If you want completely hands on, totally manual espresso that is still real espresso, this is your vehicle: It is the La Pavoni Professional, PC-16 model in Chrome.
What makes it manual? You, my friend, are the pump. Your hand is the direct control, via a direct lever system, that pushes water through the bed of coffee. Unlike spring lever espresso machines (most commercial lever machines are spring lever), the Pavoni Professional is a direct lever: it's normal position is hanging down. You lift it up to open the water valve from boiler to grouphead. And then you press down on it -- hard -- to push water through the coffee.
This very action means you control how much water pressure is applied. You control preinfusion. You control the variable pressure if you like. You control it all. The only thing the machine really does is heat up water and maintain the water pressure. Oh, it also heats up water enough to produce steam through the steam wand.
The boiler water is kept at above 212F (100C) so that you do have good steam for foaming milk. The design of the grouphead is such that it acts like a heat sync, bleeding off excessive heat, so your grouphead water ends up being more or less around 200F (give or take 5-7F) for your first shot after the machine's heated up. Pulling successive shots? Be prepared for too-hot water.
Still, there's a certain romance and hands on artisanship from you being a greater part of the espresso brewing process than just pressing a button. And hey, if the machine was good enough for James Bond (Roger Moore, Live and Let Die), it's more than good enough for you!
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