Exploring the evolution of manual espresso machines
Typically, when we think of espresso equipment, we envision a semi-automatic or fully-automatic machine with groupheads, a steam wand, and a built-in boiler.
In recent years, however, there has been a resurgence of “simpler” alternatives: manual espresso machines in which the user exerts pressure on the brew chamber to extract coffee.
However, the expansion of these brands raises the question: how do they operate? What makes extraction unique? How can you maximise the performance of your manual espresso machine?
I spoke with team members at Aram Soulcraft and Flair Espresso to learn more. Continue reading to discover what they told me.
Before discussing manual extraction, it is important to review the definition of espresso. It originated in Italy at the turn of the 20th century and has remained popular in Europe and beyond for the 120 years that have followed.
According to the now-defunct Specialty Coffee Association of America, the classic definition is as follows:
“Espresso is a 25-35 ml (x2 for double) beverage prepared from 7-9g [of coffee] (14-18g for a double) through which clean water of 90.5oC to 96.1oC has been forced at 9-10 atmospheres of pressure, with a brew time of 20–30 seconds.
“While espresso is being brewed, the flow will appear to have the viscosity of warm honey, and the resulting beverage will have a thick, dark gold crema. Espresso should be prepared specifically for its intended consumer and served immediately.”
This traditional definition continues to serve as a point of reference for many baristas. As the coffee industry has evolved over the years, however, these rules are no longer universal among coffee professionals.
Surveys of baristas have revealed that many have adopted new espresso preparation parameters (or are flexible with the old ones).
For instance, some no longer use single and double references. Instead, their typical dose of coffee grounds is between 18 and 20 grammes. Others administer injections using tools such as pressure profiling and pre-infusion.
Andrew Pernicano is the Director of Community and Education at Flair Espresso. He concurs that circumstances have changed.
He explains, “I no longer enjoy discussing singles, doubles, and ounces because most people use ratios instead.” Ultimately, if you cannot brew espresso at the standard pressure, it is not espresso.
Despite these modifications, the characteristics of espresso have not changed.
Espresso should be a full-bodied and concentrated beverage with crema when prepared properly. Regardless of roast profile, the mouthfeel and flavour should be velvety and bold and intense.
Ultimately, the ideal espresso is produced by combining high-quality coffee with superior extraction. The latter is the result of a method of high quality and the use of suitable equipment.
Espresso machines were created for this purpose, but new technologies have altered this scenario. Where then do manual machines fit in?