Technically, I’m cheating with the Handpresso Auto Hybrid. It requires 12V power to operate. But if you travel by vehicle and have access to a 12V socket (a cigarette lighter socket), the Handpresso Auto makes a quick espresso. The Auto Hybrid’s extraction is very close to that of the Wild Hybrid, our Runner Up.
Like its hand-pumped sibling, the Auto Hybrid can use either ESE pods or ground coffee. Put in your grind, tamp it down, and add an ounce of water. It takes about two minutes for the water to heat and you can watch the progress on the tiny display screen. It will beep three times when it’s ready. Turn it upside down and press the brew button to start the extraction. (For safety, the brew button won’t do anything until you flip it over.)
There’s one quirk to the auto-detection tech: Most bottled water won’t work because the mineral content is too low. This may also apply to water from some filtration systems, though I did not have any problem using it with water that had been through a simple charcoal filter system.
Why I Didn’t Test the AeroPress
Coffee must meet three requirements to qualify as espresso.
It must be brewed under pressure instead of infused.
It should have a very high brew ratio, usually two parts water to one part coffee; brewed coffee is more like 15 to one.
Espresso tends to be darker, heavier, and richer than infusion brewed coffee. As such, the beans are typically a darker roast, though I’ve noticed lighter roasts may be growing in popularity.
For this review, I limited the options to pressurized brewers, which is why there’s no AeroPress or moka pot, neither of which make espresso. (A moka pot is pressurized, but not enough to qualify as espresso.)
How to Make Great Portable Espresso
There are three basic, vital espresso tips I’ll leave you with.
Find Good, Fresh Beans: If you haven’t made espresso before, start with high quality beans. Quality beans can make even cheap brewing equipment shine. To get high quality beans, you need fresh beans. Find a local coffee roaster in your area.
If you don’t have a coffee roaster nearby, you can order beans online or try one of the pre-ground espresso blends at your local grocery store. I’ve tried popular espresso blends like Lavazza, Medaglia D’Oro, and Café Bustelo. Medaglia D’Oro has a smoother flavor than the others, but it’s still more bitter than freshly roasted and ground whole beans.
For testing, I used beans from Jittery Joe’s roasting company in Athens GA, specifically the Wake-n-Bake blend. (Disclosure: I worked for Jittery Joe’s for many years, so I grew to like its coffee.) I also used an espresso blend from Fahrenheit Coffee Roaster in Mancos, Colorado. The latter are the best beans I’ve purchased in the United States in two years of traveling.
Get a Quality Grinder: Once you have good, freshly roasted beans you need to grind them. You’ll want a burr grinder, which grinds your beans evenly rather than chopping them like a blade grinder. I use a well-loved Hario Mini that I’ve had for years, but if I were buying a new one I’d get a stainless steel grinder like this Mueller Manual Coffee Grinder.