Cafelat Robot Review

Behind the scenes of the site's projects and equipment reviews.
User avatar
Team HB

#1: Post by drgary »

The Cafelat Robot manual lever espresso machine has been eagerly anticipated since Paul Pratt began to reveal it in April of 2016. By then he had been working on it for a year. Anyone who knows about Paul would have high expectations because of his reputation as a premier restorer of espresso machines from the 1950s and 60s. The journey from concept to manufacture can be a long one, even for someone with Paul's skills and his access to manufacturing and fabrication sources. For those who committed to the first batch on Kickstarter, the wait is nearly over, and you won't be disappointed! As someone who appreciates vintage lever machines, I feel extremely fortunate to have a demo version of the Robot sitting on my counter so I can offer first impressions. Soon you will see this review joined by several members of Team HB. Now let's get down to business!

I'll start by summarizing first impressions and will soon offer more detail and photos.

I'm still dialing it in, but as I write this I just put the Robot to the Nordic roast** test, and it is fully capable. I also just pulled a first-rate shot of a local favorite, Stumptown Hairbender, a darker medium roast that likes to be updosed. Since even darker roasts simply require cooler temperatures, the Robot can pull the full range of espresso roasting styles.

Everything is high precision and well thought out. The parts fit together perfectly. The materials are the best of old school -- stainless steel and aluminum -- and now, silicone. There is no plastic* in the water path. Apparently the Robot is Paul's interpretation and upgrade of the Faemina Baby / Faema Baby, a manual pourover machine that initially appeared as the Mignon Cremacaffe in 1950. The beauty of these ultra-simple pourover machines is you can be quite consistent by using a good grinder, weighing the dose and shot, and using water heated to a target temperature.

I will see a Faema Baby for the first time next weekend, so the way the Robot works is unexpected to me and I'm sure is quite traditional. The piston hangs a little loose in the upper part and can look misaligned because it's on a swivel. The portafilter locks in and seems like it isn't properly seated until you bring the piston down to engage the one-piece 58 mm cylinder and basket, and it aligns itself perfectly, stabilizing the portafilter in the group. The tamper fits it perfectly and is held very nicely in either of the Robot's "hands." The removable two-spouted bottom of the portafilter has a friction gasket of silicone, again, a perfect fit and already tested in his other portafilters. It's also fairly hefty. Since Paul is an accomplished machinist, the tolerances are very fine. Of course the piston, basket and portafilter are stainless steel. Paul has sent two versions of the filter basket for me to try, the Pro basket, designed for fresh coffee from a proper espresso grinder, and the pressurized basket for coffee that is pre-ground for a moka pot and can be obtained at many grocery stores. This is also the Barista version of the Robot, equipped with a removable pressure gauge. In addition to the aluminum version Cafelat is offering the Robot with green or yellow powdercoat.

Paul's overview and instructions can be seen on this Kickstarter page.

* The only plastic content I know of is the set of PTFE washers in the internal lever arm assembly, nowhere near the brew path, and the PTFE tubing that feeds the pressure gauge.

** For newcomers a Nordic roast is very light to highlight coffee's origin flavors. Brewing requires high temperature and a capable grinder.

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!
★ Helpful

User avatar
drgary (original poster)
Team HB

#2: Post by drgary (original poster) »

Let's get into more detail, with photos. Here's what came with the review machine, which includes some extra bits, including the pro filter basket and the pressurized basket, plus a Cafelat coffee dosing spoon, an extra gasket for the portafilter bottom, and some Molykote 111 silicone lubricant. The Reward version I have ordered will be equipped with the manometer and will include one type of basket, a shower screen, an extra piston seal and a silicone cup pad for the base. I've ordered the pressurized basket as an add-on for traveling without a grinder.

The Kickstarter campaign lists the Robot as weighing 2.8 Kg / 6.2 lbs., including the steel tamper. The hands-on experience is of something that is solidly built but not unwieldy. The portafilter with filter basket and shower screen inserted weighs in at over 1 lb. Keep in mind that this is a 58 mm filter basket, not the smaller size we're used to in many home levers.

The press-on bottom of the Cafelat portafilter is a perfect fit and is secured by a silicone o-ring. This part alone is 173 gm, which is included in the weight above.

The tamper is held securely in either of the Robot's hands but is not a tight fit, so it's also easy to remove. It's well thought-out from a user's point of view.

The manometer is small, so it scales well. It has an attractive face.

Here is how the manometer assembly is fitted to the machine.

Here are views of the top and bottom of the pro and pressurized portafilters. The pro version is on the right.

For a sense of scale, here's a comparison of the Robot portafilter on the right, with a 58 mm Conti Prestina portafilter in the middle and a 49 mm Richard Penney Espressme portafilter for an Olympia Express Cremina.


What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

User avatar
drgary (original poster)
Team HB

#3: Post by drgary (original poster) »

Getting acquainted

I'm just starting to get familiar with the Robot and like it more and more. Here's a feature that surprised me because it looked "off," but there is nothing wrong. The piston appears to be swiveled, but this is part of its self-aligning design.

Inserting the portafilter into the group involves aligning the tabs with the front and back while keeping the arms raised, so it is clear of the piston when initially loaded.

Turn it to the right, and it will not be snugly secured the way it would be in a machine like a La Pavoni lever. Again, there's nothing wrong because the piston has not yet engaged the cylinder part of the portafilter basket. Prior to first use Paul recommends lubricating the piston seal with silicone lubricant or hot water. This will help it slide into the cylinder and also makes it easier to remove when the shot is complete. Eventually the lubricant or coffee oils will be sufficient. Once the piston slides into the cylinder, the portafilter is firmly held in the group and everything is correctly aligned for shot-pulling.

When the shot is complete, the basket may be held in place by the friction hold of the piston gasket. Once you've completed the shot the filter basket isn't very hot and is easily removed by hand. Time will tell if the filter basket comes loose as the piston gasket becomes seasoned.


What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

User avatar
drgary (original poster)
Team HB

#4: Post by drgary (original poster) »

Starting to dial in

Shots on the Robot can be precisely dialed in. I've just started to experiment with different coffees. Beginning with a darker medium roast, Stumptown Hairbender, I've found a sweet spot at about 18 gm in, 97 C / 206°F water poured in and an unheated filter basket, leaving about 8 mm / 1/3 inch from the top to avoid an initial spill. I pulled the shot all the way through, and it yielded a beautiful, fruity espresso that was rich with crema all the way to the bottom of the shot glass. The grind setting is coarser than I use with my La Pavoni or Olympia Express Cremina. My commercial lever uses a coarser setting than the home levers, and the setting for the Robot is coarser than that. You'll need to find that setting on your grinder. As I've varied shots while dialing in, I've been able to achieve flavor layering equivalent to an Elektra Microcasa a Leva or Conti Prestina.

This morning I pulled a shot of a Nordic-roasted Ethiopian natural from a local roaster with that style. Fellow HB Team member Sam Law has experience with the Faema Baby and advised me to preheat the filter basket and to pour hot water on top of the shower screen, then discard that and pour in hot brew water. I did that using water just off the boil and the temperature was just right. So, if you're used to a very light roast, the Robot is capable of handling it. Sam will be joining this review soon.

This means we have the full range of espresso brewing temperatures available, which is extremely good news.

One of my first tries with the pressurized basket was Pellini Top, an Italian pre-ground coffee blend packed with inert gas and recommended by our expert member, Lucio Del Piccolo, aka LVX. If you don't know Lucio, he's a leading collector and historian of caffetieres, and his blog is here. The coffee itself is sweet, mild, and like dark chocolate, but the grind is very fine. Although I didn't get the mouthfeel I wanted, I hit the temperature about right, starting with water heated to 87° C / 188° F and an unheated filter basket.

I'll continue experimenting with the pressurized basket by grinding coarser as you would for a moka pot, as recommended by Lucio. By the end of the week I'll receive a popular Italian blend that he also suggested as the most popular coffee in Italy, Lavazza Qualita Rossa. It is supposed to be ground for moka pots and contains 30% Robusta, which should augment crema production. Lucio assures me that a good quality Robusta is not to be feared! :?:

Let's not forget the design

I'm going to close out today's post with a beauty shot. Let's keep in mind that the Robot has already won a Red Dot design award. The Faema Baby that inspired it is a minimalist design. I believe the Robot is a whimsical step up from the Faema Baby with its take on the science fiction illustrations of the 1950s. As it sits on my counter I find it beautiful to look at, and comparable to outstanding coffee brewer designs of that era, like this mid-century classic, the Robbiati Atomic coffee maker.


What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

Team HB

#5: Post by samuellaw178 »

Thanks Gary for the great intro and review!

Since I have more experience with the Faema Baby, which is almost a dead ringer for the Cafelat Robot, a lot of my expectation/comparison will be made based upon that. We will also briefly go through some of the differences and improvements between the two.

Twins from different eras!

First impressions

When I received the parcel, my immediate reaction was "wow, that's heavier than I expected!" Upon unpacking, the Robot sits reasonably compact on the counter, similar to the Baby. The Robot weighs about 2.4 kg / 5.3 lb (without tamper). For this reason, the Faema Baby almost feels like a toy - the Baby is mostly made of alloy and is much lighter @ 1.3 kg /2.9 lb.

'I am taller' 'Noooo, I am taller!'

All of the Robot's parts are extremely well-made. If you are someone who appreciates fine details, you will come to be impressed by the impeccable finish on all the stainless parts - including the lever arms, which have some tricky curves for polishing, as well as the portafilter. The workmanship that Paul Pratt is famous for in restoring vintage machines is certainly carried over to these Robots. That alone makes it well worth the price!

Except for the cast aluminium body, almost every part of the Robot is made of stainless steel. This of course includes the accessories such as baskets, portafilter, shower screen, dosing spoon (!), etc. Really impressive.

Cafelat Robot's accessories on the left (100% stainless steel), Faema Baby's on the right (mostly alloy).

The most critical part - the basket

As mentioned by Gary, the unique characteristic of the Robot is that the basket and the piston's cylinder are a one-piece design (see picture/diagram below). In a classic lever machine, the basket and cylinder are two separate components where the cylinder is the hefty lever group head made of brass and is designed to cool down superheated water from the boiler.

Having this one-piece design provides several advantages for the Faema Baby. For one, there is very little mess when grinding directly into the basket (think of it as a free built-in grind dosing funnel!). Secondly, there is no need to preheat a separate cylinder.

In this one-piece design, getting the basket thickness right is critical as too thick of a basket will result in significant heat loss - causing a low brew temperature or necessitating an extensive preheat routine. Alternatively, too thin of a basket will allow deformation under pressure. The Robot's basket weighs a measly 83 g / 2.9 oz, which is a reasonable feat when you consider that a typical basket weighs around 25-35 g / 0.9-1.2 oz and a typical lever group head (i.e., cylinder) around 3-5 kg / 6-11 lb!

Left : Comparison of the Robot's two-in-one basket and a conventional basket design (this picture is from Cafelat on the Robot's Kickstarter web page). Right: The working principle of the Cafelat Robot's special basket.

In case you are thinking of getting an aftermarket tamper, please note that the Robot will require a special tamper size. Despite being a '58mm' basket, my regular 58mm tamper (i.e. not the oversized 58.x mm tamper for VST, etc.) did not fit. Measured with a caliper, the tamper that came with the Robot measures about 57.30 mm and the Robot basket diameter around 57.85 mm (which tapers down to about 57.5 mm). However, there is no actual need to obtain an aftermarket tamper - the tamper supplied with the Robot works reasonably well and you get the cool factor where the tamper can be hung onto the Robot when not being used.

Other miscellaneous notes

You may notice a slight metal rubbing sound when moving the lever arms up and down. This is perfectly normal as it is inherent as part of the design - there are some moving parts in the arm mechanism that will slide over each other to allow movement. As the arms are made from stainless steel, wearing out is very unlikely.

A PTFE shim is sandwiched between the flat moving part between the two lever arms to provide smooth lever movement as well as to minimise lever wobble. For some of you observant ones, you may notice there is minor movement in the lever arms - again, it is part of the design requirement to allow for alignment of the piston/portafilter when in use and for ease of assembly. How did I find out? Well, I 'cleverly' tried to shim the arms to fill up the small gap (0.1mm or so), but it was almost impossible to reinstall! Note to self: don't try to reinvent the wheel. :oops:

Note the white PTFE shim piece that was sandwiched between the two arms.

Parts compatibility with vintage Faema Babies?

One of my questions coming into the review was whether we are finally getting a new spare part source for the vintage Faema Babies. As some of you know, sometimes these old Faema Babies can be found on the secondhand market but often with missing parts such the basket, portafilter, seals, etc. Unfortunately, I reluctantly report that most of the parts on the Robot are not cross-compatible with the Baby. This is most likely due to the design improvement implemented on the Robot (different portafilter bayonet system) and also possibly because the Robot was designed around the silicone seal (i.e. , incompatibility was not by intention). The shower screen is the only part that is interchangeable between the Robot and the Baby.

How easy it is to use?

Compared to many other portable devices, the Robot is very straightforward to use. Back-to-back shots can be managed with a reasonably quick turnaround time due to a relatively minimal routine. In my experience, the most 'challenging' part in getting used to on the Robot is when locking in the portafilter. This is where you are required to lift the lever arms with one hand while holding the portafilter (filled with hot water) in another. However, the learning curve was short and I was very comfortable from shot 3 onward.

Brew pressure and pressure gauge - usage impressions

Since I've got the 'Barista' version, it has the pressure gauge fitted to show real-time brew pressure. The pressure gauge is small (and cute), and it is surprisingly very readable. Although the pressure gauge itself is workable, I feel that its placement or the direction of the gauge could be improved. I often lean my body over the Robot and use some of my body weight to help pulling the shot - meaning I will be looking over the Robot from top-down. In this position, it is difficult to look at the gauge during the shot extraction when it matters. Obviously, I could also pull a shot while staying in front of the Robot and facing the gauge. However, in that position, I could only comfortably exert around 5-6 bar as the stainless steel arms can start to painfully pressing into your hands when applying extreme force. Fortunately, I found that even a 5-6 bar shot can be very delicious. In my opinion, adding silicone sleeves around the arms could make them more comfortable to hold. In an email correspondence with Paul, he is currently looking into a new gauge/bracket design that can be swiveled to any position.

With the minor caveat above, the main advantage of the Robot over the Faema Baby is its versatility, with a full range of pressure available (up to 9-11 bar *) and a real-time brew pressure readout. The characteristic of the Robot's shots can be changed by manipulating the brew pressure. With the Faema Baby, I am often limited to 5-7 bar (assuming the mechanical advantage of the levers on both the Robot and the Baby is the same) as I was wary about breaking it (especially the thin basket), resulting shots that tends to taste softer and have lesser crema in comparison to the shots from the Robot.

*Edit 20 Oct 2018 : Cafelat does not recommend going much beyond 8 bar, although you have the ability to do so. Adhering to the guide should ensure you get many years of faithful service out of the Robot.

Preheating - temperature performance

For a pourover/unpowered espresso device, the main challenge is often the heat loss or the ability to reach a reasonable brew temperature. Without any preheating procedure, the brew temperature of the Robot reads about 90 °C / 194 °F by immersing a thermocouple into the hot water above the tamped coffee. This brew temperature can be perfectly acceptable for darker-roasted coffees to minimize potential bitterness. For lighter roasts, you can increase this brew temperature by preheating the portafilter/basket assembly by briefly soaking them in hot water (such as in a latte cup).

Preheating the portafilter assembly in a latte cup.

Another preheat technique I've learned from using the Faema Baby is the so-called double-pour technique. This is done by filling the portafilter (tamped coffee bed and shower screen in place) with off-boil water and allowing it to sit 5-10 sec. Instead of brewing directly, discard the water and refill the basket with fresh off-boil water. By doing that, a brew temperature of 92-94 °C / 198-201 °F can be achieved easily without any laborious preheat routine.

I was using a medium-light roasted Colombian coffee for some of the test brews - it can taste harsh/acidic when not pulled properly. Using the double-pour technique, the taste seemed about right to my palate. I have also purchased some ultra-light filter roasts for testing (the Kenyan was retailing for AUD$88/kg!) and I was able to get great results with both the light roasts (albeit with minimal crema, not dissimilar to what I get using the commercial lever and Linea Mini).

Ultra-light filter roasts used for testing the Robot.

This double-pour technique may seem unconventional to some, as it involves discarding some 'coffee water' that is light-brown in color. However, this discarded preheating water proved to contain very little coffee material and therefore the loss was negligible - I couldn't get an accurate reading on my Atago refractometer (<0.05% TDS), representing less than 0.1% loss of the total extracted/soluble coffee solids.

The discarded preheating water - not enough to matter...note that the refractometer isn't really up to task for accurately measuring such low TDS %.

Initial impression of shot quality

Obviously, it is not possible to judge a machine (especially a manual lever with pressure profiling capacity) only after a short period. However, the shots have generally been very good, and it is very easy to get great shots once the grind is dialed in. The body of the shots generally seems a hair thinner compared to my commercial lever (Brugnetti Aurora), but the flavour layering was really good (comparable or even better). I can taste the sweetness and the nuances of the medium or light roasts coming through easily. Although the recommended dose out-of-the-box was 10-16g, I found that 18g worked best when I was test driving the Robot. To pull a ristretto (for darker roasts for example), I find that it's better to updose to 20-21g instead of grinding finer. However, this may depend on your pull preference and the type of the coffee/roast.

One of my first few shots - very easy to obtain good shots once the grind is dialed in.

Another shot from this morning


Throughout the testing period, I have been really impressed with the ease of use of the Cafelat Robot (for an unpowered device) and its build quality. It was built on the Faema Baby design (an excellent design as it is), and Cafelat has incorporated many modern features such as stainless steel construction and a brew pressure gauge to make the Robot practical for daily use. The Robot seems to work best if I just pull the shots by feeling (rather than being extremely meticulous by going with a timer and executing a pressure profile to the nth degree). For this reason, I can see those who enjoy the hands-on nature of levers and typically have a more casual approach towards coffee (go-with-the-flow type and as long as the coffee is delicious) will love it. Overall, I find that the Robot is a well-executed modern iteration of the classic lever experience - the relatively forgiving nature of levers and the charm of engaging with a lever are two aspects of the Robot that I really enjoyed.

p/s: For the next installment of the review, I am hoping to summarize some key points/guides that was helpful to me in using the Robot.
★ Helpful

User avatar
drgary (original poster)
Team HB

#6: Post by drgary (original poster) »

An Interlude -- Unboxing the Robot

(The spoon comes with the pressurized basket.)


What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

User avatar
drgary (original poster)
Team HB

#7: Post by drgary (original poster) »

My kit includes the pressurized basket and the spoon that comes with it - an option for traveling.


What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

Team HB

#8: Post by samuellaw178 »

Since some of the readers of this review will have already purchased a Robot, this part of the review is intended to serve as documentation to provide some dos & don'ts that may help you in getting the most out of the Robot. If you have not already, going over the manual written by Paul first is highly recommended.

A word about brew temperature and preheating

When brewing with the Robot (or any other unpowered espresso device), it is OK to use boiling water - don't worry, you won't burn the coffee! By the time the water has come in contact with the coffee, some of the heat will have already been absorbed by the basket/shower screen.

With no pre-heating, the Robot achieved about 90 °C/194°F in my experience (depending on your ambient temperature and the measurement method). For some darker roasts, this is a perfectly acceptable temperature range. In the past, I had found that using a lower brew temperature can sometimes be surprisingly good, bringing out a different characteristic of the coffee. So keep an open mind, try it without preheating, and see if you like the result.

This was how I estimated the brew temperature - it is very sensitive and the temperature can jump around a lot!

Attaching the spout

All Robots will come with a detachable spout that you may choose to use or not. Insertion of the spout attachment may be tricky without silicone grease. One of the tips I discovered (which I later found was also mentioned in the manual) is to wet both the spout attachment and the portafilter with some water prior to inserting the spout. Using a back and forth twisting motion while gently applying some force will also help. This way you don't have to apply the silicone grease if you choose not to.

However, definitely do not try to fit them dry (and without silicone grease) as it could potentially damage the o-ring.

Coffee dosage

On the box, the recommended dose is 10-16g. However, unlike a conventional machine, there are really no hard-and-fast rules for dosing the Robot. I personally prefer results using 16-18 g. Below that, a fine grind is required and a good grinder is highly recommended. You may also updose to 22 g, or even more. Just be careful when the piston is on the downward travel, as there is a chance the piston may press on the shower screen and potentially damage the screen (particularly if the screen is shifted and not located in the center).

For fine-tuning the shots, Jim (another_jim) has a guide to adjust dose and grind by taste that is almost like it was written for the Robot, since the Robot can accommodate such a large range of dosage. This is a highly recommended reading/refresher and a perfect exercise for the Robot Espresso 101: How to Adjust Dose and Grind Setting by Taste


With the deep basket, it may require a different technique than with a regular basket/tamper. With the Robot, I personally like to twist the tamper back and forth (to feel whether it's level) while applying some downward force until the coffee compresses. Don't try to tamp too hard as the tamper might be tilted in the process.


Fun fact : Did you know that the portafilter can be locked in both directions, either towards the left or the right? I didn't!

However, it is still best to lock in towards the right as the ears won't be fully engaged in the left position.

How much brew pressure?

As Paul has mentioned in more than a few occasions, the Robot doesn't need to operate at 9 bar to get great results. I have been pulling shots between 5-8 bars and finding the same.

If you have a pressure gauge (Barista Robot), you may be tempted to go to 9 bar (or even higher) as I did initially. After some experimentation, I find that getting an accurate 9 bar pressure is much less critical than applying a smooth force. There should be a reasonable (but not extreme) resistance from the coffee bed itself. If not, adjust the grind -> too easy to push? Grind a tad finer. Too hard to push? Grind coarser.

I typically like to lean over the Robot to apply some downward force comfortably. If you feel strained at all using this technique, that's likely too much pressure!

While the Robot is rather forgiving, I find that I like to keep the brew pressure above 5 bar, otherwise the result is not as good as it can be.

'Proper' way to apply pressure

One of my early mistakes was holding the claw when applying pressure. My thought was by holding the lever arm near its end, I'd have a longer leverage. However, as I found using the Robot that way can cause some discomfort to your palm. The key here is to apply force on the flat bar (just before the 'claw'). If you still find that it is painful, most likely you are applying too much force. Alternatively, you may also add some sleeves to the flat bar for a more comfortable experience - though it likely won't be needed with the right technique.

This is NOT the way to hold the lever arm

I have some clear vinyl tubes (that were cut along the length) that I used as a sleeve for the Robot - they blended in rather well there. You probably don't need them if you are applying pressure using the right technique mentioned above.

Draining the excess brew water

I find it extremely helpful to have a dedicated 'drip tray' to catch the excess water. Another tip you may use is to fill the basket with slightly less water so you don't generate that much excess brew water in the first place.

If you are not making a second shot right after, you can leave the drip tray under the portafilter to catch the drip. The gravity will be pulling down on the Robot's arm/piston to get rid of the excess brew water. So you can just leave it and go enjoy the hard-earned shot you have just made. Come back 1-2 minutes later to a dry puck. So one less step without needing you to do anything!

Note: if you are using fine grind (for ristretto for example), you will find that it takes longer to purge the excess water. Using a coarser grind will be faster.

Technique for removing the basket post-brewing

After pulling a shot, you might find that the basket can be stuck onto the piston seal. To avoid this, lift the lever arms, tilt the portafilter forward (or backward) and the basket will come off easily.

Lift the arm and tilt the portafilter - easy!

Cleaning the basket post-brewing

The coffee puck does knock out in one piece. However, most of the time there will be some coffee retained in the basket. That is normal and is almost inevitable. You can either wash it in the sink, or use a paper towel to clean it if you are making back-to-back shots. For this reason, I find it easiest to use the Robot near a sink and faucet.

This is typically how the basket looks like after knocking out the puck.

Pressurized Portafilter, yay or nay?

Initially, I did not expect to like the pressurized basket much (it is usually known as a way to make 'espresso' using less than optimal coffee). However, after some tips from Dr Gary, this basket has performed better than what I had expected, especially for some of the lighter roasted coffees that don't work well for espresso. The mouthfeel of the foam obtained using the pressurized portafilter is indeed different from the non-pressurized basket, but it doesn't have to be the same!

Here's a recipe that I use. This is by no means a fully optimized recipe, but so far it has worked wonderfully! The result tasted like a dessert coffee drink with beer foam mouthfeel (with the fruity light roast I have).

(i) Grind slightly coarser than espresso grind. I used a 13g dose.
(ii) Preheat the basket and portafilter once, and fill with boiling water.
(iii) Lock in the portafilter, and place a cup underneath.
(iv) Some liquid may start dripping into the cup. If not, give it a gentle push to kickstart the process.
(v) Wait for 1-1:30 min, it's ok if the coffee keeps dripping,
(vi) Finish with 'espresso' extraction (10-15 sec) by pressing on the lever arms - generating 7-9bar.

What you get is something between filter and espresso. It is more flavorful and concentrated than a filter drink, with the beer-like cream that provides additional texture/mouthfeel. The lingering aftertaste does resemble espresso but the taste balance is closer to filter. I am normally not a filter coffee drinker, but this is REALLY good.

Lower the lever arms and allow their weight to pull down on the piston. Alternatively, you can also slot in the tamper for additional weight.

The was the result. Perhaps it was not as photogenic as an espresso, but tasted pretty good!

One note : I always pull a dummy shot using hot water after a shot to keep the pressurized basket clean. This is because there is a chamber within the basket that can't be accessed easily. Not sure if this helps, but there's no harm in keeping coffee parts clean!

Disassembly, should you?

While you may be tempted to disassemble the Robot seeing it is only fastened by some allen keys, I don't recommend doing that unless there is a compelling reason to do so (i.e., diagnosis of a leak or blockage, etc). This is because reassembly may be frustrating and time-consuming for first timers (specifically aligning the lever arms and piston). Disconnecting the quick-connect tubing might make it leak-prone down the road (the connectors can bite into the tubing, leaving marks) and you may be required to replace the tube. If you are really interested in learning how the Robot is put together, Paul has great videos on the Robot's Kickstarter webpage (in the update section #4 for disassembly and #14 for assembly).

My favourite approach to use the Robot?
Obviously there are many ways to use the Robot and there is no one right way. For me, I found the most enjoyment in the Robot by going with the feel. To do that, I fix a dose (18g), get a shot glass (2oz), pull by volume, adjust the grind by the resistance and taste. No timer, no scale. I don't really aim for a particular shot time or shot beverage, although ironically it does help to do that a few times to calibrate yourself.

As the Robot can easily pull over 40-60 g beverage mass, I find that I tend to overdo the volume. While it is not the end of the world (you might even like the result!), I find that I can prevent that by using an appropriate shot glass to prevent myself from overpulling.
★ Helpful

User avatar
Team HB

#9: Post by cannonfodder »

When I first heard about the Robot I thought 'interesting gimmicky toy for under extracted cold shots'. A few years later and after a couple weeks of hands-on experience with the machine, my initial opinion has changed.

As with anything Paul produces, the build is top notch. Solid construction, no cheap plastic parts and a solid fit, no wiggly bendy bits. Out of the box the build quality is evident. When I picked up the box, I was honestly surprised at how heavy it was. Thick gauge metal casting, Teflon gaskets and thrust bearings, a non-slip sticky base (very important for a lever espresso machine) and, *gasp* a tamper that actually works included with the machine.

The portafilter has a removable bottom similar to Cafelat All-In-One portafilter design, although with a manual espresso machine that requires two hands and some effort to operate, you will not be sticking your head under the machine to watch the extraction. You have a normal filter basket, an optional pressurized basket and some spare gaskets. The included tamper is nice and frankly all you need for the machine. The little details like the rounded edges on the top are nice. Again, attention to detail, squared edges would be uncomfortable when tamping. The deep portafilter basket requires using your fingertips on the top of the tamper. On my sample machine, the tamper only fits in the left arm, the opening in the right is smaller and the tamper will not fit.

A note on the pressurized basket. If you are using it, chances are you should not be using this machine. If you are not willing to get a good grinder and use fresh beans, you probably do not have the patience and dedication needed to use the Robot.

I was surprised by the size of the Robot. While the footprint is relatively small, it requires a large working area. Traditional lever machines are narrow but deep with the lever protruding out the front. The Robot is shallow but requires a lot of lateral clearance. Point of reference, the arms at 90 degrees and fully extended requires more counter space than my big Elektra A3. While storing requires little room, using requires ample space and overhead clearance.

Pulling shots

I would pre-heat the basket assembly while preparing. Usually 2 fills directly from the boiler of my Elektra would get the basket toasty to the touch. My experience with non-powered espresso machines has always been heat management, or rather the lack thereof. They do require some fiddling with, it is not a grind, pull and go machine.

Due to the spouts and tall basket, a work surface that will hold the portafilter is a good idea. My old Cafelat tamping station held the assembly while I prepared the shot and tamped. You are not going to grind directly into the filter basket due to its height. Also dosing by volume is a problem again due to the size of the basket. My quick fix was simply grinding into a normal filter basket and using a funnel, dump the grounds into the Robot. Tamp, insert the water dispersion disk in the basket, then fill the portafilter with water directly from my boiler, lock in and pull.

Shots were quite good. I was using a Brazil peaberry and Ugandan blend I had roasted a few days ago. Using water from a tea kettle produced a sour cold shot even with a pre-heat. The Robot will probably work best with blends that require a lower brew temperature. The water cools quickly once poured into the basket. To get temperatures high enough for the coffee I was using, I was dumping directly from the boiler of my espresso machine. That water is much hotter than you will get from a typical electric kettle.

The shots were lighter in body, which is normal from a lever machine, but quite good. It does make real espresso. It takes some effort to extract. You will want the machine on a solid surface and slightly lower than shoulder height so you can use your body weight to assist with the extraction. I was using the same grind and dose that I used in my Elektra as a reference sample. The shots were brighter in acidity with more fruity notes in the cup which is typical of most lever-based espresso machines.

After the shot you will need a catch cup to put under the portafilter for any remaining water in the piston and the post extraction drips. The little silicone cup holder sits solidly on the base of the machine and wiggling was not an issue due to the nice non-slip base on the Robot. The filter basket may stick to the piston after you remove the portafilter. Not an issue, you just pull it off separately, remove the water dispersion disk from the basket and knock out the puck. Then off to the sink with all the parts to wash.

So, who would be interested in a Robot espresso machine? Someone with time and patience that is willing to put more work into a shot. While requiring little room to store, you need some counter space to use the machine. A solid work surface and a nearby sink or basin to put parts into while using is a big plus. You will obviously need an external heat source for your water and due to the rapid cooling of the water a coffee that works best in the lower 195-200 temperature range.

It is a novel little machine and will produce a real shot of espresso, if the barista is willing to put a little time into using it. It is not recommended for someone who wants a pull and go espresso machine or wants the occasional milk-based drink. I will also point out that while I would not consider myself old, I am not 40. Time has started to take a toll on my hands with some arthritis starting to rear its ugly head. At times I had difficulty grasping the bits and pieces, so if you have arthritic hands or reduced dexterity, you may want to pass.
Dave Stephens
★ Helpful

User avatar
drgary (original poster)
Team HB

#10: Post by drgary (original poster) »


Almost everyone who tries the Cafelat Robot is impressed by its build quality and its mid-Century modern design. The Robot is a premium pourover espresso maker that benefits from the restoration experience of Paul Pratt and his refusal to compromise quality. Its simplicity requires few moving parts, which helps control costs. I find it a bargain because it can go head to head with my Conti Prestina commercial lever espresso machine. At the time of completing this review, the regular version costs $310 US, and the barista version with an added pressure gauge runs $370 US before shipping.

This type of espresso maker requires an external means of heating water. But that can be as simple as a stovetop kettle that you bring to a boil and pour directly into the portafilter. As Sam noted earlier, you won't burn the coffee because the Robot's metal mass will absorb some of the heat. This can limit reaching target temperatures for brewing some coffees, but Sam's double-pour technique easily overcomes that, allowing the Robot to brew coffees at all roast levels. As an experienced lever user, I found the learning curve to be very fast. Of course I already had a high quality grinder and am experienced combining grind coarseness, dose and temperature to dial in an espresso.

It's thought of as a "given" that any serious espresso brewer requires a quality grinder. This is because particle size and distribution must be within an acceptable range so the coffee is not over or underextracted. Most people who buy a Cafelat Robot will combine it with such a grinder. However, if you are traveling with the Robot and don't want to pack a grinder, or if you don't want to fuss with dialing in the grind, you can skip the grinder by using the pressurized filter basket with the spouted portafilter bottom attached to control the stream of coffee. This allows you to use pre-ground coffee for moka pots that you can find in many grocery stores. It's an extra forgiveness factor.

If there are any shortcomings, they're ergonomic. The lever arms don't have a comfortable resting place for your hands if you are exerting strong pressure to achieve 8 bars and beyond. This can be more troubling for those who want to follow the widely accepted standard of 9 bars of brew pressure. Paul Pratt challenges that preconception with his expert knowledge of espresso machine history. In the Robot's user manual he writes: "Ignore the magic 9 bar, that figure originally referred to the pump output pressure of a Faema E61 machine, when in actual fact the pressure at the group will be lower, maybe even 1-2 bar lower. Traditional lever machines (as measured by us) typically extract at 6-7 bars, and since the basket and piston on the Robot are the same size, we suggest you initially aim for 6-7 bars as well and adjust as preferred." As an experienced lever user, I have been perfectly happy to dose and grind to accommodate a pull at 6-7 bars. The resulting espresso is delicious and has very good mouthfeel. And at this pressure, I am comfortable pressing the levers with the outer edge of my hands resting where the lever bar transitions to the "hands" at the ends. Paul also addresses hand placement in the user experience thread, where he writes:
Paul_Pratt wrote:I rest the meaty thumb part of my palm on the topside of the claw and do not feel any discomfort. I thought that everyone would do this and it never occurred to me people would do otherwise.
Another frequent ergonomic critique is the position of the face of the pressure gauge on the barista model. Sam worked out that he can lean over the machine to bring his weight to bear. If he has the back of the machine closest to him, he is able to view the gauge during the pull. I would prefer the ability to adjust the angle of the gauge to view it from in front or above -- this is when I'm paying attention to the gauge. Usually I am not, because I'm am pulling shots by feel and by viewing the coffee stream.

Is the Robot a suitable purchase for a beginner? I think so, but beginners may be frustrated with any capable espresso machine, because they will be learning for the first time to adjust dose, grind, and temperature, and they'll also be learning about coffee freshness, storage, and which coffees work well for espresso compared to other brew methods. So, starting to brew espresso engages many factors that can be confused with learning to use the Robot. When learning I was surprised to find a lever espresso machine more forgiving than one that is pump-driven. Pump machines will have a predetermined pressure, so if those are dialed in, you will concentrate on dose, grind and temperature setting. The exception is more sophisticated pump machines with profiling capabilities, but a beginner will not likely be using one of those. The Robot is a fully manual lever espresso machine, contrasted with spring levers that inherently provide more consistent declining pressure throughout the pull. A manual lever is a great learning device because you can feel the process of applying pressure, but this adds an extra challenge. A beginner may well want to buy a pressurized filter basket as an additional accessory. I recommend getting the professional (non-pressurized) basket and at least graduating to that while investing in a quality grinder to get the most out of this gem of a machine. People with shoulder injuries may find the Robot challenging to use if they encounter difficulty pressing down the levers. Those with hand injuries, like Dave, may find it challenging to assemble the components to dose shots, add water, and pull through, and to take things apart to clean up and prepare for the next shot. I am lucky in my late 60s not to have such physical limitations and to have ample counter space with a sink nearby. For me the Robot can serve as a daily driver with an easy workflow that's very quick from start to finish.

My comments above are the basis for my ratings. My overall rating of 4.5 stars considers all of these factors. The heirloom build quality will probably allow the Robot to outlast me. Its beautiful design, inexpensive replacement parts, and its "bang for the buck" in consistently brewing excellent espresso combine for my high rating of price/performance.

Gary's Rating:

Overall: 4.5 stars
Espresso Performance: 4.5 stars
Forgiveness Factor: 3.5 stars

Sam's Rating

Thanks, Gary. You've provided a very thorough summary that has captured the key points, and I agree with pretty much all you've written. In my opinion, the Robot deserves a solid overall 4 stars without any reservation. If the ergonomics comparison is limited solely to the unpowered devices category, the Robot more than holds its own in that department.

Overall: 4 stars
Espresso Performance: 4 stars
Forgiveness Factor: 4 stars

David''s Rating:

The Robot is overall a good device more than capable of pulling a real shot of espresso. The system does have its limitations and takes more attention in use to get the most out of it. It will pull better shots than my first 'entry level' pump driven machine from decades ago. It fills a very specialized niche with its portability and simplicity. Camping, traveling, powerless zombie apocalypse, all you need is a heat source for your water, a good hand mill and you can make espresso.

Overall: 4 stars
Espresso Performance: 3.5 stars
Forgiveness Factor: 3.5 stars

What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!