This $125 Espresso Machine Requires No Electricity — And Pulls the Best at-Home Shots I’ve Ever Had
Having a café-quality espresso machine at home is, for me, the ultimate sign of luxury. Not only because of its cost (which can easily be in the thousands), but also because some machines practically require a professional barista’s education to make a decent cup of coffee.
I should know. About a decade into my 21-year coffee career, I was an in-home espresso tutor, providing coffee brewing and machine maintenance training on a house-call basis throughout New York City. I had the opportunity to work on a wide range of espresso makers, including budget-friendly models, mid-price workhorses, and super high-end, designer machines.
This means I’ve pulled hundreds and hundreds of shots on home units. And I can honestly say nothing beats the Flair Espresso Machine — especially when you consider its size, cost, ease, and brew quality.
How Do Flair Machines Work?
Flair Espresso makers are fully manual espresso machines that take their design inspiration from the lever-powered tools that baristas used throughout Italy from the late 1940s until the development of modern, electric motor–driven ones in the 1960s. By pulling down on the lever, the barista pushed hot water over the packed coffee grounds, controlling the extraction. (This is where the expression “to pull a shot” comes from.)
Plugged-in espresso machines rely on motorized pressure to force hot water over finely ground coffee, extracting it quickly in individual servings. They also use power to heat water (and keep it hot) in a water reservoir or tank. To hold all these electronic components and water, along with button-controlled extraction and other bells and whistles, these home espresso machines tend to be boxy and bulky; hard to move and hard to clean. They also require a lot of cleaning and maintenance — ironically even more so if they only get used occasionally, rather than daily.
The Flair, on the other hand, doesn’t have any electronic components at all. It’s a compact, lightweight unit that tucks away neatly in a corner or cupboard. The hot water comes from an outside source, like an electric or stovetop kettle. The Flair also starts at $125, compared with the $450 to $700 price tag of some of the most popular at-home espresso machines.
And while there are few different models, I recommend the Flair NEO (the least expensive model!) for espresso beginners. It has a cherry-red Flow Control piece, intended to create an even extraction “even if your grind isn’t dialed in, or you’ve got inconsistent grounds from a blade grinder,” the company says. While the Flair is designed to be used with fresh-ground coffee (fine, but not the powder-like grind commercial espresso machines require), fine pre-ground coffee will also work. If you use the latter, you might just not get much crema on top of the shot.
Once you load up your coffee and water into the Flair’s portafilter basket, assemble it, and place it on the frame, you’ll be able to pull down on the lever and watch as the creamy espresso drips right into your cup.
My Honest Review of the Flair Espresso Maker
Espresso machines are generally intimidating to non-professionals. I’ve found many people are afraid that the high heat and pressure will backfire on them if they do something wrong. (It does happen; I have a few burn scars to prove it.)
This is one of the main reasons I think the Flair Espresso Maker is actually easier to use than an electronic machine: You control the water temperature, the pressure, and the coffee extraction yourself, and because it’s such a simple machine, there’s almost no way to screw it up.
The portafilter is the only semi-complicated part and, as far as coffee equipment goes, it’s still pretty easy. You pre-heat the water chamber with hot water while you’re grinding your coffee. Then you put the ground coffee into the brewing basket, place a small disk filter on top of it, dump out your pre-heat water, place the water chamber on top of the brewing basket, and fill with hot (not boiling) water. Then, you place the portafilter on the frame, insert the pressure gauge, and pull down the lever to engage the extraction. It’s on par, in terms of ease, with making a pot of French press; you just pull instead of plunge.
Once I got the hang of assembling the portafilter, I’ve been able to make small adjustments to my technique — like adding more coffee, grinding a little coarser, and even pre-infusing the coffee with a tiny amount of hot water before proceeding with the rest of the brew.
The resulting coffee I’ve made with the Flair is the closest to coffee-shop espresso I’ve ever had at home, with a thick head of crema; concentrated flavors of dark chocolate, cherry, caramel, and toast; and a lingering, warming finish. I have used Flair-brewed espresso to make Americanos, cappuccinos (with stovetop-heated milk), iced lattes, and, my latest favorite drink, espresso tonic (espresso, tonic water, and lime).
I also love how small and light this machine is, making it completely portable. Yes, that means you can actually travel with it. It even has its own carrying case, and I took one on a long weekend to a lakeside cabin.
Are there any drawbacks? Well, the Flair does need to be disassembled and cleaned between every shot, whereas electronic machine just needs the coffee grounds dumped and its portafilter wiped clean. It also does require hands-on time in order to create espresso. And getting used to the machine takes a little longer than it would if you could simply lock-and-load espresso after espresso shot. But I find the process to be fun. It makes the best at-home espresso I’ve ever had and even the bad shots come out better than I’d expect.
The bottom line: The Flair is perfect for espresso-lovers on a budget. Plus, if you drink a daily latte, this machine will pay for itself pretty quickly. It’s also a great option for folks with small spaces, as well as anyone who likes to tinker or have a few different brewing methods around to switch between (like, ahem, me).
Really, the Flair makes café-quality espresso easy, fun, and affordable — making it worth every penny.
Do you have an espresso machine you love? Tell us about it in the comments!