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Lever espresso coffee machines versus automatic espresso coffee machines

Lever espressoThere are a number of different espresso machines on the market at present, from fully automated bean to cup machines to fully manual traditional lever machines. At Limini we offer a range of traditional automatic and semi-automatic espresso machines as well as the option of a fully manual lever machine: the Fracino Retro. Clearly the two will produce the same outcome if used correctly: a stunning espresso, but the method to get there and the amount of barista interaction differs massively. But which machine is for you? Which will give your customers their caffeine fix and also allow you as the barista the level of interaction you crave?

Hands on coffee

The most hands on form of creating espresso is, without a doubt, a lever espresso machine. This is where the classic phrase of 'pulling a shot' comes from. There is a lot more knowledge and input required from the barista to create the perfect shot, but when used correctly, these machines are capable of producing the most beautiful shots you have ever tasted. The use of this machine is a lot more to do with the 'feel' of the coffee, it is almost romantic in its production as the barista has so much more affect on the resulting drink.

The lever espresso machine

The introduction of traditional lever machines in 1947 saw the first coffee extracted via high pressure, not steam power, as seen previously and changed the way the world saw coffee. There are now two types of lever machines on the market: the spring piston lever and the direct lever. A spring piston lever works via an internal spring that pushes water through our ground coffee under pressure. The barista uses a lever (i.e. pulls the shot) to force the spring to compress. On release of the lever the spring then expands and forces water through the coffee at diminishing pressure. The spring automates the pressure, but we as the barista are able to affect the pre-infusion time, the volume of water through the coffee and the time in which to pull the shot.

Lever espressoA direct lever does not use a spring to automate the pressure, it is only the 'pull' of the barista that forces the water through the coffee, allowing for even more play in the espresso's production. However, with a spring lever machine we are also able to alter the pressure if desired. We can do this either by forcing the lever back to its resting position or by restricting it from moving back; this again will alter the resulting shot. It is through such changes that we must 'feel' the coffee, this is where the true art of espresso lies: watching, tasting and timing to ensure we extract the best flavour from the coffee we are working with.

Some may say that an issue with lever machines is that the water is too hot as it is at a temperature in the boiler to allow for milk steaming to be carried out at the same time as pulling a shot. For some machines this may be the case but most machines, as with the Fracino Retro, the group-head is separated from the boiler and is therefore designed in a such a way that allows for some heat to dissipate by the time the brewing water enters the group head. This ensures the water is at a perfect brewing temperature to avoid bitter shots.

No backflushing required

Unlike most automated espresso machines, lever machines have no three way valve built into the back of the group to release pressure after the shot. The advantage of this is there is no back-flushing required at the end of the day to clean the machine. An important point to bear in mind however is that there may be some residual pressure left in the group handle, especially if you have had a particularly slow extraction, so care must be taken when removing the handle to allow this pressure to release safely.

Lever espressoA mechanical solution

Another factor to bear in mind is the more automated a machine becomes, the more we are relying on computers and software to allow for the extraction to occur. The more automation therefore, the more likely that something could go wrong, thus resulting in high costs of repair. This is where a lever machine really shines, there is very little electronically going on. We are relying on mechanical solutions as oppose to electronics and this therefore means that a lever machine is more reliable, there is less things to 'break' and therefore could be cheaper to maintain and repair.

Silent espresso brewing

The most amazing and probably the most surprising thing that makes a lever machine so special is the fact it is silent. As there is no motor forcing the water through the coffee it is completely quiet. Until you experience this for yourself we cannot begin to describe to you how truly beautiful this is. Observing an extracting shot without any noise...its enough to make you smile every time you make a drink.

Visually stunning

Another important point to think about is the impact your machine will have visually on on your customer. A traditional lever machine will definitely create a wow factor for your shop. They are strikingly beautiful and will always lead to lots of questions from your customers as to how it works. Explain, demonstrate and share: then enjoy seeing your customers eyes widen as their coffee knowledge grows.

La Spaziale S40You might want to go automatic instead...

As can be seen, the biggest issue with a lever machine is the need for an understanding of the espresso that is produced. This is why a lever isn't necessarily for everyone. The La Spaziale S40, for example, will allow for the same pressure, the same volume of water, and also time every shot to ensure that any changes that may affect the espresso extraction are limited. It's ideal for coffee shop owners who are looking for ultimate consistency. The S40 has many other features that can really help you out in a busy shop too. Fancy an extra 15 minutes in bed before you open up? No problem, the S40 can be programmed to turn itself on and off. So no more waiting for the machine to warm up. It has a cleaning cycle that you can leave running while you undertake other end-of-shift jobs too.

The machine will also remind you when the service is due or when the water softener needs replacing. Not only this but if you want a set amount of hot water for your americanos; no problem, this can be set. We can also adjust the brewing temperature within a very specific range to bring out different flavours in the coffee. Of course, the S40 is striking in its looks also, with its flashing 'barista lights' and stunning Italian design, it definitely will make an impact.

La Spaziale S40These automated machines will work alongside a grinder that is set to the desired grind as well as the dose of coffee required. We are able to set the machine and grinder to set parameters and know that the machine will keep these the same for every drink. The S40 will even alert you to fluctuations in shot times so that the barista can make alterations to the grinder if required. The advantage of an automated machine is that their training and use is easier for a beginner as less parameters are in the hands of the barista. It is the tamping and setting up of the grinder that is the 'hands on' part.

Totally hands on... even the grinder

When choosing a grinder to go alongside your lever machine why not be more hands on with this too? An on demand grinder grinds the coffee on a timer; we set the timer to give us the desired dose. These are designed to give us a consistent amount of coffee every time, however there may be a small amount of fluctuation for every shot. To truly ensure we are getting the exact same dose each time it may be necessary to weigh each shot. This is where a 'doser' grinder may be for you. Here you grind the coffee into a chamber, dose the coffee out and weigh the desired dose. You may develop your own technique that gives the desired dose too. The temptation however to fill the hopper with pre-ground coffee could be an issue, so ensure you are grinding fresh for every drink. Also, if you are having a busy period you do have the option of grinding up a little more to speed things up.

Conclusion... it is your choice

La Spaziale S40So is a lever machine for you? If you really want to get hands on with your espresso and be able to take it back to its traditional, romantic roots, then absolutely the lever machine will make you smile all day long. It is all about keeping a number of variables as consistent as possible, whether you want a machine to take care of many of these parameters or you want to work to make that espresso perfect is entirely up to you. Which is better? Neither to be honest, its all down to what you want, what makes you happy and which works best in your shop. If you are still undecided as to which is best for you don't hesitate to come see us, try a range of machines and see which one truly makes you smile.


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Rawfolds Way
BD19 5DQ
West Yorkshire
United Kingdom

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