I was asked by Staresso if we’d be interested in testing out their Staresso portable espresso machine on our summer adventures. We look forward to our morning coffee and as we are frequently off the beaten track without a good cafe and barista nearby, I’m excited to find solutions that might elevate our outdoor espresso brewing game. This is our 1-month Staresso review.
The machine was gifted to us but the opinions are our own, formed over a month of putting it through its paces out in the wild. Our testing is outdoors; hiking, at the beach and other locations with limited facilities. We don’t carry coffee scales, calibrated tampers or commercial grinders in our backpack.
You will currently receive $10 off the Staresso Mirage 3 using the discount code 2AUSSIETRAVELLERS10
That means we sometimes take shortcuts like buying pre-ground coffee from the best small-batch local roasters we come across and employing a makeshift tamper to pack the grounds. Our objective is to prepare the best cup of coffee we can achieve in the most beautiful, natural landscape we can find.
With gear reviews, there is always a balance between using a piece of kit long enough to judge its durability and fit into our travel and lifestyle but also getting the review out quickly enough that you see relevant information on the current model. A month of regular use seems to be the sweet spot.
Table of Contents
Out of the box
The Staresso Mirage 3 arrived boxed with a separate filter basket. In the package we received:
- The Staresso 3 unit complete with the stand and pressurised coffee basket
- A flat-bottomed plastic coffee scoop
- Small cleaning brush
- Non-pressurised filter basket
My initial impression was that the unit felt robust and of good quality. It is a little heavier than it looks due to the stainless steel interior and metal stand but not overly weighty at 680 grams. The external construction is plastic and feels solid, the rivets used in the assembly are metal. The barrel and pumping lid are coated in a rubberised finish and I feel that while it may take a few scratches and scuffs in the bottom of the pack it will probably stand up to the rough and tumble of outdoor use fairly well.
Brewing coffee with the Staresso espresso maker
Mostly we will use a portable coffee maker for a black coffee or add a splash of milk. Context is everything and I’m not carrying something to froth milk or sprinkle on top out in the bush, that’s just not happening. That said a non-powered machine is also a great option for camping and as we like to head away in the motorhome when we have the chance meaning we have the space for a few more luxuries, I also made a few variations with steamed and frothed milk to see how that compared with other coffee preparation tools we use.
The coffee gear we carry
It’s been a dry year in Queensland and fire bans continue so we are currently using a Thermos for hot water, not our ideal but we have a very battered but exceptionally efficient stainless one that came from NZ with us. I’d happily replace it if I could find another 750ml one of a similar quality but for now, her dents and cosmetic cracks attest to her 20-odd years of loyal service.
A more recent addition is a 250 ml stainless milk thermos. It came from a Japanese discount store and is the smallest I could find. It keeps the milk safely cold for quite a while without needing to put it in an esky.
Our cups of choice for espresso are double-walled bodum coffee glasses. I pack them in a tightly fitting plastic container with a few sheets of kitchen towel to stop them knocking together, they are robust but not unbreakable. The paper towel is also useful for cleanup plus a teaspoon lives in the box with them. If we are going any distance with coffee gear in the pack I’ll use our enamelled camping mugs instead.
The Staresso folds up compactly with the stand wrapped around it, if I’m carrying it in a picnic basket I put it in loose. If carrying the gear in a pack I’ll pop it in a wipeable bag or closely fitted container of its own. It helps contain any drips, spent coffee pucks and other rubbish on the trip back out.
For the espresso ground coffee, I use a couple of tiny Tupperware containers that I’ve had for years. They fit almost exactly a scoop or the little disposable Glad containers you can pick up in the supermarket are a similar size and I keep a couple of those in the motorhome. Then I can easily transfer the grinds to the coffee basket when I’m ready and tamp it down without measuring. If your workbench is a slightly sloping rock or you’re working with a bit of coastal spring breeze the pre-organisation is well worth it and I clean and repack the kit so often it takes no time to get out the door.
Getting set up
The Staresso Mirage Pro is quick to set up. From the folded position just pull back the legs, they lock once they reach the correct position, and then the central capsule unit that they were holding in place in the stowed position is released.
Remove the espresso cup from the base, then unscrew the filter basket, fill and tamp the grounds firmly into place before screwing it back in. For this process, I release the pump top and use that. It’s metal, flat and while spring-loaded it does allow a decent compression. You want a good even compaction of the grounds for the best flavour and crema but I felt this workaround using what we had with us did a good job.
If you’re wondering this gorgeous beach backdrop for our coffee is Elliott Heads on the Bundaberg coast.
Seat the machine into the stand with the pump handle facing up and unscrew the top section. Fill with the desired amount of water, the marks show you how much you have added then gently screw the lid back in place. The stand is very stable and I’ve had no issue with spills.
Extracting the espresso
Once the espresso cup is seated underneath begin pumping the machine with the palm of your hand at a slow steady pace. It will take a few pumps to build pressure as the water drips through to the coffee and then it will start to flow from the bottom nozzle into the cup. Continue pumping the machine until you feel the pressure release and the coffee stops flowing.
The clean up
During the clean up you’ll want to remove the coffee puck as compact and dry as possible. We found the easiest way to do that is to unscrew the pump section at the top of the water chamber to release the pressure then remove it from the stand and turn it upside down (not over yourself as it will drip coffee). Press down on the bottom of the filter basket compressing the grounds. After a couple of minutes of draining, you can turn it back right way up and unscrew the basket, the coffee puck comes out easily.
What I liked about the Mirage Plus 3
I will add a couple of clarifications here. This is a portable manual espresso machine, not a commercial or high-end benchtop machine and I’m not a barista. I want the best-tasting coffee I can make outdoors with the minimum gear to carry. It should be smooth, full of flavour and have a good crema but I don’t expect it to be on par with my all-time favourite coffee shops. The view and the company are part of the experience.
One of the first things about this Staresso machine that impressed me was the build quality and after using it for a month that is still my impression of it. I had wondered if it would perhaps be too heavy to want to carry but it seems to hit a good balance in being robust enough after sustaining a couple of minor knocks and bumps. It’s still a very compact unit.
The stainless steel interior is something that sets the Staresso Mirage apart from other portable units we have tried. I felt this helped ensure that both the temperature was right to get a good extraction and that the resulting coffee was hot enough. When combined with preheating the water chamber and stainless-lined espresso cup it achieved a good result.
The integrated stand makes a big difference in using a personal espresso machine when you have smaller hands or not a lot of strength in your hand. It fully supports the weight of the device and keeps it very stable over the cup, you then just need to focus on the pump and can use the heel or palm of your hand rather than needing to hold it steady over the cup at the same time.
Quality out is going to be impacted by quality in, so think about your beans and grind selection. We enjoy one or two good coffees daily and will happily seek out quality beans. Whether that is a local craft roast that we stop by or more often recently, a delivery from Grounded Drops. Currently, we are enjoying their limited-release, Bunji single origin. It’s Australian grown in Far North Queensland and if you haven’t tried this delicious and robust medium roast, you are missing out.
But back to the Staresso machine. We found it easy to extract a good-tasting espresso with a layer of golden crema from the first cup without much of a learning curve along the way, not always the case even when you’ve invested in a top-of-the-line benchtop machine. I do get that the pressurised system can be polarizing but it does make producing a good (or better) espresso very easy and consistent.
Non pressurised basket
To make a good espresso outdoors with minimum gear and facilities around I am happy using the ‘hack’ of a pressurised basket to give consistency and quality to the final shot, for me it balances out several shortcuts and non-optimal factors that I can’t avoid in those circumstances. Not everyone feels that way though and not everyone has a manual solution to use in the same situations so the Staresso Mirage now comes with an additional non-pressurised basket if you want to take that option.
What didn’t work so well for us?
- Temperature. The device didn’t always hold the heat well enough for optimal coffee extraction, especially as we regularly use a thermos for hot water during the fire ban season. This can be addressed reasonably well by swirling some boiling water in the metal water chamber and the collection cup immediately before starting. A really good quality thermos can keep the water scalding hot for several hours.
- A second cup. The Staresso is designed as a personal espresso maker on the go, we however go most places as a couple, and we both want a cup of coffee. Cleaning out the grinds and draining the machine to reload for a second consecutive extraction can be a bit messy and the dregs of water and coffee puck are hot to handle. It can be done, we have been doing it, but the machine may be best suited either to solo hikers and travellers unless you purchase a second coffee basket.
Staresso Review: Our conclusion.
Most importantly the Staresso produced a good quality espresso that we both enjoyed, whether drinking it black as an espresso shot, making it into a long black or adding a splash of milk.
The build quality is solid and based on the first month of use I would expect it to last well under the rigours of outdoor and travel use. The balance of metal components and rubberised plastic seems about right for still being a reasonable weight to carry some distance while being rugged enough to take a few bumps and knocks.
Will it become part of our daily carry? The cleanup in more remote locations can make it frustrating to prepare the second cup as a couple and still enjoy drinking it together. I’ll probably try to get hold of a second pressurised coffee filter basket to address that or we’ll end up using it mostly around the motorhome and other provisioned picnic areas where we can find a tap to give it a rinse out.
For those other remote situations, we do find the single-use drip filters to be a delicious, quick and mess-free option and believe both solutions will have a place in our lifestyle.
You will currently receive $10 off the Staresso Mirage 3 using the discount code 2AUSSIETRAVELLERS10