Manual espresso makers are somewhat uncommon, and for good reasons, they tend to produce an inconsistent product, and for many, their only feasible purpose is for when you’re traveling. However, despite this inconsistency, the Espresso GC’s simple mechanisms and high-quality build (and product) might just change that for some people.
What could possibly make a human-powered manual machine superior (or even a feasible option) over an automatic one? Read on through this Rok espresso review, and we’ll be happy to show you!
Manual Vs. Automatic (and Superautomatic)
As you might have guessed, one of the best reasons to consider a manual espresso maker like the Rok is its price. This unit isn’t cheap, but if you’re looking to get a quality espresso maker, you’re likely prepared to pay a premium for it anyway. In any case, any machine that relies on electricity instead of human power like the Rok will generally cost more.
Keep in mind that each extra cost and feature comes at the expense of ease of use and customizability. As a general rule, you can expect each type of espresso maker to have the following features:
- Manual espresso makers must be operated entirely by hand, including preparing the coffee beans.
- Semi-automatic espresso machines offer varying amounts of features ranging from automatic to super-automatic (and even some manual features).
- Automatic espresso makers will usually require you to grind and tamp your own beans, but everything else in the process is handled for you.
- Super-automatic espresso machines automate every aspect of the process for you, including preparing your beans.
If you’re someone who likes to be totally in control of the taste of your espresso, then you’ll likely appreciate the greater control that a manual machine provides. It does require some practice to get it exactly right, but some people argue that mastering the manual machine gives a better final result than any automatic machine could ever create.
The Rok Espresso GC
The Rok Espresso GC is the second generation of Rok’s human-powered espresso press, previously deemed the Presso. The Espresso GC has a glass composite chamber that is purportedly more durable than its predecessor, in addition to a higher pressure piston and better insulation.
The Espresso GC also comes in two color schemes: all-aluminum with a black chamber, and a “black” version with a powder-coated black body that retains the aluminum arms.
Rok claims that the Espresso GC is the way to go to make your own pro-quality espresso without any extra fuss. The metal portions of the Espresso GC are guaranteed to last for ten years, though whether the composite materials will last that long isn’t entirely clear.
The Espresso GC comes with the original unit, a portafilter, a tamper/spoon, and a 2-cup splitter. Do note that it does not come with a grinder – you’ll need to provide your own.
The Rok Espresso GC is not a travel unit, though it’s definitely a space saver compared to automatic espresso machines. It’s easy to stash away in a cabinet when not in use.
Things we like:
- Space-saving design
- Built to last
- Portable, if necessary
Room for improvement:
- Pricy for a manual unit – rivals some automatic units
- Doesn’t come with a grinder, which raises the price further
- The tamper and splitter are plastic components; they don’t measure up with the rest of the high-quality metal design
Full Feature Breakdown
While this is a relatively simple espresso maker, that doesn’t mean it lacks features.
A manual espresso maker like the Rok Espresso GC has a plethora of small, daily-use differences from electronic units. The one you’ll likely notice first is the noise this unit makes. An automatic espresso maker, especially a programmable one, might wake you or a guest up as it grinds your beans, preheats, or pulls your espresso.
Additionally, cleaning the Espresso GC couldn’t be easier. Unlike most electronic units, the entire Espresso GC can be submerged in water if it needs a thorough cleaning.
Build and Operation
As you’ve seen, this manual espresso maker uses twin arms on each side to pull your espresso shot. Competing espresso makers often use just one arm, but the dual-arm design that the Rok uses offers some stability advantages. Since you’re pressing down on both sides simultaneously, the unit is easier to hold in one place.
While the predecessors to this unit had a plastic reservoir that would break too easily, the Rok Espresso GC has ostensibly fixed the issue. Rok claims that its glass composite reservoir is just as durable as its other metal components.
The Rok Espresso GC’s body is made of aluminum instead of alternatives like stainless steel. Aluminum is durable and, more importantly, lightweight, in addition to being rust-proof. While it’s not likely that you’ll be able to dent or deform your Rok unless you go out of your way to do so, it’s worth noting that aluminum is easier to damage than steel.
Operating the unit is easy, but it requires some practice. The temperature of the water you use, how quickly you pull the shot, how much pressure you use, and more are all up to you. As a result, it can be challenging to get a consistent result with this espresso machine. Each cup will be slightly different regardless of how much you practice.
The Rok Espresso GC has an internal piston that you activate by depressing the twin levers on each side. Along with your human power, this piston can reach between 5-10 bars of pressure, well within accepted standards for espresso machines.
Because this machine relies entirely on the pressure you apply to the arms; it can be a bit of a workout use. This can be off-putting in the early morning when you’re groggy and not fully awake yet!
The Rok Espresso line has come with various accessories through its various incarnations. In the past, the Presso model, for example, came with a carrying tin and a milk frother. However, the current model only comes with a tamper, portafilter, and double spout. The dual spout, which is detachable, and the tamper are both made of plastic and leave a bit to be desired.
Do note that, as an optional accessory, Rok offers a manual bean grinder that purportedly works very well. While it’s also a bit bulky, it’s a great accompaniment to the Espresso GC.
Like many espresso makers, the Rok Espresso GC functions best after it’s been preheated. Some Rok espresso reviews state that failure to do so can result in too much temperature loss during brewing, meaning you’ll get an inferior cup of espresso.
Fortunately, preheating this manual unit is easy. Just pour boiling water into the unit, lift the handles, and leave it for a minute or two to warm the unit. When you’re done, press the handles back down and extract the water. You can heat the portafilter separately by setting it in a bowl or cup of boiling water.
Like we mentioned above, the metal parts on this espresso maker are guaranteed by the manufacturer to last for ten years. However, some Rok espresso reviews do say that trying to contact Rok for replacement parts can be difficult.
Because the Rok Espresso GC is entirely manual, you can use it anywhere – this includes while camping, on vacation, while the power’s out, and more. Additionally, this product is much greener than an electric espresso maker, so you can feel good about helping the environment while you enjoy your espresso.
We wouldn’t recommend purchasing this exclusively to save money on electricity – it’s unlikely to save you enough money to warrant buying it over an inexpensive electric unit – the satisfaction of knowing you’re reducing your energy footprint is valuable in its own right.
Rok espresso reviews consistently state that the crema from this machine is top-notch, and we definitely agree! Something about Rok’s manual process creates an incredibly authentic crema but getting the hang of making this perfect crema can be a bit of a challenge.
Behind the Rok
The purpose of the Rok is to create a durable, attractive product that creates an authentic and delicious cup of espresso. It’s not a product for everyone – it’s intended almost exclusively for espresso connoisseurs who care for nuances in the taste of their drink.
Rok caters their espresso machine to an audience who desires a more authentic experience over modern tools. In theory, the device is easy to use; depending on your familiarity with technology, it might even be easier for you to use than some of the more complicated automatic brewers.
However, while it’s easy to use, the Rok has a bit of a learning curve. Making the perfect cup of espresso will require time, effort, and plenty of testing. It’s only for those who are genuinely dedicated to the craft (or those willing to be persistent or stubborn enough to get the job done).
The price point of the Rok Espresso GC is a point of apparent contention. If quality isn’t an issue, you, as a savvy buyer, can likely find small espresso machines on the market for less than $50. The Rok Espresso GC is more than three times that. So, what exactly makes it worth buying over a cheap automatic model?
I’d argue that the first point in the Espresso GC’s favor is its build quality. You’d be hard-pressed to find an espresso maker for less than $50 that’s made of anything better than plastic, and any included warranty isn’t likely to be longer than a year.
Second is the quality of the product you receive. Granted, the product you get from the Espresso GC depends on your own skill to an extent, but assuming that you execute everything flawlessly, the Rok will give you an incredible cup of espresso. While I can’t say that no cheap units will be able to compare, most of them won’t come close.
The third is the time-insensitive nature of this product: it’s built to last. If you only buy $50 espresso makers, you may end up replacing them every second or third year.
Assuming you keep your Rok for ten years (though it will probably last much longer than that), you could go through two, three, four, or even more cheap automatic espresso makers at that time. Then the price makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it?
Finally, the Rok Espresso GC will never be obsolete. There are no wires, computers, or lights to contend with. As long as you keep it clean, it will serve you indefinitely. The same can’t be said for automatic espresso makers, which become eclipsed by newer technologies and features in only a few short years.
The Final Verdict: Why Manual?
All in all, a manual espresso maker isn’t a half-bad idea, wouldn’t you agree? The Rok Espresso GC definitely isn’t for everyone, though. Those who are just looking for a quick, hassle-free cup of espresso in the morning will probably find the GC to be too much to deal with.
However, as far as benefits go, there are some key takeaways. They include:
- Cleanliness: the Rok Espresso GC can be fully submerged and sanitized.
- Portability: the Espresso GC can be used anywhere with a flat surface (and hot water).
- Price: the Espresso GC is a bit pricy, but still comparable with most espresso brewers.
- Durability: The Rok Espresso GC is built to last for decades.
A popular contender with the Rok Espresso GC is the Flair Espresso Maker. The entry-level Flair comes in at just slightly less than the Rok, and according to Rok espresso reviews, it creates a similar high-quality cup of espresso.
The main difference between these two is in the design, as Flair has only one lever for operation. However, the Flair also comes in Flair Signature and a Flair Pro 2 options, both of which include upgrades in features (and price). The Signature and Pro 2 both come with pressure gauges, for example, which the Rok lacks.
Rok Espresso GC Review: Espresso Powered By You
Manual espresso makers are almost unheard of these days, but the Rok Espresso GC is still here to represent. Check out our full guide review of the Rok Espresso machine.
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