This is an honest user review of the Flair Espresso Maker. I wrote The Rok Espresso Maker review a few months ago, and in this post I promised to also review Flair Espresso, which is the latest invention of this type of manual non-electric espresso maker, so here it is – better late than never ;-).
Bella Barista sent me their demo unit of Flair for the purposes of this review, it’s on loan only for review purposes so this isn’t a case of me getting a freebie in return for a review ;-).
Unboxing and Initial Impressions
The package is small, it’s hard to believe that it contains a lever type espresso maker.
On opening the box, there’s a really compact travel case – and on opening this, the Flair Espresso maker is cleverly packaged with all the parts in a specifically assigned place. What is also handy, is that it shows you in the instructions how to put it all back in ;-), although this is fairly straightforward once you’ve done it once or twice.
This is the standard version, or the “classic” which is £149, they also do a signature model and a black signature model for an extra £40, and while I’d like to say that I wouldn’t pay the extra just for the aesthetics, actually from looking at the signature model, I think I would ;-), they’re very pretty!
Flair comes with a solid steel tamper, which I’m very impressed with at the price, and everything does look very good quality for the cost. (Just take note that I think there is a version which doesn’t come with the steel tamper, I think all the versions from Bella Barista come with this, so if you see them cheaper just check you’re looking at the same version with the proper tamper).
Flair is packed in the travel case in bits, to make it super compact, so you need to assemble it first. When I first looked at the bits in the case, it looked a bit intimidating in terms of how many bits there are and how much figuring out I may have to do – I may even have to resoirt to reading the instructions??
Whenever we’ve been to Ikea I usually remember a really important task I have to do, to get me out of the house while my wife puts the stuff together ;-), I’m useless at stuff like that.
Actually, it was ridiculously simple and took me about 20 seconds to put together for the first time, no instructions necessary!
Using Flair Espresso Maker for the First Time
I have to admit that it took me a bit of time to get on with Flair. I think partially this is down to the instructions, which I don’t think are fantastic when it comes to dosing, but also down to the fact that I was using the same kind of grind that I use for my La Pavoni, and a similar grind that I found to work for The Rok, but it seems with Flair I needed to go slightly more coarse.
I was finding the flow on the slow side to begin with, and therefore the Espresso over extracted, and when I went more coarse it didn’t seem to help, but I wasn’t quite going course enough it would appear, and issues I was having with dosing didn’t help.
The instructions say to fill the dosing cup with beans, and I decided to follow the instructions to the letter for the purpose of the review, and doing this seemed to overfill the portafilter regardless of the grind. When I ignored the instructions in this regard and dosed with 14g, I seemed to get the best results, at a more coarse setting than I’d usually use with the La Pavoni Euripicolla and The Rok.
Does Flair Make True Espresso?
This is a question I asked when I reviewed the Rok, and as with Rok, Flair certainly makes true Espresso, with no electric, no pumps, no steam involved – which I do find amazing. Aeropress is often described as an Espresso maker, as are Moka Pots and other manual coffee makers, but Rok and Flair are the first manual coffee makers I’ve used that do, in my opinion, make true Espresso.
How Good is the Espresso Pulled via Flair?
I pulled shots of Espresso with Flair alongside my La Pavoni Europiccola, and The Rok, using the same coffee. Once I’d got over the initial issues with the grind and dosing, I was pulling shots of a very similar level to The Rok, with the same beans. I wasn’t able to quite compete with the shot quality of my Europiccola with either Rok or Flair, but I wasn’t far off, to be fair.
The taste was very close, but crema and mouthfeel I just couldn’t quite get to the same level as my lever machine with either of the manual Espresso makers.
This isn’t a put down of Flair (or Rok), as I’m comparing non-powered manual coffee makers to an electric machine costing four or five times as much, so that’s really not a fair comparison. Also, I was using a medium roast, I can get great results with medium roasted beans via the Europiccola, but I believe that it’s slightly harder to get the same results with medium roasts with the manual non-powered espresso makers vs. dark roasts. This probably wouldn’t bother most people as many would be using darker roasts for Espresso anyway.
Having said that, I do think, judging from other reviews I’ve read such as the Flair Espresso Review on Home Barista, that this kind of quality is possible.
As far as I can make out, the main difference between the way I’ve been using Flair, and the way others have who have rated it on a parr with powered lever machines, is that while I was following the instructions and pre-heating the cylinder with hot water (which didn’t seem to make much difference really, vs not preheating it), others have found that this doesn’t pre-heat it enough just with hot water (especially when using medium roasts, as I usually tend to) and that better quality shots come from actually boiling the cylinder in a pan of water, and then using tongues or heat proof gloves to handle it.
If I’m buying an Espresso maker based on portability, then I wouldn’t want to have to be boiling the chamber first in a pan of water, personally. Then again, maybe I could overcome this by using a darker roast. I will try it with a darker roast and update this review accordingly.
Conclusion. What do I think of Flair Espresso maker?
I think it’s brilliant. If you’re only wanting Espresso, you’re not concerned about steaming milk (or if you’re happy to froth and steam milk via alternative means), and if you’re wanting an Espresso maker which is portable and compact, and which is capable of making nice Espresso, and won’t break the bank – then Flair may be your perfect Espresso maker.
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