HOWTO make a home-made pocket-sized espresso machine with tiny alcohol stove

Instructables user Urant decided to create a pocket-sized espresso machine that could be built using simple tools and parts from a local home-improvement store. He came up with a tiny, soldered contraption with its own tinsy winsy alcohol stove that uses a filed-down syringe to deliver a very slow drip of fuel for a boil that goes long enough to extract a single shot. It's a great design.

Design constraints are some of the most important points of any product design; they tell us what the limits are. The tighter the constraints, the more limited the design, and we have to be more creative to be able to meet them.

On this project, I set the following ones.
1- The product had to fit in the pocket of my jeans.
2- The product had to be made out with common, cheap and easily obtainable materials from any home improvement store or corner hardware store.
3- The product had to be made using simple tools that most makers would probably already have, or could easily borrow or buy cheaply.
4- The product had to be self-contained.
5- The budget was maximum 30 dollars.

Pocket size Espresso Machine with integrated alcohol stove. (via Make)


  1. I am glad to see that the author of that Instructable and many of the commenters emphasized the need to use lead-free, cadmium-free, food-safe solder.

  2. If you don’t use hard solder, you’re going to spring a leak with continued use. I’m glad to see he notes that using lead-free solder is imperative…

    Also, I wonder about the safety of creating a pressure vessel out of copper water pipe.

    1. I’m not so concerned. The amount of pressure is pretty small, and the gauge of the pipe seems sufficient for the surface area of the pressurized portion. Plus, you can always wrap it in piano wire, (a low tech technique used to strengthen cannon). 

    1. Is it safe to use this heavy lead solder I found in the back shed to seal the pipes?

      I’d say, as long as it weighs more than five pounds for a pint can, you can rest assured that you found “the good stuff” in your shed, and you are good to go.  Pansy solder just doesn’t hold up like the vintage kind does.

  3. This is quite an ingenious design, and obviously a lot of effort went into its creation. It would be great to see it get mass-produced. 

  4. I don’t want to pop anyones balloon here but the device cannot make real espresso. It might make something thicker than drip coffee but espresso is a particular beverage made under particular constraints.

    To make it you need 6-9 bar of pressure, a specific water temp (194-205 F) and a few other things his device does not have.

    Making good espresso is very much harder than making decent drip coffee.

    I would hate to have people think they can actually make an espresso machine for $30 and or that what comes out of his machine is espresso.

    He’s done a nice little project but it is on the same order as someone who makes a paper mache pedal car and then says now he can commute on the freeway.

    To make semi-decent espresso buy a second hand Pavoni lever machine, they are bought by folks who want a cheap machine and then they find out that even with the right tool it is still very hard. So they are around all the time for $150-$400.

    Once you get things tuned (and you learn how/what to do and when/how) you can make decent espresso with that machine.

    If you don’t want to bother with the expense/hassle factor then making drip coffee with a Melitta type filter does a decent job.

    The rough scale for quality is
    crap machine/technique = 1-2
    decent machine/some knowledge = 3-4
    average espresso café = 3-4
    good machine/technique = 6-7 (1 mm of difference in puck height = different espresso)
    excellent everything (machine, technique, beans, tamp etc.) = 7-9
    excellent everything and a bit of luck = 10

    (making espresso in my kitchen every morning since 1983, drip from 1975)


    (BTW, if the goal is just to make something you never made before, then the gizmo is a good candidate for that)

    1. Indeed.  I gather this gadget would produce coffee more akin to the brew you get from a Moka pot.

    1. Metallic copper (with a valence of “0”) is not a problem.  Only organic molecules or salts containing copper would be a problem.  We are not all suffering from copper toxicity from the copper pipes in our houses, for example.  This is true for most metals. You can even drink elemental mercury without getting any toxic effect at all, but one drop of dimethylmercury on your skin and you’ll suffer an agonizing slow death over the next 10 days, or so.

      1. Scott, you are partly right. We are not suffering from copper toxicity from copper pipes for drinking water, but generally, drinking water is not acid and it is not heated. I’d say this contraption (though I think it is a nifty machine), at least has the aura of suspicion abt it. Nevertheless I appreciate you trying to think further than the average “copper -> dangerous”  commenter

  5. Did he include the step about not letting any of your tweaker neighbors see it lest they steal it for the copper?

  6. As others have mentioned, it’s good the maker points out not to use lead solder. Shame he didn’t include “Lead free solder” on his parts list, though. It’s also worth mentioning that you can’t use anything made of brass because it’s machined with lead.

    Call me mad, but I’d rather drink a cup’o instant than potentially get lead poisoning from a home-brew drip coffee machine.

  7. “You’re under arrest for possession of drug paraphernalia.”
    “Officer,  it’s not paraphernalia — it’s an espresso maker!”
    Cops laugh uproariously at this bit of news.
    “Yeah, tell it to the judge.” 

  8. Novel use of alcohol stove.  I’ve built a pepsi can alcohol stove for camping uses.  But this is indeed a great idea.

    At time of this posting, it’s interesting to note someone adding: 

    “The Boy Scouts of America now prohibits “equipment that is handcrafted, homemade, modified, or installed beyond the manufacturer’s stated design limitations or use. Examples include alcohol-burning ‘can’ stoves, smudge pots, improperly installed heaters, and propane burners with their regulators removed.”

    in the wiki.  It was the scouts that I’ve learned FROM to build one of these things.  Sad.

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