The Cafflano Kompresso is the lightest espresso maker in this roundup and also the easiest to clean, making it ideal for backpacking.

It relies on a manual hydraulic compressor to force the water through and extract espresso. It’s the least forgiving device I tested, and the results can be the best cup of espresso or the worst among these picks. You need fresh, high-quality beans and time to get the grind right. Grind too coarse and you’ll end up with a watery mess. Grind too fine and you’ll have to use your whole body weight to force the extraction. But when you find the sweet spot, you can get a good 3/8 inch of crema and a deliciously smooth shot.

Unlike every other device, the Kompresso makes a good cold-brew shot too. The secret, which I found on the company’s Instagram account, is to tamp extra hard and presoak for one minute. The results are amazing (again, assuming you have high-quality beans and a good grind).

Why I Didn’t Test the AeroPress

Coffee must meet three requirements to qualify as espresso.

  • It must be brewed under pressure instead of infused.
  • It should have a very high brew ratio, usually two parts water to one part coffee. Brewed coffee is more like 15 to one.
  • Espresso tends to be darker, heavier, and richer than infusion-brewed coffee. As such, the beans are typically a darker roast, though I’ve noticed lighter roasts may be growing in popularity.

For this guide, I limited the options to pressurized brewers, which is why there’s no AeroPress or moka pot, neither of which make espresso. (A moka pot is pressurized, but not enough to qualify as espresso.) The Aeropress is in our Best Portable Coffee Makers guide.

How to Make Great Portable Espresso

There are three basic, vital espresso tips I’ll leave you with.

Find good, fresh beans: If you haven’t made espresso before, start with high-quality beans. Quality beans can make even cheap brewing equipment shine. And high quality means fresh. Find a local coffee roaster in your area.

If you don’t have a coffee roaster nearby, you can order beans online or try one of the preground espresso blends at your local grocery store. I’ve tried popular espresso blends like Lavazza, Medaglia D’Oro, and Café Bustelo. Medaglia D’Oro has a smoother flavor than the others, but it’s still more bitter than freshly roasted and ground whole beans.

For testing, I used beans from Jittery Joe’s roasting company in Athens, Georgia, specifically the Wake-n-Bake blend. (Disclosure: I worked for Jittery Joe’s for many years, so I grew to like its coffee.) I also used an espresso blend from Fahrenheit Coffee Roaster in Mancos, Colorado, and an excellent dark roast Indian coffee from Atlas Coffee Club. If you can’t find something near you, have a look at our guide to coffee subscription services.