What is the Difference?
If you're confused by the terms floating around: espresso makers, espresso machines, macchinettas, stovetop espresso makers, cappuccino makers, moka pots and pressos, it's for good reason. You've decided you want to make espresso, right? But where do you go next? The easiest way to break down the plethora of terms now tied to making espresso is as as simple as thinking in terms of "maker" vs. "machine." If it doesn't plug in, this is the first separate distinction and the way we're going to look at espresso makers in general. Anything machine related, ie: your typical espresso machines from brands like Gaggia, Saeco or Ascaso all require a plug-in and a certain voltage to run. They perform by using that harnessed energy to create pressure and therefore form espresso.
The Real Espresso Makers
Because the basis of espresso comes from creating a high level pressure, at least 9 bar, the fact that espresso makers aren't using electricity means that intense pressure has to be created from another source. This determining factor also helps to eliminate out the espresso makers that claim to be espresso makers but aren't really espresso makers. This would include stovetop espresso makers, a title that also encompasses the moka pots and macchinettas. They come under the espresso maker title because they do use heat to create a steam pressure for brewing, they do have an extraction ratio that resembles true espresso, and can, in some cases, can even form a cream. However, they still require a source of energy/electricity and come nowhere near the standard 9 bar pressure required to extract true espresso. In fact, they generally max out around 1.5 bars.
We've already clearly distinguished "espresso machine" as a product that uses electricity and creates an extraction with 9+ bar minimum. And we've eliminated all stovetop espresso makers like the Moka Pot, cappuccino makers and macchinettas. So, what does that leave us for an espresso maker? Espresso makers are the ones that are able to to reach 9+ bar pressure without any source of electricity, and these products are those like the ones created Presso and Handpresso that achieve the pressure with manually created energy. Presso can reach as high as 10 bar, and Handpresso as high as 16 bar.
Benefits to Espresso Makers
There are countless benefits to the Presso and Handpresso espresso makers. At the top of the list is the convenience of being able to make espresso anywhere at any time without dependency upon electricity. Handpresso is particularly well known for being able to be tossed in a backpack and taken to mountain peaks and far off lakes for a refreshing espresso at the end of a long day hike. Genuine espresso makers require nothing but a friendly espresso lover who can work a lever (Presso) or a hand pump (Handpresso) much like that of one on a bicycle tire pump. As such, they are the most eco-friendly version of an espresso machine/maker available. If it's eco-friendly and portable that you're seeking, you're seeking a real espresso maker.