The Presso Espresso Maker Revisited
Presso pulling a shot.

A few years ago we purchased a Presso espresso machine and hit the road with it. Since then it's faultlessly squeezed out hundreds of coffees and hasn't let us down once. The Presso has been battered and abused, lathered in red dust, left out in the blistering sun and washed in dozens of murky creeks.

Coffee and espresso can become an odd obsession. In our original article on the Presso we declared that we weren't obsessive enough or impractical enough to carry a grinder and grind our own beans. For better or worse we now have to confess that we are obsessed enough to grind our own beans and the coffee has never been better.

Our espresso evolution has led to us trialling a variety of portable coffee making devices in search of the perfect cup and the Presso has been in storage for a while. With the arrival of a new coffee grinder we decided it was time blow the dust of this intriguing levered gadget and see what it could really do if we fed it freshly roasted and ground beans.

The Old Way

For a couple of years the Presso was responsible for making our daily brew. The extraction ritual was perfected and we figured we were getting about the best possible results from pre-ground coffee. We preheated the portafilter and brew head and worked out the best method for distributing and tamping ground coffee to maximise extraction. We knew by feel and experience exactly how long to ease the levers downwards and create the perfect pressure/time ratio to draws the oils and aromatics from the coffee.

And it was pretty good coffee. Certainly better than anything that can be purchased from any highway roadhouse. But taste and experience evolve and we began to feel that we weren't getting the best results we could have. While there was some crema (the dark brown foam that rises to the top of the pour) it was mostly thin and lacking body - showing little of the syrupy nature of really good espresso.

The process through which the Presso extracts coffee is very similar to that used in commercial coffee machines and it occurred to us that it must be the coffee itself that was letting the side down.

With the arrival of a new grinder we took the opportunity to give the Presso another go.

Freshly Ground Coffee Beans

The Baratza Preciso is a small burr grinder that we are trialling because it's size and design mean it could be carried easily in a vehicle and at just 150 watts operate from a 12-240 volt inverter. There's a review on the way.

We chose the same grind for the Presso as we would put through a regular, boiler equipped, espresso machine - quite fine but not flour like.

Our regular routine with the Presso would see us immerse the portafilter in the jug we boil the water in. Ideal espresso extraction occurs at 94°C which means we also run boiling water through the acrylic water reservoir to bring it up to temperature. Much like a commercial machine the portafilter is dried and around 16 grams of freshly ground coffee added to the basket. We tamp the coffee, hopefully achieving around thirty pounds of force, clean any loose grinds and lock the portafilter into the head.

Boiling water is added to the fill line in the reservoir and the arms of the Presso are raised. We exert a little downwards pressure to moisten the coffee which acts as a sort of pre-infusion, hold there for a moment and then slowly lower the arms in one smooth motion. The whole extraction process takes about 25 seconds.

The Results

The first pour proved a little 'tight' meaning the grind was a bit fine and the water was struggling to work through the coffee. In a commercial espresso maker this results in a strong, bitter tasting brew with only a small amount of crema and that was exactly what the Presso delivered. Still the taste was palatable and the overall espresso shot acceptable.

By backing the grind off a little and making the coffee a little coarser we got what we were expecting - a smooth, syrupy extraction with a decent head of crema and plenty of caramel undertones on the palate.

We've since refined the grind and tamp technique paying close attention to preheat all the metal in the portafilter and head and the results are improving. We can confidently claim that the Presso really is possible of delivering premium cafe style espresso without the need for electricity or complicated mechanicals.

The Conclusion

We abused the Presso for nearly two years and it's still going strong. It needed a good clean after we retrieved it from storage and the polished alloy body showed a few signs of electrolysis - white powdery scale in the form of aluminium corrosion. Nothing harmful but it does detract from what is otherwise a decent kitchen bench ornament. With a bit of regular cleaning this shouldn't be an issue.

We've sent a couple of these to Africa where a German style filter is the normal method for drinking coffee. They've proved a huge success with all reports indicating that the coffee from the Presso is superior to the filtered coffee found in cafe's.

Part of the enjoyment of using these things is in the process itself. There's something satisfying in pulling a slow rich extraction of espresso from the simple lever arrangement. Added to the fact that it's reasonably priced at around $180, looks great and can be used anywhere proves it's still a real winner.

Pros
  • Cheap way of making great coffee.
  • Needs no electricity.
  • Low maintenance and trouble free.
  • Makes an interesting conversation piece and bench decoration.
  • Satisfying to use.
Cons
  • Although great for taking on the road still manages to be a bit bulky to conveniently pack away.
  • Prone to a bit of corrosion if not maintained.
  • Needs to thoroughly preheated to achieve the best results.

The original review on the Presso can be read at ► Make Great Coffee Anywhere.

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