Travel Coffee Maker Showdown: Which Works Best?

    Battle of the Travel Coffee Makers

    If there is one thing I cannot abide when I'm traveling, it's bad coffee. And sadly, there's so much of it. Airplane coffee is tasteless. Hotel coffee is weak. And who knows if those carafes are ever really cleaned? Hotel housekeepers interviewed for a recent travel magazine article about room cleaning secrets said they wipe down coffee makers and cups with Pledge. So that's what that taste is....

    Earlier this summer, I decided that something had to give. With several back-to-back trips ahead of me, I couldn't stomach the idea of a month of bad coffee, so I started researching portable coffee makers. Two brands kept coming up: Handpresso and AeroPress. I ordered one of each and started testing.

    The Handpresso (Wild Hybrid model, 99 euro) came with me on a trip to South Carolina. I sat at my mother's kitchen table and read the directions to my husband, who is always charged with the task of figuring out gadgets. The device looked straightforward enough, but the sleek, handheld espresso maker was surprisingly challenging to work.

    We finally did figure out the mechanics, which involve pumping to produce pressure (one of 16 steps depicted in drawings and accompanying captions), but the results were disappointing. The quantity of espresso the Handpresso produced was quite small and our first espresso was incredibly weak. The directions mentioned that it might take some refining to figure out the perfect texture of coffee to produce the desired strength of espresso, so we put our beans through the grinder a second time and made sure they were ultra-fine.

    The second cup of espresso was definitely better, but overall, the result was still underwhelming. (Note: Handpresso does offer the option of using ESE pods, which can be ordered through their website; we did not try these in our testing of the device). You'd likely need to repeat the 16-step process at least four times if you wanted to produce enough espresso for two people to drink.

    The Handpresso had more parts than I expected and this particular model doesn't come with a carrying case, so in short order, we'd misplaced the filter for the machine, which is crucial to its functioning. Though the Handpresso does have other models with carrying cases, it would be nice if this one came with one as well, particularly since the price is 99 euro. (The case sold by Handpresso for this model costs an extra 20 euro). Other drawbacks? The weight. At 1.16 pounds, the Handpresso is sturdy and will likely hold up well, which is especially important when you're traveling, but it's heavy compared to some of its competitors.

    Next, the AeroPress...

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