There’s no better way to start your day than visiting the local coffee shop: the humming of the grinder, the rich smell of coffee, the steam from the espresso machine as it pours out that deep, black shot — with a touch of crema on the top. Europeans invented the espresso machine, so it’s only fitting that they bring us the perfect way to create your own mobile café. The French Handpresso company has built espresso machines since 2008. Its latest creation is a 12-volt powered machine known as the Handpresso Auto.
Scalding hot coffee at 65 miles per hour? What could possibly go wrong?
At first glance the Handpresso Auto looks like a time machine crossed with a travel mug. It features an external temperature gauge (it shows t° but represents celsius), a power button, and a release to pour the espresso. The unit feels rather sturdy at just under 2 pounds. The casing is a durable black coating that makes it easy to grip and easy to wipe off, and a 12-volt plug for the cigarette lighter in your car wraps tightly around the unit and snaps in place around the midsection.
The Handpresso Auto package comes with two separate lids that let you use specialized E.S.E. (Easy Serving Espresso) pods or ground coffee. A “Handpresso” branded rag is included to wipe off the unit and tend to any stray drips, a nice touch.
Espresso 101, for the amateurs: Making a cup of coffee requires a machine that can force very hot water under high pressure through finely ground and compacted coffee. The Handpresso Auto can pressurize water up to 16 bars (16 times the atmospheric pressure at sea level) — nearly twice the typically accepted pressure of 8.8 bar for a common espresso machine. Gulp.
Brewing a cup is straightforward. Begin by filling the reservoir with water; when topped off it produces around 1.79 fluid ounces of espresso — just enough for an average shot. Handpresso recommends filtered or bottled water, as the impurities that can be found in tap water will change the quality of espresso. Next, take finely ground coffee and tamp it down, compacting the grounds into the included Domepod. I tested with Peet’s Ground “Espresso Forte” Coffee as toting around a grinder seemed excessive. Then simply turn and lock the lid.
If you’re the type of person that owns an espresso machine, it’ll be worth the price to take the Joe on the road.
With your car running, plug the 12-volt cord from the machine into the cigarette lighter and press the power button. The Handpresso Auto whirs to life with a noise similar to a quiet jackhammer. You will see the temperature gauge rise and the noise will stop after one minute. The temperature will continue to rise to about 200°F before the unit gives three beeps to let you know it is finished, but you can stop it earlier (after the operation noise stops) depending on your temperature and taste preferences. Unplug the unit and turn it over, then press the release button over a cup and out comes steam and hot, fresh espresso. The pleasant smell of coffee will fill your car. You will swear you are in a local café — all without a barista misspelling your name.
In my time with the Handpresso Auto, I generally filled and loaded the coffee grounds before settings off in the morning; then I stored it in the glove compartment or cup holder. Most instructional videos for the Handpresso Auto show a stationary car when running the machine and I strongly advise not running while in motion unless a passenger is using it. Safety first!
Operating the device itself is not difficult but the pouring process can get messy if you don’t have one hand on the machine and one hand holding a cup right underneath the spout. On the first try I held the spout a bit too high above the cup and several drops of espresso sprayed onto the seats and center console. The Handpresso Auto is best for when you need a mobile coffee break. For those working out of an office you can now avoid finding driving to a Starbucks — simply cook up an afternoon shot to get you through the afternoon. I found myself heading to my car to pour a shot of espresso, then walking back to the office, adding several ounces of hot water, and creating my own Americanos.
When testing we observed that the temperature of the espresso is around 170-180 degrees Fahrenheit if poured right away. This is the general range you want, and seems to line up with the gauge on the outside of the Handpresso Auto. The quality of espresso largely depends on the type of water and grinds used, and I was able to get the flavor dialed in after learning the intricacies of the device.
When using tap water instead of bottled you would end up with less crema on top and coffee with a bitter taste. The results of the espresso also change depending on how well you tamp down the grounds into the included Domepod. Richer flavor comes from tightly packing in the fine grounds. The Handpresso Auto kit does not come with any sort of tamper tool, but using the back of a spoon can gave us the best results. The device works very well and performed on the same level as a budget at-home espresso machine in terms of the heat and pressure it generated. While most espresso machines can range from $300 to well over $3,000, the Handpresso Auto will only set you back around $200. That’s a bit much if you consider this a novelty gift, but for the espresso faithful it opens up a new world of possibilities.
I’m not sure how else to say this: I’m a coffee addict and I have a Handpresso Auto problem.
When first hearing about this product I had low expectations for ease of use and how consistent the espresso would be. Once you get the Handpresso dialed in to your taste preferences, you may completely forget about going to the coffee shop again. If you’re an addict too, Handpresso is a no-brainer, an obvious solution to a problem you didn’t realize and now can’t avoid staring at.
For everyone else, consider this: If you’re the type that owns an espresso machine, you’ll find it worth the price to take the joe on the road.
- Fewer trips to coffee shop
- Quality feel and finish
- Fresh coffee aroma in your car
- Wow factor
- Premium price
- Can be messy