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An espresso maker is a must for any coffee lover. Whether it’s manual, semi-automatic or full-on automatic, most coffee-mad people I know see their espresso maker as their prize coffee-related possession!
Why do people love espresso makers so much? Because espresso is not only the platonic ideal of coffee on its own, but also the basis of almost all of the world's most popular coffee drinks. With steamed milk, over ice, even in a boozy cocktail, espresso is the perfect coffee base!
So, espresso is important if you love coffee. It really opens up avenues, even if you don’t love drinking it in its pure form.
But there’s an issue.
Most espresso machines are bulky, expensive, complicated or some combo of those things.
What to do if you live minimally, have a tiny or shared kitchen (hello, millennial living!) or like to travel?
There is a solution!
In this article, I’m looking at ten of the very best portable espresso machines.
Why a Portable Espresso Maker
You might want a portable espresso machine to take to work (goodness knows I’ve worked in some offices with abysmal coffee-making options), to take on trips, whether these are just holidays or you are trying out the digital nomad lifestyle, or as a day-to-day option in a small space.
These portable options range from very cheap to very reasonable. That’s to say, none of them should break the bank and you’ll certainly be able to find one to fit your budget.
They also make great gifts for coffee-loving friends or family, as they’re a useful, often stylish gadget that is easy to overlook until you’re planning your big trip. Or moving into a studio with a single burner and a microwave for a ‘kitchen’!
What to Look out for
There are a few really key considerations to take into account when choosing a portable espresso maker that will work for you.
Obviously, there’s the usual issues: price, style, the volume of coffee it makes, but when we’re talking portable you also need to think about how and when you will use your portable espresso maker, must take these things into consideration before whipping out your credit card.
1. Usage Style
Are you going to use the machine mostly at home, or will you take it to work or on trips? If you take it on trips, what’s your travel style? Are you five-star luxury, or five-countries, five-weeks, one-backpack?
2. Size and Weight
Realistically, for serious travellers the size and weight of a portable espresso maker are going to be key.
Some of the espresso machines on this list weigh under a lb, and would fit in most pockets so you’re sure to find something.
Obviously, a smaller espresso maker might make less coffee at one time, so would be a bit of personal kit or perfect for use by a couple on the road.
3. Electric or Manual
Finally, when we’re thinking about travelling: Electricity. Can you plug your machine in? If not… maybe go manual?
For less intense travellers, there are lots of great options that are all about getting in touch with your coffee and having an espresso experience without too much fuss or mess. These are the perfect choice for hopping between home and work, giving as a gift to a friend who can’t get enough coffee, or plugging in at a hotel.
Vaccum vs Press vs Pot
Portable espresso makers come in three main categories: Moka pot, espresso press and vaccum system.
The vacuum system, which was widely popularised by the Aeropress, uses a paper filter or porta filter and a vacuum pump. Water is added to the coffee in the filter, then you have to manually push to create a vaccum that forces hot water through the coffee at pressure.
Your arm strength plays some role, but up to 20 bars of pressure can be achieved with the best of these machines!
An espresso press works in a similar manner. With a press, a leaver system replaces the vaccum system to magnify the power of your arm.
You can really play around with speed and power in a manual press, as well as gaining some control over your espresso from the tamping step that is missing from most vacuum machines. Small changes will be noticable in the crema, aroma and extraction speed of your espresso. This is one for the curious coffee-conoseur who wants total control!
Finally, we come to the moka pot. Otherwise known as a percolator (mostly throughout Europe), this is the kind of espresso maker I grew up with at home.
Simple but fun to observe, a moka pot consists of two halves of a usually metal pot, with a portafilter and a sprout from the portafilter into the upper chamber. Cold water goes in the bottom half of the pot, coffee in the portafilter. As the water boils on the stovetop it is forced through the coffee and espresso shoots out into the top chamber.
Simple, elegant, user friendly, but also liable to burn coffee if forgotten about (this may or may not have happened to me approximately a million times).
There are a few really hard-wearing, beautiful moka pots available from mainly Italian suppliers who have perfected their pots over decades. They’re a great addition to any kitchen.
The classic stovetop pot can go over any heat source — be that a single burner camp stove or a carefully managed camp fire.
Newer electric pots, some with hot plates, obviously need mains power. But they eliminate the scalded coffee issue with auto shut offs and in some cases clear upper chambers so you can watch the magic happen and avoid potential coffee in the face from having to guess and listen as to when your espresso is done.
So, that’s our categories. Let’s have a look at our contenders:
1. Flair Signature
I’ve written about Flair before. It’s a beautiful bit of kit and encourages espresso-making as an art form, not a utilitarian task.
The crema is excellent on coffees made with the Flair, and you can really get in touch with the process of making your espresso. To make great espresso with this press you will need access to a burr grinder, so a portable one would be a great advantage!
Making espresso in the flair is physical. I see this as a good thing — but that’s in my own kitchen. You need a flat surface, and the power to get the lever down hard.
This is technically a portable espresso maker, but I wouldn’t take it on an extended trip. It’s simply too heavy and bulky to shove into a backpack and carry around Europe!
It would, however, be a great addition to a weekend city break or a getaway in a country cottage.
If you want style and substance, and don’t mind paying a slight premium for them then get yourself a Flair.
2. Wacaco Nanopresso
With up to 18-bars of pressure, this tiny portable espresso maker gets close to professional espresso machine results at a fraction of the price and size.
The new portafilter design for the Nanorpresso means it’s easier to clean and maintain than previous models. It’s also lighter, smaller and requires less strength to pump (15% less to be precise).
Just like earlier models, this offering from Wacaco is a truly portable espresso maker. It will fit in a pocket, let alone a backpack, and is begging to be taken on adventures.
That being said, you will need to grind your coffee for the best result. If you can’t do that daily, you can also use an airtight canister of fresh-ground espresso beans. Either way — the coffee and prep equipment will take up more space in your pack.
Adaptors are available to use Nespresso capsules with the Nanopresso, but that really would add bulk to a trip! It could however be a great add-on for easy, clean espresso prep at home while using minimal space.
Overall, if portability and adaptability are your main concerns, then the Nanopresso is perfect for your needs.
3. Staresso Portable Espresso Machine
The Staresso is another great, very portable espresso machine. It comes with a glass that fits into the machine for a perfect ‘golden ratio’ pour, with a dark base and a thick, beautiful crema.
With a max of 20-bar pressure, the Staresso has the ability to deliver real cafe-quality results on the go.
Unusually, you can easily make even cold brew coffee with this mini machine in just minutes!
The Staresso is just a tad heavier than competitors, but still super portable. You will need access to ground coffee or a portable grinder, as well as hot water.
Available in three colors, the Staresso is trying for style but is beaten on that front by competitors. It is, however, super practical.
The Staresso can’t be beat for its price to functionality ratio!
4. De’Longhi EMK6
This automatic mocha pot is a different sort of portable espresso maker.
The EMK6 does need electricity to work from its mains plug, so may not be great for a camping trip. It does, however, make up to six cups of espresso, which is a big step up on the personal pump-based espresso maker options for on the go.
The pot can be lifted from its cool-touch base for serving, and the hot plate will automatically switch off. So those rushed travel mornings or quick coffees in the office don’t have to be followed by worries about whether you switched to coffee maker off!
One of the best features of this sturdy, great value mocha pot is its see-through espresso container. Usually, knowing when your espresso is ready is a matter of trial and error with mocha pots, and it is easy to scorch your coffee. With the Delonghi, though, you can watch the perfect dark espresso spurt from its spout!
If you don’t plan to hop from place to place much and want a really easy espresso in the AM, give the De'Longhi EMK6 a chance.
5. Aeropress Coffee and Espresso Maker
The Aeropress is pretty much the classic vacuum espresso maker, and its brought us great easy espresso at home, work, and on the go fo years.
The Aeropress remains excellent value, though easy to use and easy to clean.
The disposable filters aren’t the most environmentally friendly, but you can now get reusable filters from third-party suppliers.
Aeropress claims that a pressing makes 1-3 cups of American-style coffee in a minute, but I have struggled to get more than 2 cups of American or 2 big espressos. And it takes me more than a minute because there is the potential to make a mess due to the open system.
Whatever the exact timings, though, Aeropress makes a great cup of coffee quickly and it’s cheap.
If you want the absolute classic in modern on-the-go espresso, go for Aeropress!
6. Bialetti Moka Express
A stovetop Moka pot may seem a little old hat when compared with some of the more high-tech offerings on this list. But sometimes, things are classics for a reason!
The joy of it being stovetop rather than electric is that its extra portable. You’re going camping? No problem! You can stick this thing on a gas burner or a campfire. And you don’t need a kettle or other hot water source on top of the espresso maker. It’s an all in one situation!
Bialetti are the absolute masters of Moka espresso pots like this and have been producing them for generations. This pot will look great at home as well as a way and will make great espresso for years without needing any repairs or replacement parts. Plus, it takes up the space of about two mugs!
If you want espresso the way Italians have made it at home for generations, you’ll get that from the Bialetti Moka Express.
7. UniTerra Nomad Portable Espresso Maker
This amazing, space-age looking gadget is designed with the longterm traveler in mind. I mean, it is the ‘Nomad’ after all.
It’s at the real top end of pricing and quality when it comes to portable espresso makers, but that absolutely makes sense for its target audience of adventurers. It is small, incredibly portable and easy to operate, and comes in a range of bright and hard to misplace colors.
With a lever and two tiny piston-fed water pumps, this miniature machine mimics the work of a much larger espresso maker right down the inbuilt pressure gauge! Not particularly reliant on strength, you make a Nomad espresso by pumping the lever 8-10 times, which forces water through tiny jets and in turn through your perfectly tamped coffee (tamper included, of course).
The shots this thing pulls are genuinely amazing – perfect crema, minimal effort. It works best with fresh-ground coffee, of course, but will work with the closest you can get wherever you are on your adventures.
The only issue might be its assault-on-the-eyes coloring, though as I said that at least makes the Nomad hard to lose! And a price that budget travelers will balk at.
Maybe get it for your favorite nomad as a big (but… small) gift and keep them in great espresso through their adventures?
This is most definitely the best choice for explorers who have a taste for the finer things!
8. Bodum Travel Press
The Bodum Travel Press is actually a French press, so though it makes strong coffee it’s not technically espresso.
With a double-walled body, your drink will stay warm for a couple of hours whether you’re sipping it at red lights or involved in an Excel spreadsheet you simply can’t tear your eyes away from.
The press works on ground coffee but also with teas and infusions, though I would be careful with black teas as they tend to become bitter with long steep times.
It’s available in a variety of colors, with non-slip silicone detailing and a spill-proof lid.
This is a really simple option that solves the problem of coffee on the go without any bells and whistles. It’s not going to be the answer for gadget lovers or total coffee aficionados, but it absolutely does the job with the usual pinch of Bodum style and slug of Bodum practicality.
If you need a coffee option for getting to A to B and then B back to A, maybe sometimes taking a trip to C, then go for the Bodum Travel Press.
9. Handpresso HP WILD Hybrid
Available in black, or silver with various bright highlights, this hand press looks suspiciously like a medical instrument at first glance. Don’t worry though, it really does make good espresso!
Amazingly, the HP Wild is based on a bicycle pump and operated in a similar way. Your pumping forces air through the chamber, and hot water through your coffee. The pumping action creates 16 bars of pressure, equivalent to many at-home machines.
Usefully, the HP Wild Hybrid can be adapted to take coffee pods, or works with ground coffee. It makes 50ml of espresso at a time but is very easy to clean and use again if you need to make a couple of shots.
This tiny little thing would fit in anyone’s luggage or desk drawer and is very fairly priced considering how hardy it is. I mean, with something so small and simple there’s pretty much nothing to break!
The machine comes with two portafilters as standard, one for ground coffee and one for pods. There is also a range of accessories available, from a neat travel case to a thermo-flask. Each of these is really well priced, so you could easily put together a set for yourself or as a gift.
The HP Wild is a real chameleon. This little thing would work pretty much anywhere and for anyone! The Wild gets my ‘all rounder’ badge of honor.
Last Words on Portable Espresso Makers
This is such an amazing part of the coffee world! There has been wild amounts of innovation in portable espresso technology over the last few years.
Of course, I will always have a soft spot for two of my oh! god coffee making loves: Aeropress and the humble Bialetti percolator. I’ve travelled the world, camped, moved continents, all with my trusty Aeropress packed where I can grab it. And I grew up with an Italian Moka pot and love to use a large one for lazy-Sunday espresso making for friends. But things have moved on!
I might use a Waccaco Nanopress on long trips now, and my goodness the UniTerra Nomad is the DREAM for small-space living or great coffee on a trip if you can afford it.
I am clearly over excited by all these options and need to be talked down. Maybe I’ve had too much coffee?
Anyway, as ever do let me know if you have any additions to this list (like I need more excitement!) or have had a particularly great experience with any of the options I went into. Travel story time?
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