Uniterra Nomad Manual Espresso Maker

The Uniterra Nomad is an unorthodox espresso machine in almost every aspect. Some may be put off by the design and shot- pulling process, but I’ve come to deeply appreciate the machine’s innovations.

An Espresso Machine Built by a Medical Device Manufacturer

The Uniterra Nomad ($295) is unlike any other espresso machine largely because it’s not designed by a coffee industry insider. Uniterra is actually a medical device manufacturer, and the company was able to approach the project without preconceived notions of how an espresso machine should look and operate. The result is a machine that has an obviously different form factor, and several unique innovations on the inside.

(The espresso machine has largely been separated from the medical device manufacturer Uniterra Inc. The connection was more visible when the model was released in 2014.)

Feature: Fully Manual “Lever” Espresso Machine

The fully manual Uniterra Nomad follows in the tradition of lever espresso machines, but itself doesn’t have a true lever. Rather than featuring a long lever that’s pulled in order to create pressure, the model has a pump lever.

The pump lever is see-sawed back and forth with thumbs, and this motion generates the pressure used to pull espresso. A pressure gauge on top of the machine makes it easy to see how much pressure is currently generated, but maintaining any consistency takes practice and a little luck. Pressing down with alternating thumbs is difficult to do perfectly consistently.

The pressure gauge is a nice inclusion that few lever machines include as a standard feature, but the gauge’s actual benefit is limited because maintaining consistent pressure is so difficult. Actual pressure profiling is best done with a pull lever machine that’s also outfitted with a gauge.

Feature: Entirely Portable Espresso Machine

Marketing for the Uniterra Nomad predominately advertises it as a portable espresso machine, and it’s true that the machine requires no electricity or other non-manual power. Simply prepare the espresso grounds, add hot water and pump — you can pull espresso anywhere you are. Few other models can pull a shot at home, while out camping and on a boat.

Among the portable espresso machines that are available, however, the Uniterra Nomad’s boxy and bulky form factor makes it less portable than other options. The fully manual Portapresso Rossa lineup is more compact and easy to pack, and it produces outstanding espresso. The Aeropress is an espresso-like alternative that also has a more streamlined profile, and options proliferate if you consider powered espresso machines. The Wacaco Nanopresso Portable and Handpresso are just a couple cartridge-based machines.

Feature: True Crema Valve Compensates for Variables

The most innovative feature of the Uniterra Nomad is its “true crema valve.” The espresso flows through this valve after it’s brewed, and the valve incorporates air to create a rich layer of crema. This makes it possible to create good-looking shots from virtually any coffee grounds, even including some non-espresso grinds.

As cool as creating good-looking espresso is, the fundamentals must be remembered when considering this valve’s actual utility. Good-looking espresso isn’t the same as good-tasting espresso, and adding crema will only do so much for a shot. Additionally, crema is simply an aerated (foamed) layer of espresso — and adding air doesn’t change the shot’s actual fundamentals.

I have personally come to appreciate the true crema valve, especially with all of the variables that inevitably change when using the machine in a non-traditional setting (e.g. camping). The valve has its limits, but I’ve always appreciated a layer of crema.

Drawback: Temperature Stability Challenge With the Uniterra Nomad

The biggest issue with the Uniterra Nomad is maintaining temperature stability. The machine must be filled with hot water since it doesn’t have a powered heating element, and any water will quickly lose heat after being poured in.

The temperature issue can be somewhat mitigated by running a blank fill of hot water through to preheat the machine. Even with preheating, the plastic still absorbs a lot of heat and you won’t see a completely consistent temperature. In some colder settings (e.g. fall, winter, spring outdoors), getting a properly hot water temperature may be a challenge.

I’ve come to live with this drawback, but realize that temperature stability greatly limits the machine. You’ll never replicate a shot because you can’t control temperature, and not being able to perfectly control temperature mostly negates and pressure control you have. Pressure profiling is impossible without a stable temperature.

Main Reason to Have: An Interactive Espresso Machine to Share

I recognize that the Uniterra Nomad isn’t the best espresso machine, even with its notable innovations. The reason I have and continue to use the machine isn’t to produce perfect shots (which I have an Olympia Cremina for).

The best part of the Uniterra Nomad is how shareable it is. The slide-in “group head” drawer, intuitive pump lever, visible pressure gauge and true crema valve make it easy for anyone to pull a shot. If you explain each aspect, they’ll even learn something as they pull.

I’ve had novice family members and friends use the machine with success, and my young children especially like it (yes, they do get a little taste). One child has been helping use the machine since he was 2 years old.

Simply put, I love coffee and I love to share it. The Uniterra Nomad is the best way to share my passion for espresso.

How to Pull Espresso With the Uniterra Nomad

Pulling espresso with the Uniterra Nomad is easy. Pulling good espresso is much more difficult. To pull consistently good and sometimes great shots with the Uniterra Nomad:

  1. Prepare Espresso Basket
    Prepare the basket with espresso grounds as you normally would. Preheating the basket isn’t important, because it’s metal and will cool quickly. An espresso grind yields best results, but isn’t entirely necessary thanks to the true crema valve.
  2. Preheat Machine
    Fill the machine entirely with boiling water, and pump all of the water through. Make sure the drawer is in place during this. Cycling water will warm up all of the machine’s plastic.
  3. Load Espresso
    Remove the drawer, and load the espresso basket in it. Lock the drawer back in place for brewing.
  4. Fill With Water
    Entirely fill the machine with boiling water. This is the water that will be used for brewing.
  5. Pump to Pull
    Pull the espresso shot by pumping in a see-saw motion to create pressure. The pressure gauge should remain in the green area, and not go into the red (which can damage the machine).
  6. Remove Cup and Enjoy
    Remove your cup when the espresso shot is fully pulled. This will be before the machine is emptied of water. Sip, and enjoy!

Based on my personal experience, here are some tips I’ve learned after using this machine:

Order a second drawer and espresso basket, so you can pull back-to-back shots. Without a second drawer, emptying and reloading the espresso is difficult because the drawer is too hot immediately after brewing.
Use a roaring boil, and move quickly once the machine is warmed. The machine will cool water quickly even if it’s preheated.

Have a second cup on hand, and likely some towels too. The machine will continue to drip even after the shot is fully pulled. You’ll also inevitably spill water when filling the machine and removing the drawer. Several towels will be useful. There is no steam wand on the machine. This machine is great for pulling espresso, but you’ll want something else if you’re looking to make cappuccinos, lattes, etc.

Enjoy Experimenting and Sharing With the Uniterra Nomad

The Uniterra Nomad espresso machine promises lever action and portability, but other machines are better in these two areas. The differentiating feature of the Nomad is how accessible it is to everyone. There is no espresso machine that’s better for sharing.