When a craving for your favorite espresso drink hits and you’re nowhere near a coffee shop, you don’t have to miss out on that midday caffeine boost. There are a few easy ways you can brew espresso at home, without any fancy or specialized equipment necessary.
You can make espresso in your own kitchen much more easily than you would expect. All that you need is hot water, finely ground coffee, and an AeroPress, French Press, or Moka Pot. Let’s dive into everything you need to know about making espresso without a machine.
What is Espresso?
Before we start brewing, we should clear a few things up. Whether you are a coffee connoisseur or you just have a go-to drink that you order every time, you may be unsure of the difference between coffee and espresso.
All espresso is coffee, but not all coffee is espresso. The term coffee refers to the liquid you extract from the beans while espresso refers to the preparation method. You can make espresso from coffee beans, or you can purchase specialty beans from a roaster. Many roasters opt for using robusta beans for their espresso blends, as they add extra caffeine to the finished drink.
Caffè espresso, or espresso as it is more commonly called, originated in Italy. The first espresso machine was patented in 1884 by Angelo Moriondo of Turin. This original machine was intended for brewing enough coffee to serve multiple customers at a time. Following the first machine, Luigi Bezzera patented his version of the espresso machine, called the Tipo Gigante, which could hold 4 different sized filters.
In 1903, Bezzera’s patent was purchased by Desiderio Pavoni, who began producing espresso machines and ended up founding La Pavoni company in 1905. His company quickly grew and eventually made it overseas to the United States. In 1927, the first espresso machine was installed in the United States at Reggio’s in New York.
Over time, more improvements were made on those early machines. Many people disliked that the original machines produced espresso that had a burnt taste, so in 1938 Cremonesi developed a piston pump that brought the water and steam temperature down so the coffee had a more natural taste, a layer of foam, and it was no longer bitter.
After the Second World War, piston machines were produced commercially. Over the next several decades, more and more improvements have been made, and now we have several electric espresso machines that can be used in restaurants, cafes, and even in homes.
How is Espresso Made Traditionally?
Two of the biggest parts of Italian cuisine and food culture are great pasta and great coffee. Being able to make a traditional cup of Italian coffee is a great skill to have.
The most important thing to keep in mind is quality. Traditional Italian coffee is either made with an electric espresso machine or a stovetop coffee maker called the Moka Express. Whichever you choose, be sure that both your coffee maker and coffee grounds are good quality products.
There are a few main things that impact your espresso: the roast and grind of the beans, water temperature, and espresso pressure. Each of these elements has to work together to get that perfect traditional Italian espresso you’re seeking.
While you can use regular coffee beans in a pinch, if you want that authentic espresso experience, going with an espresso roast is the best place to start. An espresso roast is roasted a bit longer and at a slightly hotter temperature.
This process decreases the acidity, increases the body, and makes the coffee more soluble. Because of the increased solubility, the espresso roast gives a taste that is more balanced and considerably sweeter, rather than being sour.
Espresso roast can be brewed as an espresso shot, or as regular filter coffee. If you are a filter coffee drinker and you have been looking for something with less acidity and more body than your go-to coffee, consider trying an espresso roast.
Whether you plan to purchase pre-ground coffee or you are buying whole coffee beans, it is important to know what grind you need to look for. When brewing espresso, you want to go for a fine grind. If you use a grind that is too coarse, you run the risk of brewing watered-down or weak espresso.
For pre-ground coffee, be sure to look for ‘Espresso Grind’ on the packaging. This refers to the fine grind that you need to properly brew espresso. Espresso blend simply refers to the roast and flavor.
If you are grinding the beans yourself, we highly recommend a burr style grinder. They slowly crush the beans, which results in a more uniform consistency and the slower speed means there won’t be added heat, which can impact the taste once the coffee reaches your mug. Your finely ground espresso roast coffee will give you the best results.
The process of brewing espresso involves forcing hot water through a disc of compact espresso (also referred to as a “puck”) at high pressure. Typically at about 9 bar or 9 times the atmospheric pressure at sea level. Nine-bar is said to be the optimal pressure if you want to extract the best espresso.
Espresso Water Temperature
Another key factor in making a delicious shot of espresso is ensuring your water temperature is nearly boiling, but not too hot. Espresso should be brewed between 195°F and 205°F and should not stray from that range. Brewing your espresso at lower temperatures results in under-extracted coffee that is thin and has a sour taste while higher temperatures will over-extract, making it more bitter and burnt tasting.
How to Make Espresso Shots at Home Without a Machine
Reading a book while you sip a hot latte at your favorite coffee shop is a great way to spend time on your day off. If you don’t foresee having the time to spend at your local cafe anytime soon, you can recreate your favorite drink at home. Even if you don’t have an espresso machine, you can easily brew espresso in your own kitchen.
In addition to using a fancy electric espresso machine, you can also make espresso a few different ways using some more basic methods. You could use the traditional stovetop espresso machine (A.K.A the Moka Pot), you could use an AeroPress, or you could use a French Press. While the AeroPress and French Press aren’t authentic ways to make traditional espresso, they certainly work in a pinch.
Not everyone has access to an espresso machine, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try your hand at being a home kitchen barista. Using one of these alternative brewing methods to make espresso gives you a great caffeinated base for making your favorite cappuccinos, macchiatos, or creating your own signature drink.
An AeroPress is a fantastic appliance for people that live in a small space or for college students that don’t have access to a stove or coffee machine. All you need is the AeroPress, fine espresso ground coffee, and hot water.
- First you need to heat up your water. You can use a kettle, hotplate, stove, microwave, or even a campfire. Your water needs to be very hot, just shy of boiling. Ideally, you should look for temperatures between 195 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have a thermometer, bring your water to a boil, then let it sit for about 30 seconds.
- Next, get your AeroPress setup. Add a filter to the drain cap, then place the drain cap on the AeroPress. Place the AeroPress above your preferred cup or container that the espresso will be brewed into. Make sure the container is sturdy as you will be applying a bit of pressure to it.
- Put 2 tablespoons of your espresso grounds into the AeroPress and add half a cup of water. Mix the water and grounds, then let it sit for about 30 seconds.
- Slowly and firmly press the plunger. Push out as much liquid as you can.
2. French Press
A French Press will work in a pinch, but realistically, it isn’t the best choice for making espresso manually. French Presses are designed for use with a coarsely ground coffee rather than the fine grind of espresso and you won’t be able to get the necessary high pressure, but it’s better than nothing.
- Add 2 tablespoons of your preferred ground coffee to the bottom of the French Press
- Heat up 1 cup of water. It should be between 195 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to cool the water for about 30 seconds if it starts to boil
- Pour your water into the French Press and stir it for a few seconds
- Set a timer for 4 minutes. When the timer goes off, slowly press down on the plunger. Be sure to press firmly, using as much pressure as you’re comfortable using with your French Press
3. Moka Pot
A Moka Pot is one of the most common tools used for making espresso shots at home. After electric espresso machines, the Moka Pot is the preferred way to make traditional Italian espresso. These are a great option because they can be very affordable, they’re easy to use, and they make fantastic espresso when done right.
These European stovetop espresso makers are popular worldwide. Follow these steps to make your very own Moka Pot espresso:
- Add water to the bottom of the chamber. Fill it to the notch or fill line, depending on your model
- Take your basket and tube and fill it with espresso grinds. Make sure not to pack it too tightly
- Place the tube and basket inside of the bottom chamber
- Add the top chamber to the Moka Pot
- Place on the stove, heating the Moka Pot on medium to high heat
- The espresso will brew and begin to fill the top chamber
- When you no longer hear bubbling, your espresso is finished brewing. Enjoy!
Once you master the art of brewing espresso at home, you won’t need to spend your time and money waiting for an overpriced coffee from a drive-thru café. You’ll be able to make a slew of different caffeinated coffee drinks in the comfort of your own kitchen.
You can find a ton of recipes online for coffee house drinks. You’ll be able to recreate your favorite latte, cappuccino, macchiato, and other drinks with ease. Making espresso at home can save you money on buying drinks while you’re out and about, and it is a great way to impress guests when they come over.
Whether you want to make espresso so you can get that extra shot of caffeine in the morning or you want to practice being a home barista, hopefully, one of these clever brewing methods works out for you.