This Analog Espresso Machine Is for Coffee Control Freaks, and I Love It

I tried the Flair PRO 2, a manual espresso machine that has you literally press down on a lever to brew delicious shots of espresso.

Back in my early 20s, I got very into coffee. I started my journey as a barista at a major coffee chain that I won’t name here, and used the opportunity to really start learning about the craft—in fact, it’s been said that from 2006 to 2008, I was turning out some of the best lattes at the West County Mall in St. Louis, Missouri. (Thanks, Mom.) However, I quickly got wrapped up in college and grad school, and reverted to a shitty drip machine, with which I’d brew a pot every morning using the cheapest coffee I could find. Once I became an adult with more time and a little money, though, I reconnected with my love of coffee and decided to become an at-home barista. 

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Before long, I was experimenting with Hario V60 pour-overs, the Chemex, and the Clever Dripper; I got a sleek, swanky Acaia scale and a beautiful Baratza grinder; and I started a club with some friends to order coffee from different lauded roasters around the country. I also read as much as I could about the coffee beans of the world and their unique characteristics, and I started to learn the ins-and-outs of grind settings and extraction yields. Then, when I could make a damn fine cup of coffee for myself every morning, I leveled off and stopped learning.

Acaia
Acaia Pearl Coffee Scale

$150 at Seattle Coffee Gear

Recently, I decided that I wanted to learn to make espresso at home. I didn’t want to start off with a seriously expensive or intricate machine—how could I even pick a good one without knowing what to look for? I did some research and found there were many solid options, but after talking to my friend—a professional espresso technician and a member of both the Specialty Coffee Association and the Coffee Technicians Guild—for advice on where to start, I finally landed on one: the Flair PRO 2

Flair
Flair Espresso Maker PRO 2 (Black)

$325 at Amazon
Flair
Flair Espresso Maker PRO 2 (White)

$325 at Amazon

Flair isn’t like most espresso machine companies, in that its machines are manual—you literally press down on a lever to brew the espresso. You also grind your coffee separately, place it in a segmented, cylindrical contraption that you’ve manually preheated, secure a removable pressure gauge atop that, and then place it all at the fulcrum of the lever. In layman’s terms, Flair lets you be in total control of nearly every aspect of the espresso-making process, from the grind size and the brewing pressure to the temperature, amount of water used, and the duration of the pull. 

When I received the PRO 2 and Flair’s (also manual) Royal Grinder in the mail, I opened up the box, beaming with joy and the excitement of imminent heart palpitations and expedited digestion, but all I saw on my partner’s face was skepticism and fear. “Are you going to become the Jordan Schlansky of our house?” she asked me. “Yeah, probably,” I replied. I do have a tendency to become obsessed with new toys, and I think you have to have a bit of that to master this machine.

Snow Peak
Snow Peak Field Barista Coffee Grinder

$89.95 at REI

The PRO 2 is fairly easy to put together, but beyond that, it assumes that you have both a base level of brewing knowledge and some coffee tools—for example, without a burr grinder and a gooseneck kettle, you’ll have a hard time moving forward here. I set up a call with Andrew Pernicano, Flair’s Head of Brand, for an education session over Zoom, and he gave me the lowdown on how to make the most of the gadget.

Baratza
Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder

$169.95 at Amazon
COSORI
COSORI Electric Gooseneck Kettle

$67.99 at Amazon

Having a grinder is absolutely essential—pre-ground coffee won’t suffice with the Flair. The grinding process degasses and oxidizes the beans, leading to a loss of flavor and aroma, and you’ll need to play around with your grind settings to get the optimal flow and pour. Even with a high-quality grinder, it took me a few attempts to realize that I wasn’t grinding at the correct size, which is the main issue Andrew Pernicano, the head of brand at Flair, sees in new users—they've got to go finer. “You shouldn’t feel like you can pull the shot faster than 30 seconds," he told VICE. "A lot of times, people’s perception of what’s fine is off.” He pointed out that customers are quick to think the pressure gauge isn’t working (which is what I thought), but that it’s nearly always a grind or temperature issue.

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Gift Coffee Subscription (3 Bags)

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So I went forth and ground much finer, using the Royal Grinder exactly the way he showed me, and, lo and behold, I pulled a nearly perfect shot shortly after our call. (I wanted to do more that day, but my partner advised me to switch to water before the Jordan Schlansky of our house became the Bruce Banner of our house.) When it comes to the espresso, the result here is sublime—the beans’ flavors and aromas come through with great, earthy complexity, and the shot's texture is creamy, melting across your tongue in just the right way. It makes for a super-balanced and handsome pour, and its roasty depth and slight sweetness even comes through in a latte or macchiato.

When learning to make espresso manually, the journey is the destination. Using the PRO 2 really helps you understand that great espresso isn’t some magical operation that’s only possible with the help of an expensive machine—it’s actually a fairly simple process of extraction built on the right combination of temperature, grind size, and pressure. The PRO 2 lets you make minute changes based on the beans you’re getting, which can be extremely important. With an electric espresso machine, you’re more or less setting up every shot the exact same way (unless you’re literally an espresso technician like my friend) and have very little control over your final product. Sure, you can go buy a pretty good espresso down the street from your home or office, and I definitely still do that from time to time, but the feeling of sipping that first perfect, heavenly brew after you’ve learned to do it yourself is priceless. 

I love the Flair PRO 2, but it's definitely one for the (very) serious coffee heads. “I hate to be cliche, but like Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility,” said Pernicano. “With everything in your control, you have more ways to fuck it up.” There are multiple steps of the process that will require a little extra practice, including pre-heating, grinding, and applying pressure. But with enough patience, it’s more than possible to master it. “You just have to be consistent with everything you’re doing,” Pernicano said. “Some people come from a world of pressurized baskets, Keurig, all those things. But you absolutely can get the same types of flavors from our machine that you can from those commercial machines.” 

TL;DR: Ultimately, The Flair PRO 2 is a really neat piece of machinery, and a killer option for the coffee nerd that wants an opportunity to really master all the skills involved in manually creating great espresso at a fraction of the price of the leading electric models. It requires patience, but the reward is real—and delicious. And on top of it all, it just looks cool as hell and will make people think you’re an absolute coffee boss. Which you clearly are if you choose to go this route.

Tagged:

coffee, espresso

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