Travel Espresso Makers: These Portable Brewers Get You Caffeinated on the Go
Whether you’re traveling for work or going off the beaten track, the problem for coffee lovers on the road is where to get a good caffeine fix. There are plenty of portable coffee makers on the market, but finding one that makes a true espresso is a slightly harder task.
We’ve done the research and found 8 portable espresso makers that will brew you a great shot no matter where you are. Here’s our guide to finding the best travel espresso machine for your needs.
The Flair Signature Espresso Maker
Yes; it’s a little larger than the others on this list, but hands down it makes the best quality on-the-go espresso at this size. If you can manage the extra space; the Flair will ensure you start every morning off with 10/10 espresso. What a life!
How To Choose the Right Portable Espresso gadget
Don’t just purchase based on size or style. There are a few things you should understand about the portable espresso market (1).
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|Wacaco Picopresso Portable Espresso Maker||
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How important is portability (and weight) for you?
When it comes to deciding on bringing a coffee brewer on your trip, weight may be the deciding factor if you’re highly mobile (i.e. a ‘digital nomad’). Nobody in their right mind would bring a traditional home espresso maker with them, but the portable options do vary greatly in weight too.
Watch Steven from Home Grounds review four portable espresso makers of various weights and sizes in this video:
While all of the espresso makers below are ‘portable’ (in that they come with carrying cases, are durable, and compact), they vary considerably in weight. Some are light enough to reasonably bring along on a multi-day hike, while others are better suited to less weight dependent ventures like canoe camping or an airline’s checked luggage.
Related: Travel coffee makers that make filter coffee (Not espresso)
Ultra Light (<340 grams)
If you intend on backpacking or hiking and waking up to a shot of espresso in a new location daily; then ultra light is the ideal option (unless you are a glutton for both espresso and punishment). Most backpackers tolerate instant coffee as an adequate substitute for the real thing, but we’re here to drink espresso so let’s just assume that isn’t going to cut it.
The lightest portable espresso makers are in the 220-340 gram (8-12 ounce) range and if you pack well can easily be accommodated on a multi-day trek. Have more than one person coming along? Perfect, have them carry some of your gear and treat them to a shot of espresso each morning for their trouble.
This thing will come with you anywhere. But read our reviews below – it has one major drawback.
Light (340-500 grams)
If you intend on taking your espresso maker everywhere except on multi-day hikes, then this weight will be perfect. At this weight, your espresso maker is light enough to toss in an overnight bag, a checked bag, or even a purse without encumbering you.
Portable (>500 grams)
Above half a kilogram portability becomes a function of ease of use, packability, and durability more than weight. These units are best used when based out of a car, a camper, or brought to a vacation house. If you’re the type that will not sacrifice on quality, and travel a little more slowly, this is your weight class.
Does it take ground coffee, pods, or both?
The machines shown below variously brew coffee using ground coffee beans, ESE pods, and Nespresso pods. In my experience, ESE and Nespresso pods are the best choices for camping as they allow the easiest cleanup.
“Leave No Trace” – If you pack it in, pack it out. Coffee grounds might be biodegradable, but don’t leave them at your campsite!
The ability to use ground coffee is a considerable boon as pods are nearly impossible to find outside of major metropolitan areas. Getting to your campsite and realizing you forgot your pods can spell disaster if your espresso maker can’t handle ground coffee. All of the models featured below are able to brew with ground coffee.
Some of the espresso makers listed here can also brew tea – but since brewing tea typically only requires hot water and a tea bag, it shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
Is it covered by warranty?
Espresso makers have a tough jobs. Nearly boiling water, hundreds of PSI, and lots of tiny sealing surfaces all working together. Sometimes they just give up. Wouldn’t you? A warranty brings peace of mind – letting you know that the company that made the gadget you plunked down the better part of a hundred bucks for has faith in its quality control and is willing to repair or replace any failed units.
All of the espresso makers in the following list come with at least a one year warranty, and the incredibly built Flair Signature comes with a 5-year warranty. Typically, warranties do not cover o-rings, glass parts, or other wear surfaces, but if these parts fail they can usually be replaced without much effort or cost.
Don’t forget; You’ll need a Heat Source
One thing that makes most of these espresso makers portable is that they are entirely manual coffee machines. This means that you provide all of the impetus to turn water into espresso. In most cases, this includes heating the water. Some of these espresso makers are indifferent to how you heat the water: microwave, stovetop, grill, whatever. Others, like the aluminum Bialetti Moka Express, can’t be used with a microwave or with induction stovetops.
If finding some way to heat the water is a problem there are a few options that will take care of that step for you – but they will require access to an electrical socket.
These espresso makers work best when they have been preheated. Just like your home espresso maker, a cold machine will result in tepid and unpleasant espresso!
Why not watch our video from below, to see what coffee making on the road looks like? We cover various brewing methods, guaranteed to please everyone.
The 8 Best Portable Espresso Makers for 2020
Let’s take a look at the eight best portable hand espresso makers:
The Flair Signature Espresso Maker looks less like a kitchen gadget and more like something you’d see on a plinth in an art museum (particularly in chrome!). While this is the heaviest espresso maker by far in this list, the Flair actually packs into a relatively compact travel case that makes it great for bringing out to the lake house, visiting the in-laws, or even car camping trips.
The Flair is a true manual coffee machine and offers you complete control over your shot: grind, tamp, water temperature, pressure, and timing.
With lever machines, the barista is in control. If a certain coffee needs a longer pre-infusion or extracts more flavor with a distinct pressure profile, it is easy to do this. They allow creativity and experimentation.
Like many of the offerings on this list the Flair does not require any electricity to operate but will require you to have some means of heating your water. The Flair has an optional pressure gauge for those who are scientifically minded, but it is entirely possible to pull great shots without it.
Watch Scott review it in detail here and you’ll see why we love it so much:
You can also read our Flair espresso review.
The Wacaco Nanopresso Portable Espresso Maker offers a degree of customization not seen in any of the other espresso makers here. The optional Barista Kit comes with multiple sizes of filter basket and water tanks.
Watch Steven’s video on Nanopresso here:
With these additional accessories, the Nanopresso is capable of brewing single shots of espresso, double espresso, long shots of espresso, and any permutation in between. Compared to the Wacaco Minipresso and the Handpresso, the Nanopresso requires less physical effort to use, meaning that even if you’ve got limited hand strength or dexterity you can still make delicious espresso on the go (2).
The Conqueco is one of the heaviest machines on our list, but the hefty package does contain one very important feature – it’s self heating. Investing in an ultra-light coffee maker might save weight in your pack, but you still need a way to heat your water. If you’re on a daytrip and not planning to set up camp, a self-heating coffee maker is going to be much more suitable. It’s also great for road trips.
This coffee maker will also do the extraction for you – no need to pump. The machine will brew directly into the attached cup in 8-10 minutes when using cold water, or around 5 seconds if you happen to have hot water handy. You’ll get 3-4 cups out of a charge when using cold water, or more with hot water.
The manufacturer claims a top pressure of 15 bars, which is more than enough for espresso. But with no option for ground coffee, you will be limited by the quality that you get from Nespresso capsules.
The heater and pump are powered by a built-in lithium battery, which can be recharged with either a wall charger or a car charger (both of which are included). It’s worth noting that you can use the Conqueco while plugged into the car charger to save battery, but not when plugged into the wall.
The Wacaco Minipresso, while not quite as impressive as its younger brother the Nanopresso, is still a rugged machine that delivers delicious espresso. If you’re on a budget but absolutely demand proper espresso, this machine will meet your needs.
The pumping action is a bit stiffer than its competitors, but the underlying mechanism is durable and easy to clean. The one major downside is you’ll have to select whether you want to brew from coffee grounds or from Nespresso pods before you buy – there are separate models for each brewing method.
Read our full Minipresso review.
Ground coffee and original Nespresso capsules are the most common brewing options for portable espresso machines, but the K-FLOW stands out as working with Dolce Gusto capsules too. These are all separate models, but you can purchase adapters from the company that would allow you to have multiple options with the same machine.
Even if you don’t need that kind of flexibility, the KFLOW is a great travel companion, with a clever, compact design. The BPA-free plastic coffee maker folds down to a tiny 6.3 inches long. Once unpacked it reveals two travel cups, and a stand that gives you a sturdy base for pumping.
The ground coffee model will fit up to 12g of coffee in the filter basket, so this isn’t your best option if you like double shots. All models have a water tank of 110 ml, which is the size of a Nespresso lungo.
Wacaco has emerged as the go-to brand for portable espresso makers, with each model aimed at a different traveler. The latest, the Picopresso, is the most “pro-oriented”.
This mainly comes down to the larger 52 mm filter basket (compared to 39 mm on the Nanopresso), which will hold the 18 g needed for a good double espresso. It’s also non-pressurized, which will help deliver that rich crema.
On paper, it’s more compact than the other Wacaco machines at just 4.17 inches long, but it is the only one not to include an integrated cup. The Picopresso comes with a range of extra tools including a funnel to help load the filter basket, a tamper and a distribution tool. It makes for a more professional brewing experience, but there’s more for you to potentially misplace in transit.
Being a machine for the connoisseur, it’s assumed that you’ll be grinding your own beans for the Picopresso. To get the best results from the machine you’ll need an ultra-fine grind, far finer than what you’ll get from pre-packaged ground coffee.
Watch Steven from Home Grounds use and review the Wacaco Picopresso in this video:
Wacaco’s latest travel espresso maker (released in 2019), Pipamoka, is another irresistible delight from their production. This all-in-one coffee maker is entirely hand-operated; it brews up to 236 ml of coffee that you drink instantly after twisting the ring for vacuum-pressured coffee extraction.
Pipamoka is also a thermal cup that keeps your coffee hot for hours. Thus, it’s perfect for outdoor activities like hiking, camping, long walks, or traveling. Additionally, its reusable stainless steel microfilter makes it environment friendly, which is always a big plus.
As with other Wacaco products, Pipamoka comes with additional equipment: a carrying bag, funnel, scoop, brush, warranty card, and instruction book.
Just make sure always to have a source of hot water when using it, and you’re ready to go.
If you are looking to drink your espresso by its lonesome, then other espresso makers on this list will probably be a better choice. However, if your morning pick-me-up involves foamed milk, then the Staresso Portable Espresso Machine is your only portable option that brews espresso and foams milk. An added perk to the Staresso is that if you are traveling light you won’t need to bring a cup as one is built into the machine.
When you’re done, cleanup is a breeze and involves a simple rinsing with warm water. Cleanup is slightly more involved if you find yourself making milk-based beverages, but the company recommends using an alcohol and water solution to ensure a complete rinse.
Some people have noticed that the pumping action of the Staresso is more difficult than other pump-style machines like the Wacaco Nanopresso and Minipresso, so if you have limited hand strength or dexterity you may want to consider foregoing this particular model. The difficulty in pumping seems to increase over time, leading some to doubt its long-term reliability, but the 2-year manufacturer’s warranty offers some peace of mind.
The best portable espresso maker for you is mainly going to depend on exactly how portable you need it to be, but if you have the space, we recommend considering the Flair Signature Espresso. The espresso shots that you get out of this will stand up to any full sized espresso machine, so you won’t have to sacrifice quality while you’re away from home.
Nespresso capsules are recyclable, but only by returning them to Nespresso. This can be done via capsule collection points, Espresso stores or a post. In some countries such as Germany, Sweden, Finland, the capsules can be placed in household recycling bins.
There isn’t a portable espresso maker with built-in grinder, but you might find this feature on portable pour over or French press coffee makers. For a portable espresso maker, you can use a travel grinder, or grind your beans before you leave home.
The best coffee thermos is durable with excellent heat retention. We like the Stanley Classic Volume Bottle, which can keep liquids hot for up to 24 hours. A thermos is a great option to use with a portable espresso maker if you don’t have a way to heat water when hiking.
- Hand powered portable espresso machine – Outdoors coffee maker. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.wacaco.com/pages/nanopresso
- Portable Espresso Machines Market Forecast, Trend Analysis, & Competition Tracking – Global Review 2019 to 2029. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.factmr.com/report/3876/portable-espresso-machines-market
- Espresso Coffee. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.coffeeresearch.org/espresso/definitions.htm