Coffee was long considered “Satan’s Brew” until about 1600 AD when Pope Clement VIII declared, “This Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it.”
The popularity of coffee has grown exponentially, and not just the regular brew-in-a-cup. Some us coffee aficionados prefer the stronger manifestation of the dark-roasted java bean: espresso.
I love a dose of this stronger version of Satan’s brew at least once a day, ideally mid-afternoon. My only challenge—until my recent discovery—is that a good espresso hasn’t always been readily available when traveling—especially in the outdoors and occasionally, not even in the finest hotel rooms.
Fellow espresso lovers will appreciate this plight: Sometimes a cup of coffee just won’t do the trick. We want an espresso and nothing but.
On a recent hiking trip to England, I tested what probably is the best portable espresso maker for travelers and hikers: Wacaco’s Nanopresso Portable Espresso Maker. If only this heaven-sent apparatus had entered my life—or backpack—years earlier!
The best portable espresso maker: Let me count the reasons why
The Nanopresso is a hand-powered portable espresso machine that fits in a small pouch or in a corner of your backpack. All that’s required is hot water and some of your preferred espresso grounds (preferably in a sealed, air-tight bag or small container, which are easy to find.).
The secret of this espresso maker is the design of its recently patented pumping system that achieves the ideal pressure (which any barista will tell you is crucial for a good espresso) and doesn’t require rigorous pumping of your arm. The result is a consistent pressing that rewards you with a creamy foam atop your espresso—in keeping with the espresso you’d get in a proper café.
The Nanopresso only weighs 336 grams (about 3/4 of a pound) and the attached water tank holds up to 80 ml of water. You put your espresso grounds in the detachable cup, close the top, and press down slowly on the pump. Et voila!
The top doubles as a cup or, as I did on a recent hiking trip, you can bring along a durable espresso cup. (This elicited groans from my diehard thermos-carrying hiker friends!) The insulated thermos is lined, which means you’re not grasping a super hot container in your hand.
No hot water around?
No worries. When using my Nanopresso on day hikes, I filled the small thermos with boiling water which remained at an ideal temperature for about four hours. When I wanted an espresso back in my hotel room, I simply boiled water and treated myself to a morning espresso instead of the sad-sack coffee that’s supplied in many hotel rooms. (Yes, I’m a coffee snob.)
This YouTube video shows how easy it is to use the Wacaco Nanopresso:
I found the various parts of the Nanopresso to be sturdy and durable. The apparatus comes apart easily in a manner of seconds and you simply do a rinse-and-clean once you’re finished and it’s good to reuse.
The Nanopresso took up much less space than I anticipated. It comes in a carrying case smaller than a man’s travel-toiletry kit.
Test-drive – or, rather, test-hike
I opted to put my Nanopresso to the test on a hiking path that predates Pope Clement: The Hadrian’s Wall Path, which is an 84-mile (135 kilometres) long-distance footpath in the north of England, extending from Wallsend on the east coast of England to Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast.
The Romans, during Emperor Hadrian’s reign, built the Wall to keep out the barbarians of Scotland. Construction started around 122 A.D. Ramblers and hikers have long enjoyed walking along the ruins, which, in many cases, are located in farmers’ fields surrounded by cows and sheep. The hiking trail was officially launched in 2003, providing outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs with a long-distance trail that offers incredible history every step of the way.
Highlights of the trail include: Corbridge, an ancient Roman garrison town where visitors can see the remains of houses, markets and fortresses from the second century; Chesters Roman Fort, where you can snap photos of preserved Roman baths; and, my favourite stop, Housesteads Roman Fort, where Hadrian’s Wall rises to 10 feet in places. It was along this latter section of the trail that I enjoyed a mid-afternoon espresso, resting on my laurels, inhaling the aroma of a perfect brew while listening to the imagined echoes of Roman soldiers going about their business almost 2,000 years ago.
While I originally tested Wacaco’s Nanopresso Portable Espresso Maker to see if it stood me well in the outdoors, I quickly realized I could use it in hotel rooms where I wanted espresso rather than coffee, and even at home. Sometimes I awaken in a hotel room with espresso on my mind, but I hesitate. Seldom have I ordered an espresso from room service and had it delivered to my room piping pop. Also, traveling with my Nanopresso means I can have my favourite brew in the morning without feeling obliged to get properly dressed before room service arrives. To me, that’s luxury.
All photo credits (unless otherwise noted): Doug O’Neill