines, steam your milk. The bigger it is, the less often you’ll have to refill it. Refilling isn’t complicated, but if you plan to drink a lot of espresso you might want a machine with a bigger tank. The most common reservoir capacities are 20 or 38 ounces.
How does it heat?
Some hand pull espresso machines do away with electricity entirely. They simply ask you to boil the water yourself using some other device, then add it to the machine. There are other machines that have electrical heating elements. You plug them in and they heat up the water in the boiler. The latter kind is convenient, but the former allows you to enjoy great espresso anywhere—even when you’re off the grid or camping.
Build quality and materials
Most lever espresso machines are more durable than their automated counterparts, for reasons we’ve described above. If you’re really looking for something to last, choose a machine with as few plastic parts as possible. The sturdiest machines have mostly brass and chrome parts. The more of these, the better.
7 best hand pull espresso machines for a range of budgets
Now let’s get into what we feel are the seven best manual espresso machines for a range of budgets.
|Flair Signature Espresso Maker||Prime||Check availability|
|Rok Manual Espresso Maker||No Prime Logo||Check availability|
|La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola||Prime||Check availability|
|La Pavoni PC-16 Professional||Prime||Check availability|
|Elektra Microcasa Lever Espresso Machine||No Prime Logo||Check availability|
|Bezzera Strega Commercial Espresso Lever Machine||No Prime Logo||Check availability|
|Olympia Express Cremina Lever Espresso Machine||No Prime Logo||Check availability|
Our list begins with more affordable models and gradually progresses toward the luxury machines.
Flair Signature Espresso Maker
The original Flair espresso maker, now known as the Flair Classic, began as a Kickstarter project—a very successful one. Since going into full production, Flair has added the Signature and Signature Pro models.
This is the espresso maker you want if you must have your homemade espresso while on the road. It comes neatly packed in a handy carrying case. The whole unit might be a little heavier than you want for backpacking, but for all other travelling it’s quite ideal.
Of the three Flair models, we recommend the Signature for its build materials which are slightly more robust than the Classic. (The big advantage of the Pro is its larger chamber which can brew for two.) The frame and base are made of strong cast aluminum metal, and a copper ring holds the stainless steel brewing chamber.
The Flair is completely non-electric, so you’ll boil your own water. It really helps if you have a thermometer or some easy way to measure the temperature of your brewing water. Espresso should be brewed at about 195 F. To keep the temperature high throughout the brewing process, you should also preheat the brewing cylinder with boiling water. Use tongs!
With the extra fiddling involved, you need about three minutes to prepare each shot. Some people order the Flair with two brew groups so they can quickly swap them out and brew for two people without having to clean and pre-heat the brew group between shots.
The four-piece brew group consists of a collar, piston, screen and uniquely designed portafilter that is particular to the Flair. It all comes apart quickly which makes cleaning the Flair quite easy.
If you like milky drinks, you’ll need to buy a frother separately. The flair is a totally analog machine that uses no electricity (and makes no sound), so it cannot steam milk.
Watch it in action:
The ROK is another crowdfunded invention, but it has been around longer than the Flair. It launched in 2004 as Presso but rebranded as ROK in 2012.
Like the Flair, it operates in a minimalistic way. Two key differences stand out: the ROK has symmetrical levers—one for each hand—on either side of the machine, and a regular portafilter with a handle that locks into place just like it does on any other espresso machine.
The ROK matches the Flair in terms of affordability, ease of use, and quietness. It even has the Flair beat in a few areas. Good rubber grips on the bottom do a better job of keeping the device stable on your counter when you’re pulling a shot. You can pull a second shot much more quickly with the ROK than you can with the Flair. It also comes with a splitter for dispensing two shots into separate cups at once, and a stainless steel milk frother which mostly gets the job done.
Where it doesn’t quite measure up is in the quality of the coffee. Even when you get everything right, the ROK just doesn’t seem able to reach the same heights of espresso as the Flair. It’s fine if you’re not an overly picky coffee drinker, but it will never be confused with espresso from the finest Italian machines. The Flair, on a good day, just might.
The ROK comes in polished metal, copper, black or red, all packed neatly in a stainless steel tin. While not quite as compact as the Flair, it can travel fairly well. Those metal parts have a 10-year warranty, and the plastic parts are BPA-free.
La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola
Moving into the more traditional lever machines, we come to La Pavoni, an Italian company whose Europiccola is the standard-bearer for entry-level lever machines.
If you’re wondering how long La Pavoni machines have been cool, here’s James Bond pulling a shot for M in Live and Let Die (1973):
As you can see, these machines look sharp and can be great conversation pieces when guests spot them sitting on your counter.
When you’re actually making coffee, the direct lever lets you really feel the grind and tamp of your grounds. It brews silently.
Like most direct lever machines, it will test you but it will also produce exceptional espresso once you’ve nailed down your process. Try it with a bottomless portafilter to really train yourself.
You can’t be in too much of a rush with this machine, because the boiler takes about six minutes to reach brewing temperature after you turn it on.
The boiler has enough capacity for about eight 2-ounce cups. You can see the water level through glass at the side, so you know when to refill.
Despite the capacity, you won’t want to brew eight straight shots on the Europiccola. La Pavoni machines are notorious for getting very hot—handle with extreme care—and after two or three shots the brew group will probably become too hot to brew properly. You must let it cool down, or wrap the brew group in a damp towel, to bring the temperature down before resuming.
All this heat also causes pressure to build up in the machine. Never unlock the portafilter immediately after brewing or you may get splattered with hot water and coffee grounds. Wait at least a minute before removing it. The boiler should not have its lid removed for refilling until after the machine has cooled completely.
La Pavoni machines are easy to take care of and very durable. You can clean them with a soft cloth, and descale the boiler every six months to remove mineral deposits from the water. Otherwise, you’ll just need to grease a part or tighten a nut occasionally. Should you need a more significant repair, spare parts are inexpensive and easily available. La Pavoni has 35 repair facilities in the U.S.
Is there room for improvement? Sure. The Europiccola comes with a three-hole steaming wand that isn’t great for frothing milk. Many users report swapping the nozzle out for a single-hole nozzle and getting much better results. But it is nice to have a steamer built right in. If you crank the machine up to its highest heat setting after pulling your shot, you can be steaming in about 45 seconds.
The Europiccola isn’t as stable on the counter as some machines. You may need to brace the base with your hand when pulling a shot. It also comes with a plastic tamper that’s virtually useless, so budget for a proper steel tamper.
Enjoy this video of a vintage Europiccola in action:
La Pavoni Professional
The La Pavoni Professional shares the good looks and a lot of other qualities with its cousin the Europiccola, including the direct lever. They pull the same great shots once you master the machine.
The big difference in the Professional is the size of its boiler. At 54 ounces it’s almost double that of the Europiccola. Consider the Pro if you want to brew for many people, keeping in mind that either machine will get very hot and likely need some cooling after the second or third shot anyway.
Another advantage of the Professional is its steamer. The boiler’s size gives more power to the steamer, so it is quite a bit more effective and forgiving than the Europiccola steamer. However, the wand comes out at a funny angle that many people find awkward at first. It’s one of those things that is probably fine once you get used to it.
The Professional has a pressure gauge for the boiler, which the Europiccola does not. Honestly, you can get by just fine without it.
While it offers some conveniences, the Professional also makes you wait a bit longer for it to heat up—about 10 minutes in comparison to six for the Europiccola.
These differences aside, the Professional and the Europiccola are otherwise very similar machines. Easy to maintain, easy to repair, easy to burn your hand on, and a little top-heavy. They can both make great coffee.
If you want to dive deeper into the La Pavoni Professional, read the very detailed review from CoffeeGeek.
Elektra Microcasa a Leva
The Italian-made Elektra Microcasa a Leva has been around since 1960. Their devotees absolutely love them. If you thought the La Pavoni was a smart-looking device, just wait until you cast your eyes on this majestic machine.
The shiny Elektra comes in full chrome, brass and chrome, or brass and copper—all extremely durable materials that should last for decades.
The machine weighs 24 pounds, about twice as much as the La Pavoni Professional. This one won’t slide or feel the least bit unsteady while you’re pulling your shot.
Its portafilter is also a bit deeper than La Pavoni’s, which allows for a larger dose of coffee and can be more forgiving of tamping errors and channels in the puck.
But of course, the main difference is the spring piston. This is the first spring-piston machine we’ve covered. What the spring does is give you a consistent eight bars of pressure from the start of your shot, taking some of the responsibility out of your hands. That means you can focus on your grind, tamp and the volume of your grounds to figure out how to get the best shot.
It does take a little muscle to pull the lever down. Lighter, shorter baristas will have to work harder using this machine because they won’t have as much leverage.
The silence of the brewing process is lovely.
The Elektra takes 13 minutes to heat up, so again, not for those who are rushed in the morning. The exposed boiler gets very hot so you need to take care. Like the La Pavoni machines, the Elektra will eventually become too hot to pull a great shot and you will need to cool the group head down to continue, but it does hold off the heat a little longer than La Pavoni. Always wait that extra minute before removing the portafilter so you don’t get splattered.
Steaming with the Elektra is awesome. Its steaming wand has a really well-designed three-hole tip that can produce great microfoam in less than 40 seconds. There’s no hot water outlet on the Elektra, but with this wand you can simply steam water the same way you do milk.
The main complaints about the Elektra are the really shallow plastic drip tray that has to be emptied quite frequently, and the cheap plastic tamper that it comes with. Buy your own tamper.
You can also buy a nice aluminum carrying case for the Elektra, if you feel like lugging 24 pounds around.
As for maintenance, you’ll need to clean and lubricate the piston group occasionally, and replace the gaskets every year or two. These are easy tasks, but be aware that Elektra parts are much harder to find in the U.S. than La Pavoni parts. You’ll probably end up ordering from Europe, so order them well in advance and think about buying in bulk and storing them to save you the hassle next time.
The video below does a nice job of showing the Elektra in action, and CoffeeGeek has a much more detailed review if you are interested.
Now we’re getting serious. Luigi Bezzera built the world’s first espresso machine back in 1901. The Bezzera Strega is essentially a commercial espresso machine made for the home.
This shiny, stainless steel box weighs 62 pounds, takes up considerable space on your counter, and needs 15-20 minutes to warm up. But boy, does it pull a nice shot of espresso.
It’s a spring-piston machine with a bit of a cheat—an automatic pump starts your shot at 11 bars of pressure, then gives way to the spring which decreases pressure from about 9.5 bars to 5.5 bars by the end of the shot.
The temperature also drops as the shot is being pulled, thanks to a group head that has its own heating element and cools slightly toward the end.
These two features are intended to prevent over-extraction of the coffee and the bitterness that can result. It works!
The steamer with four-hole wand is incredible and can steam for a cappuccino beautifully in about 10 seconds. Its heat source is separate from the brewer’s, so you can steam right away without having to wait for the entire machine to rise to steaming temperature. You can steam for 45 seconds before you have to let the machine recover.
The Strega brews best with very finely ground coffee, and does a particularly great job with lighter roasts.
If you want, you can hook the machine directly up with your plumbing so you never have to fill the boiler manually.
Here’s a demo video on the Strega from the folks at Whole Latte Love:
The Olympia Cremina is the ultimate hand pull espresso machine for the home, and its price reflects that.
This is the Swiss watch of espresso machines. Engineered and manufactured in Switzerland, it has undergone many improvements and refinements since its introduction 50 years ago. They have taken no shortcuts with it, and if you buy it today it will probably last you another 50 years. It’s as durable as it is attractive.
It’s a hefty spring-piston machine with great grips that anchor it solidly on your countertop. It takes 10-12 minutes to heat up, but after that it produces top-notch espresso under consistent pressure.
The machine comes with a quality stainless steel tamper that fits its 49.5mm portafilters just right. Yes, two portafilters—a single and a double-spout.
The Cremina’s steaming wand has a four-hole tip and makes steaming milk a breeze. The steam heat is completely separate from the brewing heat, so you can literally steam milk and pull a shot at the same time, as this showoff does in the video:
If you’re looking for an energy-efficient machine, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The Cremina runs on 1000 watts of power. The makers have spared no expense in making the best machine possible, and energy is one of the expenses.
Unlike the Bezzera Strega, the Cremina cannot be plumbed, so you will need to fill the boiler.
While it’s extremely unlikely that anything would go wrong with your Cremina, it can be challenging to find service or parts for it in North America. Be prepared to ship it to Switzerland for any serious repairs.
We don’t blame you if our descriptions of the Strega and Cremina have given you lever-machine envy, but we realize not all coffee-lovers are in the market for those high-end machines. This is why we recommend the Flair.
The quality of coffee you can get from the Flair is not far off from the highest-end machines on this list. Sure, it’s a bit more work and doesn’t offer a milk-steaming solution, but at its price point, it really has no business matching the espresso of high-end Italian and Swiss machines. Yet it can, with a lot of practice.
If you’re new to hand pull machines and aren’t ready for a big investment, you can master the craft on the Flair. You may choose to step up in class at a later date—or you may choose to let your Flair serve you for a very long time. We doubt it will let you down.