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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Thanks, Clint. They answer their email at cafemam.com promptly, and their business philosophy is consistent with the Growers Market and Farmer's Markets' ways of being here in Eugene. John is a co-founder and equipment manager at Cafe Mam. I doubt you'll find anyone more knowledgeable about propane lever machines than him. 



The main advantage that the lever machine has over the solenoid group machine is exactly what Clint has in mind. They can be set up in places that don't offer 220v, like outdoor venues, or hotel lobbies. 110v machines can easily overwhelm a 110v circuit that isn't both dedicated and heavy duty. Lever machines can be set up to operate in a cornfield that's miles from the nearest power source.


I think it's a fair argument that producing something like espresso coffee should be more labor intensive than pushing a button. I have two commercial solenoid group machines that I really like (Marzocco GS2, and Conti Xeos), but they aren't as fun to operate as my lever machine.


I don't think that they're appreciably slower than solenoid group machines. It takes between one and two seconds longer to pull the lever than it does to push the button. There is another three to four seconds that it takes to carefully remove the portafilter from the group, due to the lever machine's lack of a pressure relief valve. Check out the guy in the video posted earlier in this thread. Though my preparation techniques are different from his, he's rockin' that 4 group lever machine!


To me the notion that a lever machine cannot produce a result that matches that of a solenoid group machine is like insisting that a pound of lead is heavier than a pound of feathers:


* 16-21 grams of grounds

* 200 degree water (+ or - a few)

* 9 BAR of pressure ( 130.5 PSI)

* Between 1.5 and 2 OZ extraction, depending on shop parameters

* Extracted for between 21-30 seconds

* Enjoy


A pound of feathers has a different handfeel than a pound of lead has, and a lever shot has a different mouthfeel than a solenoid group shot has. Still, a pound of either is 453.6 grams, and a shot of either follows the above prescription.


A lot of farmers insist on a bi-wing airplane for crop dusting, many bikers insist that nothing beats the Norton Commando for its overall ride experience, and I won't be trading my Ford F100 for a Cummins Turbo Diesel anytime soon...





I love that over a year and a half later this discussion gets better and better.

I do coffee at a farmers market and would love to do espresso but there is no power or water to connect to. I love the fact that I could get an lever propane machine and give the people what they want with no compromise in speed or quality.

Out of curiosity, to those that do outside events, what kind of setup of do you have and how to you handle milk pitcher clean up etc? And how you move around the the espresso machine? Those buggers are heavy!

Thanks for the help, this has been a great discussion and is very helpful for me as a wholesale roaster. 

Thanks so much for all of your replies. I called John at Cafe Mam today. He gave me some great information on the phone about propane lever machines and invited me up to Eugene and said he would help me any way he could. He said he might even have a machine for sale. 


I realize that the machine is going to weigh 150 pounds. Two guys should be able to handle it and I've found some heavy duty collapsible tables that will support the weight sturdily. The Growers and Crafters Markets down here do offer 110V power connections that I can use for the grinders. John also said that the auto fill on some propane machines can run off of 110V. I think I can also use a foot pump to get the water from a tank into the boiler. Coolers will store the milk and perishables. Jackson County requires a 3 tub setup for washing and cleanup. 


I also know that some automatic and semi-automatic machines can run on propane. But if you watch the video Richard posted of Bar Dega Ore ( http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=dXJc2bzVX3I&feature=related ), and watch the barista operate the lever machine, I know that's the only way I want to go. It will make for great conversation at the markets and hopefully be a gathering place. I also like the idea of actually doing something instead of pushing a button. 


Thanks again,


Fascinating discussion! We currently use 3 semiautomatics in 3 stores. Several years ago I never would have thought to purchase a lever machine. In fact, I had never before seen one in a coffee shop. I would think that the decision to buy a lever machine depends partly on how busy your shop is. Can a piston machine keep up with a semiautomatic? Also to differentiate yourself from others! Who uses a piston nowadays? Next coffee shop will definitely be a piston lever espresso machine.


Thank you for your concise and to the point description of why's and who's, or who should consider a lever machine. You put it in clear term and it is very clear you know just what your talking about . I wanted a commercial lever machine when we were in the development stage of opening our coffee shop and roastery.

When I can afford one I will have one and will train only those serious about great espresso.

Thank you Joseph for bringing up this topic. There is a lot of misunderstanding of the lever espresso machines. With the wide range of talent here, nice discussions can clear the air on this.


Jason Shipley said:

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.


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.

Allthough the discussion is stone old, and I'm convinced that they already purchased their machine as it started 6 years ago :) I'd like to add some information which I'm missing.

What is the difference between working on a lever vs a pump machine, and therefore needs a different approach in training.

  • While a HX Machine needs a cooling flush / a dipper (Levers with feed tube) needs sometimes a heating flush after an idle period
  • This impacts the workflow, as it helps to have the old puck still in the PF....
  • A lever needs a higher operation height, If you look at the videos the cup warmer is in shoulder hight. It makes it easier to pull.
  • It's spring loaded, it can cause harm (broken chin). Operational savety needs to be trained. Common: PF to full / to fine grid / Gorilla Tamp, Which chokes the machine. What steps the barista needs to do to release the lever without killing himself
  • The extraction time / mass, only depends on grind size and gramms of coffee, as it's water volume is fix (due to the size of the brewhead)
  • Cleaning procedure is different. As a HX requires backflushing the groups at the end of the workday. Levers will just have the screen and the portafilter cleaned.

For a Newbie Barista all this doesn't matter, as he never pulled shots before at will take all this as given. From a pro Baristas point of view, it's a different machine and you need to get it known ;) Nothing beats a barista which knows the eqquipment.

Though I am a newbie to the above discussion and also the lever espresso machines, I see the difference like an automatic camera and a DSLR. DSLR has more control on clicks but requires some training and know how and the same I see implies with Lever Espresso Machines, more control but requires know how....

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