Sure, lever operated machines are aesthetically ‘different’ to the pump operated cubes that dominate the space, but there lies a beauty under the exterior in the how’s and the why’s of creating a great tasting espresso that can only really be achieved by using a lever.
Lever espresso machines offer features that make them perfect for home and commercial setting (which is why we have one in our mobile coffee van). And you do have options to go fully manual, spring operated and at a range of budgets. The enjoyment and satisfaction factor of having a more tactile process can’t be overlooked. The sales pitch of a lever machine
What is a Lever Operated Espresso Machine?
A lever operated espresso machine is one that uses a lever on it to generate the pressure to extract the coffee. There are fully manual lever operated and spring operated lever machines which operate slightly differently to each other.
Spring Operated Lever Machines
Spring-operated machines use a spring to generate the pressure needed to extract the espresso shot. The user manually compresses the spring by pulling the lever, and the spring releases to push hot water through the coffee grounds and produce the espresso shot. The user has some control over the pressure, but it is limited by the strength of the spring.
We use a La Pavoni Vasari 2 Group in our van, which uses a spring and produces great quality espresso.
Full Manual Lever Espresso Machines
Full manual lever machines, on the other hand, rely entirely on the user's strength to generate the pressure needed for extraction. The user manually pulls the lever to create the pressure required to extract the espresso shot. This requires more effort and skill from the user, but it also provides greater control over the pressure and extraction time.
Do Lever Machines Produce Different Flavour Espresso?
Surprisingly, YES. Pressure starts high and reduces over the extraction which is opposite to how a pump operated espresso machine builds pressure over the extraction. The slower extraction of a lever process can allow for a more complete extraction of different flavour compounds from the coffee, including those that may be more delicate or complex. This can result in a more nuanced and layered flavour profile with different notes and aromas.
The slower extraction process can also help to reduce the extraction of bitter compounds from the coffee, which can result in a smoother and less harsh taste.
The decreasing pressure profile of a lever machine can also help to enhance the sweetness and acidity of the espresso by allowing for a more balanced extraction of different flavours. This can result in a brighter and more vibrant taste.
Lever Operated vs Pump Reliability
The reliability of lever-operated espresso machines can vary depending on the brand and model. Generally speaking, these machines are designed to be durable and long-lasting, as they don't have any electrical components that can malfunction.
However, they do require a bit more maintenance and care compared to electric machines. Lever-operated machines need to be cleaned regularly to prevent clogs and ensure optimal performance. The lever and group head also need to be lubricated periodically to prevent wear and tear.
Additionally, the gaskets and seals in the machine still need to be replaced over time, but that is no different to an automatic espresso machine. Overall, if you take good care of your lever-operated machine and perform regular maintenance, it should be a reliable and long-lasting addition to your kitchen.
Advantage of Lever Espresso Machines
Often overlooked for the home espresso station, a lever espresso machine actually has a fair few advantages over a traditional espresso machine, here’s our list;
- More nuanced flavours: The gradual decrease in pressure allows for a slower and more gentle extraction of the coffee, which can result in a more nuanced and complex flavour profile. The slower extraction time can also result in less bitterness and a smoother taste.
- It's a great conversation starter: A lever-operated espresso machine is not as common as an electric one, people often ask us in the van about our lever espresso machine, so it would have the same effect in your kitchen. Your guests will surely be curious about how it works and may even want to try using it themselves.
- It's a workout: If you're looking for a way to add a little exercise to your daily routine, using a manual lever-operated espresso machine like the flair, you need to sustain 15kg force on the lever for the entire brew time. This requires some arm and hand strength.
- It's more eco-friendly: We use it in our van so we can be powered purely by solar, and the springs in the espresso machine create the required pressure instead of power hungry pumps. It's a challenge: Mastering the art of pulling the perfect shot of espresso with a lever-operated machine takes time and practice.
- If you enjoy a challenge, this could be a fun aspect of the hobby. It travels easily: They are usually lighter without all the pump mechanics, and can often be packed down easily. The spring operated espresso machines are less portable than fully manual machines.
- It produces a unique flavour: Lever-operated machines allow you to control the pressure and extraction time, which can result in a unique and more complex flavour profile compared to electric machines. If you're a coffee connoisseur, this could be an appealing feature.
- It's a piece of art: Although subjective, there's no denying that many lever-operated machines are beautifully designed and can be a work of art in their own right. If you appreciate craftsmanship and design, a lever-operated espresso machine can be a great addition to your home décor.
Pros and Cons of Lever Operated Espresso Machines
To summarise, here are the main pros and cons of lever-operated espresso machines:
- More affordable than electric espresso machines
- Easier to clean, maintain and repair your espresso machine as they have fewer parts
- More tactile and interactive espresso brewing experience
- Can be used to make unique espresso drinks with different pressure profiles
- Some manual lever espresso machines are portable
- Can be difficult to use for beginners
- Can be less consistent and predictable than electric espresso machines
- More maintenance and cleaning required
- Can be difficult to dial in the perfect shot
Lever Espresso Machines FAQ
What are the advantages of a lever espresso machine?
A lever-operated espresso machine offers several advantages over an electric one. It allows you to control the pressure and extraction time, resulting in a unique and more complex flavour profile compared to electric machines. Lever machines are eco-friendly as they don't require electricity, and they can be a meditative experience or a fun challenge for coffee enthusiasts. Additionally, many lever-operated machines are beautifully designed and can be a work of art in their own right.
Are lever machines reliable?
The reliability of lever-operated espresso machines can vary depending on the brand and model. Generally speaking, these machines are designed to be durable and long-lasting, as they don't have any electrical components that can malfunction. However, they do require regular maintenance and care to prevent clogs and ensure optimal performance. Overall, with proper maintenance, a lever-operated machine should be a reliable addition to your kitchen.
Are lever machines cheaper than electric?
Lever-operated espresso machines can be more expensive than electric ones, but the cost varies depending on the brand and model. Additionally, lever machines don't require electricity, which can save on energy costs in the long run. However, they do require some manual effort to operate, which may not be suitable for everyone. Overall, the cost of a lever-operated machine may be higher upfront, but it can be a worthwhile investment for coffee enthusiasts looking for a unique and customizable brewing experience.