The Flair Espresso Company is not a company to rest on its laurels. Ever since introducing the Flair Espresso machine on Kickstarter back in 2017, the company has not only continued to evolve its products, introduce new variants, upgrade and […]
The Flair Espresso Company is not a company to rest on its laurels. Ever since introducing the Flair Espresso machine on Kickstarter back in 2017, the company has not only continued to evolve its products, introduce new variants, upgrade and update existing models, and in some cases, roll out entirely new espresso machines.
In almost all cases, the company hasn’t left its early adopters behind either: every time a product gets an update or upgrade, Flair has economical upgrade options available whenever it is practical, for existing customers to get the latest and greatest variant of the machine they purchased.
The most recent machine introduced by the company is the Flair 58, originally announced in March, 2021. It’s a machine that borrows a lot from their previous lever machines, but also introduces a lot of new approaches and design choices to really take the manual lever market to a different level. The company has since updated the design of this lever machine twice, with the most recent changes coming available this month of June and July. We’ll detail those changes later, but first, here’s a brief introduction to what some believe is the best direct-lever manual espresso machine on the market.
The Flair 58
Flair Espresso is all about direct-lever action for brewing a shot of espresso. From the very first model (still sold as “The Classic”), the home barista’s arm is the pressure maker for delivering up to 9BAR or more brewing pressure for water pushing through a bed of finely ground, compacted coffee to produce espresso. The company’s approach initially was building a dedicated brewing module, (which they call a brew head) that housed the machine’s filter basket area (or internal portafilter), a water reservoir, and a piston to push the water through the ground coffee placed inside. (nb, we reviewed the original Flair Signature model a few years ago).
The Flair 58 turned these things upside down somewhat by introducing three major changes to Flair’s overall design ethos.
First, the machine would use a standard 58mm filter basket and portafilter, interchangeable with the majority of portafilters and filter baskets used on many higher end home (and commercial) espresso machines. No more finicky and slow proprietary coffee holding systems like their previous models.
Second, it’s the first “powered” Flair Espresso machine, in that the water reservoir in the grouphead is actively heated by a custom heat coil system Flair designed. It’s not a water boiler or a water heat-up system – one still has to add off-the-boil water to the grouphead from a kettle – but instead a keep-hot system, designed both to eliminate the need to pre-heat the grouphead and portafilter area (something that is required with other Flair Espresso devices) and to maintain water temperature if you want to take more time brewing your shot.
The third design change compared to previous Flair machines isn’t talked about enough in many reviews for the Flair 58, and that is the lever design itself. The Flair 58 has a much longer lever arm and a different grip position for controlling the lever. What this means less strain and easier control of applying the 9BAR+ water pressure while brewing the shot. It really is another game changer on its own and makes the Flair 58 much more of a daily driver than the other machines in Flair’s lineup.
Other more minor design ethos changes are present in the Flair 58. For example, the brew group reservoir area is insulated with a rubberized (silicone?) coating. The base is wider and longer for more stability. The base is also designed to be permanently attached to the lever arm assembly, taking away from some of the machine’s packability and portability (though you can still unscrew the two bolts and take the machine apart for compact packing).
The Flair 58 is the biggest model in Flair’s Espresso Machine linup. The frame, base and lever arm parts are made from powder coated die-cast aluminum, but all the parts that touch water or coffee are made from stainless steel (with some silicone gaskets involved). The machine is 36cm (14”) back to front, 30cm (12”) tall in closed lever position. 62cm (24.5”) tall with the lever fully extended.
Major Updates and Changes to the Flair 58
Since its introduction in March 2021, the Flair 58 has gone through two design changes, one back in October of last year (2021), and the most recent one hitting vendor shelves this month and in July.
The biggest change and improvement on the Flair 58 was the introduction of the plunger valve on the grouphead and pressure gauge assembly, back in October of last year. This radically changed the workflow of the machine for the better, and moved the machine away from a “break it down and travel with it” kind of device to a “this really could be my daily driver espresso machine on the counter” device. A brewer you could actually brew shot after shot after shot on, without any extra work removing and re-inserting parts.
Before the change, one had to remove the pressure gauge piston on the Flair 58 every time a shot was brewed, in order to add hot water to the grouphead and reservoir assembly. Once the reservoir was filled up with water, the piston was placed back into the grouphead, with a small twist to lock it into place, ready to be pressed down with the Flair 58’s lever. In many ways, it mimic’ed some of the work flow from the previous Flair Espresso models (though adding coffee for back to back shots was a lot easier).
With the design and modification of the Flair 58’s pressure gauge piston to include a plunger valve design, one no longer had to remove the piston to add hot water. Simply press the piston all the way down (via the lever), pour water into the reservoir,, and then slowly raise the lever: the plunger valve opened allowing the water to flow through into the reservoir / grouphead chamber as the piston rose. Pushing down on the lever again creates a seal in the plunger valve, and forces the hot water through the grouphead onto the packed coffee in the portafilter.
And because it’s Flair Espresso we’re talking about here, they haven’t left early adopters of the Flair 58 out in the cold: the company sells a Plunger Valve upgrade kit for just $46. The improvement in the workflow makes this a must have upgrade, and thankfully, the price is very reasonable.
The next set of improvements have come just this month. Many reviewers complained about the multiple-plug connections and the giant power brick for the Flair 58. The original model and the October 2021 updates had a 3-stage connector for the power source (4 if you include the final power cord into the wall outlet) that also had to be plugged in in a specific series of steps.
As of June 2022, Flair has updated the power connector… somewhat. The giant power brick is still part of the package, but the controller is now hard wired to the grouphead, taking away one of the connections and also any worry about what order the plugs were connected in. Definitely an improvement in the setup and workflow, especially if one is packing and unpacking the machine. Now if only they figured out how to get rid of that power brick…
The second improvement introduced this month is the new hook and gate system to the pressure gauge piston. It’s a small, but very welcome improvement. On the original Flair 58, given that the piston required removal to add hot water, one of the steps involved securing the piston into the lever’s hook connector. When Flair moved to the plunger valve design, one no longer had to remove the piston, yet sometimes the lever arm’s hook would slip out of the piston’s hook cradle, messing up the machine’s operation until it was re-seated.
Because the plunger valve design means never having to remove the piston on the current Flair 58 (or Flair 58s upgraded to the plunger valve design), Flair decided to add a gate to the lever’s hook, which keeps the connection between the lever and piston more solid and sure.
Again, a relatively small change, but a big one for work flow on this machine. The new gate on the lever arm hook doesn’t make the connection permanent, but it is secure and won’t dis-engage. If one still wants the option of travelling with the Flair 58 and breaking down the components for packing, a flip of the gate means easy dis-assembly of the machine.
With all these changes, Flair Espresso has taken a good concept and a good machine to even better levels. We’re working on a comprehensive First Look for the Flair 58, and will have it up on CoffeeGeek very soon.
Mark has certified as a Canadian, USA, and World Barista Championship Judge in both sensory and technical fields, as well as working as an instructor in coffee and espresso training. He started CoffeeGeek in 2001.