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Hands-on Gear Review
STARESSO SP-200 Review
Price: $60 List | $59.99 at Amazon
Pros: Decent taste, portable
Cons: Somewhat laborious manual brewing process
Bottom line: If you want espresso and frothed milk while you travel, this is the best machine out there
The STARESSO SP-200 provides good espresso and a way to froth some milk in a package that is about the size of a 20-ounce soda bottle. It is also relatively easy to clean, and fialry easy to use. It does take some elbow grease to use the pump, but if you're road tripping or car camping and need a nice cappuccino, it's well worth the effort. The addition of a milk frother earned the STARESSO some brownie points over the other portable model we tested, the Wacaco MiniPresso GR. Though the Wacaco did make slightly better espresso in our testing, we thought the milk frother made the STARESSO a better overall machine.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The STARESSO SP-200 makes quite a good shot, and a surprisingly good cappuccino, given it's tiny and portable stature.
The STARESSO SP-200 showed up towards the bottom of our scoresheet (as you can see above), but was still quite good for a small, portable machine. For more on all the tests we use to calculate our scores, and how the STARESSO did in each, read on below.
The STARESSO earned a 5 out of 10 in our taste test. this put it behind, but not too far off from, most of our plug-in countertop machines.
The STARESSO produces a shot that is a bit watery compared to most traditional espresso machines, but it still manages to extract a strong flavor and create a nice crema. From our point of view, this shot was more than enough to satisfy that espresso craving when far from a cafe or home espresso machine. Notably the other portable machine we tested, the Wacaco MiniPresso GR, was able to produce a slightly thicker, creamier shot. If you're only after straight shots of espresso, you might want to opt for the Wacaco. However, we favored the STARESSO because it also has a chamber in which you can manually froth milk and make a cappuccino. The milk frother isn't incredible, but again it gets the job done when the only other option is no cappuccino.
Ease of Use
The STARESSO is fairly simple, which earned it a score of 6 out of 10 in this metric.
Obviously the manual pumping required of the STARESSO is more effort than most conventional machines. However, the pumping isn't too arduous, and most shots only take about a dozen pumps to brew. The same is true when using the milk frothing function. One thing we loved about the STARESSO is the fact that its included glass shot glass sits right inside the machine, so you don't have to worry about holding the unit perfectly steady as you pump. This is a big improvement over the Wacaco, the other portable machine we tested, which requires you to aim into a cup as you pump. Below is a video from STARESSO that describes how to make espresso with their machine.
Ease of Cleaning
The STARESSO, for the most part, keeps things neat and tidy, earning it a fairly high score of 7 out of 10 in our ease of cleaning metric.
Cleaning the STARESSO is quite straightforward. All you need to do is shake out any excess water and tap out the spend grinds, then rinse each of the components clean. This is a breeze if you have a sink, but can also easily be accomplished by dumping water out of a bottle. If you're putting the STARESSO into or taking it out of storage you'll want to do a more thorough cleaning with a sponge and soap, but on a short trip you can get away with just rinsing in between shots. If you are frothing milk with it as well you'll need to be a bit more adamant about rinsing thoroughly and making sure there is no milk residue left inside. This cleaning process is very similar to the Wacaco, which is the only directly comparable model we tested.
The STARESSO allows you to change out the espresso filter for a milk one, and then use the same pump to froth milk. This frothing isn't the most effective, as it garnered a score of only 3 out of 10, but it does a good enough job to add that creamy cappuccino texture to your espresso. The actual frothing process doesn't really warm the milk at all, so you'll want to pour warm milk into the frothing chamber. This is also the only portable model we've encountered that offers a way to froth milk, making it a bit more versatile than the competition.
Which is more Portable, the STARESSO or the Wacaco?
In terms of outright portability, the Wacaco has a slight edge. The STARESSO has some glass components that are a bit more fragile and a bit heavier, so for something like a backpacking trip we would definitely lean towards using the Wacaco. However, for road trips and car camping the STARESSO is plenty portable and offers the added benefit of milk frothing capability.
The STARESSO lists for $60, which is identical to the list price of the competing Wacaco. If you find yourself really craving a quick and convenient shot of espresso while you're traveling, this is quite a good deal. Also, you don't have to replace too many cafe cappuccinos with homemade ones before the STARESSO pays for itself.
The STARESSO is a great and portable espresso machine that lets you make a pretty decent cappuccino anywhere you have access to hot water and milk. It's not our top pick for trips far afield into the backcountry, but for traveling and car camping it's our favorite caffeinated companion.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata
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