I know of a new coffee shop that is looking at saving a few bucks by getting a piston lever espresso machine. What are the advantages or disadvantages of getting one of these over a semi-auto or an automatic like almost every other shop has? Wouldn't they be slower and more labor intensive? I love to hear thoughts!

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From my experiences with the lever machine, espresso will be less bitter with less body than a semi-auto machine, more like drinking from chemex or drip, there will be no burnt smell as the heat profile will drop by the end of the extraction, the temperature will not shoot up at the end like most hx machine. Slower or not depends on the user, as I see alot of bars in Italy are still using the lever machine.

Sam
We have a lever machine in our cafe in Jakarta (3 group Rapallo). It is fantastic. I dont think there are speed issues of any real relevance using a lever vs a semi or an auto and as Sam has mentioned, they produce excellent, sweet shots. Have a read through of my earlier blog on levers and the comments bxers have posted> http://www.baristaexchange.com/profiles/blogs/my-romance-with-lever...
I really enjoy seeing a piston machine in bars. It lends to the true craft of hand tamped, hand pulled shots. But with anything, I have seen some poor shots come from poor training. It requires a fine eye and feel for your pressure.
Sam Watana said:
From my experiences with the lever machine, espresso will be less bitter with less body than a semi-auto machine, more like drinking from chemex or drip, there will be no burnt smell as the heat profile will drop by the end of the extraction, the temperature will not shoot up at the end like most hx machine. Slower or not depends on the user, as I see alot of bars in Italy are still using the lever machine.

Sam

This is wrong.

Choosing a lever machine to save a few bucks is a bad idea. Choosing a lever because you are passionate about espresso and are willing to really invest a lot of time into barista training may not be a dad idea. You must have great pride in your drinks and every barista on the bar must share that passion. You see lever machines in Italy because being a barista is a true profession and a professional desires a tool that gives him/her as much control over their craft as possible.
Hey everybody, to me the advantages of a lever pull is that it has fewer parts and pieces to break, are much quieter and do add to the aura of hand crafted espresso. They are more complicated to use in standard configurations and do take more experience and training. I haven't found them to be any slower and I agree that they do produce less crema, but I have not noticed any less flavor. Ours run off of 110 volts and propane, and you have to use both at the same time, or the recovery time is not adequate. What they may save in capital up front, they will spend on training at the back end. I do like the interactive style of a lever pull over a semi or full auto, to me it is simply more fun to pull a shot on.
Thanks for the comments. The coffee shop that just got this lever machine is going to be opening soon and they are not going to have pro baristas running the machine. Most likely it will be high school and college age kids. It sounds like the lever machines are great as long as the person who is running it knows what they are doing. We don't have many Italians in Northern Wi. Mostly people of German, Norwegian and Polish backgounds. My concern is that the lever machine might not be great in the hands of someone that is not going to really learn the craft of pulling good shots. Any other helpful thoughts?
I like Jasons comments- a thoughtful response to this thread for sure. In Indonesia, if I am really honest, I would say many of our barista would fit into the same catergory as yours Joseph. We thought long and hard about the lever- indeed my time in Italy somewhat backs up Jasons comments. Buying our lever was a somewhat personal decision...However we have been able to train the barista in the best way to use the machine, and I really believe that even with the level our human resource pool is at, they have managed to do as well on a lever as they would on an auto or semi.

Other lever users on BX (ChrisK, Gin-Li, Danny etc all running sizeable cafes) would probably all agree that once you have mastered a lever, the theatre and quality of shots make it hard to go back! I would also say that we did not chose the lever based on price- infact as CMA makes so few of these machines these days it actually was more expensive for us to get it made than to do with a stock 3 group semi/auto.

I would say make the decision based on gathering as much information as you can. Weighing up all the comments contributed tfar should be helpful.
Joseph Zimmermann said:
Thanks for the comments. The coffee shop that just got this lever machine is going to be opening soon and they are not going to have pro baristas running the machine. Most likely it will be high school and college age kids. It sounds like the lever machines are great as long as the person who is running it knows what they are doing. We don't have many Italians in Northern Wi. Mostly people of German, Norwegian and Polish backgounds. My concern is that the lever machine might not be great in the hands of someone that is not going to really learn the craft of pulling good shots. Any other helpful thoughts?

Jason hit it on the head. If that is the approach they are taking, I have only one thought: there's about to be a secondhand lever machine for sale in northern Wisconsin, along with the rest of this operator's equipment.

Not to say that the right college kid couldn't do a great job with this machine (I know a couple that would, including one that is spending his summer in Guatemala...), but you gotta hire, PAY, and train well to make it happen.
I was at a coffee shop and ordered a coffee americano ( fresh shot of coffee in 5 or 6 oz. of H2O ) The way i like it. It was made in about 18 sec.s It,s not the same I like old style better Thay just pushed a button Dubble or single Plus I like to watch them make the shot where,s the fun gone
Lever group machines all the way! pushing buttons is for office workers. lever pulling is for... *thinks* factory workers? *shakes head* no *thinks* ... for enhancing the theatre of the specialty coffee experience! Yep that sounds wanky enough. I'll go with that.
Using the lever machine will create better flavor and crema than using auto or semi auto machine, is it right? I wonder if there is any of lever machine in Coffee Shop in Indonesia.
Lever units are very hard to train on in my experiences it takes a very skilled talent. You have to have the grind just right with a perfect tamp. They can also be hard to repair and take specialized tools (especially for removing the main spring). They aren't much cheaper (if at all, I think Rancilio's lever unit is more than their semi-auto Epoca) than semi-auto units and unless you like a work out I would recommend it unless you are really trying to create the "old-school" environment for you shop which is priceless. Good luck

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