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How Does a Manual Lever Espresso Machine Work?

In a world full of automatic machines, using something manual doesn’t sound like a great idea. When it comes to brewing coffee, automatic espresso machines seem to stay leaders on the market.

Once you use a manual lever espresso machine though, you might fall in love with it. Besides looking modern and classy, a manual lever espresso machine makes authentic espresso coffee junkies love.

A big lever on the outer part of the manual lever espresso machine is one of the major features of the machine. There are many reasons to choose this type of espresso machine. Read on to find them out. Plus, you’ll learn how a manual lever espresso machine works and who should purchase it.

What’s a Manual Lever Espresso Machine?

If you are a big fan of using the old-timey machines and you enjoy freshly brewed espresso shots, a manual lever espresso machine is definitely worth your attention. Also known as a manual espresso machine, a manual lever espresso machine was the first espresso machine in history to make what people now know as the espresso.

The manual lever espresso machine is tricky to use, but it can make the most amazing shots of espresso you'll ever drink. The machine consists of a large lever, pressure gauge, heating element, water reservoir, and portafilter.

Large Lever

Since a manual lever espresso machine has no pump, it uses a lever to push hot water through the ground coffee. Although many people believe there’s nothing difficult in pressing the machine's lever up and down, it’s actually a skill that times a lot of patience and time to learn. As soon as you build a great relationship with the lever, you're more likely to learn how to make the best espresso you’ve ever enjoyed.

Pressure Gauge

The pressure gauge provides a certain pressure before extracting an espresso. Generally, the pressure gauge features a red and green indicator with the green one showing the machine’s readiness.

Water Reservoir

Filling the water reservoir with filtered water is needed before using the manual lever espresso machine. The water reservoir is also often referred to as a steam boiler.

Heating Element

As soon as your water reservoir is filled water, turn on the machine. Wait a few minutes for the heating element to heat up the water. The warm-up time often varies and can take up to 15 minutes before starting the brewing process.


One of the most important parts of any espresso machine (fully automatic, semi-automatic, or manual), a portafilter is a tool where you put and tamp your ground coffee beans and then attach it to the group head of the espresso machine. Ensure you lock it correctly and tightly to your machine and the espresso extraction process.

Why Should I Choose a Manual Lever Espresso Machine?

Brewing your morning espresso with a manual lever machine isn’t just about pressing a couple of buttons and checking your social media feed. With the lever machine, you’re fully involved in the process. Although it’s not difficult to pull down that lever, it’s not easy either. When you put your effort and mind to make your own coffee, it tastes much yummier.

Making the espresso in a semi-automatic or automatic machine is awesome. But the satisfaction of making your favorite drink with a manual lever machine brings incredible feelings. If you’re looking to experience those feelings, then a manual lever espresso machine is for you.

You can compare using a manual lever espresso machine with driving a car. You’re in control of the situation – even if it’s just the coffee brewing process. You pull the lever, you hold it, and you control your final result.

It’s personal, joyful, and satisfying. Moreover, you have control over the ground coarseness, tamping methods, and even the water flow.

The problem is that it takes time and effort to learn how to use a manual lever espresso machine. Some people use it incorrectly and end up regretting splurging on this machine.  As soon as you master using the lever machine, you'll enjoy the espresso that's worth your effort and time.

How Does a Manual Lever Espresso Machine Work?

Before you invest in one, it’s useful to know how a manual lever machine works. Regardless of which model you choose, pay attention to the quality of your coffee beans. This will help you understand whether your lever machine produces the espresso you love.

Once you purchase top-quality coffee beans, opt for the correct grind size – it should be coarser than flour but finer than sugar. Grab your portafilter and begin to tamp. The successful tamping techniques guarantee a great taste of your espresso. Tamp your ground coffee beans so that there are no weak spots.

Once you finish tamping, put the portafilter into the group head. If you’ve ever used the semi-automatic machine, it’s very similar. Otherwise, read the manual in order to fix the portafilter correctly. Now your task is to manually bring the water from the water reservoir to the portafilter.

The lever machine doesn’t feature a pump so you’ll need to use the lever to manually push the water. As soon as the water reaches the coffee grounds, keep pushing up and down the lever to complete the espresso extraction process.

The dripping time varies, so stay patient. The harder you push the lever down, the faster you get your drink. Depending on the type of your lever espresso machine, there are two methods of using the lever, such as the Direct Lever and the Spring Piston.

Direct Lever

Both the Direct Lever and the Spring Piston espresso machines are very similar. Both machines have the pre-infusion feature. However, the difference is that the Direct Lever has no spring. Due to it, the resting position of the machine’s lever is located downward.

The Direct Lever machine is quite easy to use. Just push the lever into an upward position in order to form a water port. This way, the water will reach the coffee grounds and stay here for a few seconds. This helps to produce more flavorful espresso.

During the pre-infusion process, you will notice few droplets. Once you do, begin to push down the lever. While pushing the lever halfway down, you can push it upwards again if you don’t like the flow. Then push it down again to complete the extraction process.

The pressure depends on your espresso machine type, the kind of coffee beans you use, the coarseness of the ground coffee, and your tamping techniques.

Spring Piston

Despite having no pump, the Spring Piston machine features a spring, which helps to push the water from the reservoir into the coffee grounds. The lever of this machine is connected with the spring. When you don’t use the machine, the spring is simply expanded.

When using the machine, the spring inside gets compressed as soon as you bring down the lever. Then, leave it that way, allowing the spring to push the water from the reservoir into the portafilter.

The spring has a declining pressure so no extra effort is required at this stage. Once you leave the lever, it’ll automatically raise back as the spring returns to its initial position.

When using the Spring Piston machine, it’s important to learn a step by step instruction and master temperature management. Before you switch on the machine, pour the filtered water into the reservoir. When you want to refill the reservoir after the extraction process, the pressure gauge should drop first.

When the heating element found inside the reservoir heats up the water, it also makes the outer part of the espresso machine hot. Both the Direct Lever and the Spring Piston machines have a warm-up time that varies between 15 to 20 minutes.

When the heating element gets extremely hot, the temperature of the water gradually decreases as it reaches the brewing chamber. When the water gets to the group head, the temperature becomes perfect for brewing the espresso.

If you need to brew your drink at a lower temperature, you can use a cold portafilter. Simply soak the portafilter in lukewarm water before fixing it in the group head.

The Spring Piston machine features a pre-infusion system. When the water from the reservoir gets into the portafilter and stays here for 30 to 60 seconds, this moment is called pre-infusion. The process begins when you bring down the lever, compressing the spring. 

The water from the reservoir gradually reaches the coffee grounds with around 1-2 bars of pressure. Then, the little droplets of espresso begin to drip. This is the time when you can stop using the lever.

The pressure of the spring starts to decrease, pushing the water to completely extract the coffee grounds. Again, it takes some effort to learn how to use the Spring Piston machine, but the taste of the espresso is worth the candle.

Is a Manual Lever Espresso Machine for Everyone?

The manual lever espresso machine has pros and cons and it’s up to you to decide whether or not this machine is for you. A simple design of the lever machine is one of the pros to consider. It’s compact and doesn’t take too much space. Plus, the machine is very quiet as it doesn’t have a pump.

Once you learn to use the lever machine, you can enjoy an authentic espresso on a budget. When compared to automatic and semi-automatic espresso machines, the manual lever machine is budget-friendly. It requires no electricity and has great portability.

However, there are some drawbacks that you should keep in mind before buying the lever machine. First of all, this type of espresso machine has exposed heating elements.

You should be extra careful when removing the portafilter. Finally, the taste of your espresso might not be as great as the one you’ve used to drink.

What Are the Biggest Challenges of Using a Manual Lever Espresso Machine?

The manual lever espresso machines possess the challenges that their electrical counterparts don’t. For instance, the way you use the lever might impact your espresso. In a semi-automatic or automatic machine, there are settings that control the speed and overall extraction process.

The lever machine also requires physical effort. Your hands should be strong enough to push down that lever. Making delicious espresso at home is another challenge you can experience when using a manual machine.

Unlike a semi-automatic or automatic machine, a lever espresso machine isn’t fully user-friendly. The machine has an exposed boiler so hot parts are exposed.

The exposed boiler has over 2500F, so stay away from it when brewing your coffee. If you have kids, make sure they have no access to the lever machine.

Before removing the portafilter, you should wait for at least 20 seconds. Sometimes the coffee grounds explode and the portafilter flies away when you try to remove it.

Knowing when you have to push the lever up and down is another challenge to overcome. Balance is a solution here. You don’t have to push too much yet you might need to do it a few times before you see your espresso dripping into your cup.

Learning how to tamp coffee grounds correctly is tricky, as well. When tamping your coffee grounds, keep in mind that the coffee must be evenly compressed, without any single holes.

Finally, the grind size matters. If the grind is extremely fine, the espresso will either drip slowly or won’t drip at all. If it drips slowly, it will become over-extracted, with a burnt and bitter taste. If your grind is too coarse, your espresso won’t have that golden crema and can turn out under-extracted.


Both the Direct Lever and the Spring Piston lever espresso machines can produce high-quality espressos. Although it may take a lot of time and effort to learn how to make your favorite espresso, the lever machine is easy to use. Some safety measures are required when using the lever machine, though.

The lever espresso machine is an ideal choice for people on a tight budget. Plus, you can work your arm and shoulder muscles when using the lever machine. If you feel like this machine is for you, feel free to splurge on it.

Be sure to check out best and the latest manual lever espresso machines  in!

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