Whether you're a veteran barista or a newbie coffee convert, there's something deeply satisfying about a sipping a cup of joe that you brewed yourself — and not just by pushing a button. In case you're new to DIY artisanal coffee, the secret to making a great brew is being able to control the water pressure, which is why the best manual espresso machines have levers or pumps that give you total control over water flow during the extraction process. Some of them will also have gauges for precise pressure monitoring, built-in boilers and grinders, or portafilters that give you the option of "naked" brewing.
Manual espresso machines create water pressure with the help of levers, pumps, or pistons, and while all methods require work on your part, the manual lever is by far the least automated option. Pumps and spring pistons, on the other hand, provide an air or spring-assist to help, making them slightly easier to use. And while many manual espresso machines require a fair bit of trial and error to get the pressure just right, you can invest in a higher-quality machine with a gauge that'll let you know if you're getting the ideal 9 bars of pressure for a standard espresso shot. These higher-end machines may also have functions that incorporate boiling and grinding into one convenient setup, which can help streamline the whole process. If you'd like to save a little money, you can opt for a more affordable machine, but you'll have to boil water and grind the beans separately (preferably with a burr grinder).
The final thing to consider is the portafilter. While standard portafilters have spouted baskets that split the shots into two, others have the option of "naked" brewing, which sends the shot directly into your cup. This allows you to watch the grinds as you pump and, according to some experts, results in better crema. With all that in mind, these are the best manual espresso machines on Amazon for making coffee exactly the way you like it.
1. The Overall Best
For purists who want to make rich-tasting coffee that they have total control over — without spending an arm and a leg — the Flair Espresso Maker is the best option by far. According to reviewers, it makes excellent espresso ("better than most home machines available" one fan noted), yet it won't set you back several hundreds of dollars. It's built with a manual lever to control the water pressure, offering at-home baristas complete control over their java creations. Plus, the human-powered machine (which doesn't have any cords to plug in) has a two-in-one bottomless portafilter, giving you the option to go "naked," if you want. You'll have to boil the water and grind the beans separately, and the basic machine doesn't come with a pressure gauge or tamper. However, for a bit more money, you can get a machine that comes with a detachable pressure gauge and tamper, so you can get an exact brew every time.
Boasting a cast aluminum and stainless steel construction, the machine is durable and well-built, with a five-year warranty to back it up, and it looks beautiful on your countertop. As a bonus, it comes with a padded carrying case, so you can take it on the go.
One reviewer wrote: "The quality of this brew is outstanding. My wife and I have several coffee shops in the area we live in that we enjoy going to, and since we bought this, we realized that the quality of their coffee (that we were so happy with before) pales in comparison to the body, smoothness, and repeatability of this brew."
2. The Best Portable Option
This tiny espresso maker is the best option for coffee on the go. Designed for folks who want high-quality coffee when away from home, the lightweight device lets you pump your own espresso anywhere, without any batteries or electricity. Simply place your coffee grinds in the reusable filter, add hot water to the chamber, and pump — the piston will help you regulate pressure as you extract. Instead of a standard portafilter, this option uses a compact filter basket, and it comes with a travel cup, carrying bag, and a grind storage container that can hold up to 7 cups of coffee. And while you'll have to boil water and grind the beans separately, the small gadget gives you total control over your brew (one reviewer suggests eight seconds of light pressure to pre-infuse before increasing to a solid stream).
One reviewer wrote: "This is the perfect gadget for all the coffee and nature lovers! It is lightweight and super easy to carry, this little machine can make you your favorite coffee anywhere! Easily cleaned and ready for the next use. I truly enjoyed the coffee during our last vacation, thanks a lot!"
3. The Best Splurge
For true coffee aficionados who want the best of the best and are willing to make an investment to get it, this classic La Pavoni PPG-16 is your machine. The premium, Italian-imported espresso maker features a high-quality steam-pressure piston with a lever attached, so you can precisely control the speed of extraction. Even better, it has a built-in gauge to monitor pressure as you go, a brass water boiler with an internal thermostat, and a bonus steaming wand for frothing milk, in case you want to switch it up and have a cappuccino.
A true design piece, it has a chic rosewood handle that accentuates the copper and brass plating, and reviewers noted that it's not difficult to use, though it does take some practice to find your rhythm. To help you out, it comes with an instructional video to assist with what some call the "learning curve." Once you get the hang of it, though, users say it's worth every penny.
One reviewer wrote: "[I] have been extremely happy with it's quality in pulling espresso shots, foaming milk, and overall quality in craftsmanship. It is definitely a purchase for the next 20+ years. [...] For anyone looking to truly understand the art form mastered by baristas, this investment is priceless!"
A Great Alternative: A Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine
If you want to craft top-quality espresso at home but are not convinced you want to do everything by yourself, another option is to go with a semi-automatic machine, like this extraordinarily popular Breville that boasts more than 7,300 reviews on Amazon. It still gives you a large degree of control, but there's no pumping or pulling levers, offering a bit more convenience and automation. It boils the water for you, and the built-in grinder lets you grind your beans on demand — you can even select the coarseness with the easy-to-use dial. You can choose from single and double shots, and the integrated steam wand lets you get creative with foam and milk texturing.
This option also pulls out all the stops with extras: It comes with a tamper, portafilter, cleaning brush, dose trimming tool, filter baskets, and steaming pitcher. And while you do have the option of "naked" brewing, you'll have to buy that portafilter separately.
One reviewer wrote: "I like to have the control to customize my espresso - especially since I usually have 3 or 4 unique origins roasted at any given time and love variety from day to day - even shot to shot. The pressure gauge is a necessity for this. It helps you see the result of the grind, tamp, etc. and tune in the brew process you want. [...] If you want to learn about espresso and continuously perfect and customize your shots, but don't want to spend thousands, I believe this is THE machine to consider."