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Single-Serve Manual Coffee Makers

Can these compact, manual devices deliver café-quality results at home? We gave three models a shot.


Published July 28, 2020.

See Everything We Tested

What You Need To Know

The allure of a rich cup of espresso brewed quickly and conveniently at home might be too strong for many coffee lovers to resist. Unfortunately, most espresso machines intended for home use, including our winner, are fairly bulky and come with a hefty price tag. If you’re looking to save space and money, you might consider a smaller, manually operated device instead. These devices use hot water and manual pressure to brew small amounts of strong, full-bodied coffee that’s often described by manufacturers as espresso or espresso-style concentrate. 

For years, we’ve recommended manual models made by ROK and AeroPress. ROK recently redesigned its model’s hot-water chamber using a glass-composite polymer, claiming that the new material improves coffee extraction. AeroPress now offers a new model, the AeroPress Go Travel Coffee Press, which is designed for maximum portability with collapsible components that fit into a travel mug. Given these changes, we decided to test the new ROK EspressoGC (about $190) and the AeroPress Go Travel Coffee Press against the standard AeroPress Coffee Maker (both about $30). To assess the machines’ performances, we brewed (or “pulled”) dozens of coffee shots and evaluated the ease of use, ease of cleanup, and durability of each machine. We also rated the taste, body, and appearance of the coffee they produced, noting how it compared with the rich, full-bodied shots we can reliably produce with a countertop espresso maker. 

Operating the Presses 

The revamped ROK model consists of three pieces: an 11.5-inch-tall, wishbone-shaped body with two curved levers; a hot-water chamber; and a metal portafilter that holds the coffee grounds and latches on to the machine. To brew, we filled the portafilter with ground coffee, locked it in place, and poured hot water into the water chamber. We pressed the water through the coffee grounds by pushing down on the attached levers, sending coffee into the mug below. We liked that cleaning the ROK model was straightforward: We simply knocked the compacted grounds out of the portafilter, ran it under the faucet, and then wiped it dry.

The AeroPress models were impressively simple to use. To brew, we attached a filter to the bottom of a cylindrical chamber and then added ground coffee and hot water, which we stirred and allowed to steep. Then, we inserted a plunger into the chamber and pressed, forcing the coffee through the filter and into the mug below. Cleaning both AeroPress models was a cinch: The grounds were pressed into a solid disk at the bottom of the chamber, so an additional quick push of the plunger after removing the filter sent the ground...

Everything We Tested

Good : 3 stars out of 3.Fair : 2 stars out of 3.Poor : 1 stars out of 3.
*All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing. We stand behind our winners so much that we even put our seal of approval on them.

Chase Brightwell

Chase is an associate editor for ATK Reviews. He's an epidemiologist-turned-equipment tester and biscuit enthusiast.