MILAN – When you say ‘make an espresso with your own hands’ Flair Espresso Maker answers with Flair 58, a fully-manual, professional grade, lever espresso press, focused on maximizing the workflow and quality of at-home espresso extractions. In what way? By giving the opportunity to be the home bartender.
First of all, what is the idea behind Flair Espresso? An all-Italian ritual that has inspired producers overseas: how did it all come about?
“If you haven’t checked it out yet, the original Kickstarter from 2016 that launched the brand is a great place to start. Sergio Landau, the founder and engineer behind Flair Espresso, loves his cappuccinos and was looking for an affordable solution for making them in the home in retirement.
He tried other manual espresso makers but wasn’t happy with the results, and as he had decades of experience designing, engineering and manufacturing products for the medical industry, he knew he could make one for himself.
The question he asked himself: what is the minimum required to make a great espresso. The answer was the Flair Classic (original design): a lever press and non-locking brew group.”
In an era in which we are moving more and more towards super automatics, you have instead focused on the lever: why this choice, which for many might seem a step backwards with respect to 4.0 machines?
“To democratize espresso! For $99 (current price of the NEO Flex) you can make espresso every bit as good, perhaps better even, than you would find at your nearest café! Additionally, with a lever press and open boiler, you can take full control of your brew by selecting your brewing temperature and pressure profile—control you simply can’t get on machines affordably priced.
It’s not just about control, it’s about having a closer connection with your coffee and what goes into making it. Turning over all of these steps to “4.0 machine” robs the coffee lover of the pleasure and satisfaction that manual brewing provides. It’s a ritual. It’s about being present. It’s meditative even.”
What are the advantages for a barista in using the Flair 58?
“Within our line-up of manual brewers, the Flair 58 is the only one to use the commercial standard 58mm portafilter and baskets. This opens the door to customizing your brewing experience with endless supply of 58mm espresso tools and filter baskets on the market.
The electric preheat system of the 58 removes one step from your workflow as well as improves temperature stability from shot to shot, allowing you to focus on good puck prep and pressure profiling.
With its long lever and comfortable T-grip handle, the Flair 58 is a pleasure to pull on.”
How does it work technically, on which parameters can you act?
“Speaking specifically to the Flair 58, you have three preheat settings to ensure temperature stability (85 C, 90 C and 95 C), that you can then augment with your kettle temperature setting to reach your desired brewing temperature in the chamber.
As it uses standard 58mm filter baskets, you can brew anything from ristretto to lungo with your desired dry to wet coffee ratio. You can swap filter baskets to trial different flow characteristics (more holes, less holes, chamfered or straight wall etc).
With full control over the flow rate and pressure, you can craft your shot to your specifications: pre-infusion, blooms, ramped or straight line pressure.”
Can you manually reach a pressure of 9 bar without too much effort? Where does the water fit in?
“The mechanical advantage on our levers range from between 9:1 to 13:1, meaning when you push down on the lever your effort is amplified by a factor of 9-13 at the start. Thanks to leverage, we can comfortably hit and hold 9 BAR of pressure with an input of around 40 – 45 pounds of downward force on the lever. The system is usable up to 15 BAR, but we suggest best results for traditional espresso will be found between 4 and 8.5 BAR.
It’s an open-boiler; fill chamber from the top, with lever down, then lift lever to allow water to pass through valve and be introduced to the bed of coffee below. When you raise lever fully, immediately change direction and commence the extraction.”
Could Flair 58 also be an attractive tool for coffee lovers who also want to drink a great espresso at home?
“The Flair 58 was designed primarily with the home barista in mind that already has a high-quality, espresso capable grinder—or willing to invest in one. This point of fact master as much or more then their level of experience brewing espresso. If they want great espresso without as much investment in the grinder, they would be better served with one of our other Flair Espresso Makers that can take a coarser grind and are less forgiving in terms of “dialing in”.”
Is your solution also particularly interesting in terms of energy savings?
“When I’ve lost power at my house, I know it doesn’t mean I won’t be enjoying great espresso! All I need for that is a source of heat for my brew water (my gas or wood stove) and a hand grinder. No generators required!
In terms of the amount of wattage required for the Flair 58 preheat system, it’s incredibly low. The draw is 90 watts continuously for the first 3-5 min, and thereafter the heater cycles on and off to maintain temperature. After a while of being on, the system is cycling on for 10 sec and off for 20-30 sec on average.
It could, however, pose the problem of timing: espresso is in itself the drink of speed par excellence, doesn’t Flair 58 lose this characteristic a little?
“Thanks to the industry standard portafilter and tools, it’s 1:1 in terms of speed and timing with the exception of filling the chamber with water each time, and purging unused water after the shot (standard feature of a lever). Depending on the machine it is being compared to, it might actually be faster or exactly the same time all in. For example, if that machine had a heat exchanger design, before you could pull a shot (after giving it a long 30 min warmup to ensure temperature stability), you would have to purge the super-heated water in the group before locking in the portafilter and pressing the brew button.
Is it affordable for everyone? Where can it be purchased?
“With five models to choose from starting as low as $99, espresso of this quality would be hard to come by for much less. There’s a Flair for every budget and level of commitment. You could start with the Classic for $165 and over time upgrade it to the brewing capabilities of our PRO2. We try to meet you where you are along your espresso journey, and no judgements on where you presently are and how far you want to take it.”
What are the next innovations for Flair Espresso models?
“I mentioned the founder and president loves his cappuccino at the top of this interview. Flair has a grinder, The Royal, and a full complement of espresso makers, but we have yet to release our own milk steaming solution and that is something we’re hoping to finally have by the end of the year or beginning of next.
As for espresso makers, we feel we have a maker now to fit every type of home barista—from the beginner to the enthusiast. It’s unlikely you’ll see any significant developments on that front for a while.”