Levers evolution in 70 years

by Claudio Santoro

La Marzocco Leva 1 group
La Marzocco Leva

Since the first lever machines were produced, the market has progressively shifted to pump machines. Only a few manufacturers kept producing professional levers like Izzo, San Marco, La Pavoni, Victoria Arduino and a few others. Levers were then considered by many professional roasters and bars just as vintage or even old-fashioned objects, surely not cutting-edge machines used for high end and 3rd wave coffee bars. 

During the Host fair in Milano on October 2017, things suddenly changed when La Marzocco presented its new professional lever machine: the Leva. Since Leva was introduced on the market, the interest on lever machines by professional roasters and enthusiasts grew up exponentially. 

It is now not uncommon to find roasters and bars that proudly show off a lever machine paired with top notch gears like high end grinders, precision brewing scales, distribution tools and specialty coffee beans.

On the domestic side, instead, lever machines have kept over the years a low but constant profile. The most of home baristas / coffee aficionados own or have owned at least one lever machine like La Pavoni Europiccola, Elektra Microcasa leva, Faemina, Caravel, Olympia Cremina, Strietman, Pontevecchio, Zacconi. New manufacturers have also joined this segment with their coffee makers like Flair Espresso, Cafelat Robot, Rok Presso that, besides allowing the pull of stunning shots are highly portable for compact size and lack of a boiler (you actually can heat up water on your own and use it with the machine).

If you are wondering why so many home baristas love domestic lever machines, there is not a simple answer: 

  • The most of these home machines are direct levers, that means that there is no spring but the pressure needed to pull the shot is carried out by the user; this feature allows a further shot customization called "pressure profiling".

  • It is possible to play with different preinfusion time and preinfusion pressure.

  • It is possible to brew at any given grouphead temperature and pressure such to take the best from any kind of roast (light roasted beans, usually need a higher preinfusion pressure whereas darker roasts need a lighter preinfusion pressure).

  • Cheap maintenance costs, there is a very suited aftermarket where gaskets, filters, bottomless portafilters, profiling kits, wooden handles and any other thing can be easily purchased at reasonable price.

  • Price! A pump machine that allows so many shot customizations is usually very expensive and has a large footprint. Most domestic lever espresso machines are small and can be bought for even less than 200$ as 2nd hand.

  • Last but not least, lever machines are design objects, so beautiful to look at. Given that many lever machines besides making great espressos are so beautiful to look at, it is quite easy to find pictures of them on all social medias. It's not by accident that many lever machine owners are designers, photographers, and/or people that pay a lot of attention to the detail and build quality. Some machines are even shown in museums. The La Pavoni Professional, for instance is exhibited at the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) of New York.

Thus, it's not a surprise if the mentioned points amaze even the most demanding home baristas.

On the professional segment, La Pavoni has in the recent years restarted the production of one of its most beautiful machines: La Pavoni Diamante also known as "Concorso". It was designed in the fifties by the star designers Enzo Mari and Bruno Munari and today its shape is still considered timeless.

Among the many lever machines, a few really deserve special mentions for being able of producing top level espresso shots:

  • Flair Espresso maker: this company deserves a special assessment because has been able to bring pressure profiling featured machines at an affordable price. Flair machines are also highly portable and super light. In fact they arrive in a practical bag that fits comfortably in a suitcase and for this reason they are very appreciated by travelers.

Flair Espresso Maker Pro 2

Flair Espresso Pro 2

  • La Pavoni: its Europiccola/Professional models have been the initiation point for many home baristas for decades. The simplicity and beauty of the design appreciated so much that often in movies you can spot one (The Talented Mr. Ripley; The Godfather; Meet the parents; 007-Live and Let Die; ecc.). 

  • Cafelat Robot: its shape recalls a rendition of the "Baby Faemina" (1950 circa). Great build quality, 58mm portafilter and capable of extracting definitely great shots. Many people are blown away by its aesthetically beautiful design. 

  • Londinium: machines from this company are perhaps the best bang for the buck about a spring lever machine. Great build quality, configurable preinfusion pressure, easy "DIY" maintenance and great shots. It's not a surprise that the reputation of this brand has being rising so high, so quickly.

  • Bezzera: the Strega model is perhaps one of the spring lever machines most used in both domestic and professional environments. This machine has become a classic among its competitors thanks to its simplicity, good build quality and affordable price.

  • Strietman: a Dutch company that doesn't make espresso machines but actually works of art. The machines are totally handmade by the company founder and designer Wouter Strietman. The latest model produced is the CT2: materials, design and craftmanship taken to the extreme. Stainless steel grouphead sleeve and low consuming heating element are 2 of the innovations that come with the current model.

Strietman CT2

Strietman CT2

  • Olympia Express: Swiss manufacturer that, over the years has been able to raise the build quality so high that, its name has become synonymous of "well built". Not a surprise that many times people refer to Olympia as the Rolex or Rolls Royce of coffee machines. The "Cremina" is the name of the lever machine currently in production that represents something like the niche of the niche.

Olympia Cremina

Olympia Cremina

The above list counts just some of the many lever machines currently available on sale as brand new machines. The question then is: how would you choose your lever machine? What are the parameters to be considered? To these questions we will try to answer in future articles.