I’ve reviewed a lot of gadgets over the years, but few, if any, have been as astoundingly ingenious as the 9Barista. This is the only stovetop espresso maker I am aware of that actually reaches 9 bars, the amount of pressure you need for true espresso. 

The designer is a jet engineer and his background shows in the internals. The double-chambered design traps boiling water until the pressure builds to 9 bars. At that point, a release valve opens and the water travels up a coil, which cools it slightly, before being pushed up into the ground espresso, and finally out into the cup. The results, once you get your grind right, are delicious. It produces a clean, smooth extraction with a nice bit of crema.

Portable is stretch here—the 9Barista is very well made, but does weigh more than three pounds. But for a small apartment with limited kitchen counter space, or for those RV trips you’ve been plotting, it’s perfect.

The main drawback, aside from the price, is that you’ll have to wait for it to cool before opening it to brew a second shot. At least you can grind and prep your coffee while you wait, saving some time. I found that, with a bit of cool water to speed things along, I could brew shots with only a couple of minutes in between. And yes, it’s expensive, but considering the quality of construction and the materials involved, it doesn’t feel outrageous.

Buy the 9Barista for $385 at 9Barista.

4. Most Unusual

Uniterra Nomad ($300)

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Uniterra Nomad

Photograph: Uniterra Nomad

The Uniterra Nomad is also not the most portable device, though it is smaller and lighter than the Flair. It puts that heft to good use by looking like a little piece of metal art sitting on your desk while cranking out an excellent, creamy espresso.

The Nomad, which grew out of a Kickstarter campaign, is made mostly of solid metal, which gives it a sturdy feel some of our other options lack. It’s also the only one to include a proper, heavy, high-quality tamper to evenly press down your coffee.

The company touts its True Crema Valve, a bit of engineering that helps compensate for a bad grind or poor tamping. I tested this by using some pre-ground coffee from a large chain that shall remain nameless. The extraction from the poorly ground coffee with the True Crema valve was better than the extraction without it.

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