REVIEW – I love coffee. I love good coffee in pretty much all forms. Hot, cold, iced, and even using the grounds as a rub on steaks is right up my alley. I like to make it myself when possible or find a good local coffee shop to enjoy. I avoid most chain coffee shops because they almost always taste burnt to me. I also love well-built tools and gadgets. Give me something well-designed, feels good in the hand, and is easy to use and you’ve got my respect. Now if you combine the two, that’s pretty much my Nirvana, Heaven, Shangri-La, whatever suits your belief system. I don’t mind putting in the work to achieve my desired results. Enter the Wacaco Picopresso. This compact, handheld system was supposed to make the perfect espresso pretty much anywhere you had access to hot water and coffee beans or grounds. What’s not to love? I wouldn’t say I travel a lot. Most of the time it’s strictly for work and I don’t stay in fancy hotels meaning the coffee is usually not good, and what’s available in the rooms is typically a pod system. Not a fan. They never get hot enough. The water-to-coffee ratio is always too weak and they only make one cup of coffee at a time. At the very least, I’m going to drink 2 cups each morning if not 3 despite what my doctor tells me to do. If coffee is made later in the day, then yep, Imma have some! So, if I can have a small system I can take with me and make a good cup of coffee while on the road, gimme, gimme, gimme. If it’s a small system built like a tank, that’s easy to use, designed to last, AND makes an excellent espresso, GIMME, GIMME, GIMME! I absolutely wanted to test the Wacaco Picopresso.
What is it?
The Wacaco Picopresso is a compact, pro-oriented portable espresso machine that, according to Wacaco, allows no shortcuts. The system all has some add-ons that you’ll definitely want if you plan to travel with it. These include their Exagrind coffee grinder, Exagram coffee scale, and Picopresso stand.
What’s in the box(es)?
The lovely folks at Wacaco sent me all of the above equipment to review which means I got a box full of boxes.
- The device itself which includes
- Tamper with microgrooves
- 18-gram basket
- Distribution tool
- Instruction manual
- Warranty card
- Instruction manual
- Coffee scale/timer
- Silicone pad for the scale bed
- Instruction manual
- Stand with mirror
- Instruction manual
Click to expand for Picopresso
- Dimensions: 2.8″ x 3.07″ x 4.17″ / 71 x 78 x 106 mm
- Weight: 12.35 oz / 350 g
- Water capacity: 80 ml
- Basket size: 52 mm
- Ground capacity: 18 g
- Max pressure: 18 bar
- Materials: Aluminum, stainless steel, PA66, PP, TPV, silicone
- Dimensions: 2.1″ x 2.6″ x 5.6″ / 53 x 67 x 143 mm
- Weight: 16.4 oz / 464 g
- Burr: 38 mm, 420 stainless steel
- Clicks per turn: 30
- Adjustments per click: 33 microns
- Loading capacity: 20 g max
- Materials: Aluminum, stainless steel, ABS, silicone
- Dimensions: 3.0″ x 4.9″ x 0.9″ / 77 x 124 x 24 mm
- Weight: 6oz / 171 g
- Range: .01~70 oz to .3 g~ 2kg
- Max count uptime: 29 mins and 59 secs
- Auto power off: 5 mins
- Display: Backlit LCD
- Units: g/oz/ml
- Materials: Stainless steel, ABS, silicone
- Dimensions: 4.8″ x 6″ x 7.8″ / 121 x 152 x 195 mm
- Weight: 13.75 oz / 390 g
- Materials: Stainless steel
Design and features
Let me start with the build and materials used across the board. Wacaco says the Picopresso is built like a tank and I agree, but so is the Exagrind. They use stainless steel, aluminum, and heavy-duty BPA-free plastics. There’s not a flimsy part I could find in any of the products that came in the review samples I received. The steel and aluminum parts are solid.
The knurled pieces felt great in the hand and were functional, meaning they weren’t knurled to look good, although they did. The knurling is clean with just the right amount of grip. Every part has a svelte look and feel. You can tell that a lot of time and thought went into the design. Wacaco wants the true coffee nerd to love their tools, the process, and the results.
Now let’s get into each part of the kit I received.
The Wacaco Picopresso portable espresso machine comes with everything you need to pull the perfect cup of espresso, short of the water, coffee, and your demitasse. Everything packs perfectly into the unit and case. Remove the top and you’ll find the tamper, funnel, brush, and distribution tool nestled in the well. Similarly removing the bottom gets you the showerhead, basket, and scoop. Every single part fits into one compact unit which in turn fits nicely in the zippered case.
The showerhead is actually 2 pieces, a silicone gasket/top/funnel and the showerhead itself. This will be important later. The basket is designed to pull a double shot espresso and can be used naked or with its one silicone funnel. The tamper is simple enough but has a nice weight to it and fits nicely in the aluminum funnel when using it. The design of the funnel also prevents the tamper from going too far which should give you the perfect tamp. The pump is pretty ingenious. Press the circular emblem, give a quarter counter-clockwise turn, and it expands outward for operation. The scoop has a rotating handle to allow it to fit in the body when packing it all up. Wacaco has really thought of everything.
The Exagrind’s most important feature in my opinion is the stainless steel burr grinder. A cheaper blade-style grinder will get you an inconsistent grind, so I wouldn’t have expected to find anything other than the burr here. It has a stainless steel center shaft with dual bearings, an aluminum body, and a silicon sleeve that makes using the grinder a breeze.
It has 60 clicks of adjustment with 33-micron spacing adjustment per click allowing you to dial in your perfect grind. The handle design is cool, in that when you unpack it the first time, the part on top is actually what you hold while turning, meaning, you flip the ends for use. The clear part goes on the shaft and you turn it by holding the black portion, a neat space-saving trick. There’s no case here but it does come with a bag for travel.
The Exgram coffee scale is designed to fit the whole Wacaco aesthetic with the black-on-stainless motif. It comes with a silicon pad that helps with cleanup and heat distribution. The Exagram has a timer and tare function.
This allows you to put the basket and funnel on it while filling it without having to do math. Thank you. The last thing I want to do all bleary-eyed is try to remember the weight I started with and what weight I’m trying to achieve. The timer comes into play when you use the Picopresso. The whole process should be timed to perfection if you want the perfect espresso. The Exagram uses 2 AAA batteries, not included, and will auto power off after 5 minutes of no use. It’ll also auto-dim the LCD display after 30 seconds to save on batteries.
The Picopresso stand is designed specifically for the Picopress and is designed to be set up and taken down in seconds. It’s made from stamped stainless steel and is held together by a simple slot and tab system. Gravity is our friend here.
The stand is quite solid when assembled with the Picopresso in place. It also comes with a mirror that allows you to view the portafilter during use so you can watch the process. Yep, you can get lost watching as the espresso slowly exits the holes bringing all that lovely, delicious crema with it.
I’ll start by saying I just thought I was a coffee nerd. Direct quote from the Wacaco website – “With the Picopresso, there are no shortcuts. Each homebrewer must master the art of manual espresso making by dialing in the correct grind, size, tamping, and perfect pulling technique.” That ain’t no joke, folks. Even after reading all the instructions, I wasn’t ready for what awaited. I figured how hard could it be? I understood the basics; get a good coffee, get an ultrafine grind, take water just off the boil, pour, and pump. Easy! I’m an idiot. It was not easy. My first mistake was the grind. The instructions called for an ultrafine grind so to make sure I knew exactly what Wacaco meant I went to their site and found a reference pic.
I have no idea how the ruler and pencil play into different coffee grinds, so I just went with the finest setting on the grinder. The next mistake I made was instead of choosing an espresso roast, I went with a light roast because I prefer the taste of the bean over the burn. The beans smelled wonderful and had a nice oily sheen. I whipped out the scale, tared the basket and funnel, and got 18g of beans.
Then I dumped them in the grinder, losing a few beans in the process. Neither the setting nor the beans liked each other. To get a correctly sized grind I actually had to back way off from the smallest setting. Otherwise, the beans would have a hard time being grabbed by the burr, taking forever to grind and then the oiliness of the beans caused the grounds to stick together too much, gumming up the grinder.
Ok, let’s clean up and start again. Cleaning up the grinder is a messy job. Pretty much the entire process is messy. You will get grounds everywhere when emptying the grinder, cleaning the grinder, tamping, cleaning excess off the lip of the basket, weighing everything, you name it. If there was a way to spill coffee grounds while using the Picopresso, I found it. After cleaning up my initial mess, I started the process again with what I thought was a good setting and started grinding. I was wrong. It was not a good setting. It did work better but took forever to get the coffee ground. Meanwhile, I had to stop and start my kettle a couple of times so I could get it straight off the boil. I finally got the beans ground and into the basket, making another mess. The funnel helps but it’s really too short to be called a funnel.
It’s more of a guide for the tamper. Although, if it were taller, it wouldn’t fit the body of the Picopresso when all packed up. I used the distribution tool to make sure there were no clumps, spilling more grounds, and tamped them down. Next with the bottom and top of the Picoipresso removed, I filled its chamber with hot water to warm the body. I then pumped the water through it into my cup to warm it as well. Next, I dumped the remaining water from the Picopresso, inserted the basket into the lower portion of the Picopresso, and screwed it all together. The metal portions of the Picopresso all thread together smoothly with little to no wobble. I again filled the chamber with water and screwed on the plastic top. The top did not screw on as easily. The threads don’t line up as easily and want to bind a little if things aren’t perfectly aligned. I put the Picopresso in the stand, dumped the water from my cup, and started pumping. After 8-10 pumps, you’re supposed to wait, let the water soak in, wait about 30 seconds, then start pumping again. After waiting the required time, I began pumping again. It got increasingly harder to pump to the point where it was pretty much impossible to do without 2 hands. Yes, I should’ve stopped but I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Now everything was under pressure, hot, and no coffee was to be seen. I let everything cool down and started over, adjusting my grind again, making more messes, and getting more frustrated. Also during all this, the showerhead had separated from its silicone cover and I didn’t notice it, which also threw many flies into the ointment.
After about the 4th time of doing the process, I finally got what looked like a delicious espresso, I, however, was wrong.
They call it espresso roast for a reason. I had chosen a light roast because that’s what I prefer to drink. Not a good idea. Even though the roast I chose made an excellent cup of joe normally, it was NOT good for espresso. It was way too acidic in that concentration. By this time I was fed up. My wife decided that I and the Picopresso should be separated for a while. So, I went to sulk in the living room and didn’t speak to the Picopresso for a couple of days. I came to the realization most of what happened was probably my fault. That’s what my wife tells me all the time, so I figured it had to be. I went and got some actual espresso roast coffee. No beans were available so I got grounds. The grind was not espresso though, so I could still use the Exagrind, which really is nice to use when you get the settings right and come to terms with making a mess. I also went online to watch some videos to see people who knew what they were doing and how they did it. You know what? They made messes too. They also showed me what the grind should look like, how to use the scale with its timer function to achieve a correct pull, and what ratio of water to grounds to use. After all that, I went through the process, still making a mess but feeling better about it, and lo and behold, I got really good results and with the mirror on the stand, I was able to watch each time. I have no doubt now, that with better beans or grounds, following the process to a T, and taking my time, I can have success.
What I like
- Well-engineered, compact design
- Makes a great espresso if you take the time to perfect your process
- Looks and feels great
What I’d change
- A better reference for what the correct grind should look like. Pencils and rulers didn’t make sense to me.
- Better fitting top. That water is hot and a fiddly top is something you want to deal with in that situation.
- Better written instructions for making a cup of espresso. There is a video on their site, but better ones are available on YouTube
- Less messy, but I have no idea how that would be done.
I have a love/hate relationship with the Wacaco Picopresso portable espresso machine. The device itself should last for years. I love the design. Each piece is built to last and feels great to use. That being said, there should be a case so that everything can be bundled together, not just for traveling but for storage too. Speaking of traveling, would it be great to have the coffee it makes while in a hotel? Yes. Would I want to go through the whole routine? Probably not. Maybe once I feel like it’s second nature to use the system that’ll change. It also makes me a selfish coffee nerd in that, going through all that, produces 1 double shot of espresso. If someone else wants one, then you’ve got to clean everything and start over. This is really for a solo coffee drinker. The Picopresso is absolutely a wonderful device for the true aficionado in my opinion, I just need more practice.