Today, we are going to discuss how to make espresso coffee at home.
For some, the best source of caffeine is a steaming espresso shot. Its rich, bold flavour has made it a favourite menu item at many coffee shops. There are also espresso machines which are available for consumer use. The problem is, whichever way you go, getting your espresso fix can be expensive.
The good news is, you don’t need a professional machine to make espresso. You can produce an identical result using simpler methods that don’t break your bank.
This article will go over those methods, all of which require little technical knowledge. We will also go over what espresso is and what sets it apart from coffee.
Understanding how to make espresso calls for different scientific factors. Achieving this without a machine starts with choosing the right coffee and having the right materials.
People tend to use darker roasts of coffee for espresso, which yield a stronger flavour. You can use any coffee, provided you have the right tools and understanding of how to make espresso.
What matters most is that the coffee is ground fine, to the consistency of table salt. The fineness of the grind affects how the water passes through the coffee, affecting the flavour.
For convenience, you can buy a bag of pre-ground coffee. Keep in mind that this won’t be nearly as fresh as coffee beans that you grind yourself.
One last thing: don’t be fooled by espresso powder. This is dehydrated espresso consisting of fine granules, much like instant coffee. Espresso powder is more common as a baking ingredient than a means of making drinkable espresso. That is because espresso made with powder is watered down and not fresh tasting.
There are the items you will need to make espresso without a machine:
These tools are good to have to achieve the best results:
For the following methods, you will want to give it some trial and error and experiment. Settle on a formula you’re happy with.
The Aeropress is the easiest and most straightforward method to make espresso without a machine. Its plunger system uses air as a method of applying pressure.
As you press the plunger down, the air forces the water through the grounds into your mug. In less than a minute, you’ll have a hot shot of espresso.
Please take a look at our quick guide on how to use Aeropress for more detailed information. What you need is:
With these items you can start preparing your espresso:
While an Aeropress uses air to press down, a Moka pot uses air to create a vacuum. When heat is applied to the water tank, the water and air expand inside. The pressure builds up and causes the water to go up into the coffee filter basket. After this, the finished coffee is sucked into the upper chamber, ready to pour and enjoy.
Our guide on how a stove-top espresso maker works goes into more detail. The amount of pressure applied is still lower than that from professional espresso machines. However, it’s still higher than the gravity from traditional brewing methods.
For the Moka Pot method, you need:
From here, the rest is as follows:
Since it is impossible to apply significant amounts of pressure with a French press, this isn’t as effective of a method. It also takes more time for the coffee to brew. The key is to add more coffee grounds than you think you need, to add more richness to the flavour.
You might read up on the history of the French press, which is fascinating. The idea behind the French press sheds light on how water temperature affects coffee. Boiling water is too hot and destroys the coffee flavour. Water that is brought to a lesser temperature allows the grounds to extract their flavour more. This is an important part of the making of espresso.
For this method, you’ll need:
The rest of the process you may be familiar with:
Be mindful of the potency of caffeine in a shot of espresso. The idea is to get not only more intense flavour, but also more caffeine, in a smaller serving.
A study done by the Center for Science in the Public Interest shows that caffeine in coffee varies widely. The USDA has determined that a typical 30 ml espresso shot has 64 mg of caffeine. A Starbucks espresso, which is 2 oz (about 60 ml), contains 150 mg of caffeine! That’s nearly double the amount of caffeine in a traditional 237 ml serving of coffee, which has 95 mg.
The definition of espresso has been widely debated. For all practical purposes, espresso is not necessarily a type of coffee, but a brewing method. The word espresso is of Italian origin, as is the method itself. It is derived from the term caffè espresso, which means “pressed-out coffee.” This implies that espresso is brewed with intense pressure.
You can technically make espresso with any type of coffee. The primary difference between espresso and coffee is in the concentration. Drip coffee brews more slowly, and the result is a more watery beverage. Espresso emphasizes concentration. It uses small amounts of hot water – about 30 ml per shot at 90°C. This water is pressed through proportionally larger amounts of finely ground coffee – approximately 7 to 9 grams per shot.
There are multiple types of espresso machines that do the job, with the electronic pump being the most common. A motor forces water through a bed of coffee, applying the necessary pressure. The ideal pressure for a shot of espresso is 9 bars. Electronic systems are best at being consistent with pressure, which is why they are widely used.
This brewing method is much faster, and the result is a stronger, more concentrated brew. In essence, Espresso is a 1 oz burst of intense flavour, focusing much more on the taste than quantity.
What makes the espresso unique is that it captures the natural essence of a roasted coffee bean. To that end, the #1 most important skill required for making a good shot of espresso is the palate. A good barista uses their palate to discern and control such details as:
There are still multiple types of espresso machines in use, and many require manual operation to some degree. Electronic pump machines, which started emerging in the 1960s, have started to automate parts of the process.
But the making of espresso remains an art which is refined and cannot be completely automatic. Again, the barista’s palate is crucial to ensuring the quality of a “god shot” of espresso. When using an Aeropress, Moka Pot, or French Press at home, your palate will be your most valuable tool.
The Italian inventor Angelo Moriondo patented the first espresso machine in 1884. It was a steam-powered machine that brewed in bulk, rather than individual servings. Many improvements happened over the next few decades, with the United States getting its first machine in 1927.
With these steam-powered machines, however, steam gets forced through coffee, creating a burnt taste. In the late 1930s, a piston pump machine was developed. Piston pump machines forced hot – but not boiling – water through the coffee. This not only presented a more natural taste, but it also resulted in a layer of foam. Both of which have become the most endearing characteristics of espresso to this day.