Flair Espresso Classic with Pressure Gauge (Classic, $154; pressure gauge, $47)
In one form or another, we all love espresso. Most folks love espresso as the foundation for their real addiction: dairy and sugar. Some enjoy a standard latte, perhaps cappuccino — no fuss, no muss — while others are purists and toss it back neat. Whatever your preference, espresso is at the heart.
It’s likely, if you enjoy coffee, you either own an espresso machine or have entertained the idea of blessing yourself with one. Everyone loves a good café experience, but there is something to the idea of espresso at home and on demand.
Being no exception to these generalizations, we too have long dreamt of being greeted every morning by a gleaming, Italian-born espresso machine, then pulling that perfect shot that starts the day off with a caffeinated bang.
There are a myriad of “espresso” machines readily available at your local Cost-Mart or Amazon. Black Friday looms large, and will surely be tapped by thousands for low- to mid-cost gadgets that purportedly produce authentic espresso. The problem lies in the fact that espresso is exceptionally, to use a James Hoffmann term, fiddly.
Truly good, enjoyable, sip-able espresso requires that no fewer than half a dozen variables be accurately and consistently and measurably achieved, each time, for every pull of espresso. A good espresso machine — one that delivers café caliber coffee — must allow you control of each of these parameters.
Here’s the rub. Such machines starts just shy of a cool grand. (Gulp.) In a perfect home-barista world, we’d be able to shell out the required $7,000-plus for the Italian-born GS3. And that’s not to mention the requisite coffee grinder that ranges $300 to upwards of $2,000 just to deliver adequate results. (Double gulp.)
Café level espresso, at home, has always appeared to be a rich person’s game. But does it have to be?
Meet the Flair Espresso, a fully manual/analog espresso machine. No plug. No lights. No LCD readout. No boiler. No internal computer. Almost nothing. Simply a lever and piston system that, surprisingly for only $150-ish, produces café quality espresso. (Providing you do everything right.)
This is certainly not an espresso machine for everyone. It doesn’t make espresso for you; you must carefully craft each shot, measuring and monitoring every parameter from brew temperature and time to pressure profile. The process takes time. Further, there are about five components you must keep track of and use correctly to create each shot.
Fiddly nature aside, we’ve been playing with our Flair for about a month now, keeping a ledger of yields and grind and shot times. It’s been a steep learning curve, but we’ve seen drastic improvements to the point of being able to sip and enjoy while noticing nuance in different roasts and origins. We’re ecstatic; but not everyone understands.
Let’s put it this way: if you are a Keurig type of coffee drinker, well, you’re probably not reading this; but if you’ve dabbled with manual brewing at home (e.g., V60, Aeropress, French press), if you grind your own coffee with a burr grinder, if you purchase locally roasted beans and never from a grocery store, if you use thermometers in the kitchen and enjoy following recipes, and if you love the idea of homemade espresso without the costs and pitfalls normally associated with it, then you might be the type of person who’d love the Flair.