Bialetti Brikka vs Handpresso Espresso Challenge

The weather in Sydney has been pretty crap for the past 6 months due to La Niña. And after a planned canyoning trip to the blue mountains was cancelled due to heavy rain, I decided to take the opportunity to write my first ever blog post. Please be kind, don’t judge – I can only get better!

I decided it would be fun to showcase some new toys I’d acquired, in a fun face off between two types of Espresso makers. The first one is focused more at the outdoors (Handpresso), while the second one is more of an everyday stove top version (Bialetti Brikka).

I plan to run through the process of how an espresso is made using each device. Speaking of devices, here is a cool Leunig cartoon about devices I’d like to share:

So once I’ve described how to make an espresso, I’ll discuss the pro’s and cons for each one. I’ll also share any tricks of tips I’ve learnt along the way. And finally I’ll share some useful links for you to investigate each product further and some other cool blogs on coffee. I love coffee, so I hope you’ll enjoy this blog!

The Bean

I’ve only become a coffee addict recently (the last few years). I asked around among my circle of friends – where the best coffee in Sydney could be found. There was a surprisingly large number of responses. Some people swore by Gusto’s, others Campos, Illy’s and even Toby’s Estate. But one name would continually come up…. Single Origin. Now you have to respect this coffee roaster/cafe. They only work business hours – 6:30 am to 4pm Monday to Friday. They are closed on the weekend!! They have a cafe in Surry Hills close to Central, but create all product in their roasting house based in Alexandria.

Harrar Ethiopia

Over the last year, I’ve been a big fan of their House origins bean (mix of Yigacheffe Ethiopia & Veracruz Mexico). Its described as medium body with chocolate and fruity overtones, but I’d just describe it as very drinkable! Not too bitter, but strong enough to give you that oomph you need to get you going in the morning.

I decided to try something a little different for this challenge, and went with a truly pure single origin coffee… a classic – Harrar Ethiopia.

This bean is described as having blueberry aromatics, medium body and spicy chocolate notes. I always buy beans freshly roasted and in small quantities (250g). It’s usually best to consume within 3 weeks of roasting. You can ask the lovely people at Single Origin to put the beans through their awesome conical grinder, but I always take the bean away whole, as it gives you the flexibility to freshly grind just before brewing! So that moves me onto the next topic… the grinder!

Grinder

I did a fair amount of research into hand coffee grinders on forums and the interwebby, and I was initially disappointed to read that most hand grinders are rubbish, which is not surprising given they are usually constructed using cheap materials and retail for about 20 – 50 dollars. They just didn’t cut it in terms of grind quality, consistency and fineness that needs to be achieved for a quality espresso brew. Most people recommended you stay well clear of them and stick to the larger branded electric grinders you see in your local cafe.

I did however persevere and finally started to come across a common thread in blogs and forums that a Japanese grinder with quality ceramic components could in fact produce a fine and consistent grind. So with a little more digging and research I found two reputable brands and grinders that were getting some very good reviews.

It was fairly even between the two (Kyocera and Hario), but I think the Kyocera looked sleeker and was slightly ahead in terms of quality and flexibility.

Kyocera hand grinder



It’s a tidy little package. The Kyocera CM-45CF ceramic hand grinder is the perfect travel companion, weighing in at a little under 250g. I’ve taken it on numerous bicycle touring and bush walking trips. There’s nothing like gourmet camping :)

Now, enough about coffee beans and grinders… lets take a look at the espresso machines!

Bialetti Brikka

The Bialetti Brikka is your classic Italian stove top espresso design, with a little twist on top. They have developed and patented a special release valve which regulates the flow of coffee as it is being brewed and pushed up through the spout that runs through the middle. This means that pressure is built up in the valve and the brewed coffee is delivered in a short burst under pressure. This creates a foaming affect with a similar finish and consistency to ‘crema’. You can read all the forums and people will argue that its not ‘real’ crema. Fair enough, you need to spend some big dollars on a quality espresso machine to get crema. But this is a pretty good approximation.

So without further delay, lets make some espresso coffee using the Bialettie Brikka!

First step is to grind the coffee bean. I’ve found I only need to load the Kyocera up to the imaginary line where the join/dividers meet the side wall. Here is a small pic to illustrate this:

Kyocera with beans loaded

It usually takes about 200 to 250 turns on the handle to grind this amount of coffee beans. This usually takes about 2 minutes depending on how sleepy I am in the morning :)

Once the coffee bean is ground, you unscrew the top of Kyocera grinder to reveal the storage compartment on the bottom. This is effectively a little cup or container to catch the coffee. I find a small teaspoon is best for scooping out.

Next you fill the Bialetti Brikka base (unscrew from top and remove funnel first) using the supplied measuring cup. I just use cold tap water, but if you wanted to speed the whole brewing process up you could use boiling water. But I wouldn’t go to the trouble, since the brew is already pretty quick.

Now place the funnel onto the base which contains the water. There is a nice improvement over previous generations of Bialetti’s I’ve seen, with the inclusion of a seal between the base and funnel. This creates a truly air tight seal, helping with the steam and pressurization required to create a strong, great tasting espresso.

Using that small teaspoon, heap the ground coffee bean into the funnel. Don’t be tempted to tamp the coffee in the funnel. This will create a negative effect of fighting against the pressure in the base. Requiring more pressure to overcome the resistance to properly brew and infuse through the ground coffee in the funnel. It also increases your chance of burning the coffee, as the path of least resistance will be where all the steam goes. So think even distribution of ground coffee and lightly packed. If you have spare ground coffee, save it for later. Don’t be tempted to pack it all in. Fill it just to the level:

Bialetti base with funnel filled with ground coffee bean


Now screw the top of the Bialetti onto the base ensuring that it is tight, but not too tight. Its ready to be placed on a gas or electric stove. A gas stove is the preferred option as again the brewing time is much shorter (a few minutes). I usually use the smallest flame on the stove available, set at about 8/10 of full power.

It is a good idea to stay close to the Bialetti Brikka when on the stove. It is surprisingly quick to get up to temperature. The biggest mistake you can make is to leave it on the gas stove too long and burn your coffee!

With the Brikka, when ready, the actual brew is over in a few seconds, and you have to be quick to turn the stove off. A tell tale sign is a small girgle or release of steam. This means the pressure valve is almost ready to kick into action. Once you hear the pressurized steam  in action, you immediately turn the gas off.

Here is an animation of the Bialetti Brikka in action:

Bialetti Brikka in action

The Bialetti Brikka is quite a step up from the Bialetti Moka and other products. It is the only one capable of creating the ‘crema’ effect. Like other Bialettie and stove top espresso’s you get best results using finely ground coffee beans. Of course the coffee will only be as good as the quality of your bean. So don’t skimp on good coffee! The taste and strength of the Bialetti Brikka brew is similar to what you’ll get from cafe espresso machines. It might not have the same crema or concentration of flavor, but you can control that with how much milk you add.

While the Bialetti Brikka was on the stove, I was also warming up some Bonsoy soy milk in a little pot. If you want a great whisk to froth your milk, check this little gadget out- the Aerolatte:

It takes two AAA batteries and creates a great froth on your milk!

So here is the soy milk ready for combining with the coffee:

Warm milk with foam

So the espresso coffee is poured into a cup and combined with milk. Here is the finished product:

I love good coffee!

The effect of adding soy milk is a slightly nutty finish, but one which is rich, creamy and oh so delicious. There are definitely soft chocolate notes when tasting the coffee. The aroma that fills the house is amazing. It’s one of my early child hood memories of visiting Europe – the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting through the house in the early morning. It instantly relaxes me and provides a comforting reassurance that everything is OK in the world.  It’s my favorite way to start the day for sure. That and a good cycle with friends. So I usually combine the two :)

Cyclist close call!

Speaking of cycling, I bet the guy wishes he had a coffee before this ride. Wow what a close call!

 

 

 

OK,  its time for the next challenger to step up and be counted…

Handpresso

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bit of an outdoor and cycling nut, so when I saw the Handpresso, I instantly fell in love. It looked like an ultra portable bike pump that made espresso coffee with 16 bar of pressure! Wow!

So the first challenge was finding a supplier in Australia. After looking at it on Mountain Equipment Co-op and learning that I’d be slugged with a $50 delivery fee, I decided to shop locally. Google was a good friend. And turned up a few reputable online retailers. Eventually I ended up buying it through Kindred Gifts.

So this is a pic of the Handpresso in the 3 seperate parts (main unit, strainer and cap):

Handpresso in pieces

The unit is pretty simple to operate. The principle to brew an espresso is quite elegant. You use your hands to create pressure! Just like a bike pump the Handpresso has a piston and handle which allow you to build up to 16 bar in the main unit. The fine mesh strainer keeps the coffee grinds out of the cup. And there is even a secondary strainger on the cap that seals the whole unit together. There is a safe marker to where the cap needs to interlock to. Since you wouldn’t want anything going wrong with 16 bar of power!

So step one to making a coffee with the Handpresso is to grind your coffee beans. Again the trusty Kyocera was put to task,  and again worked flawlessly. While you are grinding, its a good idea to put the kettle on and bring a small amount (100ml) to the boil. Once you’ve got your coffee ground, pack it neatly into the small strainer:

Handpresso strainer

This time it is advised to tamp the coffee grounds into the strainer. This will provide a stronger and more intense brew. With 16 bar of water pressure, there shouldn’t be any risk of the coffee grounds being tightly packed and causing any blockages.

Now pour the boiling water into the half dome in the main unit. Being careful to keep it level. Next, place the strainer into position and screw on the cap. Ensuring that the markers on the cap line up with the safety position.

Handpresso guage at 16 bar

The Handpresso is now ready to do its magic! Flip the device so that the cap is now facing towards the earth, preferably over a cup or container to catch the espresso brew :)

Press the small button on top of the main unit,  which is near the pressure guage. This will start to distribute the pressure to the half dome, forcing the hot water at pressure through the strainer, and out of the distribution point on the cap:

Handpresso brewing

The espresso is quite different in flavor to the Bialetti Brikka. While it creates a similar amount of ‘crema’ on the top of the brew, it lacks the intensity and strength of the Brikka. I’ve found the espresso shots are quite small, light in colour. The flavour is very smooth, which is a sign that the coffee is not burnt in any way using this process. I think this is a very good thing, and something to seek out.

Espresso shot

I found the Handpresso espresso tasted best without diluting the brew by adding milk. I usually drink the shot straight up. It gives you a good hit of caffeine to put a spring in your step, fire the synapses and inspire creativity.

Decision time

So its not as hard as I thought it would be to pick a winner. The Bialettie Brikka wins hands down for taste, flavor and strength. Its a little more versatile and makes more coffee. The Handpresso is a neat “toy” to bring out on a bushwalk or camping trip to attract some attention from curious onlookers.

Congrats! You’ve made it this far through my first blog post. Below are some links you might like to check out and get some more info.

Links

http://www.singleorigin.com.au/

http://www.handpresso.com/produit-1-3-handpresso_wild_domepod.html#

http://www.bialetti.com/coffee/brikka/

http://coffeesnobs.com.au

http://coffeegeek.com

About olyalphy

I'm an automation engineer with an interest in the environment, sustainable transport and photography.
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7 Responses to Bialetti Brikka vs Handpresso Espresso Challenge

  1. bringmemyfix says:

    You can get much better results from the Handpresso with practice – richer shots, closer to something you’d get from an espresso machine. Once you’ve dialled in the grind, try this:

    - place the lid/filter upside down on the handpresso bowl, and pour boiling water through it, thus heating both parts. Also preheat your cup / shot glass.

    - fill the basket using the upside down method posted on youtube. Get your ground coffee into a small / medium contain, then gradually scoop coffee into the basket into it’s slightly heaped; then quickly invert onto the remaining coffee in the contrainer, and keep dabbing until you’ve picked enough up. Apply moderate pressure as you finish – this is your ‘tamp’. Too much, and you’ll choke the Handpresso.

    - Pour out the preheating water from the bowl, then refill with freshly boiled water – err on the side of too hot, as heat dissipates quickly anyway in the Handpresso ‘system’.

    - End the extraction before all the water’s out, usually around the 1oz mark.

    - Results like this (or better), if you can see this link: http://bit.ly/L0hiZj

    I’ve got a Brikka too. Once you get it right with the Handpresso, there’s no comparison. One makes an espresso shot, the other makes a short concentrated coffee drink.

  2. Reuben Hutton says:

    Great writeup! I absolutely swear by the Brikka. Strangely enough, I just this second had a double espresso at my local illy cafe, and didn’t really notice any difference in flavour to the espresso made in my Brikka this morning. I’m never able to achieve a thick-ish crema like the ones you see produced in the YouTube videos of the Brikka in action, but as far as flavour goes, it’s right up there for sure. Probably not comparable to espresso drunk in Italy, but it’s a great bit of kit for £40. I hear the Portaspresso kit made by a guy in Australia is the kingpin of the hand pressure espresso devices – http://www.portaspresso.com. Will be a while before I can afford that for sure, though it’s a small price to pay compared to that of high-end espresso machines.

    • olyalphy says:

      Hi Reuben,
      Thanks for posting the positive comment. I’ve tried a few more times to produce some quality strong crema with the Hand Presso, but it just doesn’t measure up to the Brikka. The original o-ring seal for the Hand Presso has already needed replacing, since it wasn’t sealing properly, which actually led to a dangerous blast of boiling hot water onto my hands and body. Luckily I wasn’t burnt badly.
      I checked out the Portaspresso, and it looks very schmick. I think it has a draw back in that you have to “charge” the device with another pump (bicycle, car, electric, etc) which adds more weight and complexity to the whole unit. And I don’t know many bicycle pumps that go above 120 PSI (8.23 Bar) very easily without super human strength.
      Wihtout a doubt, the Brikka is just bullet proof and consistently produces quality coffee. My only complaint is that the Brikka produces slightly less than the standard Moka Express unit I also own. So I usually use the Moka when making coffee for more than one person.

      • Reuben Hutton says:

        Are you using a 4 cup Brikka or a 2 cup? The 2 cup produces just your regular double espresso. Apparently the 4 cup one doesn’t produce as concentrated an espresso as the 2 cup, or as good a crema. Just this second downed another espresso at my local illy cafe and found absolutely no difference in flavour to the Brikka, with which I use illy beans (I asked for 2 espressos just to be sure!) And as for the Portaspresso, the Air espresso devices are just his latest additions for people who can’t be bothered with the hassle of generating the pressure manually. Check out the other ones he does. And fwiw, I believe you need a shock pump for the Air espressos, not a tyre pump. Crazy prices, but it looks like something that’s only needing replaced every 500 years or so! I’m having trouble producing a crema like you see produced in the YouTube videos of the Brikka in action. Any advice to give me there? Cheers…

      • olyalphy says:

        Hi Reuben,
        I measured the difference in volume between the Brikka and Moka Express just now out of curiosity, and there is a massive difference in water volume!
        The Brikka comes with a measuring cup, and it delivers approximately 100ml of water.
        The Moka Express I usually just fill to just below the safety valve, which turns out to be approximately 180ml of water. So there is a big difference between the two!
        On closer inspection of the Moka Express, it is actually a 3 cup version! The manual for the 3 cup states 200ml max capacity. Which is closer to what I measured.
        I hope you’ve bought shares in Illy, you seem to be sampling their product quite frequently ;)
        I agree, that a shock pump would be the only way you’d get close to the 16 bar the unit can handle.
        The only advice I can offer to get a good crema is to not tamp or compact the ground coffee bean into the funnel. Just lightly scoop it in there using a tea spoon.
        Gas ovens offer the best results in getting the coffee brewed quickly as well. I don’t usually have it on full gas, around 3/4. When I hear the Brikka about to pop, then I turn the gas up to 100%. As soon as you hear the spluttering of coffee being produced, turn your gas oven off.
        You might also like to experiment with different temperatures of water, water quality (tap vs filtered vs bottled).
        Cheers.

      • Reuben Hutton says:

        Haha, I may aswell buy shares with the amount I’ll be buying from them ;) I never tamp the coffee grounds in the pot filter, rather tap it vigorously on the worktop to get rid of any unwanted air pockets. I also use gas, but find that anything other than a low flame (on the smallest ring of course) is far too aggressive, and shoots the coffee up so fast that it burns it along with forcing some of the grounds through! It’s strange, because other people have said that they use it on a 3/4 to high heat and get good results with it. I’ve followed the advice given on the YouTube videos, but nothing seems to give me a decent thick crema. I’m talking a crema like you see in this video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ni8oMwxcmR4. I’m convinced guys like these have a closely guarded secret!

  3. Reuben Hutton says:

    Hey, in case you’re interested, I finally managed to get a nice thick crema with the Brikka, and the espressos I’m drinking with it now are top notch. Here’s a short video I made demonstrating the thick crema: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeEindjT7TY. I’ve written my entire method in the video description box… I hope it is of some help!

    Reuben

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