Everyone who enjoys coffee to its fullest knows the best brew comes from a Manual Espresso machine. The combination of freshly ground beans and a high pressure infusion results in an unmatched quality of coffee but, as with all the very best things, there is a compromise.
Manual Espresso machines require the most effort on behalf of the user compared to any other type of coffee machine and if you aren’t up to speed on the best way to work your machine, the coffee you produce won’t be quite up to standard.
There are many Barista schools that can help you learn the fine art of brewing the perfect coffee but before you invest in any lessons; you’ll need a machine. Here’s our run down of the top ten best Manual Espresso machines available on the market today, with full reviews from our expert researchers:
Gaggia RI8427/11 – £151.59
An attractive, compact Manual Espresso machine that comes fully equipped with a steam arm for making the perfect crema to top your perfect brew. Almost everything you could possibly need to get started is included with this one litre machine including the essential coffee filter arms.
The Gaggia RI8427/11 may not come with a bean grinder but it is cost effective enough to allow you to purchase one separately or rely on pre ground beans if you prefer. There are so few controls on the machine it really couldn’t be simpler to use overall – the coffee filter arm only fits in one place with a satisfying clunk and there’s a button for dispense and a dial for steam.
For the novice barista or experienced brewer this really is a jack of all trades and a testimony to Gaggia’s impressive reputation. There have been concerns raised about machines being delivered with European plug fittings but Gaggia have now recognised this issue for buyers in the UK and include an adapter.
We would advise caution when cleaning the machine as there is no indication as to whether the removable parts are dishwasher safe – erring on the side of caution we recommend hand washing until the query is resolved.
We wholly recommend this machine and rate it a healthy 9/10.
La Pavoni Europiccola Lusso EL – £370.00
A beautifully ornate Manual Espresso machine that uses a lever pressure system to deliver the best results. The lever system is more complex but is known to deliver superior results to the automated pressure machines – with a little practice, this machine will produce coffee like you’ve never tasted before.
Lever operated Espresso machines rely on the user to apply the correct pressure to deliver the best results and this can take a lot of practice to get right – too much pressure will result in a weak brew as the water passes through too quickly whereas too little pressure will result in an intense, burnt taste as the water passes too slowly.
Thankfully, the hefty cost is likely to spur you on to practice and, given time; you’ll soon be brewing like a master barista. It’s 0.8 litre tank may seem on the small side but it actually helps with heating time and maintaining its heat – the Chrome design helps retain the heat and allows steam to be immediately available at all times.
The cost of the machine is a bitter pill to swallow – £370.00 is an incredible amount of money for a machine you might not be able to use immediately. Thankfully, there’s a good chance you’ll find a second hand machine on an online auction site as those who have already purchased may have lost patience rather quickly.
A brilliant example of a Manual Espresso machine it’s just a shame it costs so much – 7/10.
Gaggia RI8323 Espresso Machine – £169.18 (best price)
Another Gaggia machine of similar design to the RI8427/11 but with the added feature of capsule compatibility. This combination Manual Espresso machine gives you the option of a traditional brew or the convenience of a capsule coffee – this expands the options immensely and is fantastic for homes where everyone likes something different.
The Capsule compatibility isn’t quite how you would imagine it to be; initially we had an image of loading the capsule into the machine somewhere and pressing a dispense button but it’s a little different to that. The coffee filter arm comes with a special attachment that allows the pod to sit in where the ground coffee would usually sit and then the dispense process is the same as a Manual brew – exceptionally clever.
The additional cost compared to the RI8247/11 is really down to this attachment and the piercing system to open the Espresso pods but there is a catch – it isn’t overly explained which pods are compatible with the system and it could be a costly experiment. Research may be required to be certain as you don’t want to risk damaging the machine or being lumbered with goodness knows how many pods you can’t use.
A welcome addition to an already exceptional machine sees the Gaggia RI8323 stand prouder than its sister machine but the price we have found is from an independent retailer and you might find this machine will cost you upwards of £200.00 – we advise you carry out price comparisons before investing as the price fluctuation is wild on this model.
This price concern harms our rating a touch but still a solid 8/10.
Delonghi ECC220 R Motivo – £117.00
A superb retro design combined with one of the most straight-forward systems on the market sees DeLonghi really stake a claim for top spot on our list. The machine comes complete with a steaming arm and a rapid 30 second water heating time – an impressive machine but it is not without its drawbacks.
There are numerous positives with the Motivo – a built in coffee tamper allows you to compress the ground coffee to create a better brew and its heating time is unbelievably fast but this is where the novel ideas and positives seem to end.
The steam arm is a little too short to be as effective as you might like and it suffers from the same capsule compatibility concerns as the Gaggia – there’s just no information on which you can and cannot use.
It’s disappointing really that such a well-known brand would try and combine so many elements into one entry level machine but leave them half completed. The steam arm isn’t very useful at all, the coffee tamper is nice but all bean grinders have them built in and overall it just doesn’t perform as well as its rivals at this price bracket.
A shame because the price and brand name are very alluring but there’s just something about this machine that doesn’t strike the right chord unfortunately. If anything, it is trying too hard to be appreciated by offering that little bit too much – 6.5/10.
Delonghi Premium pump coffee machine EC680.R – £130.79
Another DeLonghi machine features on our list and just looking at the machine makes it obvious as to why. Yet again, the retro design is eye catching – it genuinely looks as though it came directly from a 1950s American diner. The no compromise machine features a double coffee filter arm, steam arm and top mounted cup warmer – this will be tough to beat.
Despite only being a fraction more expensive than its sister machine, the Motivo, you really do get a lot more for your money. This DeLonghi machine is by far the best beginner Manual Espresso machine we’ve ever encountered – it offers a more refined Capsule function than the Motivo and just feels altogether better designed and sturdier.
The large locking edges on the heavy coffee filter arm make an audible clicking sound when you find the right place to lock it in – ideal for a beginner who wouldn’t know where to aim for at first – and the steam arm is flexible enough and long enough to be exceptionally efficient.
The user manual is also utterly superb; once you’ve read it you’ll never forget the clear, concise instructions. In fact, the only negative we could come up with is when attempting to move the machine should you wish to store it between uses. It is rather an ungainly shape so it can be rather unflattering to move but other than that – you just can’t fault this machine.
A brilliant machine that outshines the others produced by DeLonghi – 8.5/10.
Ariete 1388 Café Retro Espresso Coffee Machine 900w Red – £199.99
Just when you thought DeLonghi had the retro market all tied up, enter the Ariete 1388 – you can’t help but admire its vintage, spacy design. This machine isn’t just for show however; it produces good results and has clear indicators for pressure and heating up – positively groovy.
For all the Ariete’s stylish appeal, it actually isn’t that impressive as a Manual Espresso machine – if anything it’s very basic. The pressure gauge on the front is a nice touch but this machine does nothing different to any of the others on this list; it’s the bold looks that got it here rather than its functionality sadly.
Other reviews we looked at suggested the machine is style over substance and we have to agree. The machine requires no skill to use as it virtually guides you through the process – it even seems to have something guiding the filter arm into place so you can’t miss.
We were ready to write this machine off as a fashion accessory rather than a kitchen appliance but then it dawned on us just what this machine is for – the beginner barista with an eye for design; a stylish chef if you like.
The simple nature of this machine combined with its looks mean it is guaranteed to sell in massive numbers – 7/10.
Andrew James 15 bar pump barista coffee maker – £69.99
A personal favourite of ours, the Andrew James is a basic machine that requires the least effort from the user of all the machines we’ve rated. The machine is operated solely by a one/two cup dial and two buttons for on/off and dispense coffee. For the price, it really is incomparable.
Many may think a Spartan coffee machine would be a poor choice as it comes with everything you need but nothing you might want but consider that statement – it comes with everything you need. Granted, it won’t win any beauty pageants with its canteen styling but if you’re looking for a no-nonsense, no frills Manual Espresso machine – the Andrew James is perfect for you.
When you think that for £69.99 you’ll receive the machine itself, a heavy duty coffee filter arm, a steam arm, a top mounted cup warmer, a removable 1.7 litre tank and a two year, no questions asked warranty – would you really consider anything else?
Yes, it isn’t the prettiest machine on the market but if you’re looking for a Manual Espresso machine that is just a Manual Espresso machine; you simply cannot go wrong with the Andrew James and it’s small wonder it is our favourite – one of our reviewers actually owns this machine and regularly sings its praises when faced with an alternative.
The Andrew James secures a 9.5/10 from us purely because it is everything you could possibly need.
ROK Espresso Coffee Maker – £115.20
A triumph of design sees the ROK Manual Espresso machine take the word Manual to a whole new level. The only power this machine uses is to heat its water, everything else is handled by the user including delivering enough pressure to brew the coffee. There’s also plenty included with the machine such as a manual milk foamer and a coffee measuring spoon.
Seemingly inspired by a twin levered corkscrew, the ROK makes the usually difficult task of user applied pressure very simple. The levers are resistive which allows the user to meter the pressure they apply based on how much the machine pushes back – a genius innovation.
The inclusion of a manual milk foamer adds to the handmade feel of the ROK – there’s truly nothing better than brewing coffee with your own two hands; it just somehow tastes better. The only thing the ROK doesn’t come with is a water heating function so you’ll still need some form of kettle/boiling device to heat water to then pour into the ROK.
It may look like an ornament and it may not boil water for you but the ROK does produce exceptional coffee and gives you a sense of inclusion in the process that you simply don’t receive from automated Manual machines.
We love its look, its functionality and impressive price tag and for that it’s got to be a 7/10 – if only it had a heating function!
Excelvan 4-Cup Steam Espresso and Cappuccino Maker – £27.99
Don’t be tempted to adjust your screens readers, this machine really is just £27.99. Granted, it is a combination machine somewhere between a filter coffee machine and a Manual Espresso machine but the principle remains the same. We were shocked when we saw the price tag compared to this machine’s performance.
We realise the addition of a pot underneath the coffee filter arm does liken this machine more to a standard filter coffee machine but don’t be fooled – this is 100% a Manual Espresso machine. Filter machines rely on a slow infusion and trickle your coffee into the jug; the Excelvan uses the same high pressure system as any other Manual Espresso machine for a fraction of the price.
There is even a steam arm included on this budget model which is just staggering – it really is a bargain for its functionality.
The thinking behind the jug attachment is really very clever – most Manual Espresso machines can only produce two cups at once where the Excelvan (using the jug) can brew four cups at once at around 60ml each or one intense cup at 240ml.
There is a slightly larger version than the one we have chosen to review weighing 7.06lbs but it is slightly more expensive at £36.99 – still not mega money – there are no additional features on the larger machine, simple a greater capacity tank.
We can’t get over the sheer brilliance of this budget machine and it scores a healthy 8/10.
Saeco Poemia HD8427 – £176.95
Perhaps not the best known name on the market, Saeco have produced a very impressive Manual Espresso machine that has all the features of the most expensive machines on the market for a fairly reasonable price. It is very user friendly and its steam arm is incredibly effective – sometimes brand names aren’t everything.
Designed and built by technology giants Philips, the Saeco Poemia may have a price tag far in excess of the highly rated Gaggia but it is a wonderful machine to use and to look at. It has a purposeful design about it and you’d be hard pressed to find such a simple machine to use on the market.
It has a large 1.25 litre tank that can be removed for filling, a very user friendly steaming arm and it seems to have some form of magnet guiding the coffee filter arm into place – finally an assist everyone can be happy to use.
Its chunky front dial is used to operate the power and dispense functions, whilst the smaller, but no less chunky side mounted dial operates the steam arm. That’s really all there is to this machine; it’s efficient, clinical and brews delightful coffee every time thanks to the user assists.
We do find the price a bit steep for a standard Manual Espresso machine but Philips are known for their reliability and fantastic warranty options should anything go wrong. For that reason, we’ve awarded the Saeco a 7.5/10.
There you have it, the top ten best Manual Espresso machines on the market according to our reviewers. Many of these machines are available for purchase online or in department stores and we strongly advise you assess the market before buying – prices fluctuate wildly at times and you could find yourself a bargain if you’re patient.
Online auction sites also have a wealth of machines available but we would suggest caution buying a second hand model – there is likely to be no warranty and if there is it may be non-transferrable. Always check models listed as ‘New’ for defects and remember – if the item isn’t as described you are not obliged to purchase it.
We find Manual Coffee machines truly deliver the best brewed coffee available and it is small wonder the major Coffee Shops around the globe also use the classic barista style – there really is no beating it and just imagine brewing it yourself at home.