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The Best Manual Espresso and Coffee Makers

Want a simpler, more portable alternative to an electric machine? We find out which models are worth the investment.

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Published Jan. 22, 2024.

See Everything We Tested

What You Need To Know

The best manual espresso and coffee makers are customizable and consistently produce complex, rich-bodied espresso and nuanced coffee. Our winning manual espresso maker, the Cafelat Robot Barista Manual Lever Espresso Maker, reliably pulls shots of silky and aromatic espresso. If you prefer strong, full-bodied coffee, the AeroPress Clear Coffee Maker is portable, easy to use, and most importantly, brews delicious coffee. 

What You Need to Know 

Manual espresso and coffee makers are appealing because they are typically lightweight, compact, and not as pricey as their respective electric versions. They’re also fast, making them ideal for people who don’t want to wait for a machine to warm up. For hobbyists, their customizability is the main draw: From the coffee grind size and brew time to the ratio of coffee to water, people can tinker with variables according to their espresso preferences. 

We spent weeks testing the three styles that fall in this category (lever, pump, and AeroPress) and consulted Joe Capatosto, the regional sales and account manager of Counter Culture Coffee, for expert feedback. Here’s what we found.

The Different Types of Manual Espresso Makers

Lever-style espresso makers sit on the counter with a cup positioned beneath. Each has a portafilter that contains a brew basket, much like electric espresso machines. You fill the portafilter with a measured amount of finely ground coffee and then tamp it into an even layer. After the portafilter is in place and you’ve added hot water to the device, you press the lever(s), causing pressure to build and move the water quickly through the tightly packed puck of grounds. 

Pump-style espresso makers are roughly the size of soda cans. Similar to lever-style models, they have a portafilter with a brew basket inside. Each one has a pump on its side that you press repeatedly to generate pressure and produce espresso. 

The best lever- and pump-style models can generate 9 or more bars of pressure, which is what the Specialty Coffee Association stipulates in its definition of espresso. That pressure creates sufficient force to brew a shot of full-bodied espresso with beige-colored crema. 

What Are AeroPress Coffee Makers?

AeroPress is a popular brand of coffee maker that we’ve tested previously and really liked. The company has introduced new models, and we added them to our testing lineup.

AeroPresses have a brew tube to which you add finely ground coffee and hot water. After giving the mixture a stir, you insert a plunger and press down, forcing the freshly brewed coffee through a filter and into a vessel below. There are two sets of instructions: ...

Everything We Tested

Good : 3 stars out of 3.Fair : 2 stars out of 3.Poor : 1 stars out of 3.
*All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing. We stand behind our winners so much that we even put our seal of approval on them.

Valerie Sizhe Li

Valerie is an assistant editor for ATK Reviews. In addition to cooking, she loves skiing, traveling, and spending time outdoors.

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