When you want to make espresso at home, you have two options: use your espresso machine or use an alternative method (Moka Pot or AeroPress) that makes an espresso-like drink. The closest you’ll get without a machine is an AeroPress.
These alternative methods aren’t going to make the same quality espresso as an actual espresso machine. This is because the brewing process and amount of pressure produced by an espresso machine is entirely different than these alternate methods. However, they still make strong coffee is espresso-like, tastes great, and significantly cheaper.
At one point or another, I’ve owned and used all of these. When I weighed my options on how to make espresso, I first used to use a Breville machine, but now I focus more on the Moka Pot.
Although some others say the French press is able to make espresso, I disagree.
The French press can be used to make strong coffee, but in my experience it’s inferior to the Moka Pot or AeroPress. Again, it all goes back to pressure and the French Press produces the least (if any!). If you’d like to learn more about using a French press, feel free to check out our separate article dedicated to it.
Read on to learn more about how to make espresso with and without an espresso machine.
Coffee bean and grind selection
No matter what method you ultimately choose, the beans and grind size are extremely important and affect the coffee’s taste.
For the beans, we want a Medium-Dark or Dark roast. Picking beans marketed as “espresso” isn’t necessary. Remember that espresso is the actual brewing process, not the type of coffee bean or roast.
In terms of grind size, for espresso we want a Fine grind (about the size of table salt).
Any time you’re making coffee, we recommend you grind your beans immediately before brewing (or at least within a few days). Otherwise the grinds lose flavor.
If you do need to grind the beans ahead of time, check out our article on how to store ground coffee so you maximize freshness for when you brew.
What equipment do you need?
For all the different methods to make espresso, there’s a few common items. These include:
- Coffee beans (Medium-Dark or Dark roast)
- Coffee grinder (burr grinder is recommended to produce a more consistent grind)
- Scale to measure coffee
- Heat source and kettle, or electric gooseneck kettle
Obviously, left out of this list are the actual brewing apparatuses. If there are any specific items needed for a brewing method, they’ll be listed in the sections below.
Making espresso without an espresso machine
If you don’t have access to an at-home espresso machine for whatever reason (frankly I get it, these machines can be costly and finicky), let’s start by looking at how to make espresso without the machine.
Here we’ll look at the Moka Pot and AeroPress.
To reiterate, there’s a variety of mechanisms in espresso machines that make the brewing process different from the Moka Pot or AeroPress. But perhaps the most significant difference is the pressure they generate.
Espresso machines work by forcing hot water through finely ground coffee at high pressure— typically nine to fifteen times atmospheric pressure, or 9-15 bar. That’s about 130-217 psi. For reference, the water pressure coming out of the sink in your house is likely only 40-45 psi.
The pressure in a Moka Pot or AeroPress isn’t nearly as high as that, but they’re still great alternative brewing methods to get you close.
In case you’re unfamiliar, a Moka Pot is a stainless steel pot with 3 compartments – the water is held in the bottom, ground coffee is held in the center compartment, and the brewed coffee is held in the top.
The Moka Pot goes on the stove to heat the water. Once boiling, the water passes from the bottom chamber up through the grounds and collects in the top chamber.
The process may take about 5 minutes, but can vary depending on your setup. After a couple brews you’ll get a feel for the typical time it takes.
My favorite thing about the Moka Pot is its simplicity. All you need is the pot itself, coffee grounds, and a stove.
Steps for using a Moka Pot
- Use the burr grinder to grind your chosen beans to a Fine grind.
- Weigh 20 grams of ground beans using the scale.
- Add the coffee grounds to the center compartment. Level the grounds off so they’re even, but don’t compact them too tightly.
- Add water to the bottom compartment of the Moka Pot to the fill line. Be sure NOT to overfill or this could negatively affect the taste of your coffee.
- Connect and screw all three compartments together.
- Place the Moka Pot on the stove and heat the water on medium heat.
- The water will start boiling and moving upward through the coffee. Once you hear a hissing or bubbling sound and you can see foam forming on the top, it’s ready.
The AeroPress makes the closest thing to espresso without an espresso machine. The big reason for this is because the pressing of the plunger creates pressure to force the hot water through the coffee grounds.
It’s a simple and straightforward device to use, and it’s extremely portable. That means you can brew espresso-like coffee anywhere you go!
For this method, you may need a small spoon for stirring, a thermometer (if you don’t have an electric gooseneck kettle), and a sturdy mug since the AeroPress will be sitting directly on top of the mug.
Steps for using an AeroPress
- Use the burr grinder to grind your chosen beans to a Fine grind.
- Weigh 18-20 grams of ground beans using the scale.
- Place one of the AeroPress filters (specific for the AeroPress) into the filter cap.
- Attach the filter cap to the main chamber by screwing them together.
- Heat water using a kettle on the stove or an electric gooseneck kettle. If you’re using a normal kettle, you’ll need a thermometer to check when the temperature of the water reaches 200°F. If you have an electric gooseneck kettle, you can set this target temperature on the kettle.
- Once the water has reached 200°F, pour a small amount of hot water into the main chamber of the AeroPress to preheat it and wash the paper filter. Pour out the hot water out when done.
- Add coffee grounds on top of the filter inside the main chamber.
- Add the hot water to the main chamber slowly, filling the chamber to between numbers 1 and 2 on the side of the chamber.
- Swirl the hot water inside the AeroPress for 15 seconds. You can either do this by holding the main chamber and moving it in a swirling motion, or by using a spoon. Be careful because the AeroPress may start to get hot.
- Once 15 seconds have passed, insert the plunger and place the main chamber directly onto the cup/mug, with the filter cap facing down so that the coffee can be expelled directly into the mug.
- Push the plunger down slowly to expel the coffee. Once the plunger reaches the bottom, you’re all done! The total time from initially pouring the hot water in with the coffee grounds to when you finish pushing down the plunger should be about 30 seconds.
- Remove the AeroPress from above the mug.
Making espresso with an espresso machine
For those who want an authentic espresso, you may want to invest in an espresso machine. Espresso machines are significantly more expensive than the Moka Pot or AeroPress, but if you’re making espresso on a regular basis, it can be a worthwhile investment.
These machines can be finicky and break down though if you’re not careful, so make sure to keep up with regular cleaning of the machine and get a reliable brand.
The general rule for coffee to water ratio is 1:2 for espresso. However, unlike other brewing methods where that ratio means the amount of coffee for the amount of water used for brewing, the ratio for espresso means the amount of coffee for the amount of espresso brewed.
For example, a 1:2 ratio means that if you use 8 grams of coffee, you’ll brew 16 grams of espresso.
There’s plenty of discussion and nuances on how to brew the best espresso. Here we’re going to give the general steps of making espresso using a machine, but just know that the exact details will vary by machine and personal preference.
Steps for using an espresso machine
- Fill the water reservoir with water and turn the machine on so it starts heating the water.
- Use the burr grinder to grind the beans to a Fine grind.
- Weigh 8-10 grams of ground beans (for a single shot) or 16-20 grams (for a double shot) using the scale.
- Insert the single or double shot filter (depending on what you want to make) into the portafilter.
- When the water is heated, run hot water out of the machine for a few seconds into an empty cup or glass. This will flush any grounds that may be leftover in the machine and will also preheat the internals of the machine.
- Fill the portafilter with the ground coffee.
- Spread the loose grounds evenly in the portafilter with your hand.
- Lay the portafilter on a flat surface. Tamp the grounds to create a solid, even pack of grounds in the portafilter. Tamp the grounds to remove air pockets and make sure it feels fully compressed.
- Insert the portafilter into the group head on the machine.
- Start brewing to pull the shot. Shoot for a brew time between 24-30 seconds. Depending on your machine, you may be required to start and stop the pull, or your machine may do it automatically for you once you press start.
If your machine seems to be pulling shots way faster or slower than 24-30 seconds, it’s likely that your grind size is off — make adjustments and work your way toward that target time range. Shorter brew times will result in under-extraction (sour, acidic taste) and longer times will result in over-extraction (bitter, dull taste).
Frequently Asked Questions
Still have some more questions about making espresso? Here are answers to some common questions.
While there are “espresso style” cups and pods on the market to use in Keurig machines, these machines can’t produce the proper pressure for brewing so it’s not really espresso. The “espresso style” cups and pods simply use darker roast beans which produce a stronger coffee.
There are also Nespresso machines. If you aren’t familiar with them, they’re basically the equivalent of the Keurig machine for espresso.
These machines don’t have all the bells and whistles of traditional espresso machines, but they’re easy to use and have a variety of coffee flavors to choose from.
The resulting brew isn’t espresso, but it does give you a stronger coffee. If you’re okay with that and also want to keep it simple, these machines may be right for you!
In short, unfortunately the answer is no. Similar to the single serve machines, both drip and pour over coffee makers don’t produce the pressure to mimic the espresso process.
The best you can do with either of these methods is to use a darker roast coffee and a finer grind size than is normally recommended for them. Tweaking these variables produces a stronger cup of coffee, but not espresso.
You can get closer to espresso using a French press than other methods like the single serve, drip, or pour over coffee makers. However, in our experience the French press is inferior to the Moka Pot or AeroPress in terms of making espresso, but if you’re in a pinch you can use it.
Along with not producing any pressure, the French press requires a coarser grind which doesn’t align with the proper flavor extraction and process for making espresso. If you’d still like to use a French press to make strong coffee though, check out our article to learn how to use a French press.
To make espresso it’s best to use a Fine grind size. Straying from this grind size can negatively affect flavor extraction, thus affecting the quality of the espresso.
The Bottom Line
The first thing we need to decide when making espresso at home is the method we’re going to use. I recommend using one of 3 methods: Moka Pot, AeroPress, or espresso machine.
For a real espresso, you’ll need to use a machine. But if you’re willing to settle for something close, the Moka Pot or AeroPress (preferred of the two alternates) can get you there. These alternative methods are simpler to use and more cost effective than an espresso machine.
And as will all things coffee, the roast of the beans and grind size you use will make a big difference.
Now it’s your turn. Buy your beans, pick a method, and get to it!