kaffé teknik (Handpresso)

Whilst my work often involves learning technologies, there are other sorts of technologies that increasingly improve the quality of my life. Some are enhancing technologies (making the OK good, or the good better); others enabling technologies (making something possible). Again, not unlike learning technologies.

It’s something of a statement, therefore, that this post is not about my new iPhone 6 Plus (which I love)…it’s about a coffee maker. Je vous présente le Handpresso Wild:

The backstory

About a month before Christmas I was making my usual morning coffee, using my filter drip cheap-and-cheerful setup. Took one sip and thought “life is too short,” and poured the warm cup of mediocrity down the drain. While still living in Vancouver we had a decent home espresso machine. It did an decent job making espresso, but the steaming mechanism didn’t produce anything better than microwaved milk whipped with a battery operated frother.

Himself, meanwhile, has been making stove top espresso with an old school Italian boiler espresso pot–something I’ve always found tends to burn the espresso. I know lots of people that use Keurigs (don’t really like the coffee quality) or Nespresso (better quality) machines, but I wasn’t keen to lock into a proprietary “pod” format that becomes relatively expensive relatively quickly.

So I started googling for espresso machines and came across this product (not yet in production), which looked interesting but had relatively little available quality data. This looked more intriguing…but it makes filter drip coffee rather than espresso (think: high tech French press). Rather quickly reviews converged around the Handpresso.

La machine

There are two types of Handpresso:

  1. The Handpresso Wild, which is hand pumped
  2. The Handpresso Auto, which runs off a 12v car lighter port

The sloth in me thought the second would be better: plug it in and it heats the water and creates the pressure to extract great espresso. Except that I don’t have a 12v jack in my kitchen. And it only accepts Easy Serving Espresso (ESE) pods: there’s no easy way to take recently ground beans from local sources and use them with the Auto.

The Wild works with ESE pods, but also includes a filter for using your own coffee. You do, however, manually pump up the pressure–which is like a bicycle pump, but usually only takes a few short sharp pumps to get into the “green” zone required for a nice shot of espresso.

How to make a great coffee with Handpresso

It helps if you have a kettle that has options for different temperatures, since you shouldn’t use boiling water when making espresso: a temperature between 90C and 95C is usually ideal. A standard kettle works, just wait at least a minute before you use the water to make a coffee.

When using my own coffee and the manually filled filter:

  1. Turn on the kettle.
  2. For a flat white or latte, put a small portion of milk into your cup.
  3. Fill the filter with espresso ground coffee. Use the end of the handle to tamp down. Keep adding coffee until the filter is filled to the brim and firmly tamped down. Important: there is a bit of “give” in the mesh screen: make sure you press firmly down, otherwise your coffee will be too loosely packed and you’ll end up with weak coffee.
  4. Gently brush off the loose grinds on the outside of the filter, especially the underside (to avoid grinds in your beverage).
  5. Press the button on the Handpresso Wild so it is sticking out on the side where the pressure indicator is. This is what you will press to pull your espresso shot.
  6. Pump up your machine until the pressure valve is in the green zone: short jabs work better, since it’s the last bit of the pumping action that increases the pressure. If you accidently go into the red zone, release the pressure and start again.
  7. Fill to the brim the machine with hot water. Heating the machine makes for a much better coffee.
  8. Put milk in the microwave for 1 minute.
  9. Reheat kettle.
  10. Pour water out of the machine by turning it upside down.  Refill with the kettle.
  11. Put in your filter/coffee.
  12. Place the cover in place, push down gently, then turn until it is locked in place.
  13. Get your hot milk out of the microwave.
  14. Turn the machine over so you can see the pressure indicator. Press the button.
  15. It takes between 10 and 20 seconds usually for the espresso to finish pressing.
  16. Use your frother to mix the coffee and hot milk into a lovely beverage.

There are lots of videos on YouTube that demo how to use the machine as well.

To pod or not to pod

Getting reasonably priced ESE pods in New Zealand isn’t easy. So I went to Amazon and ordered two different versions of Lucaffé pods: their classic and Arabica pods. Even with shipping to New Zealand (using YouShop), they worked out to less than 70 cents a beverage.

The reviews on Amazon were bang-on as well. Both produce a surprisingly good espresso, but the Arabica has that little extra tang  of bitterness that I really love in an espresso. My local beans are a nicer coffee–nicer than nice, rather than nicer than not nice. When I’m travelling the convenience of the ESE pods will mean no mess and much faster to make. I’ve got a dual voltage portable kettle too, in case I’m in a hotel that doesn’t provide one in the room.

Why stop at one?

I have been so impressed with the Handpresso Wild that I ordered a second one for  my office. In less than 2 months the outlay for the device, coffee and shipping will be offset by the daily savings on making my own coffee rather than buying one in a café (@$4/coffee). I’m also looking forward to being able to make a coffee in my room whilst conferencing, rather than searching for somewhere to get a decent coffee. Last year in Barcelona I struggled to find anywhere open before 08h that made espresso, except Starbucks.

And no, I don’t includes Starbucks when I say “decent coffee”…