Hunting for an On-The-Go Espresso Maker

Tuesday, 8 February 2011 | Tags: , , , , ,

There is nothing that gets me out of bed in the morning like the allure of a steaming cup of freshly-brewed espresso. I love my coffee and I'm quite particular about the roast of the bean, how the espresso is brewed, and how it's served. Unfortunately, I seem to have recently worn out my beloved, 10-year-old espresso maker.

I’ll Miss You, “Old Faithful

I have been a steadfast fan of my Spidem Delizia espresso machine, which has served me well for over a decade. But in the past few months, the crema has become inconsistent. (True espresso aficionados know that a good cup is measured by its crema, the foamy top created by expressing water through the coffee grounds.) The crema from my Spidem Delizia has turned into a bit of a crap shoot lately. Sometimes it’s decent; other times it is non-existent. In addition, the coffee just never seems to be hot enough without a 10 second zap in the microwave.

Time for a Test Drive

Before investing in a costly new countertop machine (which can run upwards of $1000 or more), I decided to give a few other espresso-making options a try. I first turned to a stovetop espresso maker I received as a birthday gift last year. It was an eye opener, literally. The Bialetti Dama makes two cups of rich and very smooth espresso, so strong that I developed a regular post-caffeine eye twitch. (Seriously!) I’ve now started adding some hot water, true Americano style, to help dilute the jolt.

This weekend I added a third option to my caffeine arsenal – the Handpresso Wild Domepod. Yes, it’s quite the handle! I saw it for sale at a neighbourhood coffee shop and simply had to try it. I was hoping it was going to be my new traveling companion, accompanying me wherever I go, whether I’m staying at a hotel with no coffee machine in the room, or on a camping trip where I’m miles away from the nearest java joint.


Handpresso Test

The Handpresso is a portable espresso machine that operates on pneumatic hand pump system, similar to a bicycle pump. Here’s how it works: you pump the machine manually in order to build the pressure to express the coffee. You fill a little filter with your ground espresso, add hot water into the clear dome area, secure the lid, flip the machine over, release the pressure valve, and out comes espresso. You can also buy pods of espresso, but I prefer to use my own grind.

It’s a great idea, in theory. But after extensive testing, I have a few issues with it.

First, it takes quite a lot of work to pump the machine – about 30 to 35 pumps to get the pressure to the required level. And as with any pneumatic pump, the last few are the most difficult. I don’t always have that kind of energy first thing in the morning.

Handpresso pump

Also, the little filter doesn’t hold much coffee; much less than I’d put in either my espresso machine or the percolator. (Then again, the strength of my coffee is leading to twitches so perhaps scaling back is a good thing.)

Handpresso small filter

Thirdly, the dome only holds about two ounces of water – which turns into one tiny espresso. It’s not very practical if you want to make a larger cup or serve more than one person.

Finally, you still need to get your hands on some boiling water. A kettle or camp fire is required as hot tap water just won’t do.

On the plus side, the Handpresso is solid but quite small and can fit easily in a drawer or cupboard. It weighs just over a pound so it’s not too big or too heavy to stash in a suitcase or backpack.

I also like the fact that it’s easy on the environment as it uses no electricity. (Assuming you don’t need to boil the water in the kettle first!) But at $145, it’s definitely not cheap.

The Search Continues…

For trips to a cabin or camping in the wild, I’m still planning on taking my Bialetti Dama stovetop-style espresso maker. A small one like mine will run you about $45. As for hotels, I’m sticking with room service. I need more than a two ounce jolt to get me going in the morning!

If you’ve got a portable espresso machine that you recommend, I’d love to hear about it! 


Join the conversation:


On 02 17, 2011 at 07:58:57 AM, Melanie S. said:

Kristina, a friend of my brothers recomends this portable espresso machine. Twist espresso machine. He travels alot and brings it with him. http://mypressi.com/ hope this is what you were looking for.

On 02 19, 2011 at 07:28:45 PM, Kristina Matisic said:

Thanks for the suggestion, Melanie! I’ll check it out.

On 03 6, 2011 at 02:21:46 PM, Chris H. said:

We are more the “weekend warrior” types when it comes to home espresso making but we’ve been happy with our Starbucks Barista for several years now. It has a milk foamer and looks nice on the counter. I did quite a bit of research at the time and it was a good value for the price, and it doesn’t use the machine-specific espresso packs (not sure what they’re called).

On 04 19, 2011 at 02:26:06 PM, Kristina Matisic said:

Here’s an inexpensive milk foaming tip – heat up your milk and use a small whisk to whip it up. I hold the whisk between my hands and use a rubbing action, as if I was trying to warm up my hands. It definitely does the trick. The best part is I just throw the whisk in the dishwasher!


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