Compare physical effort of AeroPress vs. Cafelat Robot or Flair lever for user with arthritis

A haven dedicated to manual espresso machine aficionados.

#1: Post by willoL »

I currently use an AeroPress to make coffee at home. Pre-pandemic, I typically went out for an espresso at a local shop about half the time, and settled for AeroPress coffee at home on other days. My drink of choice is a single origin, light- to medium-roasted, single shot of espresso, taken black. I typically drink just one coffee per day, two if I'm splurging.

Due to COVID-19, it has been over 20 weeks since I last enjoyed my favorite beverage on March 12, 2020.

Though I've searched the internet (and finally settled on this board as the best place to ask my question), I've found relatively little information that even attempts to describe the relative physical effort of pressing a manual espresso with a modern lever machine.

:?: Can anyone here describe to me how the lever action on a Cafelat Robot--or any of the available Flair models--compares with the amount of physical exertion used to press coffee from an AeroPress?

My intuitive sense is that the dual arms of the Robot would make the effort feel "easier" (splitting the workload over both sides of the body), but the Flair seems more readily available for a quick purchase in the USA at this time. After four and a half months of drinking only my home brewed coffee, availability has become more important than usual to me.

For those who enjoy an origin story, and so this shows up in other searches like mine, I'll add that I live with a chronic illness (autoimmune arthritis) that has rendered my small joints (e.g., hands, fingers) less useful than they used to be. My condition waxes and wanes, so my abilities shift by the day. When my husband or teen are nearby, I'll usually have one of them press my AeroPress, but I can do it myself during all but my worst disease flares. I do make it easier by using a small cutting board to increase the surface area, and I press using the strength and weight of my whole upper body to apply downward pressure to the top of the AeroPress without over-taxing my weak/tender hands and wrists.

I'm only in my 40's and was strong/active before I got sick, and my issue isn't general frailty. Tight gripping actions are often the most painful and/or difficult for me, but many tasks can be adapted if I can use a looser grip or larger muscles and joints.

My reading here makes me think I will need a very expensive superautomatic machine if I can't make a manual lever machine work, but that I will be happier with the brew quality long-term if I can physically manage the lever. I am open to hearing about other options if anyone has other ideas. I would settle for a consistent "good" espresso over "the ability to get a magnificent espresso, but only when the moon is full and the stars align," but my palate is too picky to waste money on a Nespresso pod model. (I can't even grab a takeout espresso under virus precautions because I taste melted plastic with hot coffee in coated paper disposable cups.)

I'm also planning to bribe my teen (i.e., pay him) to experiment with whatever equipment I get. Brewing espresso should absolutely count as a lab science credit for home school, right? :lol:


#2: Post by jgood »

I can't answer your questions about lever machines but I wanted to mention that a "very expensive superautomatic machine" is not your only or best option to a manual lever. Look at the "Espresso Machines" forum and you will see many E61 machines (and some non E61s) - they do not require great strength and are not "automatic". The most physical part the routine would be the tamping -- which is required for pretty much all machines -- and from my limited Aeropress use, should not be a big issue for you. E61 Machines go from 1,000 (US) and up, some way up. If your budget can stretch to that and a good grinder (which you'll need anyway) you should be fine. I have a Quickmill Carola (no steam) and a Baratza Vario which totalled 1,300 and change a few years ago -- prices have gone up a little since then.


#3: Post by jpender »

I used an Aeropress as my go-to device for a number of years and have been using a Robot daily for the last 15-16 months. In my opinion the Robot requires a lot more physical effort than an Aeropress, although it does depend somewhat on how you use the devices.

The standard advice for an Aeropress is a gentle press, where you are barely pushing at all. But some people really lean into the Aeropress. Similarly, I aim for 6-8 bar with my Robot but some people are happy with less pressure.

All that said, my typical experience with an Aeropress is very much a gentle, mostly one arm press. The Robot, on the other hand, tenses up both of my arms and even my stomach muscles. Sometimes the Robot actually shakes a little from the exertion.

While I don't have arthritis and am strong enough to do this, I have been intending for some time to make the Robot arms more comfortable to grip and also a little longer. An extra 5cm should reduce the force required by about 20%. If Archimedes had a Robot...


#4: Post by mtbizzle »

I think the aeropress involves much less force than the flair/robot. I have an aeropress and a flair. The flair and robot are made to get up to espresso level pressure - ie 9ish bars - aeropress is not. With the classic method for pushing aeropress, it is mostly about applying weight, the manual espresso machines require force. I am a small guy and don't have to really work hard, but you are definitely applying some force v.s. shifting weight onto the machine. Unless you get creative, I think both of these manual espresso machines require applying force through your hands (as described below, you can apply force other ways w aeropress, and aeropress attachments).

It sounds like what you want is home made espresso without an automatic espresso machine. You could try the prismo attachment to aeropress. Calling it true espresso is questionable, but it is undoubtedly very strong concentrated coffee. I have made milk drinks with it before. It requires more force than standard aeropress (you need to start off with a good bit of force at the start of the plunge to build pressure). I'm not sure if this will help, but you could try aeropress applying force through your mid-forearm. The inventer of the aeropress I believe does this, he applies his mid-forearm to the plunger and leans on it so to speak.


#5: Post by thirdcrackfourthwave »

I can't disagree with much of what others have posted. FTR 85% of what I drink is 'Robot.' I have pulled hundreds and hundreds of shots with the pressure gauge. 10% of what I drink is Aeropress and I used it quite extensively prior to Robot. The Aeropress extracts at a much lower pressure than the Robot so it is, in general, easier. I can't put a number on it in terms of magnitudes but. . . a lot easier.

I am not physician or an OT and I don't play one on the internet but it sounds like the Robot would be difficult for you. There is a person on here, Imawriter I think, who loved his Robot but had to give it up b/c arthritis. The best case would be a test drive if you could swing that. Perhaps a good OT could come up with mods for the Robot or Flair in which you wouldn't need the smaller muscle/joints?


#6: Post by Honu »

HI :)

I would say give a budget total you would be willing to go and what grinder do you have now if you have one as the two go hand in hand

Ditto others aeropress is easy compared to the robot
I do not have a flair recently got a robot though and LOVE the thing and have had a aeropress for a long time
Also the two types of pressure are totally dif you can just kinda lean down on a aeropress where the robot takes consistent and arching but for sure more pressure and the important thing is consistent and controlled compared to the aeropress

To me the robot pressure is about consistent its not as gripping as it is downward I do not grip as much as I am using my palms so for me grip is not so important but wrist strength would be

to me the robot or flair are for someone that want that manual all the way for travel or just to mix things up and been into espresso for a while over a first machine again my thoughts on them they are not a good entry machine

There are so many nice electric machines out there for a price around what the robot would run that not only will be easy but consistent and deliver great espresso !

The delivery time on the robot is really quite quick in the US though mine arrived quicker then I thought it would

If you really look and read here a regular machine tamping pressure is something that some will say can be/is over rated some of the new distributing/leveling setups with a small bit of pressure will do better then a heavy tamp that is not even or distributed well so that alone might be something you find is not a huge issue for you when you want to do it yourself

True about lab experience for the teens :) make sure they take good notes and can reproduce the results for you when you need ya know pop quiz time hahahahaha


#7: Post by Jeff »

If you do go with something that works at espresso pressures, finding a tamper that works well is worth some time. My wife has limited hand dexterity and found the older 30# tampers challenging, especially to get square to the basket at that force. Newer thinking is that significantly less force is required.

I've bought a Bravo for her to work with, that holds the tamper face square to the basket as well as being force indicating. It has a large handle that you don't need to grip the way you do with many other tampers.

The Force Tamper has also been mentioned as requiring minimal finger strength to get a repeatable tamp. It cocks a spring and then "fires" the tamping face at the puck, sort of like a kid's dart gun. I have not tried one myself, but it was on my short list.

Supporter ♡

#8: Post by Nunas »

A few points to add to the good advice you've already got. First, the Aeropress is not an espresso maker...not enough pressure by a long way even if you stand on it :lol:, and unless you fit an Able disk it's technically a paper filter machine. The Robot and the Flair are espresso machines, but, as has been pointed out, take a fair bit of effort to achieve proper espresso pressure. In seconding the suggestion to get an HX or DB (semi-automatic) over a fully-automatic, I would point out that tamping is not the issue it once was. Not too many years ago, we all tamped, usually to about 30#. I began tamping much less after a trip to Europe...maybe about 10#. More recently, I've given up the tamper altogether in favour of a cloverleaf distributor/tamper. You just spin this down to distribute and press/turn with the palm of your hand to tamp (once you get it adjusted to the right depth). As for the fully-automatics, if you just want a cup of coffee and are not too fussy, and don't want to hone your craft in the search for a god-shot, then they'll do. Otherwise, I suggest you won't be happy with one.


#9: Post by MikeTheBlueCow »

I feel like the Flair requires a good amount of hand grip strength. I think ultimately it could be modified with a lever extension and some form of hand grip padding (I've seen users do both these mods), to reduce both the load and the amount of grip required. I have been meaning to do this myself with my minor hand arthritis. The Flair Pro 2 does already come with a hand grip but I can't speak to how much easier that is on the hands because I don't have that specific model.


#10: Post by vit »

Flair classic with plastic piston needs about 15-16 kg at the end of the lever for "standard" 9 bar, it's not that hard to achieve it. I usually grab it with both hands and lean a bit with chin on them (not that I need that, but I like it doing that way for some reason). For espresso, you need at least 4-5 bar, so about 7-9 kg force should be fine for that. Many lever owners actually prefer using pressure lower than 9 bar, something like 6-7 bar

Flair classic with SS piston with 2 seals needs somewhat higher force due to friction. One of our members measured 22-23kg for 9 bar from my remembering

Flair PRO has a bit bigger piston with 2 seals, so force for the same pressure is higher than with Flair classic, but I don't own it, so can't tell about numbers ...