Going Manual With My Espressos Is The Best Decision I Made

Going Manual With My Espressos Is The Best Decision I Made
Photo by Dan Smedley / Unsplash

Last year, I moved out of my studies roommate and had my first flat. I had to buy a lot of furniture put a delay in acquiring a coffee machine.

I wanted a cafe machine for quite some time, but I decided to go for teas since I wasn’t sure what to purchase. I found a lovely teashop in my city and started collecting them. This was sufficient for quite some time, yet I was beginning to miss espressos. I’m not a heavy coffee drinker. I relish the taste, smell, and texture. So the quest for a coffee setup began.

It all started about six months ago. I knew at the time that I didn’t want pour-over or moka machines, and I wanted to have an espresso maker since it’s the coffee I enjoy the most. Like most of my research, I headed on Reddit.

The Wonderful World of Coffee Machine

The world of coffee is broad. A lot of people drink coffee daily, and their usage vastly varies. All I knew at the time was that I wanted an espresso and good espresso.

The Nespresso machines were out of the way because of the price of the coffee and the general quality they produce. Besides, I didn’t mean to invest in those machines that are damaging the environment and not sustainable. They were out of the equation from the beginning.

I then turned my attention to some middle-range machine that utilizes coffee beans instead of using capsules. The price varies greatly, and so is the quality of the final product. They are often composed of a large coffee container, a grinder, and an espresso machine. Yet I wasn’t convinced with those either. Having drunk tea for quite some time, I love the variety that tea offers. With tea, you can switch from oolong to Jasmin’s tea as you please, and it’s not possible with those kinds of machines.

That’s natural that I turned my attention to high-end espresso machines. They are beautiful, mostly metal, very competent, and pricy espresso machines. Seeing the price and the amount of work required to make a coffee was discouraging. They need time to heat and can be noisy, both things you don’t want in the morning.

So, here I am with no option that suits my imperatives. I was sad and sipping tea when I learned about manual espresso machines. I wasn’t convinced.

The Even More Wonderful World of Manual Espresso Machines

I randomly stumbled across a post on Reddit where someone was explaining his coffee workflow. Weighting beans, setting the grinder, manually grinding them, pressing the ground coffee with a temper, preheating the machine, pouring water, and, finally, extracting a coffee.

I initially found the idea silly. It was too much effort for one single espresso. That being said, the espresso looked spectacular. And it was possible to change beans for each coffee. And the whole setup was costing less than some automatic espresso machine. And the grinder and machine weren’t taking a large amount of space.

That’s when I understood that manual coffee machines were the right for me, and they ticked all the boxes I needed. They are relatively cheap, can produce excellent coffee, aren’t loud, and don’t require a long warm-up.

One video sealed the deal for me. The direct tone of the presenter convinced me to go that route.

Are Manual espresso machines perfect all-rounder?

I have to admit that after my research, I found out that the manual espresso machine was reasonably competent. They covered most of my requirements, and their main drawback was the time needed to extract one coffee.

They have many advantages over the competition. They don’t make any noise since you are making the effort and don’t demand maintenance. Besides, it’s possible to switch coffee for each brew, making them attractive when you want to test new coffees.

At the end of my research, I was confided. I needed a manual espresso machine. My heart went for the Cafelat Robot because of its look and overall reputation in the coffee community. Other features such as no preheating required or quality of the build were essential factors.

What About the Coffee Grinder?

It became clear that the coffee grinder was as much, if not more important, than the machine itself. Saving on the coffee grinder is not a great idea since the extracted coffee won’t be at its full potential. That’s something I experienced with my setup, and I can tell for sure that having the correct grind makes a world of difference.

As for the machine, coffee grinders exist in two main categories: manual and electric. Naturally, I oriented my research to an electric coffee grinder. Who has a manual coffee grinder? Right? Well…

Electric grinders become expensive quite rapidly. This is explained by the fact that it should have a quality grinder, the electronics to drive it, and have a nice-looking box around it. Besides, they are loud and can take some shelf space.

At the expense of time and some elbow grease, it’s possible to address all those issues by going manual. Companies producing this kind of appliance focus their energy on the grinding mechanism itself. A manual coffee grinder will give a better quality grind than an electric one at the same price. This is not an exact science but a general rule of thumb.

So here I was, looking at manual coffee grinders because they were the most rational choice I could make after spending sometimes on, you guessed it, Reddit. The Commandante C40 was getting some excellent reviews, and I decided that it would be my coffee grinder. It’s relatively tiny, offers a broad range of grind sizes (with the possibility of extending them with an accessory), and was half the price of the electric grinder I envisaged.

Finally, as for the Cafelat, a video of the factory producing the grinders convinced me. Could you imagine that they manufacture several thousands of grinders each month?

My manual setup

So, here I was, contemplating my judgment: I was going fully manual for my coffee setup. That’s not something I envisioned when staring at my investigation. A lesson to draw from my research: don’t underestimate the power of Reddit on my purchasing decisions.

After many hours of reading on Reddit and watching reviews on YouTube, I was decided. The Cafelat Robot and the Commandante Pro seemed to be a match made in heaven.

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At the beginning of my quest, I looked and Jura machines. They are a Swiss coffee machine manufacturer, and they build some high-quality automatic espresso machines. Most of the devices have features I don’t use, but their entry model, the Jura A100, was quite impressive. It can only make espresso (no milk frother or fancy cappuccinos), has a small footprint, and is relatively silent. It was a compelling choice.

Why I’m speaking of the A100? Well, because my whole setup came to a bit more than 700 Swiss francs, roughly USD 760. The Jura A100 is not available anymore (it’s not listed on Jura’s website but is available at some stores, it’s strange) costs about USD 650. They are priced quite similarly but are very different. On the one hand, you have one competent espresso maker that can produce fast and consistent coffee with the Jura. And on the other, you have an excellent espresso maker that requires time and learning with the Cafelat/Commandante combo.

Do you need a manual espresso machine?

It’s hard to tell the target audience for manual espresso machines. People that are really into coffee could invest a lot of money to buy a machine with an E61 group. People that don’t have this kind of money might want to get a French press, a pour-over, or a Moka machine; all those methods can make great coffees.

However, there is no actual “budget” option for espresso. Nespresso exists, but it’s not something someone into coffee will go after. The machines such as the Jura A100 can make great espresso, but it’s not possible to frequently change the beans, and you have little control over the extractions.

So, you might want to look into manual machines if you want a competent yet inexpensive espresso setup. Most of the reviews of the Cafelat are quite unanimous: it can make great coffee. The only downside is the time it takes to get one.

My First impression

One of the coffee I recently extracted

I have had my Cafelat for Christmas and my commandant for about three weeks now. It’s a hint too soon to make a full review of the product, but I can already say that I’m thrilled with my choice. The coffees I can brew are great but not consistent enough. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the coffee I make; I need more time with the machines to have something perfect.

There is a learning curve with this machine, but you can brew some excellent espressos once you have the basics. I found out that the most critical element of the extraction quality was the grind size. Changing the fineness on the Commandante by only one tick (out of 40) influences the extraction flow tremendously.

It’s a rewarding experience, and I love to take time to brew a coffee. I timed myself, and I can have coffee ready and cleaned all in about 4 minutes which isn’t much of all things considered.

I’ll probably make a more in-depth review of my purchase when I am more used to everything in a few months. In the meantime, I hope to continue testing new coffees, find the proper settings and enjoy making a few coffees a day.