by Randy Glass - Copyright 2017 - All rights reserved


   Imagine a James Bond movie where Mister Bond opens a case and assembles a firearm and stands it up against a wall next to a window on the fifteenth floor. He takes out another case, opens it, removes the various parts, and from them assembles an espresso maker. He pulls a shot of espresso and sips slowly as he stares out the window, waiting for his target. Fictional scene, certainly, but the reality of this scene is that the Flair Espresso Maker is here and worthy of it supporting role as imagined above. The Flair is that manual espresso maker, packed into that little case, worthy of a Bond movie appearance.
    I had seen a number of comments from users and reviewers on Home and decided to contact the company. They were glad to send me a Flair for review purposes. Cool! I mean, honestly, this site gets me no income and so, beyond feeding my hungry ego and keeping what remains of my writing skills intact, it's main benefit is I get to play with cool coffee toys!

    The Flair certainly does qualify as one of the very coolest coffee devices I have gotten to use. Let's get right into this:

The flair comes packed in its semi-hard case which is approximately 13" x 9" x 3" when closed
    As you can see, like the Flair itself, even the packing arrangement is well thought out. Worried about how it all goes back into the case? Don't be. The instructions include a photo of the packing arrangement, and includes four, step by step photos to guide you through packing all the parts back into its case! The case has a double pull zipper and sturdy handle with a non-slip grip. The handle is on the hinge side of the case, and when the two zipper pulls are positioned with one to each side of the handle, the case can be opened.

Here are all the working parts and accessories which come with the Flair. The base and the post assembly are easily spotted. The remainder of the items are as follows:
  1. Dosing Funnel — Fits nicely into the portafilter portion of the group and helps eliminate the mess when dosing the coffee into the portafilter.
  2. Bean Measuring Cup — This also acts as a tamper and can be used to press out the piston from the group after an extraction.
  3. Piston — This is the part that the lever presses down through the cylinder to force water through the coffee.
  4. Tamping Mat — A nice inclusion to protect the portafilter and your counter top.
  5. Drip Tray — Fits into recesses in the base. Your cup is placed on it during an extraction. The center, molded-in concentric circles which catch drips after removing your cup.
  6. Portafilter Basket — holds the ground coffee for extraction. Its inside diameter is approximately 40mm
  7. Brew Cylinder — shown bottom side up here. It is made of stainless steel.
  8. Shower Screens — you get two with the machine. These fit on the top of the portafilter after tamping the coffee. Each has a silicone gasket seal which keeps it in place on the portafilter.
  9. Hex Wrench and bolt — If the post and base of the machine will be left assembled you can secure the post to the base with this bolt which fits through a recess on the bottom of the base and threads into the post.

    These are the parts of the brewing group, displayed left to right as they would be assembled bottom to top
  1. The Portafilter Assembly The coffee goes in there. A perforated stainless steel screen is located at the bottom. The narrowed portion at the bottom is just a spout. The Flair has no crema-enhancing devices in it.
  2. The Shower Head After dosing and tamping the coffee the shower screen is inserted onto the top of the portafilter. Its silicone gasket holds it in place. Once that has been put into place, the portafilter assembly is placed on the red support of the Flair's tower.
  3. The Brew Cylinder The preheated cylinder is then placed on the portafilter and pressed down fully to slide it into place. This heavy piece of metal will impress you the first time you left it. The silicone sleeve makes it easier to pick up after preheating and brewing (it can get hot), and also keeps the cylinder from slipping through the fingers. It is more like a safety device to protect your toes. Now water is poured into the cylinder, and..
  4. The Piston It slides into the top of the cylinder and you are ready to depress the lever and literally "pull" a shot of espresso. Where did you think that term came from? Don't forget to put a cup in place, through!

    The complete group assembled and the piston in place. Normally this would be done on the post, but I show it here removed for the purposes of this review.

    Here is the top of the brewing group, assembled and in place in on the post, ready for an extraction to begin. Note the large diameter pins at the pivot points and the roller which helps the movement of the arm to be as smooth as possible.

    I have been using semi-automatic espresso machines for 17 years. Switching to the Flair took a bit of adjustment. Sure, it is a matter of old dogs and new tricks for this old dog, but that was just a part of it. As with any new espresso machine there is are adaptations that the user must make. A different size portafilter will likely require a different grind. The lower capacity of the portafilter is also a factor in that regard. But finding the solutions to that is explained right here in my EASY GUIDE TO BETTER ESPRESSO AT HOME.
    So lets go through the basics of pulling a shot on the Flair, step-by-step:

[NOTE: The next nine photos are ©2017 V. Glass, and are used here with permission.]

Start by immersing the cylinder in hot water so that it is at or near brew temperature when you are ready for it. Have a pair of tongs available to lift the cylinder out of the hot water. When out of the water for a bit, the silicone sleeve can be used to comfortably grasp it,

Grind the coffee and dose into the portafilter assembly using the included dosing funnel. The instructions state to fill the included measuring cup/tamper with beans but I found that it would take a bung hammer to get that much coffee into the portafilter. Around 14 to 15 grams is a good place to start.

Tamp the coffee, just like in a real espresso machine because this is a real espresso maker! Here I am using the optional stainless steel tamper which has an outside diameter of approximately 39mm. The closed end of the included plastic measuring cup is designed to work as a tamper. The bottom of the cup tapers, being narrowest at the closed (tamping) end. The bottom edge diameter of the cup is approximately 38.5mm.
I found that leaving a bit of headspace worked well for me.
Press the shower screen into place. Without that bit of headspace seen in the previous photo it is difficult to get the shower screen into place.
Slide the cylinder down onto the portafilter. The end of the cylinder with the O-ring slides onto the portafilter. Place that assembly onto the Flair. It helps to wet the portion of the cylinder holding the O-rings with a little water to get it to slide smoothly onto the portafilter.

Fill the cylinder with hot water up to no higher than the inscribed line inside the cylinder. You can create a passive pre-infusion by waiting a few seconds for the water to penetrate the coffee, then add a bit more water up to the line once again.

A pour-over kettle works great! I purchased the Bonavita BV382510V one-liter model with adjustable temperature control just for this purpose.

Place the piston into the cylinder.

Press the lever downwards. It should not take more than about 40 to 45 pounds of force on the lever for an extraction. Downward force on the lever should not exceed 70 pounds or damage to the Flair can result.

Lets try some math to estimate the brewing pressure (keeping in mind I was an art major). The mechanical advantage of the lever is about 10, if a force of about 35 pounds is applied to the lever by hand, and the area of the piston's force is about 2.4, the estimated maximum pressure below the piston's face would be about 130psi, or about 9BAR, the generally recommended pressure for brewing espresso. As I had stated, a lot of thought has gone into the design of the Flair. Yes, this is a real espresso maker!

Now, if an espresso left New York, traveling west at 130psi, who was driving the bus?

Enjoy a delicious espresso.

    Clean up by removing the portafilter from the cylinder. The suction in doing so may displace the shower screen and the coffee puck. You may also get a few dribbles, so do so over your knock box or other suitable recepticle. Remove the shower screen, dump the grounds, and rinse. The piston can be most easily pushed out of the cylinder using the plastic tamper/measuring cup. Push it from the bottom back from whence it came to avoid damaging the O-ring in the cylinder.

    Because the Flair depends on an external source of hot water, the workflow will be a bit slower than that of an electrically powered espresso machine with an internal boiler and pump. With those you just lock the portafilter and flip a switch. But the simplicity and dependability of such a simple machine such as the flair is appealing. But it is not the best choice for those leading a rush-rush life. But I think that espresso is something that should be enjoyed at leisure, regardless as to how it is consumed in other countries.
    There are a lot of little things you will come to appreciate with the Flair. The quality coatings on the base and tower, the silicone wrap on the cylinder to protect you when handling that big chunk of hot metal, and the overall substantial feel of the Flair when you are extracting espresso. But most of all you will appreciate the potential the Flair offers for great espresso.
    There is no better way of being part of the process, dare I say the art, of making espresso than using a manual lever machine. Near the end of the extraction you can lessen the force you supply to avoid over-extraction. You can pause slightly at the beginning to allow the coffee to be fully infused before continuing. You can do whatever you want!

    When in its case, ready for travel, the Flair only weighs about 4.5lbs. The case will fit in a backpack, but be prepared to open it if going through a security checkpoint (airport, etc.). Having the instruction sheet packed in the case will help you pass through. I doubt many people have ever seen anything quite like this. I doubt there has ever been anything quite like this. Sure, there are some similar devices, and although I have not used any of them, I cannot imagine any having greater potential for excellent espresso than the Flair.
    There have been espresso machines available designed to be compact and portable. Some create a product are more akin to what we get from a moka pot. Some are heavy, and some are quite expensive. I tested one basic example and it worked so poorly that I decided that it was not worth the words to review it. The Flair cuts through all that and gives us a machine that has the potential of making excellent espresso, consistently, at an affordable price, in a package that it highly portable.
    The basic setup as you have seen in this review, is currently $159.99, available directly from Flair. With the stainless steel tamper (normally $24.99 alone), $169.99 (it adds about a pound to the weight). For $10 I recommend getting the tamper. Add a spare brewing group (normally $49.99 on its own) to that and the price is $199.99. A spare portafilter assembly with the shower screen is $14.99. All of that is currently shipped free as well! If you feel the spare brewing head is overkill, I suggest ordering the spare portafilter. That would allow a pull to take place while the portafilter from the last extraction was being cleaned and rinsed, or to be able to prepare two extractions and pull them consecutively.
    If there is a portable espresso maker that is as robust as the Flair, fits in as small of a space as the Flair, that makes espresso as tasty as the Flair, made with quality materials as found in the Flair, and is priced as competitively as the Flair, please let me know. Imagine your next camping trip, sitting next to the fire, sipping real espresso! Heck! Imagine tomorrow's breakfast!
    If you are on a budget, and do not have to make a lot of beverages at one sitting, spend the money on the grinder and get the Flair. Even if you are not on a budget, the Flair is an affordable way to get into manual lever espresso making. In a lot of situations the Flair beats any so-called starter espresso maker, and it just might make you a "Lever Head" for life.