Like espresso? Want it on the boat? There are several units that can work -- see which ones readers have recommended.

Espresso on a Boat

I’ll start with a confession:  I’m not an espresso drinker.  But here’s the good news:  lots of TBG readers are, and several have shared their favorite espresso makers with me to post here.

For those who, like me, aren’t familiar with espresso, Wikipedia defines it as “coffee brewed by forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water under pressure through finely ground coffee beans. Espresso is generally thicker than coffee brewed by other methods, has a higher concentration of suspended and dissolved solids, and has crema (a creamy foam) on top.”  One “cup” of espresso is usually 2 ounces.

Espresso makers run the gamut from fairly simple and relatively inexpensive (less than $30) to complex machines with price tags in the thousands.  I’ve arranged the ones that readers have recommended roughly in order of least expensive to most expensive.  Some require you to boil water separately, a few are stovetop units and one is electric, but 12 volts.

One note — most of the less expensive units do not use high pressure to force the water through the ground coffee and thus technically don’t produce espresso.  In fact, few home machines use the really high pressure that coffee shops do and thus don’t develop as much crema.  I’ve provided a photo of each and links to purchase.

Like espresso?  Want it on the boat?  There are several units that can work -- see which ones readers have recommended.Aeropress:  I’ve written about the Aeropress before, and many cruisers use it to make coffee as well as espresso.  It is one of the most simple espresso makers to use and does not require electricity.  Water is boiled separately and the biggest complaint is that the unit is very tall and tippy.  It uses manual pressure to force the water though the grounds (and a filter).  See the Aeropress on Amazon.

Like espresso?  Want it on the boat?  There are several units that can work -- see which ones readers have recommended.Bialetti Moka Express Stove Top Percolator:  Several people have noted that this is not actually an espresso maker, as it doesn’t use pressure.  As it perks, the water goes from the lower chamber thru the grounds to the upper chamber.  You have to be careful to take it off the stove soon when the water is all gone from the bottom chamber.  Several people tell me that they think it makes better “almost espresso” than the Cuisinox (below) which costs almost 3 times as much — but this percolator is aluminum while the Cuisinox is stainless.  See the Bialetti on Amazon or watch a video on making coffee with it.

Like espresso?  Want it on the boat?  There are several units that can work -- see which ones readers have recommended.Cuisinox Roma:  This is a very pretty percolator, made of 18/10 stainless (see my article on stainless grades) and it gets very good marks for making a cup of “almost espresso.”  It works the same way as the Bialetti.  Many people don’t want to cook something acidic in aluminum and see this as an excellent alternative to the Bialetti for that reason.  See the Cuisinox on Amazon or watch a video on using it (the procedure is identical to the Bialetti).

Like espresso?  Want it on the boat?  There are several units that can work -- see which ones readers have recommended.Handpresso:  This comes from reader Nuno Antunes, who says it makes great (true) espresso and is totally manual.  Water is separately heated, the unit is hand pumped and you have to use E.S.E. coffee pods.  Since the grounds are in a pod, clean up is very easy. Nuno said that the biggest disadvantage with the Handpresso is that if you have guests, it just takes too long to make a cup for everyone.

Amazon reviews say that the Handpresso produces a much truer espresso than the Aeropress, clean up is much simpler and it’s smaller — but it costs quite a bit more!  It’s the least expensive “true” espresso maker (using 16 bar of pressure) that anyone recommended.  The small size is also a big plus!  See the Handpresso on Amazon (Amazon also sells the pods) or watch a video showing how it works.  See the European Handpresso site.

ROK Espresso Maker: Also recommended by Nuno and also manual with a separate source of hot water; it does not require pods, so you don’t have to worry about availability.  The down side is that you have to get the grind and tamp just right, which takes a bit of learning for most people, but it does develop about 10 bars of pressure and noticeable crema.  You have to preheat the unit so that hot water doesn’t cool off too much in the brewing process.  Reviews on Amazon are mixed; I think there is a greater learning curve with this than the Handpresso.  To be honest, after watching this demo video, it doesn’t look particularly boat-friendly.  See the ROK on Amazon; many reviewers on Amazon and elsewhere suggest getting a separate tamper (49 mm).

Nuno also recommended the Espresso 12, a 12-volt unit that is apparently available only in Europe (at least I couldn’t find any US sources).  He says it “makes an excellent espresso and it’s quite strongly built. The form makes it simple to fasten in on a bulkhead.”

Additionally, I should note that one reader recommended the Breville Barista Express with grinder, which uses 110 volt power and while considered a mid-price home espresso machine is on the large and expensive side for most boaters.  It does produce the high pressure (15 bar) needed for true espresso, however.  Another recommended the Bellman Stovetop Espresso Maker which does not need electricity and can develop about 5 bar of pressure (the instructions say to use 1.5 but users say they can get 5); it gets mixed reviews, producing a good cup of espresso but being futzy to use and a pain to clean.  At nearly $200, I’d also call it on the expensive side for something that seems hard to use and clean.

Any other recommendations for an espresso maker?  Has anyone tried the Keurig Rivo or the Nespresso?  I’ve seen ads for both and they seem to get good reviews, but no one has commented yet about how satisfied they are — particularly for boat use.

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23 Comments
  • Captain Tiki
    Posted at 20 December 2013 Reply

    Thanks for comparing the various espresso makers. I use 2 of them- the Bialetti and the Aeropress. I like them both. I may get a Handpresso in the future if I happen to win the lottery. 😉 Is there a source of less expensive pods? Can you use pods that aren’t specifically made for the Handpresso?
    I like the fact that instead of taking a side on these espresso makers you get back to facts and let the reader decide. You’ve done a good job of doing this in all your articles.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 20 December 2013 Reply

      You can use any E.S.E. (Easy Serving Espresso) pods with the Handpresso. There are lots of sources for them, and although none are “cheap,” some are less expensive than others:

      ESE pods on Amazon — several at just over 50 cents a pod (there are some other pods on this page, so double-check actual listing)

      PodMerchant — wide variety, some around 50 cents per pod all the way up to the “luxury” category

  • david pollock
    Posted at 27 December 2013 Reply

    i use the nespresso on board. while it uses a lot of electricity, it is ready in under 30 seconds and make a great, no fuss, expresso or cappuccino in under 30 seconds… and the capsules are recyclable

  • Francesco
    Posted at 13 May 2014 Reply

    I found some information about the Estresso12, as far as I know is the only espresso maker in the world which delivers real italian espresso by using 12volts.
    In this link http://www.caffeespressoitalia.org/en/ there are many useful information about how it works, specs, size etc.
    I got in touch with the manufacturer (Techimpex http://www.techimpex.it ) and they told me I can buy this item in the states too… actualy, at the moment they ship it from Italy, but they are planning to open an US distributor soon (this year?)

  • Andrew
    Posted at 30 November 2014 Reply

    Just to weigh in on the espresso conversation…. I purchased a Biatelli Mini Espresso machine from a camping store 20 years ago. I still use it on the boat to date and it makes great espresso with fantastic crema. Any dark roast will do, and it doesn’t need special pods or electricity!
    http://amzn.to/1Q5jZIY

    • Tommy
      Posted at 08 December 2014 Reply

      Thanks for the info, Andrew. I may “need” a Biatelli.

  • Peggy Stone
    Posted at 21 January 2016 Reply

    Try the aeropress.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 21 January 2016 Reply

      Yep, that’s the first one listed!

    • Peggy Stone
      Posted at 21 January 2016 Reply

      I also like my stainless vietnamese sloooooow drip.

  • JP Pedro
    Posted at 21 January 2016 Reply

    I use a Bialeti

  • Frances Liz Fernandez
    Posted at 21 January 2016 Reply

    We keep an electric espresso coffee maker on the boat. They sell them here in Miami for about $18-$25 depending on the size you need. Authentic flavor café.

  • Janine Gartshore
    Posted at 21 January 2016 Reply

    Hi we’ve been using the Bialetti for a while now both at home and on the boat. Really good espresso and, as their website states, makes authentic espresso. The unit does work by pressure rather than perking so maybe that’s why it’s so good. Would recommend this – fits nicely on the boat stove.

  • Michael Mangione
    Posted at 21 January 2016 Reply

    For real coffee snobs, like the crew of Sea Change ,the Hario manual ceramic burr grinders are great! The fully adjustable grinders can be fine tuned for all your coffee needs including the bialetti!

  • Jane Gammons
    Posted at 21 January 2016 Reply

    We use the one on the left.

  • Angel Mercer Ganey
    Posted at 21 January 2016 Reply

    It’s what we use and love!

  • Pamela Bonanni
    Posted at 21 January 2016 Reply

    My favorite espresso maker is the Alessi stainless steel stovetop. Not only does it make wonderful coffee, it is such a thing of beauty that it is in the New York Museum of Modern Art. An added benefit for boat use is that the pieces don’t screw together like the Bialetti. All you do is place the upper unit on the base and the handle locks down. http://www.alessi.com/en/products/detail/9090-espresso-coffee-maker

  • Alec Furtado
    Posted at 22 January 2016 Reply

    We have the handpresso and it’s fantastic. Much easier and faster than the bialetti. Plus, you can reach the 16bar pressure you need for true espresso. Packs small and pairs well with a camp stove so I can take it anywhere with the mess kit I already have.

  • Ellie Ibel Smith
    Posted at 22 January 2016 Reply

    The stove top units you mentioned are all excellent but the pricing of how much a machine can cost is way off – some Jura machines are $4000 just for the home units..simple is best though for on a boat for sure( can you tell I sell them for a living).

  • Albert J K III
    Posted at 22 January 2016 Reply

    I have a latte whip for cappuccino. Where I’m staying in Panama there are 50 coffee plants in the yard. Picking and roasting my own coffee.

  • Kimberly Lancashire
    Posted at 22 January 2016 Reply

    We’ve loved our Bialetti for years! My husband vigorously shakes the milk carton and when he pours it it’s all foamy. Voila! Poor man’s cappuccino!

  • Lisa Wilbur Smith
    Posted at 29 January 2016 Reply

    We bought the Nespresso in Oct 2014 and love it! We learned about it from friends who are full time long term cruisers. It makes authentic crema and uses capsules which are not as messy as dealing with grounds. Capsules are available by mail in the US, so we stock us when we are stateside. That distributor does not ship outside continental US. We have found them for sale in the Caribbean, but this can be tricky as the distributor can be hard to track down in other countries. Alternately we have had friends bring Nespresso capsules with them when they come to visit.

  • Trish
    Posted at 17 November 2016 Reply

    Although we’re ‘landlocked’ in Brisbane Australia for a while I’ve been looking at the Minipresso (we Aussies die without regular infusions of espresso). I haven’t actually tried it yet, but it has good reviews. Similar in concept to the Handpresso, but a bit smaller I think. One model uses pods, the other ground coffee.
    I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • Mike
    Posted at 27 December 2016 Reply

    We have used Nespresso machines on our boat quite exclusively. They run using shore power or generator – I haven’t bothered investigating running one on an inverter yet, so we typically make coffee before casting off. The capsules are small and easily disposable and come in packs of 10. We use a small sealable jar to hold 20-30 capsules open. They come in decaf for those that enjoy that (not me) – but it means you don’t need to worry if one of your guests wants decaf and the other wants real coffee 😉 – one of the downsides of the machine is that it has a tendency to leak while underway, so to avoid this we empty the water tank after each use. We find it tucks away nicely in our galley.

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