Updated: November 11, 2023 by Mary Nguyen
A surprising fact to some new coffee lovers is that you can easily learn how to make espresso or espresso-style coffee even if you don’t have a fancy espresso machine. There are a few different ways to enjoy a strong cup of this brew without the expense.
If you don’t have an espresso maker, there are affordable espresso machines you can invest in that can make you a more-than-decent shot but, in a pinch, you can make a drink that comes quite close to espresso by using other coffee appliances you probably already own.
Making great espresso is not just about doing the steps. You have to start with using the correct beans and getting the technique just right. Once you master these methods, you won’t need to buy expensive coffee from your barista down the road.
Brewing coffee of all types at home gives you full control over your cup of Joe, ensuring that all the elements are carried out just right to produce a fresh and flavorful mug of liquid gold. As long as you source quality beans full of freshness, you can control the grind and the brew techniques.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to learn how to brew espresso.
Table of Contents
How to Make Espresso at Home: The Methods
Even if you own a high-quality espresso machine, you could end up with a bad-tasting brew if you don’t get the technique right. Brewing espresso is an art, and you will need to develop the right skills to create a fine shot.
While owning an espresso machine is the ultimate solution for an espresso craving at home, you can use these other methods if you are on a budget. You may not get to enjoy a perfect espresso, but you can come fairly close using these techniques.
Firstly, I will answer your question about how to make espresso using an espresso machine. Then I will get into a few alternative methods you can try. These will help you come close to that rich espresso taste. Lastly, I have a few expert tips for your espresso-making journey.
If you have the correct beans ready (check out my recommendation in the brewing tips further down), then you are all set to get grinding and brewing. Just make sure you have chosen the right grinder as well (Spoiler alert: It’s the burr grinder!) to grind up fresh beans for your brew.
What You’ll Need
Here is a comprehensive list of all the tools you will need for the various methods. Follow the instructions to find what each method needs.
- An espresso machine
- An AeroPress
- A moka pot
- Dark roasted coffee beans
- A kitchen scale
- A quality burr grinder
- A kettle (preferably electric with temperature control)
How to Brew Espresso Using a Machine
If you own an espresso machine, you may have one of many types. If you have a pod-styled machine where you simply pop in an espresso pod and get the machine to work, you won’t need this guide. However, if your machine requires some manual brewing on your part, I am here to help.
Step 1: Grind Your Beans
This step is if your machine doesn’t have a built-in grinder. Using the right grinder that can do espresso level fineness is the key. If your machine automatically grinds the beans, then skip this step.
You will need enough beans for one or two shots, so weigh the beans to get between six to eight grams of grounds or 15 grams for a double shot. Remember to set your grinder to a very fine grind for espresso. The finest grind setting that produces a fine powder is best.
Step 2: Tamp the Grinds
This is done once you have filled your portafilter with the right amount of ground beans. Firstly, evenly distribute the grounds with your finger before using the tamper to compact the grounds into the portafilter. It’s recommended to use a flat surface underneath the portafilter when doing this for a compact tamp.
Step 3: Clear the Group Head
A good step to take at this point is to click the machine on without the portafilter in place. Pushing the steamed water through will help clear the group head to ensure there are no old coffee grounds around to contaminate your shot of espresso. This is a form of priming your machine.
Step 4: Put the Portafilter in Place
Now carefully fix the portafilter onto the espresso machine. Make sure it is correctly clicked into place. Set your cup or espresso glass in place underneath the portafilter and click start. The espresso machine will press the hot water through, and this should take between 20 to 30 seconds to complete.
Depending on your specific machine, you may need to play around with the time. These tests will help you reach your preferred espresso taste. So don’t be shy to practice and have a few taste tests to get this step right.
Step 5: Prep Your Add-Ons (Optional)
Once you have an espresso shot that isn’t too dark, light, bitter, or acidic, it is time to get your milk ready. If you enjoy milk with your espresso, steam up your milk for a cortado and you’re all set! You can also skip this step and drink as is.
Step 6: Clean the Portafilter
Don’t forget to clean the portafilter thoroughly so it will be ready for your next espresso.
Making Espresso at Home Without a Machine
If you don’t own an espresso machine, you can still make a strong and delicious brew that is close to the flavor and intensity of an espresso. You can choose from a few easy methods that simply use equipment that you (hopefully) have at home.
The two methods I am going to share with you include an AeroPress or a moka pot. If you have either of these single-brew coffee makers, then you are all set.
The AeroPress Method
A fancy coffee maker like AeroPress is a nifty tool to have on hand for when you are craving a shot. You can save on power using this or simply make a quick cup of coffee without the extra step of cleaning out your machine.
This tool is designed to press down a plunger that forces your ground coffee through a filter and into your cup. While it technically doesn’t make espresso, you can still enjoy similarly intense coffee full of strong flavors.
This option is recommended because the key to creating a good espresso is the pressure that happens when the water is forced through the espresso machine. An AeroPress, as the name suggests, presses air to create your brew. This makes it a close substitute for an espresso machine.
Step 1: Insert Filters
Start by inserting two filters into the cap of the AeroPress. The two filters will slow down the water, pushing through them. Rinse these filters before placing them into the correct AeroPress compartment. Follow the manual to know where to place everything correctly.
Step 2: Grind Your Beans
Prepare your coffee beans by grinding them up to a very fine grind. This can be done by using the finest setting on your burr grinder. Measure out two tablespoons to add to the AeroPress chamber. The extra coffee added here will help it taste strong like an espresso shot.
Step 3: Heat Water
Prepare your filtered water by heating it to 200 degrees before pouring it into the chamber and stirring to mix it with the coffee grounds. The final step is the most important.
Step 4: Press Down the Plunger
Put the plunger in place and press down as hard as you can. Don’t forget that an espresso requires pressure, so force the coffee water through to transfer the brewed coffee into your cup.
Homemade Espresso Using a Moka Pot
A moka pot is like a tiny kettle, and it creates coffee by running boiling water through the ground beans. The water is pressurized by steam to mimic the pressure element of espresso. While it won’t produce a proper shot of espresso, it can come pretty close.
This option is another favorite to achieve a strong coffee for your espresso craving. Brewing a quality cup of coffee using this device is quite an art, so you will most likely need to practice a few times before you balance those flavors correctly.
Don’t give up if your first one doesn’t taste right. Just tweak the elements, and soon you’ll have a delicious mug of moka coffee in your hand.
Step 1: Grind Your Beans
Grind about two tablespoons of your dark roasted coffee beans. Remember to grind them very finely as you would for the espresso machine. This will be roughly 15 grams which you can measure on the kitchen scale.
Step 2: Pour Water into the Chamber
Pour water into the bottom chamber of the moka pot up to the fill line. Take care to not overfill this as it may clog the pot and reduce the quality of your coffee.
Step 3: Put Grounds in the Filter Basket
Place the ground coffee into the filter basket, and give it a few taps to evenly distribute the grounds. Then screw on the sprout of the pot, making sure it is tight.
Step 4: Place Moka Pot on the Stove
Set the pot onto a stove burner at around medium heat. After roughly five minutes, you will hear the pot start to whistle and bubble. This is when it’s ready to remove from the heat. Transfer it into a demitasse and enjoy.
If you don’t even have a moka pot, here’s a method that can help you make strong espresso-like coffee on a stove in a pot.
Top Espresso Home Brewing Tips
Remember to Prime
If you have just purchased a new espresso machine or you haven’t used yours in a couple of months, then you will need to prime the machine before making your espresso shot. Priming is a simple process that requires you to run your machine at least three times with only water in it.
This will clean out the machine and ensure there are no dust particles or old coffee particles sitting in the machine. You will get an unsavory brew if you end up with old coffee in your cup. This cycle of water running through will heat the machine and improve your espresso.
Choose the Right Beans
Espresso beans are cooked to a very dark roast. This is what produces that delicious potent flavor you get from a shot of espresso. The longer roast time makes it easier to quickly extract the rich flavors when the pressurized water is forced through the beans.
When you are searching for beans for your espresso, you will come across espresso beans as well as coffee beans. It may seem confusing as to what makes the beans different from each other. The difference is simply the methods used to roast the beans.
Coffee beans are usually roasted somewhere between a light and medium roast, whereas espresso beans are roasted to a dark roast. Dark roasts produce an oily bean packed full of complex flavors that give espresso that unique flavor.
Grind Your Beans Correctly
Once you have the correct beans, you should always grind them right before making your espresso rather than buying pre-ground beans. As beans are ground up, they begin to oxidate. This process slowly releases the bean flavors.
Once the grounds have been sitting for a while, the flavors are lost and you will have a weaker tasting coffee. This is a big mistake when creating a shot of espresso since the point is to extract the rich flavors.
Owning a burr grinder is essential for a good cup of espresso (even if you are brewing a mock espresso using alternative methods). These grinders will evenly grind up your beans, giving an even brew that doesn’t come out bitter or sour.
When you grind up your beans, you will want to get a very fine grind since the small pieces will ensure a quick extraction when the pressurized water is forced through the grounds. Use the finest grind setting on your grinder, and this should result in a powder-like ground that resembles table salt.
Water Quality Matters
The quality of your water when making espresso is very important too. You may think since it gets boiled that any water will do. However, this is not the case, and using low-quality water will be noticeable in your espresso.
You should opt for using filtered water in whichever brew method you try out. Certain espresso machines will have a built-in water tester that will show you when your water is not at the right standard for a great-tasting cup of espresso.
Be Mindful of the Froth
If you prefer to have your espresso with some frothed milk to create a latte, using skim milk will help give your latte the right flavors. You can use alternatives such as oat or soy milk if you would like a plant-based drink, but they may not froth as well as skim milk.
This milk is best because it is light and produces a frothy consistency as it doubles in size. You should also choose the best milk frother to create the right foamy milk for your drink.
How is espresso different from regular coffee?
Espresso is a type of coffee preparation that has rich complex flavors in a concentrated shot. The difference between coffee and espresso beans is the method that is used to make them, starting with the roasting process.
Espresso beans are roasted darker than coffee beans and come out dark with an oily texture. The method of brewing espresso requires pressurized water to be forced through the ground-up beans. Coffee, on the other hand, can be made with various brew methods, including a French press or a drip coffee maker.
Is espresso higher in caffeine than coffee?
Espresso shots aren’t necessarily higher in caffeine than coffee unless you measure on a ratio of caffeine to water. Espresso is a concentrated shot of caffeine, whereas a normal coffee is diluted with more water.
If you drank the same amount of espresso as you did coffee, then you would be drinking more caffeine because of the concentrated shots.
Can you make espresso using a Keurig?
Despite its ability to make quality coffee, it is not recommended to make espresso using a Keurig. This is because a Keurig doesn’t have the right amount of pressure to give an espresso effect.
If you would like to get something close to espresso, you can choose the darkest pod type and use a small amount of water. This will give you a dark, concentrated drink that resembles an espresso more than a normal cup of coffee.
Now Go Espresso Yourself
Brewing a dark cup of espresso can be a wonderful process, and it will help improve your coffee brewing skills while teaching you more about coffee. Learning how to craft the perfect espresso is a rewarding task once you get all the elements right.
Whether you have an espresso machine or you are trying out alternative methods, you will always need to make sure you get the grind consistency of the beans right. If you don’t already own one, have a look at the best burr grinders.