Want to brew your own espresso, but don’t have the space or budget for a full espresso machine? Manual espresso makers are super-compact and much more affordable than automatic espresso machines.
Best of all, they don’t need electricity to operate so you can use them anywhere. We’ve reviewed our favorite manual espresso machines here, along with some helpful info that can help you pick the right one for you.
You can enjoy delicious espresso everywhere from the office to a campsite with the Wacaco Minipresso GR. The pod design integrates the cup as a cover for transportation. Since it’s both lightweight and completely self-contained, it’s easy to take with you on the go. It’s durable, too, so you don’t have to worry about it breaking during travel.
The innovative design of the Wacaco Minipresso uses a semi-automatic piston to produce up to 8 bars of pressure during the brew. That’s not quite up to par with professional machines but is enough to produce a good amount of crema. The taste of the espresso is fantastic, as well, with an even, full extraction and silky mouthfeel.
Another super-portable option from Wacaco is their Nanopresso Portable Espresso Maker. It’s an upgraded version of the Minipresso above with a more efficient pump system. This allows it to generate the same 18 bars of pressure you’d get out of a commercial espresso machine. It’s the best manual espresso maker for café-quality flavor extraction and crema on the go.
The Nanopresso does require some brewing knowledge to use correctly. It’s up to the user to heat the water, grind the coffee, and tamp the grounds. We like how easy it is to generate the right brewing pressure from the Nanopresso, though. It’s more straightforward than most manual espresso makers, and an excellent choice for students, office workers, and travelers.
The AeroPress made quite a splash when it first hit the market as a no-fuss, budget-friendly way to brew espresso at home. Everything you need to use it comes included, including a starter pack of filters. It’s designed to brew straight into your regular mug. Clean-up is just as easy as brewing, too—just unscrew the top and pop the spent puck right out into the trash.
We also love the versatility of the AeroPress. Along with brewing espresso, you can also use it to make a French press-style immersion brew. It tastes even better than French press, in our opinion, since the paper filter eliminates grit and reduces the acidity.
As far as espresso, the AeroPress produces shots with the right strength and flavor. It’s not great at producing crema, though. You’ll get it sometimes, but both the paper filter and the low pressure work against you on this point. Still, for good flavor at a great price, the AeroPress is your best choice.
The Moocoo Manual Espresso Maker is our top pick for campers because it combines a lightweight design with a sturdy build that resists cracks and other failures. You can use this Moocoo model anywhere you have hot water and a flat surface to set it on. At less than a foot tall, it takes up less space in your gear than most Thermoses, and at just over a pound you’ll hardly notice the weight.
This is also a top contender from a taste perspective. It can reach an impressive 20 bars of pressure in the brew and it’s very easy to get an even, full-flavored extraction with a thick, creamy crema. It’s also convenient that you can brew from Nespresso capsules when grinding fresh coffee isn’t an option.
The Fortune Candy Portable Coffee Maker is among the most affordable manual espresso makers you’ll find. It has the same compact tube design as costlier models and is easy to use. You can use it with Nespresso pods, as well, so it’s a great choice for offices and business travelers.
Durability is our only concern with the Fortune Candy Portable Coffee Maker. It’s more prone to damage from falls and tips and doesn’t stand up as well to regular wear and tear. Some users also complained of a plastic taste in the first few brews, though you can clear this up by thoroughly washing the coffee maker with soap and water before your first use.
The eye-catching design of the Staresso SP-200 Portable Espresso Machine makes it our top choice for use in home kitchens. With up to 20 bars of pressure, you can extract flavorful espresso shots, great for drinking on their own or mixing with milk for lattes and cappuccinos.
While the Portable Espresso Machine itself is durable, using stainless steel for the pump and brewing chamber, the glass serving cup that comes with it is more prone to break. That’s the main reason we don’t recommend it for camping and traveling, though its design makes it otherwise very portable.
The Vech Mini Espresso Maker is another great option for those who want an affordable, portable espresso maker. It weighs less than a pound and is both compact and self-contained, ideal for taking with you on the road. We also like that you don’t need a ton of grip strength to use it. That makes it easier to use than other portable espresso makers.
The 8 bars of pressure this Vech coffee maker reaches is on par with what you’ll get from the AeroPress. This makes it more prone to under-extraction and inconsistent crema. While it’s not ideal for espresso snobs, it’s a great choice if you’re looking for a quick, cheap way to get a caffeine jolt on the go.
For K-Cup users who want espresso on the go, the Fdit Portable Mini Espresso Maker is a great choice. It’s compatible with all K-Cup styles, as well as a reusable K-Cup filter if you want to use your own ground coffee. The best part about that is it minimizes mess, ideal for use in offices.
The coffee you’ll get from the Fdit Portable Mini Espresso Maker isn’t as strong as true espresso, especially if you’re brewing from K-Cups. Taste-wise, it’s closer to French press and doesn’t have noticeable crema.
That being said, it’s the only portable espresso maker on this list that is compatible with K-Cups, giving it definite points in office settings. With a low price and easy clean-up, it’s a good option for those more concerned with convenience than the authenticity of their espresso.
The lever design used on the Simpresso Portable Espresso Maker is more similar to what you’ll find on full manual commercial espresso machines. This provides a higher brewing pressure with less effort. With the right grind and water temperature, you can get café-quality espresso from this machine.
While it’s not as slim as other machines on the list, the Simpresso Portable Espresso Maker is still very portable, built of a lightweight and durable BPA plastic. We also appreciate its versatility. It’s easier to change your pressure using the lever, allowing you to brew ristretto or lungo shots and adjust your coffee to suit your tastes.
While it looks like it came straight out of a ‘50s sci-fi movie, the Leverpresso Portable Lever Espresso Maker is actually a modern and innovative take on the concept. Its dual-lever design maximizes the internal pressure and gives you more control over the timing of the brew. That makes this the best manual espresso maker for home use by baristas and coffee geeks who like to experiment with new brewing methods.
The Leverpresso Espresso Maker generates the 9 bars of pressure recommended for espresso. In the right hands, it can produce nice crema and a well-extracted shot. It’s not as easy to use as the more self-contained units, however, especially for beginners. Buying the optional stand Leverpresso makes for it helps add stability during brewing, and also gives you the option of brewing into any cup.
Finally, this DoubleSun Espresso Maker is the one you want to check out if you’re looking for durability. It’s made of wear-proof materials designed to absorb shock and resist damage even in extreme conditions.
You don’t even need a flat surface to use the DoubleSun Espresso Maker. The hand-held design is simple to use in any environment, and clean-up is a snap thanks to the straightforward, integrated design.
Campers and hikers need portability as well as durability from their gear. The DoubleSun Espresso Maker fits the bill on both counts and produces a tasty cup of espresso, too.
In the world of full-size espresso machines, the main difference between manual and automatic espresso machines is how the pressure is generated.
In a manual or Piston espresso machine, the barista is responsible for generating the brewing pressure by pulling a lever (hence the reason why brewing espresso is often called “pulling” a shot). Manual machines give the barista more control but also requires more training and skill to operate.
In an automatic machine, this pressure is generated by a boiler. Most machines still require the barista to grind and tamp the shots (though in fully-automatic espresso machines, this is automated as well). There’s no pulling required, though—the barista just pushes a button and the machine starts to generate pressure.
Manual espresso machines come in a range of designs and sizes. Many full-sized machines still require electricity to heat the water, though they’ll still have a lower power consumption than an automatic machine of the same size. They’ll also include a reservoir (or plumb into the waterline, if it’s a commercial machine) so you don’t have to fill them for each brew.
Portable manual espresso machines shrink the reservoir and remove the heating element, condensing it down to just the pump. The user grinds and doses the coffee then pours pre-heated water into the reservoir. The pressure is generated by pressing down on a lever or button, which forces the water through the grinds and out into your cup.
Though some manual machines use pressurized filters, the majority generate pressure by hand power alone. This frees you from the need for an electrical outlet. As long as you have access to hot water, you can brew espresso with these models.
Now that you’ve seen a few examples of manual espresso makers and learned the basics about the design, how can you tell which one’s the best? There are a few main specs you’ll want to pay attention to as you’re making your decision.
As you saw in the reviews above, each manual espresso maker has its own unique design. Because of that, you should always read the instructions that come with your coffee brewer before you use it, just to make sure you’re not missing any important steps.
Having said that, the basic process for using a manual espresso maker is the same no matter what brand or style you buy. Let’s walk through it:
Manual espresso makers don’t need as much maintenance as automatic models. Having said that, a good cleaning and care routine is the best way to keep your coffee maker in working order.
Proper care of a manual espresso maker starts with cleaning it thoroughly after every use. Coffee grounds or water left behind can encourage the growth of mold and bacteria—flavor notes you definitely don’t want in your coffee. Take it apart after every use and rinse all the components, then allow them to fully dry before you put it back together.
About once a month it’s a good idea to deep clean the filter and nozzle. Most portable espresso machines come with a cleaning brush. If yours didn’t, any small, stiff-bristled brush will do. Remove the nozzle from the cap according to the instructions in your user manual, then scrub it under hot water to remove any coffee build-up inside.
Coffee grounds can also work their way under the mesh in the filter area, so you’ll periodically need to remove the mesh and clean underneath it. You don’t need to do this very often, however—twice a year if you use your espresso maker often, and once a year if it’s only used occasionally.
The science behind portable manual espresso makers is based on the process used in traditional full-size manual espresso machines—just shrunk down and simplified.
There are two styles of full-size manual espresso maker: direct lever and spring piston. Direct lever machines require human power for all the pumping. They rely on the barista’s strength to force the water through the coffee, which can make them more difficult to use.
Spring piston machines add a spring inside the group head that helps push the water through the portafilter. Since the barista doesn’t have to exert as much force, they’re easier to use and tend to produce a more consistent shot.
This same dichotomy exists in portable espresso makers. Some use direct force. An AeroPress is an excellent example of this. As you push down on the plunger, the air, water, and coffee beneath it is compressed together. The harder you push, the more pressure is applied.
It’s very difficult to reach a full 9 bars of pressure with a manual espresso maker that uses direct force, like the AeroPress. Because of that, you need to allow the grounds and water to steep for 1-2 minutes before applying pressure to get a full extraction. The final brew may have the strength of espresso but likely won’t have the same full mouthfeel or crema.
Other manual espresso makers use the equivalent of the spring in the piston-driven machines mentioned above. These machines are no larger than other portable manual espresso makers and don’t require any additional maintenance, though they may cost a bit more.
Examples of this style include the Moocoo Portable Espresso Machine or the Nanopresso reviewed above. Since they enhance the pressure you apply, these espresso makers can reach pressures as high as 18-20 bars. The shots you brew will both look and taste more like the espresso from a café.
Understanding the Different Types of Espresso Machine
Manual Espresso Machines
Applied Science: The fluid dynamics of the AeroPress coffeemaker
Minipress NS – Step By Step