For the true espresso lover who takes interest and pride in creating a cup
of espresso and ensuring that it's made exactly to suit personal preferences,
there's simply no other way to go than a manual espresso machine. A manual
espresso machine allows the user/barista complete control over every aspect of
the espresso, from the grind to the tamping to the extraction itself.
While challenging and more time consuming, many consider manual espresso
machines to produce the best cups of espresso they've ever tasted. If
you're willing to invest time into learning the techniques of a manual machine
and into perfecting your own method, consider taking the manual route.
Within the parameter of "manual espresso machine," also often simply called "lever machines" there are actually two different variations. The first is the spring piston lever machine, which is slightly easier and a little less "hands-on" than the second: the direct lever machine. You can determine a spring piston lever machine by the position of the lever, which will be found pointing upwards, even in its resting position. It is so named because it is "spring-loaded," in effect. As the lever is pushed downwards by the barista, the spring is loaded, and letting go allows a release that pushes water through the coffee. The perks: you determine the amount of water that flows through the coffee, the length of time spent on the pull, and how long the preinfusion (the time the water sits over the coffee before the pressure is applied) lasts. Each of these variations greatly effects the overall outcome of the espresso and it's taste and feel.
Direct Lever Espresso Machines
A direct lever espresso machine is as hands-on as it gets in the world of espresso machines. Exactly the opposite of a spring lever, a direct lever is in a downward position when at rest. The difference is found in the lack of the "spring" and "cocking" procedure that a spring lever entails. With a direct lever machine, you, the barista, are the one pumping, hence none of the work is done for you. As you apply the pressure, you can vary it throughout the entire extraction process as you pull a shot. This leads to extremely personalized espresso, but it can also lead to many failed attempts until the process is mastered. If the decision has been made to definitely choose a manual espresso machine, than you simply have to break it down a bit further and decide just how much control you want/are willing to play around with. If you're willing, the results can be fantastic and you may wonder how you ever enjoyed drinking espresso from an automatic machine!
Commercial and Home Manual Espresso Machines
Within the world of manual espresso machines, their are numerous options for both the home and for the commercial outlet. Whether you want to make one cup or two, attach a milk frother or use a built-in one, their are many variations that allow you to personalize. You can also use your own ground coffee or, if you prefer to make the process somewhat easier on yourself, you can use an easy single pre-made E.S.E. (Easy Serving Espresso) pod. This eliminates the work, time and knowledge that is necessary and goes into tamping coffee grounds.
Hand-Pump Manual Espresso Machines
If it's truly manual that you're searching for, without any electricity whatsoever, there are hand-held options that allow you to create the pressure with your hand using a pump much like what you would use to pump up a bicycle tire. You will lose the ability to control the pressure, but you eliminate a dependence on electricity and give yourself a whole new range of portability when it comes to when and where you can whip up a steaming cup of espresso. (Think a high mountain peak!)