Travel Espresso Makers: These Portable Brewers Get You Caffeinated on the Go
Whether you’re looking for a portable espresso maker to take camping or to use in an Airbnb while on the roast; it’s important to find one that actually makes espresso. Between scalding hot water and high pressure, espresso makers require precise tolerances and careful engineering to function to produce a rich and cream-rich shot.
Portable espresso makers take these constraints….and add the additional complexity of miniaturization. Make sure to start each morning of your vacation off with a shot of freshly brewed espresso instead of with frustration and under-extracted brown water!
The 10 options below run the gamut from ‘ultra-light’ to ‘modern-art’ and all produce reliable espresso in a matter of minutes. No 2 are the same, however, so which portable espresso machine will fit your needs? Let’s find out.
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!
Interested in seeing the flair in action? Here’s Scott from our team putting it through the brewing test:
How To Choose the Right Portable Espresso gadget
||Handpresso Wild Hybrid||
||Flair Signature Espresso||
Don’t just purchase based on size or style. There are a few things you should understand about the portable espresso market (1):
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.
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.
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 10 Best Portable Espresso Makers for 2020
Let us take a look at the 10 best portable hand espresso makers:
Looking like a cross between a bicycle pump and something you’d find in the bottom drawer of a bedside table, the Handpresso Wild Hybrid certainly doesn’t look like an espresso maker. But, appearances can be deceiving: this hand-powered machine delivers reliable espresso time after time. While not perhaps light enough to justify bringing along on a multi-day hike, it is easy to throw into luggage. The body of the unit is metal and it feels like you could use it as a hammer in a pinch (note: do not use as a hammer).
The “Hybrid” designation of this unit lets you know that it is capable of brewing ESE pods as well as ground coffee. If you only need one or the other, cheaper models are available.
Unique amongst the collection of portable espresso makers shown here is that this unit is pressurized first and then filled with water. This makes the process of brewing into espresso cups particularly easy since you don’t have to pump the machine and aim simultaneously.
I have personally used this unit every day for 4 months, averaging 5 or 6 shots of espresso per day, in addition to bringing it on countless other trips. I’ve made espresso with it from the Okefenokee Swamp to the Mojave Desert and it still works like new.
Read our Handpresso Wild Hybrid review.
- Built to last
- Easy to use
- Awkwardly shaped
2. Handpresso Auto – Best Self-heating Espresso Maker
“Best choice for RV’s, trailers or boats that don’t have the space for a regular espresso machine.”
Weight: 880 grams
- Works with: Ground coffee and ESE pods
- Heat Source: Built-in heat source. Requires 12-volt power source, or wall socket with 120v to 12v transformer
The Handpresso Auto is the only 12-volt powered model in this list, making it perfect for long car or RV trips. This unit is essentially a tiny countertop unit, heating and pressurizing the water. While larger and heavier than the Handpresso Wild Hybrid, the Handpresso Auto’s requirement of 12-volt power means you probably weren’t planning on taking this unit on any long hikes!
- Does not require access to hot water
- Good for those with low hand dexterity/strength
- Requires 12volt power or an adaptor
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.
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, 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).
- Super compact
- Ultra Lightweight
- Optional Large Water Tank
- Easy to use
- A little more expensive than the slightly larger/heavier Wacaco Minipresso
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.
- Slightly cumbersome
- Limited to a single brew type
An upgrade to their earlier model, Oomph 2.0 is a lightweight and more powerful portable espresso maker.
At first sight, it may remind you of an AeroPress. But this is a somewhat different thing. In less than the 30s, Oomph 2.0 will produce 370ml of black coffee. It does so by applying high pressure and, at the same time, separating the brew from the grounds. The inventors claim this move prevents the bitterness that occurs from over-extraction. We also have a detailed review of the original Oomph, so why not have a look?
Oomph is made from Tritan, a heavy grade plastic that is BPA free. It also comes with a domed filter. All parts are dishwasher safe, so you don’t have to worry if you decide to wash it with the rest of your dishes.
However, some customers have complained that Oomph doesn’t fit in most of the car travel cup holders. So, before you decide to purchase it, make sure that the size actually fits a mug holder in your car.
- Easy to use
- Dishwasher safe
- Requires external heating source
UniTerra Nomad is one of the heaviest and bulkiest on this list. But trust us when we say that this won’t be an issue if you focus on the quality of espresso it makes. You might not wish to carry it with you when you go hiking, but you can definitely use it for camping or traveling.
The seesaw motion of the small lever operates two tiny piston water pumps. Pressure builds up over a few strokes. Ideal 8 to 10 bars of brewing pressure is at your fingertips.
Its espresso is of equal, if not better quality, as one made in fancy espresso machines (3). This is due to UniTerra’s patented True Crema Valve (TCV) that helps in achieving a beautifully thick cream consistently.
On a downside, UniTerra Nomad is the most expensive travel espresso maker on this list. But, if you don’t mind paying an extra buck for the best espresso quality, this is a deal for you. Moreover, its unique design resembles the famous Lego, which is how it stands out from the rest of the portable coffee toys.
- Easy to use
- Amazing espresso
- Cool design
- Requires access to hot water
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.
- Requires external heating source
8. Staresso SP-200 – Best for Milk Drinks
“Best choice if you want to make foamed-milk based beverages like cappuccinos and macchiatos while on the move.”
Weight: 440 grams
- Works with: Ground coffee and Nespresso pods (Note: In order to use Nespresso pods the user must poke holes in the pods manually.)
- Heat Source: Requires external heat source
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.
- Able to foam milk
- Includes cup
- Easy to clean
- Requires a fair amount of strength to use
- Questionable long-term durability
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.
- Virtually indestructible
- Not suitable for use with induction burners or microwaves
CISNO is the second self-heating espresso maker on our list. Like Handpresso Auto, CISNO brews with both ground coffee and coffee pods. But differently from Handpresso, this little machine does not require a wall sock, because of its lithium battery. Still, you will also get a 12-volt car charger should you empty the battery too soon. Best of all, CISNO can make a 15-bar high pressured espresso, ristretto, and lungo.
Unfortunately, some customers have complained about its battery not working correctly and its charger taking too much time to recharge.
- Espresso variety
- Ground coffee and coffee pods
- Unreliable battery
THE VERDICT: Which portable espresso maker do we recommend?
Finding the right portable espresso machine might be the difference between starting your day on the trail or vacation off with a cup of espresso or starting it off with frustration and a mess. Any of the above espresso makers will serve you well – although the right choice for you will depend on where you want to bring it.
If you want the best quality coffee – go for the Flair espresso maker. For a combination of quality and portability however: The Wacaco Nanopresso Portable Espresso Maker will serve you well. Now all you need is a bag of espresso beans like these, a few tips on how to extract espresso – and you’re good to go!
- 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