It's no secret that lever espresso machines are becoming more and more popular. They provide a sense of nostalgia for many baristas, but do they offer an easier experience than electric machines? Can you make better coffee with them?
Lever espresso machines require much higher levels of skill than semi-automatic ones. For this reason, a hand press coffee machine can be too challenging or very exciting for some people depending on their personal preference.
Do lever espresso machines wear you out faster than electrically powered models? Do they require different types of maintenance? Are lever espresso machine prices worth it in the long run when compared to other models?
Answers will vary, so read on!
Is a lever espresso machine for you?
Pulling a shot with a hand press espresso machine is never as simple as pushing a few buttons. It's a process that takes coordination, skill, and concentration.
For sure, it isn't hard to pull down the lever, but it isn't something you can do carelessly.
A lot of people feel disappointed by this demanding approach. However, there's a certain appeal about putting hard work and expertise into creating something beautiful -or delicious in this case.
Dialing a high-quality espresso shot with a semi-automatic machine is pleasant, but using a lever espresso machine is for those inclined towards mastering the barista craft and technique.
Busy people looking for convenience might not feel attracted at all by a lever espresso machine and its demands. For sure, this type of machine is more likely to seduce espresso enthusiasts with a knack for detail and learning complex techniques.
If you're becoming a home barista or you're ready to take up to the next challenge in espresso at home, a lever espresso machine might be for you.
Let's analyze lever espresso machines in further detail so that you can decide for yourself.
Types of espresso machines: Convenience vs. Craft
Personal preference plays a huge role in choosing the best home espresso machine. I see that espresso machines types answer to very different coffee lovers.
Understanding if a lever espresso machine is worth the money and the effort requires to understand the different types of espresso machines available in the market.
Super-automatic espresso machines
In one extreme, some busy people don't want to compromise quality, don't want to spend time learning to dial a perfect espresso, and love to have it at home.
Fully automatic espresso machines or super automatics are perfect for more convenience-oriented coffee lovers. It only takes pushing a button to get great espresso out of these machines.
Super-automatic espresso machines have built-in grinders, and many of them include programmable settings so that they can have all kinds of issues. The downside is that the good ones are pretty expensive. Arguably, the most expensive espresso machine for home is likely to be super-automatic. Additionally, they aren't easy to maintain in general.
Obviously, the best super-automatic espresso machines aren't only expensive. They tend to be reliable, cost-effective, and easier to maintain than cheaper ones.
Semi-automatic espresso machines
In the middle, between convenience-oriented coffee lovers and the craftiest ones, some people like to have a certain degree of control over the shots and play with the variables to achieve an excellent espresso drink.
Unlike super automatics, this type of espresso machine doesn't include a built-in grinder, neither have programmable drinks with the push of a button. Instead, semi-automatics offer more features to control some variables to obtain a good espresso shot, like water temperature and pressure.
When they consider getting an espresso machine, most people think of a semi-automatic machine for home. For this reason, they're more common, considerably more affordable than super-automatics, and it's relatively easy to find second-hand equipment in good conditions at a reasonable price.
Manual espresso machines
Finally, the more detail-oriented coffee lovers feel more inclined toward manual espresso machines. Lever espresso machines come in two different types: piston and direct lever.
- Spring piston machines come with a calibrated spring that helps you direct the water through the coffee bed. Pulling the lever compresses the spring, and releasing the lever exerts all the pressure towards the group head to extract the espresso.
- Direct lever machines take more strength and effort because they come without any hydraulic assistance. Like wheels to drive an old car, only your strength determines the pressure you will deliver.
What's the difference between both? In terms of the coffee experience, a spring-piston machine is more consistent and reliable.
On the other hand, direct lever machines are more challenging. They require more skill to obtain good shots consistently, even when keeping relevant variables equal like grind size and water temperature.
Keys to dialing an excellent espresso at home
Overall, the most important aspects of making espresso at home are common for all types of espresso machines:
- Quality of the coffee
- Roast type and quality
- Coffee grounds size and its distribution
- Distribution and tamping the coffee bed
- Water temperature to adjust the extraction
- Pressure and time of extraction
A lever espresso machine lets you have more control over the pressure and time of extraction since you can adjust both while handling the lever. As for the rest of the variables, it's the same as when using a semi-automatic machine.
I can't overstate the importance of coffee beans' quality when making espresso, or any coffee drink for that matter. Certainly, gear plays a huge role in taste and aroma, but all pieces of equipment, from grinders to tampers to espresso machines, only can extract good aspects from good coffee.
Learning to use a lever espresso machine
You'll need to learn some things about lever espresso machines that electrical ones don't require. Dialing a good espresso shot with semi-automatic machines takes adjusting the grind size and water temperature. Additionally, when using a manual espresso machine, you'll need to change the time and speed when pulling down and releasing the lever, among other variables.
There are a lot of things to do with a lever machine. It takes some time for you to learn how to do it and do it well.
Making great home espresso is already a difficult task. You're dealing with a relatively concentrated type of coffee, so even slight modifications to the method might make a significant difference in taste.
It's not for everyone, and some claim that making espresso at home is looking for unnecessary trouble. So, adding an extra level of difficulty requires patience and monitoring more variables and settings than with semi-automatic espresso machines.