The Flair 58 is the latest and arguably best espresso machine from Flair. Part of the ballooning specialty coffee movement is the desire to be intimately involved in the coffee brewing process. For the real deal coffee lovers, coffee is not just a pleasant taste but a holistic ritual and experience.
And for that reason, many coffee enthusiasts have been drawn and attracted to the manual espresso machine. It is literally as hands-on as you can get with espresso. Even the water pressure applied to the puck is directly controlled by the hand of the brewer.
So in this article, we will consider together the newest model from this well-trusted brand.
Why the Flair 58?
Perhaps one question that needs to be answered early on is why the Flair 58? This is now the fifth type of Flair espresso maker ranging from the basic Neo to the highly acclaimed Flair Pro 2. And especially since the Flair Pro 2 has been so well received, you may wonder why another model? Especially one that does something so unconventional as adds an electrical component.
For the uninitiated, electrical components are often anathema to many in the manual espresso community. I mean, isn’t that the point? That a manual espresso maker is just that, manual? It is what sets them apart from the more popular semi-automatic espresso machines. And so, the addition of a plug-in electrical temperature controller was a potentially controversial move as well as the larger footprint.
Flair Head of Brand Andrew Pernicano explains the move in this way:
We observed that the majority [of Flair owners] are not actually using it in the way that we first intended, which is to be that second machine, the one you travel with. Without that constraint, we were able to redesign a new Flair that didn’t have to fit in such a small space and pack so quickly and easily away. It allows for a more robust, larger platform.
As he noted and is undoubtedly true, most Flair owners use the Flair from the comfort of their kitchen or brewing space. I mean, for travel, you can’t go beyond the Aeropress for size, weight, and ease of use. And so portability is not the primary reason home baristas end up opting for a Flair. Instead, it is functionality, superb shots, and durability. Flair has built a name for lever machines that simply brew espresso well.
However, with the previous models, there were several issues that, while able to be overcome, were finicky. For example, in prior models preheating was time-consuming and caused more than a few burnt fingers over the years. In a connected vein, this meant that pulling multiple shots in a row wasn’t simple. Also, assembly involved the putting together of various components. There were also complaints that the previous models struggled to reach high enough temperatures to deal with light roasts even with preheating.
The Flair 58 is the definitive answer to these questions and concerns. It takes the strengths of the basic Flair espresso machine and adds to it to aid ergonomics and workflow.
Flair 58 – What’s New?
So what is the difference between the Flair 58 and previous models? Well, there is a range of both minor and more significant changes included. One of the first things you will notice upon unpacking is the larger and sturdier size. This reflects the philosophy that the Flair 58 is an espresso machine for the kitchen before it is one for the road. It has a longer lever for better leverage and control, and the lever now has a T-shaped grip on the end. This makes pulling a shot noticeably more enjoyable and comfortable, as well as aiding accuracy.
As noted, it is also the first Flair espresso machine to contain a 58mm detachable portafilter. This is a significant and helpful change. It both makes brewing a lot easier and opens up the wider world of espresso accessories for Flair users. So now you can use your favorite tamper and distributor without having to worry that they won’t work with your Flair espresso.
In addition, this is the first Flair lever machine where the lever can be reraised after extraction without creating suction. This again aids the consecutive pulling of shots.
However, the most significant difference that has sparked the most discussion is the addition of a plug-in electric temperature controller. Even simply in appearance, it does make a difference to see a cord and black box as well as the temperature controller. The temperature controller is the sole electric component and allows you to set the brewing temperature to low (85°/185°), medium (90°C/194°F), or high heat (95°/203°). While you still need a kettle for the actual water that the coffee is brewed in, you now no longer need to worry about the finicky preheating that characterized previous Flair models.
It has been interesting to monitor how this has been received in the manual brewing community. While some have been less than impressed, the majority seem to have seen this as a welcome addition. For the diehards, you can still buy a completely non-electric Flair 58, but now you have the choice. Many enthusiasts have felt that this addition helped improve workflow and ease of use without losing brewing control or that indefinable something that characterizes Flair espresso.
Another difference between the Flair 58 and older models is that the 58 requires the use of a grounds screen for even extraction. This grounds screen comes with the 58 and seems to work effectively for even distribution. Alternatively, you can use an Aeropress filter, but the proper ground screen will work better.
The Flair 58 can hold a maximum of 90ml, and users have commented that the maximum yield possible is in the 55ml range. So no Lungos. By and large the general consensus has been that the Flair 58 is the best Flair yet, albeit also the most expensive. General feedback has been that the greatest advances are not necessarily in shot extraction (which is understandable as the previous Flair models could already pull some superb shots) but in workflow and ease of use.
It has also been noted that the newest member of the Flair family allows for finer grinds which is always a good thing.
Far from losing any of the intricate control over pressure and flow, the extended lever and attached handle make it easier to control these parameters. Similarly, while the heavier and larger frame will be a setback to travelers (remember when we could travel!?!), for the home brewer, they won’t be an issue, and I suspect it will actually prove a positive.
It also comes with a superb pressure gauge which, of course, is helpful for pressure profiling. However, if you really want to get technical, we suggest purchasing and attaching a Smart Espresso Profiler. With this bad boy attached, your Flair 58 will be able to give you almost as much data as the Decent Espresso.
Brewing with the Flair 58
The actual reality of brewing with the Flair 58 is a breeze. Here is how it works.
- Turn on the temperature sensor – this takes 30-90s
- Boil water in kettle and grind beans
- Place grounds in the basket and tamp, place on grounds screen, and lock in the portafilter
- Pour water into the brew chamber
- Set the piston and pull down the lever for the shot
- Pull up on the handle to stop the flow
- Take out coffee grounds and repeat for additional shots
It is that easy.
Flair 58: Is it worth the Price?
So is the Flair 58 worth the dent in your bank balance that it will cause to purchase it? Remember, this is almost twice the price of the Flair Pro 2. Part of the appeal of Flair has been excellent coffee at an affordable price. But with the Flair 58, it is not quite that simple.
We would answer that it depends on where you are in your journey with espresso. If you have never owned a manual lever machine and want to test one out, this is probably overkill. You would be better off with one of the earlier cheaper models. See our overview of the other models in the Flair Espresso range or our guide to the best manual espresso machines.
However, if you are already sold on lever espresso machines and Flair, the Flair 58 is worthy of consideration. If nothing else, it simply will make your life and brewing routine that much easier and more enjoyable. You lose nothing and gain increased workflow, better functionality, and a greater capacity for brewing multiple shots consecutively! So while Flair espresso certainly took a risk with the Flair 58, it was not a risk in vain.