Hands-On With A Whippit-Powered Travel Espresso Maker

Currently in production, the MyPressi TWIST has been generating enough buzz to get a trucker from Nashville to Reno (and back). Forget press and blog attention. The $129 portable espresso maker won the best new product award from the Specialty Coffee Association of America (it's sorta like the Oscars for coffee). The product won't be available until this fall, but there are three prototypes in existence. We recently got to see one up close and personal, taste the fruits of its pressure-driven loins, and chat with the husband and wife team behind one of the most exciting things to happen to coffee since Baileys. More after the jump..."Silicon Valley is going to start exporting its espresso makers to Italy." Mypressi CEO Stephen O'Brien is confident. It's easy to understand why, as he demonstrates his creation in a San Francisco cafe. The TWIST is smart, simple, handsome, user-friendly, easy-to-clean, lightweight and will create a solid cup of espresso wherever you roam. Outside, it's elegant black and metal aesthetic resembles a fancy, modern juicer (courtesy of elemental8). Inside, the TWIST resembles a German watch: a series of beautiful metal cogs and levers that look vaguely steampunkish*. The genesis of the device started on O'Brien's honeymoon in Bora Bora, where he and his bride say they simply could not get a decent espresso, despite staying at a 5-star resort (cue the violins, but I digress...). The TWIST, therefore, became their love child. A software developer, O'Brien hadn't ever developed any commercial hardware, but he considered what it takes to power an espresso maker: pressure. Large industrial machines use water pumps to create the 135psi of force necessary to help extract the essential oils from the beans. But if you don't need to service hundreds of cups a day, you could probably build a smaller rig, right? An interesting idea popped into his head: what about using a little air cartridge like the ones used to power paintball guns? After all, they're relatively cheap, made from steel, and recyclable. Best of all, they pump out 600 psi. Way more than is needed for coffee. All he had to do was raise the capital, build the thing, and figure out how to regulate that 600 down to 135 -- without having the canister blow up in your face. Indeed, it took a lot of work, sweat, and I assume coffee to get from vague concept to conception. Each finished prototype cost $20,000 to create, which is nothing compared to the money that goes with three years of hardware R&D to develop, then troubleshoot bugs with various iterations. The engineering hurdles were vast, well, small. A typical regulator might be two inches in diameter. Much too large for the TWIST. The task of shrinking the apparatus down without losing efficiency and safety went to Gecko, a firm that collaborated on the Herman Miller Leaf Lamp and has built pneumatic devices on cruise control missiles for defense industry contractors (really). Their creation: a regulator that's about the size of half a grown man's pinky nail. Once the pod develops its own pressure, the regulator in the handle shuts off the pressure. And there's also a secondary safety valve, in case you put in too much coffee. In time, too, their small, main regulator could be applied or licensed out to other hardware. For now, O'Brien is focused on the TWIST. And as we continue to chat, all I'm focused on is the taste. He takes a preloaded cup, gets some hot water from the cafe, puts in 3.5 oz., pulls the trigger to release the gas (it's cold, but expands rapidly from the hot water), and begins the pour... At 00:16 you can see the creamy consistency with the "Guiness effect" (that's good). At around 00:30, you can start to kinda see the "tiger striping" (the contrast between the lighter/darker crema within the espresso**). At 00:35, you can hear the satisfying release of pressure as we finish. At 00:42, you can see the finished product. It tasted excellent. *I was not allowed to photograph the inside, but take my word for it. **I admit my video is not the best for seeing this phenomenon. In person, the tiger striping was evenly-distributed (that's ideal).
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41 Responses to Hands-On With A Whippit-Powered Travel Espresso Maker

  1. Jarv says:

    Or, buy the already available bike-pump technology based version [Handpresso]?

    Do you really fancy buying whippit cartridges for evermore?

    Also, I don’t see why they couldn’t use C02 cannisters – the gas is just there as a propellent, it shouldn’t ever actually reach the grounds.

  2. Man I’m loving all of this coffee stuff! Just about to purchase my first hand grinder – got any tips?

  3. Intersection says:


    If I ever go on tour following Phish I’m not going to sell grilled cheese in the parking lot I’m gonna sell whippets and espresso!

  4. mercator says:

    So what, exactly, is a cruise control missile? Is there a speed limit those things have to obey?

  5. IWood says:

    I’m…not sure I want to taste the fruits of anything’s loins, pressure-driven or not.

  6. Steven Leckart says:

    @pork musket: FYI, I added the price after you asked. Sorry I didn’t make that clear!!!

  7. Steven Leckart says:

    @Eugene Belford: That info came from the folks at MyPressi.

  8. pork musket says:

    @Steven – Ah, that makes sense. No need to apologize! Thanks for the great post.

    The Handpresso uses proprietary pods. I’ve tried several kinds of pre-packaged coffees (K-cups, Melitta pods, the ones in the rectangular foil packs whose name escapes me) and they have all been terrible. Besides… manual labor for coffee? How bourgeois ;)

    This is going to make backpacking trips way more awesome. Combined with a JetBoil you could have a good monring in now time. I will be buying one.

  9. Eugene Belford says:

    Where did you get the idea that Gecko Design did contract work for GD? There’s no corroborating evidence beyond a link to the General Dynamics site, and big defense contractors generally don’t request component bids from companies that design lamps and movie props.

  10. PETEC says:

    CO2, N2, NO2… arm2. With my Handpresso Wild (www.handpresso.com) I don’t have to worry about which gaz suits my espresso best!

  11. feedingfashionistas says:

    For those looking for a (somewhat) packable coffee grinder with superlative grind quality, I’d recommend looking for a nice hand grinder like this:


    I ended up with a 50s Zassenhaus. All hand grinders use conical burrs (which are the current darlings of the coffee geek crowd) and the stouter-built examples out there can really do great work. Mine makes better coffee than my decent, $300 electric burr grinder. Then again, maybe the sweat equity I put into the process colors my opinion a bit.

    This thing is a neat idea, but it’s too large and heavy at the moment to be a better solution than a 1-cup moka pot or Aeropress. Also, carrying pressurized metal cartridges (a no-no) of a gas people are known to get high on (double no-no) sounds like a great way to make air travel a lot less fun.

    There’d be no real way to get the mechanism as hot as the solid brass brew group on real maccina, which generally need to be left on to heat for 30+ minutes before they’re considered ready to make coffee. Combine that with the fact that you’re using a frozen gas to pressurize things, and the idea starts to lose its shine, fast.

    It’s a solution in search of a problem, I’m afraid.

  12. pork musket says:

    This is the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time. Any idea how much it will cost?

  13. Espressi says:

    @Steven Thanks for the great article. Just a small correction: it WILL be available in the fall. :)

  14. mackenzi says:

    I like coffee, it makes me feel good and relaxed. Maybe a little Irish whiskey with that. What about a cigarette subscription with this device? Instant expresso goes fine with a fume. What about satellite radio? Good chat, satisfying coffee and a continuous data stream are nice together.

  15. mackenzi says:

    A magazine, “Expresso” maybe, I would read. Over a tall, steaming cold glass of ice filled tap water.

  16. Than Saffel says:

    Anybody heard of cowboy coffee? It’s pretty good if done right, and fellas, sometimes lo-fi is the hgherst fi there be. Time/temperature/pressure/freshness/grind/roast – when these variables are cared for and considered, the coffee will provide.

    This is certainly cool, but for travel it adds a new set of problems, starting with where to get the NO2 pods, as mentioned above. Plus it uses coffee pods. Let’s face it, IT WILL WORK for travel – up to a cerain point – but it’s really just for carrying around town in case you’re stranded in a parked car with no obvious local source of crema/tigerstripe laden cheeba – horrors!

    My favorite espresso travel unit is the FarberWare/Bialetti aluminum perk-spresso maker with multifuel camp stove. I like tools that can be used for more than one thing, even if they achieve sublime perfection at neither.

  17. JC says:

    I doubt that thing is going to make anything that tastes like good espresso. For one thing, the brew temp (202F ish) is going to be very hard to control. If you want something cheap you will probably have better luck with a moka pot.

  18. dculberson says:

    That is really awesome. I do think it’s worth noting, though, that whippets (or, more accurately, whippits, after the brand Whip-It) are nitrous oxide (NO2) while paintball cartridges are carbon dioxide (CO2). I have no idea if they’re interchangeable phsyically.

  19. mackenzi says:

    Isn’t poop normally bitter?

  20. Steven Leckart says:

    @pork musket: $129

    @dculberson: Yep, concept started with paintball cartridges, and switched to whippits.

  21. nono says:

    Handpresso is now introducing the Domepod version. A Domepod is a small reusable espresso pod you can prepare with your own ground coffee. I think that’s a great solution for people like me who don’t like to use pods. I don’t think it is available in the US yet. I also saw they are selling a small case where you can store three prefilled Domepods.

  22. AC says:

    This is only half of it, they need to invent the other half – great hot milk/foam maker.

  23. gaelicwinter says:

    How big a pinky nail does half a grown man have?

  24. stevemc says:

    I’m really happy with the Handpresso, using Lavazza or Gaggia ESE pods, whihch aren’t proprietary in the sense that they are supported by many coffee companies and by many espresso machines from different manufacturers. I don’t use pods when not on the road — but then again I don’t want to carry a coffee grinder with me, either, and at home I never use pre-ground coffee.

  25. nanostep says:

    What a waste of a good whippit

  26. Mitch says:

    That’s pretty cool.

    While traveling I found that McRondalds has the
    best mediocre coffee, way better than gas station
    coffee. It’s good to have simple tastes. It would
    be inconvenient to want good espresso every day.

    Nice to see technology is stepping in for people
    who do, though.

  27. rmwb says:


  28. Jur9en says:

    I’m a sucker for good coffee, but not so convinced about the traveling concept yet.
    What about those CO2 cartridges: can you take them on an airplane with you? (to Bora Bora) My guess is not. 2ndly; my expectation is that you can’t find many CO2 cartridges in Bora Bora either, or in Nepal, the Amazon, Patagonia, etc..
    I guess I stick with the local brew when I’m traveling; sugary tea, yak butter tea or even disgusting nescafe with condensed milk. Its part of the traveling experience.

  29. w000t says:

    Is there no way to “favorite” a post under the new design?

  30. zuzu says:

    Do you really fancy buying whippit cartridges for evermore?

    I’m sure there are a great many people looking for just such an excuse.

    Feds: What legitimate reason do you need all these N2O chargers for?
    You: I’ve got this awesome coffee machine, and I love coffee!

    I mean, it’s either this thing or a whipped cream machine, and how much whipped cream could you conceivably eat?

  31. Bill in Silicon Valley says:

    I like the Aero Press espresso maker from Aerobie. The only consumable, other than coffee and water, is a paper filter disk. It’s probably not as much pressure as the whippet, but does the job reasonably well.

  32. phisrow says:

    Whippits, rather than the cheaper, easier to acquire CO2 canisters, are used because using CO2 as a pressurizing agent would mean carbonated coffee. That might be a desirable novelty; but not what they are going for. Same applies for why whippets are used to whip cream.

    One wonders if, somewhere, one could get sparkling water pressurized with nitrous oxide, rather than carbon dioxide…

  33. eemboz says:

    That’s cool tools.
    I usually make the coffee manual and it’s not good one. I think should try it, simple!

  34. pork musket says:

    @Steven – Thanks. One of these I should learn how to read. Not sure how that got by me.

  35. PaulR says:

    “Standard gas cartridges” (from the TWIST brochure), to me, means N2 cartridges – the standard cartridges used to whip cream.

    Nitrous oxide, AKA laughing gas, would be a bad choice. According the Wiki article, “Nitrous oxide is also a major greenhouse gas. Considered over a 100 year period, it has 298 times more impact per unit weight than carbon dioxide.”

    While I’d opt for a small camping mocha coffee maker (cheaper, no pods, no gas cartridges), like this one: http://static.howstuffworks.com/gif/espresso-machine-camping.jpg – sorry, I couldn’t find a photo of one. You may remember Gérard Depardieu waving one around to Andie MacDowell, after complaining about American coffee.

    I can see that the advantage of the TWIST is that it would use kettle-boiled water. Most hotel rooms have a kettle, few have a hot plate.

    You could use an Alessi travel espresso set:
    It’s more expensive but is uses regular espresso, not pods, it comes with the cups, and a little case. Europe only, AFAICT.

    Best bet would be an Aeropress: http://www.thinkgeek.com/caffeine/accessories/8e3a/
    The video on the page is by Mark Frauenfelder!
    Twenty-five buck, and you get a year’s supply of filters – you can use the plunger to store a container of coffee. If you forget it in the hotel room (this happens!), you don’t worry.

  36. PaulR says:

    “You may remember Gérard Depardieu waving one around to Andie MacDowell, after complaining about American coffee, in the movie ‘Green Card’.

    Grrr: no preview!!!

  37. pork musket says:

    I refuse to learn to write though. That’s just asking too much. I need the preview button back. :(

  38. Tom Kuby says:

    If you use nitrous oxide to froth the milk, you could call it brew-haha.

  39. Mark says:

    I’ll stick with my $30 Aeropress, thank you. Not as fancy, or costly, but just as good.

  40. God of DIrt says:

    Assuming the same mad genius is still behind the Aerobee, I’m not the least surprised that he could come up with a good, cheap, lightweight coffee maker. After all, he’s an amateur astronomer, a subspecies that has great need of it.

  41. notjackobrien says:

    That is a truly remarkable looking machine. I’d love to try one out.

    I feel it would lose its “portable + quality” points though without an equally portable quality grinder, and the smallest I’ve ever seen a quality burr grinder was about the size of your average blender, not something I’d like to take on holiday.

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