I wasn’t always a coffee drinker, in fact, I made my way through my senior thesis at the University on granola bars and orange juice alone (I must have been crazy not to consume caffeine). However, once I graduated and began the 9-5 routine I needed a pick me up to get me going in the morning and sustain me through my post lunch slumber – coffee was the silver bullet.
I grew up with stovetop espresso brewing at all hours of the day, but didn’t take a liking to the rich, velvety, nectar until my early twenties. Espresso in it’s best form has a thick crema head, buttery mouth feel, and consistent, almost chocolate-like, coffee taste. Unfortunately, the only way to properly experience a cup of espresso is via a good neighborhood café (Starbucks doesn’t cut it) or at home with top of the line equipment.
Recently, I had the good fortune to sample the handheld Handpresso Wild portable espresso machine, specifically the ESE pod version (the Handpresso Wild DomePod is also available which works with any ground espresso). The Handpresso Wild works without electricity and is comprised of a hand held pump device that creates 16 bar of pressure to drive hot water (provided by the user) through an ESE espresso pod. I’ve used the Handpresso in several environments over the last two weeks including at home and in the office. I’ve also prepared several cups of coffee for both espresso experts and first time espresso drinkers. I’ve only used illy branded ESE pods and have used both boiling water produced by a kettle and standard hot water from a water cooler (which has a lower water temperature). UPDATE: I’ve also tried Lavazza’s Gran Creme ESE Pods and they are a huge improvement over the illy ESE pods; moreover, the Lavazza pods are also less expensive (about $45 for 150 at Amazon). Here are my initial impressions:
– The Handpresso Wild isn’t designed to produce espresso equivalent to
what you would find in a $5,000 Italian made machine. The Handpresso’s main competitor is the $20 stovetop espresso pot (Bialetti being the standard brand).
– The Handpresso Wild is fairly easy to use. The unit has a hand pump which requires about 10-15 pumps to reach the right pressure (there’s a little gauge on the unit that signals the user when the right pressure is achieved). The last 2 pumps are kind of hard to get through and it’s difficult to lock the pump handle after achieving the right pressure.
– The Handpresso unit I’ve been using only uses ESE pods (pre-ground espresso that has been pre-packaged). The advantage to this set up is that there’s no messy process to fill the unit with ground espresso, but the huge disadvantage is that one cannot use freshly ground beans to maximize flavor. Plus, ESE pods are expensive. UPDATE: HandPresso now makes a version of the product that uses ground coffee: Handpresso Wild DomePod !
– It took some time to produce a decent espresso. At first, I was using too much boiling water and the unit produced a very watery cup of coffee (there is no water line indicator in the water chamber and I had to guess as to how much water to use). The unit also leaks a bit of water from the filter device during the extraction process (this could be a byproduct of the illy ESE pods I was using given that there is a bit of extra filter paper on the pods which prevented the head from screwing on tightly). UPDATE: no more leaking with Lavazza Grand Crema pods (I haven’t tried any other ESE pods, but I’m assuming they all have minor differences in shape and thus will behave differently with the Handpresso)!
– The coffee itself was much better than stovetop espresso (both in mouth feel, taste, and consistency). The Handpresso Wild produces more crema than your standard stovetop espresso unit and the flavor is outstanding for a portable device.
– I noticed a big difference in taste when freshly boiled water was used versus just hot water. The closer the water is to boiling temperate the better the taste of the espresso (I wouldn’t recommend using a thermal to store hot water, you really need boiling water to produce a good cup of coffee).
– Cleaning the unit is very easy (and much easier than a stovetop espresso pot).
Overall, I’m a fan of the Handpresso Wild and so is my Italian born mother (she was amazed by the device and wants to buy a few for her sisters back in Calabria)! I like the fact that the unit is fairly compact, easy to clean and operate, and produces a very good espresso. You can find the unit for $85.00 at Amazon (you do pay for the convenience of espresso on the go) and will also need to purchase ESE pods (though Handpresso has just introduced a unit that works with freshly ground espresso!).
The Handpresso is perfect for the office worker who wants to make an investment in making his or her own coffee (just be sure to shut your office door so no one sees you getting the unit up to pressure with the hand pump!).