Lever machine for a casual espresso drinker

Recommendations for espresso equipment buyers and upgraders.
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Postby JMTyler » Aug 12, 2018, 4:43 pm

A friend of mine is considering buying his first espresso machine. I don't know much about lever-style machines (or even much about espresso at all, to be honest, but I'm learning), but I think they're very much down his alley. He loves mechanical beauty, prefers to keep costs light, and wouldn't mind putting a little extra muscle into pulling his shots.

His fiancee (and possibly he as well) might like to make an occasional latte, but that certainly isn't the focus, so a standalone steam wand would probably suffice. Though I expect they'd still be interested to hear about it if there's a lever machine with a steam wand, without inflating the price tag or taking up much more space.

Neither of them are coffee enthusiasts; they're looking for a stylish way to make espresso at home, but aren't concerned with top-notch equipment or perfecting the process.

However, while I suspect a lever machine would be perfect, I don't know enough about them to procure a shortlist of options. I was hoping the knowledgable folks on HB might be able to help out here: given their interests & expectations as described above, do you have any brand/model recommendations? I'd be happy to provide more info if this wasn't enough to narrow down a nice spread.


Postby happycat » Aug 12, 2018, 5:52 pm

It's cool you want to help your friend

Let me overwhelm you... :D

Getting into coffee, the focus is often on the espresso machine itself. That can be a route for frustration. My priorities look like this:

1. Freshly roasted coffee (not best before dates... but roasted in the last week dates)
1a. optional: Roasts that showcase the natural flavours of the coffee... ie. medium

2. Filtered water (I use a Mavea. Brita would work — avoid off-flavours like I had visiting my parents last weekend— blech!)

3. Good grinder (more consistent the grind the better... otherwise lots of headaches)

4. Then... Espresso maker with temperature control (otherwise cold = sour; hot = bitter)

I expect a bunch of people will swoop in and recommend Breville products.

My humble suggestion is:

A1. if you want a motorized grinder, the Baratza Sette 270 has reliability issues in the past but many of us with it now are happy. The advantage is a good grind fast with decent consistency and it's pretty forgiving in adjustment. Easy to use. No hand cramps.

A2. if you can live with a manual grinder, others can give you more up to date info. I have an original Pharos. It works well but has some ergonomic challenges with lighter roasts. Darker roasts of coffee grind way easier so your coffee preference affects your experience. There are lots of new manual grinders— but lots of people balk at their prices and decide to get an electric one for the same price (even though the electric one at the same price may have worse consistency and produce worse shots). This is where the Sette is a pretty good option.

B. a Flair Signature Edition lever is a nice basic machine with no boiler or steam wand. It delivers great results and is very forgiving. If your grind is too coarse, you can have less lever pressure. If your grind is too fine, you can preinfuse with a light pressure and wait a bit before pulling more. You can also pull, wait, pull wait, to get through a fine grind to get an enjoyable cup. In a pump machine, you can be out of luck if your grind isn't right. With the Flair you can also adjust brewing temperature using the kettle you use to boil water for it. So you'll want a kettle that either has a PID (programmable temperature like the Bonavita) or a kettle with a thermometer in it (I've done both). The signature edition comes with two coffee brewing systems so you can eaily heat both up in a pot with an inch of water, fill both with coffee, and pull one shot after the other.

I have a Gaggia Classic (entry level espresso machine) that I have modified quite a bit to improve its temperature stability (adding a PID) its steaming (swapping its steam wand with the Rancilio Silvia one) and adding preinfusion (with a microcontroller i programmed myself). I also have a Flair Signature Edition + Pharos.

Currently I am travelling... I have used the Flair at home with a Sette and Pharos and while travelling with a Pharos for me and my wife. She is now back home and using the Gaggia + Sette to make her americanos.

Reflecting on both machines... I am happy with both. I do like the control I have with the Flair. It is a way cheaper option to get all the control I had to add to the Gaggia. That being said, the Sette made the Gaggia experience way easier. The grinder is the important thing!
LMWDP #603

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Postby drgary » Aug 13, 2018, 11:52 pm

I have reviewed and endorsed the Flair and find it very capable, stylish, and a bargain too. If your friends don't want to grind their own coffee there is a high quality lever that is a pourover like the Flair. It will be an improved remake of a 1950's classic, the Faema Baby. It has a basket that will take preground coffee. It should be available in October from a manufacturer and designer we all respect. With the Cafelat Robot and its pressurized portafilter your friends will pay more for the machine but will not need to buy a grinder unless they choose to up their game. Then they can buy the standard portafilter. They would steam milk separately with something like a Bellman stovetop steamer.

Cafelat Robot manual espresso maker

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!