Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Magic Wand for Espresso

By Oliver Schwaner-Albright
New York Times

Earlier this week I had a sneak peek at a device that might forever change how you make espresso in your home. Or at your desk. Or in your car.

The Twist, from the startup Mypressi, doesn’t look like much: a handle with an orb, it resembles a personal massager. There’s a double spout familiar from most espresso machines, and a trigger on the handle, but there’s no cord, because there’s no need for power. Instead, the Twist uses a standard carbon dioxide cartridge to force water through the filter basket – the 9 bar pressure comes entirely from the cartridge, which is regulated by a sophisticated mechanism hidden in the handle. Squeeze the trigger and a perfectly dosed espresso streams out of the spouts, a 30-second extraction with a rich crema.

A gimmick? I don’t think so. The shot I tasted was sophisticated and balanced. It was a delicious espresso.

More to the point, it did not taste like it came out of a handheld machine smaller and lighter than an immersion blender.

Best of all, the Twist uses coffee grounds, not pods (though I’m told there will be a pod option in the future), which means you can use this with your Hairbender or Black Cat blend – it makes real espresso.

I also like the clean design, how easy it is to operate and how well it fits in the hand. As for energy use, one carbon dioxide cartridge will make about eight shots of espresso.

The one flaw is that it’s awkward to fill with water: you unscrew the top of the orb, untwist a gasket and pour in hot water (ideally at about 210 degrees, just below boiling). Which brings up another issue, namely that you need to add water that’s already been heated on a stovetop or in an electric kettle. Or on a campfire, if you want to be exotic about it.

But these are quibbles. All espresso machines require a little manipulating, and even if the Twist doesn’t match the espresso from professional-level machines it easily outperforms every home espresso machine this side of Rancilio’s Silvia. I would take the Twist over anything made by FrancisFrancis!, Krups, or other similar model made for the kitchen countertop.

And it’s not just because of cost, even though most of those retail for $300 and up, while the Twist will sell for a reasonable $129. It’s because the Twist makes better espresso.

For the time being the Twist is just a prototype, and won’t be on the market until early this fall. (I wish I had one two weeks ago, when I was driving through West Virginia, a state with a bounty of ramps and not much in the way of coffee.) But the coffee community is taking note. The Twist won an award at the Specialty Coffee Association of America conference in Atlanta last week.

Originally published on-line with the New York Times blog on April 30th 2009