If you’re the kind of person who loves coffee making, you’ll love the ROK Espresso maker. Use it alongside a quality grinder and scales, and the results will rival those from super-automatics ten times the price.
What’s more, it doesn’t need electricity – so if you’re camping, you can replace your cowboy coffee with artisan espresso.
On the downside, you’ll need to be prepared to take your time and experiment with grind settings. Those who want a quick and easy cup of Joe should look elsewhere.
Great espresso without electricity
Loads cheaper than semi- or super-automatic options
Ease of use
You’ll need time and practice to get the best results
10 year parts replacement warranty
What others are saying
A search around the internet found several user reviews with positive things to say about the ROK.
This YouTube video from America’s Test Kitchen is particularly glowing. It recommends it as the best manual espresso maker out there.
If, like me, you’ve ever considered buying a machine to make authentic espresso (1), you might have been shocked by the price. And if you weren’t planning on spending hundreds, or even thousands of dollars, you might have given up altogether.
So I did a double take when I first saw the ROK espresso maker. It looks completely different to other espresso machines – and with a price tag just into three figures, it’s a whole lot cheaper too. But does it really deliver?
Things to consider before buying a manual espresso maker
There aren’t many true manual espresso makers on the market – and there’s a reason for that.
With an espresso, there’s nowhere to hide if your shot isn’t pulled right. Ok, you might get away with it if you’re using it as the base for a latte or flat white. In those cases, the milk will disguise some imperfections. But for a coffee aficionado, it’s going to fall short.
A manual espresso machine demands attention to detail. You’re going to need to grind your coffee immediately before brewing. And you should invest in a quality grinder for consistently-sized grounds and even extraction (2).
You’ll need to weigh the grounds too, to get the dose just right. You’ll have to tamp them evenly. You’ll want a timer to check how long you’re taking to pull the perfect shot. And you’ll need to put your cup on a scales and accurately weigh the liquid.
It’s not a job for the faint hearted.
If you want to combine quality and simplicity, you’ll need a different kind of machine. Invest in a super-automatic machine for fast, easy espresso. And for those with more time and shallower pockets, a Moka pot or AeroPress can give good espresso-like results.
And if all you want is coffee that’s consistent time after time, try a single cup brewer. It’s not actually espresso, but you’ll still get that caffeine boost (3). There are loads of models at different price points – brands include Nespresso, Keurig and Tassimo.
ROK espresso maker review
The ROK espresso maker promises everything you need to make coffee shop quality espresso. And as an entirely manual machine, you’re not restricted to places where there’s a power source.
If you’re prepared to take some paraphernalia with you, you could even use it when you’re out camping.
There are other lever espresso machines out there, but most need to be plugged in and are far more expensive.
La Pavoni’s electric lever espresso machines will set you back at least seven times as much as the ROK.
The ROK’s main competitor in the manual stakes is the Flair espresso maker. It’s roughly the same price but uses a single rather than twin levers. The styling is quite different too. The ROK is finished in shiny stainless steel, whilst the standard Flair model is glossy black and red.
If you get a kick out of experimenting with brew ratios and grind sizes, the ROK is a great buy. If you’d rather have another ten minutes in bed in the morning, it’s not for you.
Features and benefits of ROK manual espresso maker
The first thing you’ll notice about the ROK is that it looks completely different to pretty much any other coffee maker out there. It has an almost sculptural quality, with its shiny stainless steel body and arm-like levers extending on either side.
There’s also a variant design using a combination of copper and stainless steel. As a gadget to sit on your countertop, either option makes quite a statement. And you’ll almost certainly find yourself explaining what it is to intrigued visitors.
The construction is solid, with rubber feet protecting your work surface and preventing it from slipping during use. Not every part of the ROK, though, is made of stainless steel – and here there is some room for improvement.
The shower screen through which the water pours is made of silicone and the carafe is plastic. A stainless steel screen and glass carafe would have been more durable and helped keep the coffee warmer for longer.
On the plus side, the machine comes with an impressive ten year warranty. Throughout that period, the manufacturers will provide any replacement part that’s needed. While you may have quibbles about shipping costs, resign yourself to those and you’ll be able to use this inexpensive machine for over a decade.
No need for power
The real beauty of this machine is that it uses the power of the human body. By pulling down on the levers, you’ll generate up to 10 bars of pressure – enough for a great espresso. And while it takes a little force, it’s easy enough to be used by anyone of any age.
If you love camping and aren’t prepared to forego excellent coffee, this machine could be a great choice. You will, though, have to pack a grinder, scales and a pot for boiling your water too.
And you’ll have to be prepared to put some time into the brewing process: this is a machine that demands patience. Send your fellow campers out to collect firewood whilst you grind and measure your coffee. There’ll be no complaints when they taste the results.
Range of accessories included
The machine comes with several accessories. There’s a portafilter, a tamper that doubles as a scoop and a milk frother. There’s also a splitter spout to allow you to pour two espressos at once, just like you can with a single group electric maker.
The whole lot is kept neatly together in a metal container. So if you do want to try espresso making outdoors, it’s easy to carry from place to place.
It’s worth saying that the plastic tamper supplied with the machine is a bit flimsy. Properly compressed coffee is important for even extraction. The water will flow into any cracks or gaps, over-extracting the grounds around the channels.
If you’re thinking of buying the ROK, you might want to invest in your own metal tamper. You can pick one up for little more budget. The specifications say it measures 49mm, but you might want to measure first: some people have found it’s slightly bigger.
If you love lattes, cappuccinos or flat whites, the milk frother is a great little gadget. It’s basically a small pump and, like the rest of the machine, it doesn’t need electricity.
Just heat up your milk, rest the frother on the bottom of the cup, and pump the plunger. That’s right: it’s possible to get the full latte art experience while camping! This YouTube video shows you how it’s done.
Lastly, a word about the scoop. The ROK can make top notch espresso with the right ingredients, so don’t be tempted to cut corners. Grind your coffee right before brewing, and take the time to weigh the grounds accurately.
The scoop can be used to measure by volume, but espresso making is an exact science. You’ll never get the same degree of accuracy as if you weigh the grounds instead. Invest in an accurate kitchen scales and you’ll really taste the difference.
Matching grinder available
One thing that’s not included in the package is a grinder. The right grind is essential – fine enough to allow even extraction, but not so fine that it clogs the filter.
If you’ve bought the ROK, you’ll have saved a lot of cash over electric espresso makers. Invest some of that in a high quality burr grinder that allows small adjustments to the grind size.
You’re aiming for a grind that releases 1.5 ounces of espresso in about 25 seconds. That will give you all the best flavors and aromas from the coffee, without any bitterness creeping in from over-extraction.
Achieving this is where the experimentation comes in. You’ll need a scales to measure the liquid and a timer to check how long it’s taking. If you find you’re extracting 1.5 ounces too soon, grind more finely. If it’s taking too long, try a slightly coarser setting on your grinder.
ROK now manufacture their own burr grinder. It costs slightly more than the espresso machine, and in tests it’s performed well. Take a look at this YouTube video to watch it in action.
It also looks the part, with its stainless steel design matching the espresso maker. And like its counterpart, there’s no need for it to be plugged in, or even for batteries. All the power comes from turning the handle.
One word of advice if you are thinking of using this whilst out camping though: it does need a flat surface. If you want to make espresso round your campfire, you might be better off with a battery powered grinder.
ROK Espresso Maker Alternatives
#1 Flair manual espresso maker
At about the same budget as the ROK, the Nespresso Inissia is a completely different concept.
This electric maker creates a consistent espresso at the touch of a button. There’s no need to weigh or measure anything, and your coffee will be ready in seconds.
You won’t, though, get the flavors of a successful effort with the ROK. And there’s no scope for customization.
#2 Olympia Express Cremina lever espresso machine
If money’s no object, this classic lever operated espresso machine from Olympia will look fabulous on your countertop.
For more than twenty times the price of the ROK, you’ll get a powerful boiler and pre-infusion when you raise the lever. There’s also a steam wand for latte art.
The ROK espresso maker is great value, but it isn’t cheap. Remember that you’ll need to spend money on a quality grinder to get the most from it. And if your priority is speed and convenience, it won’t be the right option.
But if you see coffee making as an art and enjoy experimenting, it may well be the machine for you. Time spent measuring your dose and perfecting your pull will be rewarded with great results.
And with manual operation, there’s now the chance to swap cowboy coffee for real espresso in the great outdoors.