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Flair Espresso Maker review: A simple, portable setup that makes better espresso than machines twice the price

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The Flair Manual Espresso Maker seen from above with a shot of espresso.
The Flair Espresso Maker give you maximum control over your brew, and it's easy to take on the road.

If you want to make the highest-quality espresso you possibly can at home without breaking the bank, the best option is a manual device like the Flair Espresso maker. In fact, we rank it as one of our best espresso machines.

Why? Control. You pour water directly from a kettle and you can adjust pressure manually until you get a steady golden flow of thick, crema-rich java. In order to have that much control with a machine, you're looking at a four-figure investment.

Design and specs

The Flair Espresso Machine on a counter with it's carrying case and parts.
The carrying case keeps the essential parts organized and only ways five pounds.

Flair espresso makers are light and portable. The basic package without the pressure gauge and extra accessories weighs five pounds, the Pro 2 setup is seven pounds, and both fit snugly into their carrying cases. They're wonderful for camping or road trips, too, so long as you have a way to boil water on the spot. A five-year limited warranty also bodes well for confidence, especially when most machines five times the price only come with a one- or two-year warranty.

The cylinder in every Flair device has a maximum water capacity of 60ml, so controlling extraction time for somewhere between 30 and 45 seconds (for espresso and more concentrated ristretto, respectively) is actually much easier than with a traditional machine. That's because your arm controls the amount of pressure you apply, rather than the brew head of a machine, which will generally only have an on/off function.

Different Flair espresso makers

There are a few options when it comes to buying a Flair. They're all more or less the same manual and portable device with add-ons and slight upgrades, ranging from about $120 to $300. I use the more affordable Neo, which has no pressure gauge or fancy attachments. It might not be as foolproof as other setups, but you'll get the feel for it with a bit of practice. Depending on how serious you want to get, you can purchase a slightly more durable option like the Pro 2, which comes with a larger brew head, a stainless steel piston, and a pressure gauge. 

How to use a manual espresso maker

A hand setting up the Flair Espresso Machine.
The end result from a great manual espresso maker is authentic espresso with a thick head of crema.

The first thing you'll want to do is set some water to boil. Then, pop the plastic funnel atop the "brewing head" and pour in very finely-ground coffee. Use either the dosing cup or the stainless steel tamper to tamp. (Take a look at our guide to the best espresso tampers for more options and tips.) Flair recommends using about 30 pounds of pressure. Tip: Press on your bathroom scale to get a feel for what that's like.

Once you're done tamping, place the screen securely on top of the tamped grounds. When your water has boiled, pour it into the cylinder up to the little etched line inside. Next, you'll place the piston in the brewing cylinder, grab the lever, and pull. Ideally, you'll keep a steady pressure resulting in a steady trickle that finishes up in about 30 seconds, give or take. 

Tasting notes

The Flair Espresso Machine dripping into a cup.
Manual espresso makes give you more control over the flow of espresso.

We conducted blind taste tests comparing espresso from the Flair to espresso from other top espresso machines. During a series of five rounds of blind taste tests, the Flair won four out of five times. Every subject of the blind taste test agreed that the intensity of flavor, viscosity or texture, and strength were favorable to almost every other shot we pulled from the other machines, save for a few shots from the Gaggia Classic Pro.

There's something about manual espresso makers and being able to control the pressure with your own hands that allows you to deliver a steady flow in a way that is hard to achieve with most budget espresso machines. 

Cons to consider

Using the Flair is a slightly more time-consuming process than making espresso with a machine, but it's a matter of maybe two extra minutes. Again, though, if time is a real constraint, you may want to look into pod machines, or perhaps the Breville Barista Pro, which offers a relatively quicker shot. Also, we could not pull a shot from the Flair when we used extremely finely ground coffee. 

The bottom line

The Flair Espresso Maker with a freshly pulled shot and coffee bags behind it.
The Flair Espresso Maker produced better flavor and crema than automatic machines twice the price.

Compared to the best espresso machines, the Flair is affordable, portable, doesn't take up a lot of counter space, and is as simple as can be to use. It does take a little more effort and time than your average shot of espresso out of a machine. Still, it is the simplest and most affordable way to get the best possible shot you can, especially if you're new to the espresso game.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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