Last Updated: 3. February 2020

How to Make Perfect Espresso at Home [Without a Professional Machine]

By Helen Cartwright
By Helen Cartwright

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.


In-Short

  • Making espresso at home without a machine is easier than you might think.
  • Espresso is a brewing method, not necessarily a type of coffee.
  • You make espresso with these factors in mind: fine grind, high pressure, and specific water temperature.
  • Use either an Aeropress, Moka Pot, or French press for making espresso at home.
  • According to the USDA, one shot (30 mL/1 oz) of espresso contains 64 mg of caffeine.
  • In comparison, there is 95 mg of caffeine in a 237 ml serving of coffee.


Choose the Perfect 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.

 

Before You Cook

There are the items you will need to make espresso without a machine:

  • An electric or stovetop kettle – You want some means of heating your water.
  • A measuring scoop – Espresso also calls for precise measurements, so this is important!
  • An AeroPress, Moka Pot or French press – We will discuss how to make espresso with each of these items in the next section.


These tools are good to have to achieve the best results:

  • A thermometer. Remember, espresso calls for an ideal water temperature. 90-95° C is the typical magic number, but temperatures do vary with the below methods. A basic thermometer should do the trick with monitoring temperature. You won’t need this if your kettle has temperature control built-in.
  • A burr grinder. Unlike grinders with blades, a burr grinder uses two discs which crush the coffee beans. The coffee cannot pass through the gap in these discs until it is crushed enough. This gives you a more consistently fine grind than traditional blade grinders.


For the following methods, you will want to give it some trial and error and experiment. Settle on a formula you’re happy with.


How to Make Espresso With an Aeropress

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.

Professional barista preparing coffee in aeropress, alternative coffee brewing method. Hands on aeropress and glass cup, scales, manual grinder, coffee beans, kettle on wooden table


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:

  • Aeropress
  • Filter sheet
  • About 17 g of finely ground coffee
  • Water
  • Mug (up to 237 ml)


With these items you can start preparing your espresso:

  1. Screw the filter cap off the base and insert the filter sheet. Make sure the sheet lies flat. Then screw the cap back on.
  2. Add coffee. Give the AeroPress a few shakes to spread the coffee out more evenly.
  3. Place the AeroPress on the mug.
  4. Heat water to 80° C and pour into AeroPress up to the “Level 1” mark.
  5. Stir for 20 seconds, then insert plunger. Once you feel resistance from the air, pause and slowly continue pushing until the plunger reaches the bottom.
  6. Remove the filter cap and discard the coffee grounds by pushing out with the plunger. Rinse clean immediately.
  7. For espresso, drink the coffee as is. You can also make an Americano by filling your mug (if it’s 237 ml) the rest of the way with hot water.


How to Make Espresso With a Moka Pot

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.

Steel and black geyser coffee makers on wooden table. Alternative coffee brewing method. Stylish accessories and items for alternative coffee


For the Moka Pot method, you need:

  • Moka Pot
  • 22 g of finely ground coffee
  • About 100 ml of water
  • Stove


From here, the rest is as follows:

  1. Add water to the bottom chamber of the pot. You don’t want to go past the bottom of the relief valve. Your pot may have a fill line as well.
  2. Add coffee grounds to the filter basket. Shake to spread the grounds out evenly.
  3. Screw the top chamber on and place the Moka Pot on the stovetop.
  4. Heat your burner to medium.
  5. Wait for the vacuum pressure to do its magic. As the water heats, it will expand along with the air trapped inside. The top chamber will fill with foamed coffee as the water makes its way through the filter basket.
  6. When you can hear the sound of the coffee boiling, your Moka Pot is ready. Pour into an espresso mug and enjoy!


How to Make Espresso With a French Press

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.

French press coffee maker and coffee cup studio lit on table with dark background


For this method, you’ll need:

  • French press
  • Minimum 2 tablespoons of finely ground coffee
  • 240 ml of water


The rest of the process you may be familiar with:

  1. Add coffee to the French press base. Remember that you’ll want to add more than 2 tablespoons to get a stronger flavour.
  2. Heat water to below 90° C.
  3. Add a small amount of the water to the coffee grounds and let soak for 30 seconds. This allows some of the acidity to be released from the grounds.
  4. Add the remaining water, stir, and close the lid.
  5. After letting it sit for 4 minutes, slowly – and steadily – press the plunger down halfway. Raise it back up, then press it all the way down at the same level of pressure.
  6. Pour and enjoy!


Before You Drink

How Much Caffeine Is in a Cup of Espresso?

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.

What is the Difference Between Coffee and Espresso?

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 Is so Special About Espresso?

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:

  • Freshness of coffee
  • Flavour notes and characteristics
  • Water quality
  • Temperature
  • Grind size


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.

How Were Early Machines Different?

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.

Share

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on print