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Ever since I worked for Martha Stewart and eyeballed the big, shiny tabletop espresso maker in the office every morning, I’ve longed for one myself. I imagined that someday I’d be a true grownup with a real adult-sized kitchen, pulling velvety, crema-topped shots of espresso every morning. Instead, I’m in my 40s and still living in a 400-square foot apartment, and the reality is that my dream espresso maker would swallow up the entirety of my tiny little countertop. (Let’s not even talk about how expensive those machines are.)
However, I am still getting crema-topped shots of espresso every morning, thanks to a tiny gadget I discovered that costs under $130. Let me introduce you to my favorite thing, an espresso maker that’s not much bigger than a tennis ball. It’s called the Picopresso.
Here’s how it works: You weigh 16-18 grams of coffee beans, grind them to a very specific fineness (the provided instructions are super clear), transfer the coffee to the Picopresso, tamp down the grounds, screw it all together, pour in boiling water and give it a few pumps until espresso starts dribbling out of the hole in the bottom. If your water doesn’t take too long to boil, the entire process can be done in 5 minutes, and the clean-up process simply requires you to disassemble a few parts, rinse them and let them dry. (Full disclosure: There are a few additional steps you can take if you’re picky. If you want all the details, watch this video.)
Watch me demonstrate the process:
The Picopresso is made by a company called Wacaco and is the latest model in their line of portable espresso makers (its less-fancy predecessor is called the Nanopresso). Most portable espresso makers are made with the intention of being used on camping trips or while on-the-go, but frankly they work just as well at home, and are especially valuable if you live in a small space.
I’ve outlined the key differences in the Picopresso and the Nanopresso below, but the abbreviated version is this: The Picopresso costs $130 and requires a little more precision but extracts a better-tasting espresso, while the Nanopresso costs $70, is less fussy and still produces a perfectly fine shot of espresso.
Want one? You’ll be on a long list of my friends who’ve been convinced to buy one. Below is a list of the models and accessories that can give you a great tiny-living espresso experience.
Wacaco Picopresso portable espresso maker
The Picopresso is the latest model of this machine, made specifically for espresso drinkers who are short on space and want a high-quality espresso. The Picopresso takes the finest grind of all of Wacaco's portable espresso makers (because of that, I recommend using the grinder I talk about later in this story) and is also the most compact of all the models. With 18 bars of pressure, it makes creamy shots with strong flavors and aromas that go beyond what other models can achieve. The brand says it's "akin to a lever espresso machine: rich, syrupy and balanced." It's manually operated and easy to clean, after you take apart its many small components and give them a rinse. A beautiful shot of espresso can be yours in under 5 minutes from start to finish.Promising review:
"... So, I got this thing for my camping trip but I ended up just daily-ing this bad boy for my personal use at home. Given its price point I could assume that people might think this is pretty expansive and as did I. But after further research on the web and on youtube and just using this product everyday almost, I could tell you this is probably the most affordable espresso machine you could buy. This actually pulls shots. ..." - Ki Y. Kim
Wacaco Nanopresso portable espresso maker
The Nanopresso is the predecessor to the Picopresso, designed for camping and on-the-go espresso-making. It requires a little less precision than the Picopresso, especially in terms of grinding the beans, and if you're not particular about the flavor of your espresso this might be a great option for you. After you add your ground beans and hot water, you use the band pump to extract a maximum of 18 bars of pressure (the same as the Picopresso). Each use will produce one shot of espresso.Promising review:
"I rarely write reviews, but this one totally deserves it. I take it to my office because I hate the coffee there, and this thing is a life savior. I have access to boiling water so, it makes it a little easier to make. I can finally have good coffee at work :)! You can tell the product is made with quality materials (not cheap plastic), it’s easy to carry, the pumping is easy and not loud at all (as some have mentioned)." - Elvin
Wacaco Exagrind manual coffee grinder
I have this and I love it because it's got specific instructions that tell me exactly how finely to grind my beans for both the Picopresso and the Nanopresso. Once I tune in to the correct grind setting, it's a no-brainer to hand-grind my beans for a perfect pull. It's easy to clean and only takes less than a minute to grind a shot's worth of espresso. The only downside is the price, but if you enjoy a foolproof grind it's worth it.Promising review:
"Bought this to go with my Picopresso, and the two work together perfectly. It outputs a uniform grind which is the key to great espresso. Highly recommend!" - Eric Foster
Fellow Stagg electric gooseneck kettle
Any old kettle will work with these, but if you're in the market for an electric kettle this is a fantastic one. It comes in seven colors (I particularly love the model with the walnut handle) and boils water much faster than a traditional kettle will. The skinny gooseneck prevents you from splattering water everywhere when you pour, and it features some fancy technology like to-the-degree temperature control, an LCD screen display and a setting that'll keep your water hot for up to an hour.Promising review:
"Fantastic product. Been using it for several months. For most tea or coffee drinkers, lesser products will do, but if you are fussy about your tea/coffee and value knowing exact temps, whisper quiet operation, and just beautiful operation, this one is for you." - Sunshine2011
Note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct measurement of coffee beans.