I tried the Wacaco portable espresso maker, but I’d rather use a moka pot instead

Wacaco expresso machine
(Image credit: Wacaco)

I get it. There’s a certain appeal to using a Wacaco portable espresso maker. It’s an espresso machine that's lightweight, very portable, and, because you’re using pods, requires minimal clean-up. Plus, it does tend to produce decent crema, which feels like a luxury when you’re out camping in the wilderness, and there’s only an abundance of dirt and spider webs but no warm shower or flushable toilet in sight.

But, to be very honest, this product feels like one of those tech accessories (techcessories?) that is dressed up to “make your life easier” but is, in actuality, unnecessary.

I recently reviewed the latest addition to the Wacaco clan, the Wacaco Minipresso NS2. Years ago, I also tested the brand’s very first product. I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. 

While I do understand why people might want them, these products do not offer enough advantages to make me swear by them. They're not exactly a one-step espresso-making tool. In fact, they really aren't any more convenient or faster than a moka pot, which I’d much rather use. 

With a Wacaco portable espresso maker, you have to boil your water separately, then set it up, then get pumping (you have to pump the Wacaco several times to make espresso). Maybe it’s just me, but a bicep workout early in the morning when I’ve just spent the night on a thin inflatable pad and an inflatable pillow that occasionally slides out from under my head isn’t how I’d like to spend my morning. Especially not when I’ve been hiking with a heavy backpack for several hours the day before.

You’re also doing all that hard work for one shot of espresso. A single shot. If there are several of you in your group, every single person in your group has to go through that process. Or, you’ll have to repeat the process several times yourself, if you're the designated barista.

With a moka pot or an espresso pot, however, you only need to set it up then sit back and wait for the coffee to be made. No needless pumping. Plus, you can get a three- or six-cup model that lets you make espresso for several people in one go. 

A moka pot on the beach

(Image credit: Shutterstock / A_B_C)

No pods, just coffee grounds in a zip lock

I also take offense to the use of pods on many models (the Minipresso GR lets you use your own coffee grounds). Yes, these Wacaco portable espresso makers use Nespresso pods, and yes, Nespresso has its own recycling program. But, be honest, how many of you actually use that program, and how many of you don't even bother because it's easier to just toss those pods in the bin?

The use of coffee pods could be more sustainable, but you simply cannot trust most people to do the right thing. Not when it's not the most convenient option for them.

Also, every wilderness backpacker and multi-day hiker knows that it's all about minimizing waste and carrying less. And, packing several days' worth of Nespresso pods (that take up space due to their shape) and carrying the used ones until the end of the trip completely goes against the rules of backpacking.

If I go with a moka pot or an espresso pot option, on the other hand, I can simply grind the beans before my trip, put them in a zip lock bag, which packs better, and I'm also not carrying a bunch of used pods for the duration of my hike. 

No crema, no problem

One argument that can be made for these Wacaco espresso makers is the crema they produce. Moka pots, on their own, cannot make proper crema because they lack the pressure required to produce it, whereas Wacaco's products are capable of producing enough pressure to give you a nice layer of foam on top. 

Honestly though, when I've been sleeping with only my tent's groundsheet, my thin mat, and my sleeping bag separating me from the dirt and leaves, getting crema on my espresso is not going to make my top priorities list. I'd rather sit back, watch the sunrise, and enjoy the quiet as the moka pot does its thing nearby.

But, ok, let's say getting a proper shot of espresso, crema and all, is at the top of YOUR camping list, there's also a simple solution: get a crema valve or a cremator for your moka pot. Some moka pot models already come with them, others don't so you'd have to purchase one separately. Done!

What about when I'm not camping, just running late for work?

Simple fix: stop by a cafe and grab one there. Oh, and yeah, get up earlier next time.

Michelle Rae Uy
Computing Reviews and Buying Guides Editor

Michelle Rae Uy is the Computing Reviews and Buying Guides Editor here at TechRadar. She's a Los Angeles-based tech, travel and lifestyle writer covering a wide range of topics, from computing to the latest in green commutes to the best hiking trails. She's an ambivert who enjoys communing with nature and traveling for months at a time just as much as watching movies and playing sim games at home. That also means that she has a lot more avenues to explore in terms of understanding how tech can improve the different aspects of our lives.