Review: Handpresso Wild

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TAGS: low-carbon-high-lifestyle

Gadget review: Handpresso Wild

Coffee was once a small African bean that caused goats to leap, until it was banned by imams in Mecca in 1511, who discovered the Streisand Effect five hundred years early.

Today, of course, coffee is one of the five essential ingredients of the modern economy. And nothing captures the essence of coffee - the bitter kick combined with a restorative caffeine burst - than a well-made espresso. The perfect espresso is creamy, tasty, and just bitter enough to leave a sweet after-taste. One should never add sugar or milk.

As a traveller, my usual struggle is to find, in order: espresso, Internet, and power. My fall-back, in the US is to find a Starbucks and order a double espresso, and a tall glass of water. It's cheap espresso: bitter, burnt, and beastly. Thus the water.

You get the best espressos, of course, in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese coffee bars. The French also do it pretty well. This is thanks to the historical Muslim influence, since it was the Ottomans that brought coffee to Southern Europe from North Africa and Ethiopia.

Elsewhere… it can be pretty desperate. Yes, my name is Pieter, and I am a lifelong coffee addict.

So, it was with some emotion that I ordered a Handpresso Wild on Ebay from a French firm "EspressoDiscount". Was this going to be the answer to decades of searching for the always-available hit? Would this be a cheap plastic disappointment?

The package arrived about a week later and my credit card got a Euro 85.05 charge. The packaging was nice, but irrelevant. This is not about the box but about the espresso. I opened it up and found a neat, solid device looking like a cross between a bike pump and a drug delivery system from some far planet.

Bootstrap problem: the Handpresso demands pods. Not the larger soft pods but the smaller 7 gram "single dose espresso" (ESE) pods. They can be hard to find. I found an 18-pack from Lavazza for 6 Euro, a 12-pack from Rombouts (Belgian coffee brand) for 2.50 Euro, and an 18-pack from Kimbo for around 3 Euro.


Now, how to use the thing. My first trial was at the beach. To use the Handpresso, you twist the handle to unlock and then pump, twenty or thirty times, until the needle hits green. There is no point in over-pumping. You then fill the cup with hot water (I took a vacuum flask with me). You place the coffee pod over the cup, and screw the cap tight on. Then you turn, and press the pressure release button. A small steady jet of hot coffee emerges, as pressurised air fills the water chamber and forces the hot water out.

Surprisingly, it works. You get a small but very good cup of espresso. You also get a lot of stares from people who wonder what the heck you have there.

The Handpresso is very well made. It is solid, has few moving parts, a steel body, and feels like it could last for twenty years or more.

My second trial was on a trip to Bratislava. The Handpresso fits neatly into my camera/computer backpack and adds 500g. I learned a couple of things. First, take out the Handpresso when you go through airport security. You will be asked to explain anyhow, but that way you avoid a full bag search. Second, take enough pods with you. They can be hard to find, and when you start showing your toy to friends and colleagues, the pods get used up very rapidly.

Incidentally, a tip if your airline places limits on hand baggage and you want to avoid checking in your stuff: check-in online and go straight to the gate. They don't (yet) weigh hand baggage at the gate.

You can make the coffee stronger by overfilling the cup and then allowing the pod to soak up the excess water, and leaving it for ten seconds before pushing the pressure release button. You get the same effect by forgetting to pump before adding the water.

My conclusions: if you like espresso and you travel, buy this. I've wanted a portable espresso machine for ages, but this design is genius, and successful. It is not as good as a Southern European espresso served in a smoky bar, but it's very close, especially if you buy the more expensive pods. You might think that pre-ground coffee is bad, but the pods are sealed and firms like Lavazza have done this for decades. I actually have a Lavazza Espresso Point in my office but the Handpresso is just so much easier that it's what I'm using now.

I expect that as soon as the patents run out on this, or perhaps a lot sooner, there will be cheaper imitations hitting the market and we'll see many variations on this idea of hot water pumped by manual action: larger capacities, working with ground coffee rather than pads, with built in water heater, and so on.

And finally, because there is no large mechanical pump that needs to be pre-heated: it's good for the environment. Boiling a small cup of water is cheap and efficient. Leaving a machine to sit, heating the room, is wasteful. The Handpresso fits perfectly with my slogan for better living: "low carbon, high lifestyle".

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