Portable low-power espresso on the boat with Nanopresso

Wacaco Nanopresso is a great way to make espresso on a boat without using tons of power. You can even get an adapter to use Nespresso pods which makes for easy cleanup!
Steve Mitchell 7 min read
Portable low-power espresso on the boat with Nanopresso

My crew and friends will attest that I love coffee, and need it to get started first thing in the day. I have always loved coffee, but in particular, I love espresso. Either on its own, or made in a latte with wonderful micro-foam, normal coffee just doesn’t do it for me anymore, and hasn’t for at least 10 years.

To further educate you on my espresso passion, 6 years ago, I purchased a full sized La Marzocco commercial dual head machine and installed it in my apartment. It was a 4500W machine which required a dedicated, 30 amp 220VAC outlet – hard to find in a rented apartment. But that didn’t stop me from wiring one in! I finagled my way into a local coffee shop that I loved, and spent several weeks learning from patient baristas all of the tricks with the machine, coffee, grinder, and the milk side of the latte.

After spending a very caffeinated weekend honing my skills, I settled into my morning routine – get up, stumble into the kitchen, turn the unit on, go take a shower, watch the lights blink as the heater sucked huge amounts of power, and 15-30 minutes later, it was ready to use! Then came the hard part – prior to coffee, I am not very detail oriented. With a traditional espresso machine, you need to grind the beans in a grinder, tamp it correctly with the same amount of force you always use, and then brew it at a particular head temperature, etc, etc.

I did eventually get really good at this, but it did require a lot of brain cells at a time when mine are not awake. Oh, and I could have never had this setup on a boat – 4500W is bigger than any inverter I’ve ever had!

Through the years I’ve tried other espresso machines that are smaller such as the Rocket line, similar to this one, and even more mainstream options like a Breville. These machines make it easier by having more appropriate sized power requirements, and in the case of the Breville, a built in grinder and dosing system so you don’t have to figure out how much coffee to put in the brew basket.

Ultimately, because of many other people wanting coffee at home and on the boat, and in the interest of making it simpler for them to use, I switched to the Nespresso line of products a couple of years ago. Many other boaters do this as well, as it really makes it easy to make espresso, cappuccino and other similar drinks, and has almost zero mess compared to traditional methods. One of my favorite parts of the switch is the absolutely amazing milk froth you get from their Aeroccino product, which I wrote about a few years ago.

But these machines still take a considerable amount of power on a boat. Both on Grace and Rendezvous, I have used the smallest of the Nespresso machines, and watched on my Victron system on Grace or on the analog gauges on Rendezvous while 1500W of inverter power is used just to heat things up. While brewing, and if you’re running the Aeroccino as well, this can jump up near 2000W.

That’s no problem for either inverter setup, but it does consume a lot of power – on Grace it was about 1-2% battery power for a double shot latte. I need that twice a day, so that’s 4% of my power, worst case. I think that is worth it, but if you add one or two other people, you could easily be consuming 10% of your power just for coffee.

I’ve tried other coffee solutions on the sailboat, including the Aeropress, a very popular way of using hot water, a filter, and a press to essentially end up with french press coffee. Same with a traditional french press. They all work, but it is definitely not espresso, and good lord – the mess that it makes can be epic. If you ever botch pushing down on the Aeropress cylinder, the whole thing goes flying. And with a french press, you now have a ton of coffee grounds you have to dispose of, and water you need to use to clean it all out.

A few months ago, my friend and crew member Jake gave me a wonderful gift that I think would be at home on a sailboat, power boat, or in your bag when you travel. It is a combo product from Wacaco that includes their Nanopresso unit, combined with an adapter for Nespresso pods. With this tiny, portable device, you add hot water, pop a Nespresso capsule in the end, pump it about 15-20 times, and you have full on espresso without the big machine or the power usage!

The whole unit is very compact and made of rugged plastic. You can use espresso-ground coffee or Nespresso pods if you have both attachments.

Nanopresso yellow tattoo model – picture courtesy of Wacaco

You can also get more creative designs and colors, along with even smaller versions called the Minipresso – check out all of the options at Wacaco’s website.

You can see both versions above. On the left is the Nespresso version, while on the right is the espresso-ground coffee version. You can see the waffle print in the left hand Nespresso version where the foil front of the pod will rest. On the right, the upper bucket is where the coffee would go.

If you’re using coffee, it is important to get a finely ground, espresso-style coffee to use in the system. You’ll be putting it under a decent amount of pressure, and if you have standard coffee that is ground much more coarsely, you won’t get a good pull (push?) from the system.

Hot water goes in the top of the unit, which unscrews just like the bottom. It is important that the water be near boiling, not just hot tap water. I tried both, and the shot was far better with much hotter water.

I use the Nanopresso mostly with Nespresso pods, as I love how easy they are to clean up, and I love the taste of the shot it produces. You simply drop your flavor of choice into the end, holder, place it in the bottom piece, and screw that on to the bottom of the entire unit.

Now comes the manual part – you twist the pump handle and it pops out of the unit. Then start pumping! I found about 20-21 pumps would produce my perfect shot while using most of the hot water. This also varied based on the type of Nespresso pod I was using.

Voila! I now have a wonderful shot of espresso, and with a fraction of the power of a big electric machine.

Cleanup is pretty easy too – just pop the Nespresso capsule out of the bottom end, and put it in recycling! You’ll notice the Nanopresso creates a very similar waffle pattern to the standard Nespresso machine.

I love that I can have espresso on the boat without using tons of power. Even though I have a big battery bank and inverter, I can see where using a Nanopresso on longer trips could be helpful to conserve that power. I can also have it in the woods, while traveling, and pretty much anywhere I can make hot water. Even on business trips, I can save myself from having to drink normal coffee and avoid Starbucks, all while enjoying my own favorite blends from Nespresso. Thanks to Jake for such a wonderful gift!

Archived Comments

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Val Vechnyak
December 24, 2018 at 9:24 pm
Always love reading your detailed articles. I am far from your connoisseur skills on coffee making but I do appreciate a good cup (not mug) of coffee from freshly ground fresh beans. On the boat however, I found my taste buds change and when it comes to coffee, quantity takes over quality in some way. I dont grind beans on the boat for the several day trips I make. Instead I try to concentrate on storage of the ground coffee in tight seal container to reduce humidity, etc. When it comes to brewing, I found that double walled, stainless steel french press produces reasonable balance of quality, quantity with relatively small mess.

  • Steve Mitchell
    December 24, 2018 at 6:22 pm
    Fresh ground or made in any way is definitely the way to go. A bit of me is disappointed with using Nespresso pods since they are not fresh ground, but their espresso sure tastes like it! If I were drinking coffee, I would definitely take the approach you have – keeping the beans as fresh and humidity free as possible, and grinding them right before brewing. I had a french press for years on the sailboat as that was the best way to get quality coffee with the same properties you cite! Happy caffeinating!

Daniel Thompson
April 24, 2020 at 7:18 am
After such stories, I always present a similar picture in my head. Around the water and the noise of weak waves. You can brew a cup of your favorite espresso and go to the deck of your boat. Sunny weather, light breeze and complete peace. Gorgeous.

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