When I heard about The Rok “Espresso Maker”, and then the more recent invention along these lines, Flair Espresso Maker, I was thinking of them as “Espresso style” coffee makers, as with Aeropress and Moka pots, in that they probably make something which is similar to Espresso, but not quite true espresso with all of the body, flavour and crema that we expect with a proper Espresso.
But then Rok kitchen tools sent me The Rok to review – and I changed my mind – see The Rok Espresso Maker Review.
In addition to Rok, there’s a new(er) kid on the block in the form of Flair Espresso, so I got hold of one of these too and gave it a go – see Flair Espresso Maker Review.
But the important question is:
Which is the best non-powered lever style Espresso machine, Rok or Flair Espresso?
Actually, this isn’t as simple as it sounds, as it depends what’s most important to you. There are differences in these coffee makers which means that one of them may be better for you, depending on what you want in an Espresso maker. So I’m doing this based on 6 elements:
- Ease of use
- Overall quality
- Espresso quality
- Value for money
Rok Vs Flair – Round 1: Portability
For me, Flair wins round one hands down. Rok comes in a pretty large oval tin, and it’s all one unit, so it’s not something you can easily stow away in a case, it does take up quite a bit of room, although if you were travelling with it, you could just wrap it in clothes and stick it straight in your case.
Flair on the other hand very quickly and easily strips down into individual components to be neatly stored in a very compact travel case, which comes with the espresso maker, so if portability is your no1 concern, then Flair may be the non-powered Espresso machine for you.
Although, if portability is your no1 concern, have you tried Aeropress? OK it’s not quite true Espresso, you don’t quite get the full body and taste that you’d get with Espresso, but for an ultra portable coffee maker at under £30, it’s not a million miles off.
Rok Vs Flair – Round 2: Ease of Use
In my opinion, having used both side by side, Rok wins this one. I’m not saying Flair is difficult to use, but there’s less to do with Rok, you don’t have to assemble it, you don’t have to put the brew head and the cylinder together, you don’t have to put in the piston, you just dose the portafilter and insert it as you would with a powered Espresso machine, and then pour in the water.
With Flair you have a bit of work to do before pulling your shot, this is mainly the compromise you have to make to get the increased portability. There’s not a huge amount in it to be fair, maybe 20-30 seconds worth, but still, I think the Rok is a bit easier to use in general than Flair.
Rok Vs Flair – Round 3: Overall Quality
Comparing the classic Flair with the solid steel tamper, to the standard Rok which comes with a plastic tamper, I have to give this one to Flair. If I was just rating the actual espresso maker itself rather than the entire package, then it would probably be even, as they both seem like very good quality, well-made products, but as a package I think the Flair with the solid steel tamper wins this round, vs the plastic scoop/tamper which comes with the Rok.
Also, the portafilter with the Rok doesn’t feel particularly high quality, the handle is plastic, and it comes with a plastic spout (you don’t have to use the spout, of course).
The standard/classic flair comes with a sold stainless steel tamper, the brew head and chamber is all metal, the piston itself it plastic, but you can get a solid steel piston if you like. Just keep in mind that if you do that you’ll need to pre-heat the piston too, while there’s no need to pre-heat the plastic piston.
Rok Vs Flair – Round 4: Espresso Quality
This is a really tough one, they’re both capable of making very good Espresso.
If I’m pushed to pick a winner, then from my side by side testing, the Rok just wins this one, not so much in terms of Espresso quality potential, but in terms of how quickly and easily I was able to pull great tasting shots of Espresso with both Espresso makers.
I was able to start making great shots of Espresso with Rok right from the start, right from the first try. With Flair, it took me a longer to get to grips with it and to start pulling decent shots. I actually put it away and gave up the first time around, and then came back to it a bit later on, and started again.
I think it was mainly to do with dosing and the grind, but I was following the instructions, so I have to be honest and say that I was able to make great quality Espresso via Rok straight away, whereas it took me longer with Flair.
Rok Vs Flair – Round 5: Cleanup.
Again it’s a very close one, but for me Rok wins this one. With Rok I can just remove the portafilter and knock it into the knockbox as I would do normally. With Flair I have to remove the piston manually, separate the brew head from the chamber, and then try to knock it out – and a few times when doing this I couldn’t get the puck to knock out, I had to resort to using a spoon – it’s not a big deal, but I think Rok is just a bit easier to clean up after each shot.
Rok Vs Flair – Round 6: Value for Money.
Judging this by the price of the standard/classic versions of each model, Flair is £149 from Bella Barista, Rok is also £149, from rokkitchentools.com so they’re exactly the same price, but I have to give this one to Flair, as for the exact same price it includes the travel case and a solid stainless steel tamper, vs the Rok which comes in the storage tin with a plastic scoop tamper.
Don’t forget the importance of the grinder.
The Espresso maker itself is an important part of the whole of course, but it’s not the be all and end all when it comes to the overall Espresso quality – the grind is hugely important. You can have the best Espresso maker in the world, but if you’re using pre-ground beans, or a pants grinder, you may as well have the cheapest budget espresso maker you can get your hands on.
I use the Sage smart grinder pro, I’ve had it over 2 years now, I’ve ground a heck of a lot of coffee with it, and I think it’s a fantastic choice for a relatively inexpensive but brilliant quality coffee grinder for home. See my Sage smart grinder pro review. If you want to use a hand grinder, something like a Hario Skerton should be OK for most beans. Whatever grinder you go for, make sure it’s a burr grinder, and not a blade grinder – blades don’t grind, they slice, we need burrs for grinding coffee, even though some of the blade “grinders” are sold as coffee grinders.
Rok vs Flair Conclusion
As you can see, it’s fairly even really. In my opinion, the Flair wins for portability, overall quality & value for money considering the whole package including the travel case and tamper. Rok wins for ease of use, cleanup after each shot, and espresso quality in terms of how quickly I was able to start making great shots of Espresso with Rok vs how long it took me to achieve the same with Flair.
I think they’re both great manual non-powered Espresso makers, I’m really impressed with the quality of the shots I’ve been able to pull using both of them, considering there’s no power involved. I think either Rok or Flair is a great coffee maker to have either for home (as long as you’re happy heating and frothing your milk via other methods, or if you don’t drink milkies), and/or for making espresso while travelling.
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