Cafelat Robot · Lever Espresso Machine User Review

Coffee and espresso equipment reviews by the site's members.
From the Team HB review of the Cafelat Robot:

Image The Cafelat Robot manual lever espresso machine has been eagerly anticipated since Paul Pratt revealed it in April of 2016. 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 Robot is Paul's interpretation and upgrade of the Faema Baby, a manual pourover machine introduced in 1950. It embodies the beauty of an ultra-simple pourover machine. Is the in-cup performance equally appealing?

CONCLUSION: This type of espresso maker requires an external means of heating water and obviously doesn't steam milk. So latte lovers need not apply. 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. They'll also be learning about coffee freshness, storage, and which coffees work well for espresso compared to other brew methods.

People with shoulder injuries may find the Robot challenging to use if they encounter difficulty pressing down the levers. For me, the Robot can serve as a daily driver with an easy workflow that's very quick from start to finish. The heirloom build quality will allow the Robot to outlast me. Its beautiful design, inexpensive replacement parts, and "bang for the buck" in consistently brewing excellent espresso combine for my high rating of price/performance.

FEATURES:
  • Small, high quality manual coffee maker that makes real espresso
  • Uses few parts, no complicated electronics and only premium materials like stainless steel - it is completely plastic free
  • All you need is ground coffee and hot water from a kettle.
Making espresso is simple and takes just a few minutes - no need for any capsule machine and less plastic waste for the landfills.

Rating: ★★★★★ (5 out of 5)

mdmvrockford
★★★★★
Reviewed on May 17th, 2021

The Cafelat Robot Barista model (one with pressure gauge) is my replacement for Olympia Express Cremina with pressure gauge. For the latter, I rarely use pressure gauge once bean is dialed in and repeated experience with it. Cremina was gifted to my son and hard to find quality used one.

PROS of Cafelat Robot
* Brews espresso nearly equivalent to Cremina.
The latter consistently has more mouthfeel/body/viscosity. I have total 8 brews with Robot. With sample size of two brews (using lower volume water in professional portafilter basket and pre-heating Robot's piston, portafilter and basket) I have nearly equalled Cremina's body. Samual Law noted less body too on his official review of Robot. I have yet to read home-bariata 370+ pages Robot user experience thread nor the Robot temperature thread.

* Heirloom build quality.
Buy once, cry one is my usual M.O. for consumer items. So Robot's price was not determining factor. YMMV. It certainly feels more robust than other manual levers w/o electric boiler. Robot Barista with all accessories (including hands) weighs 3001 grams on my food scale.

* Can easily brew lungos (e.g 1:3), regular and tight ristrettos (e.g. 21 gram bean 22 grams drink).

* Pairs well with hand powered grinders.
For me it is Helor 106 (71mm conical burr single phase Mazzer burrs). Both make for near silent espresso preparation.

CONS of Robot:
* Lacks boiler. But that is the base design:) If not like Zen of hand grinding then probably won't like Robot.

* Height would require larger case. I am considering Portaspresso HC-P as travel espresso brewer.

* IMO Robot hands is a nice splurge (only $20 USD). User needs to apply pressure to Robot arms as demonstrated by Paul Pratt in his instructional videos. I can imagine users with significant upper extremity (including hands) arthritis (any type) would not do well with Robot.....or any other manual lever.

yakster
★★★★★
Reviewed on December 30th, 2020

I've been a fan of lever espresso machines for a long time, when I saw that Cafelat was bringing out their Robot styled on the Faema Faemina Baby, I eagerly backed the Kickstarter and I have not regretted that decision since; especially since I have always been tempted to pick up a vintage Faemina Faema Baby. Since I rarely prepare milk drinks, the Robot was right in my wheelhouse. I've had the Robot for a bit over two years so far.

I picked up the polished Robot without a pressure gauge. I've built muscle memory with my other levers and figured that I wouldn't need the gauge which proved to be the case for me. I think it's pretty easy to learn to use, but since I've been a leverhead so long I might be overestimating the ease of use for a lever beginner. The base of my polished Robot has picked up some water and coffee stains since I haven't been vigilant about cleaning it. I should polish it up, but I guess it doesn't bother me that much.

I've only had a few minor issues with the Robot, there's a large rubber gasket on the base that acts as a foot so the metal isn't making contact with the counter. A few times I've slid the Robot across my counter and rolled the gasket out of its groove, but it was easy to put back in and I've learned not to do this anymore. I've also had a few pulls where the gasket slips or doesn't make great contact with the basket, this was probably technique related. I use a wash bottle to rinse any ground coffee out of the V of the cylinder gasket and have reapplied DOW 111 once or twice, but haven't yet found a need to replace the gasket with the included spare.

I normally dose around 18 grams and pull into a small Inker Ischia cup and get great espresso shots. When I first got the Robot, I was pulling shots all the time, now it's just the occasional weekend and I mostly brew pots of home-roasted coffee in my BraZen for the family. I guess I prefer drinking a cup of coffee over a shot most of the time. Since counter space is at a premium in our house and my wife reminds me all the time that I already have a grinder and the BraZen set up, I keep the Robot in the dining room on a shelf with my other coffee gear, next to the La Peppina I started levering around with and my Yama Siphon. I have a Fire King bowl that I use to catch the drips after I pull the shot and that stays in the base of the Robot on the shelf along with the basket while I keep the portafilter locked into the Robot without the basket (to prevent deforming the gasket during storage) and I can just pick up the Robot by the head and walk it into the kitchen after putting on the water kettle to pull a shot. Since cleanup is easy, I can clear the counter and move the Robot back to the shelf without a lot of bother. I don't weigh my shots or do anything fancy with the pull but I'm very happy with the results.

I haven't found a need to upgrade to a leveling tamper or hands for my Robot and I'm still on the original shower screen. I do sometimes use a mirror to watch the shot and for lighter coffee I'll set the basket in the portafilter over my cone shaped kettle to pre-heat. I occasionally will fill the pressurized basket with water off the boil to pre-heat the cylinder as well if I am working with a really light blend that might need a hotter brew temp, but that's an exception for me and not a rule; I roast most of my coffee just past the end of first crack.

I recommend the Robot for people who enjoy straight shots of espresso or are willing to find an alternative way to froth milk for their milk based drinks, people who may be short on space, and people who are drawn to the simplicity and aesthetic of levers.

drgary
★★★★
Reviewed on December 19th, 2020

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.

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.

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.

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.