Last Updated on February 8, 2022
How to Make Espresso Coffee Without an Espresso Machine
When it comes to learning how to make espresso coffee without using an espresso machine, there are some fundamentals that are really helpful to know and understand. The goal, of course, is to create that magical, dark, aromatic brew that will give you the jolt, satisfaction, and enjoyment you’re looking for, without investing in an espresso maker.
Well, my friend, I’m here to tell you that it can be done. Will the shot of espresso that you create taste exactly like a shot produced from an espresso machine? Not exactly. But these simple methods will give you a similar, satisfying result in a way that doesn’t take up a lot of counter space or break the budget.
We’ll review three methods of making espresso sans the machinery. You can decide which method will work best for you, and along the way you’ll find some helpful suggestions for related coffee gear as well as the best roast to use.
First, let’s answer some basic questions about espresso that inquiring minds want to know!
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What is Espresso Coffee?
Espresso is a method of making coffee that originated in Italy and can be brewed using a variety of coffee beans. The result is a cup of espresso coffee. So you could say that it’s also a type of beverage. 🙂
Espresso is typically made with an espresso machine by forcing pressurized hot water through very finely ground coffee beans. A serving of espresso coffee is typically one fluid ounce (30 mL), called a shot. A double shot is two fluid ounces.
A brewed espresso has several unique qualities:
- It has a crema on the top, which is a foam with a creamy consistency
- It contains a higher concentration of suspended and dissolved solids, which give it the creamy texture, full body, and strong flavor
- It is generally thicker than coffee brewed with other methods
You’ll find a higher level of caffeine per unit in espresso coffee than regular coffee, but the serving size is typically much smaller (the ‘shot’), so overall the amount of caffeine you’ll get from the typical serving of espresso is about the same as a standard cup of coffee.
The typical cup of brewed coffee, 8 ounces, has about 70 – 140 mg of caffeine in it, or about 95 mg on average.
A shot of espresso, 1 – 1.75 ounces (30-50 ml) contains about 63 mg of caffeine. So…your espresso double shot will contain about 125 mg of caffeine. Good to know.
How is Espresso Different from a Regular Cup of Coffee?
When making espresso, the coffee beans are ground very finely, much finer than you would for a cup of drip coffee, for example. And, the coffee beans used to prepare the espresso are generally roasted for a longer amount of time than beans intended for drip coffee.
The brewing process involves high pressure and a short amount of brewing time, shorter than the typical drip coffee method. The result is the strong, black coffee topped with crema known as espresso.
What is the Best Coffee for Espresso?
Actually, there is no ‘special’ roast for espresso. Any coffee roast can be used to make espresso, and it doesn’t have to be a dark roast, although most people prefer the flavors that espresso brings out of a dark roast.
Here’s something to note when learning how to make espresso coffee. A shot of expresso contains up to 12% of actual dissolved coffee solids. A standard cup of filtered, brewed coffee will contain less than 2% of these solids. That’s why the flavor of an espresso is perceived to be so much stronger, and may taste different than a regular cup of drip coffee using the very same roast.
Bottom line? A good quality coffee bean, purchased whole and finely ground (finer than table salt) just prior to brewing, will give you the freshest and most robust shot of espresso.
The Fundamentals: How to Make Espresso Coffee
If you want to learn how to make espresso coffee so it looks, smells, and tastes like espresso, there are some fundamentals that are essential to the process.
Fresh Whole Coffee Beans
Can you make espresso coffee with pre-ground coffee beans? Sure. Will it taste good? It might, depending on your expectations and how espresso-savvy your taste buds are.
But, if you really want to create an espresso to remember, whole coffee beans that have been ground to a fine powder moments before the brew process begins are what you want.
TIP: A burr grinder will give you the most control and uniformity over the grind of the whole coffee beans. You want a fine grind, almost like table salt.
Choose the Proper Roast
A whole bean dark roast coffee is a good place to start. These beans have been roasted longer and are more porous, so the flavor compounds can be extracted quickly once the beans are ground.
A roast that is designated as ‘espresso’ may mean that the blend has been crafted to create a pleasing balance of flavors when it’s brewed as espresso. It always makes sense to take a few minutes and read the description of the coffee, as it will tell you how the roast is intended to be brewed.
Here are a few examples of dark roast whole bean espresso that have been crafted for the purpose of making espresso coffee:
NOTE: If a pre-ground coffee is what you prefer to use, a coffee designated as ‘espresso’ usually means that the grind is fine enough to be used in brewing espresso coffee. Here are a few suggestions:
One important essential in learning how to make espresso coffee is the need to measure the coffee grounds as well as the water used.
If you have a scale for your measuring, that’s great! If not, use a tablespoon or a coffee measuring spoon. Just be sure to measure and keep track of your process to allow for future tweaking based on the overall result and your espresso preferences. A simple measuring cup will keep you on track for the water.
It’s About Pressure
Espresso coffee is created by pushing hot water through a ‘puck’ of grounds at high pressure, usually 9 bar. What does this mean? 9 bar is 9 times the atmospheric pressure at sea level, or 9 bars of pressure per square inch (PSI).
You’ll get closest to this level of pressure using an AeroPress, but the other methods for making espresso without an espresso machine can still give you a satisfactory result.
How to Make Espresso with an AeroPress
An AeroPress will give you a result that is close to (not exactly) the flavor and caffeine content of a machine brewed espreso.
Why is the AeroPress a great choice when learning how to make espresso coffee?
- a rich, smooth coffee without bitterness
- low acidity
- no grit in your cup, thanks to the microfilter
Place a filter in the AeroPress drain cap; rinse it with water. Put the drain cap on the AeroPress and place it directly on a coffee mug. Be sure to use a sturdy cup as well as counter area, as you’ll be placing pressure on it.
Grind your coffee beans, about 2 tablespoons, to a very fine consistency, finer than table salt. Place the ground coffee into the filter and use an espresso tamper (or any cylindrical item with a flat bottom that fits, or even the back of a spoon) to get the ‘puck’ of coffee tight and compressed. Tamping helps to evenly distribute the coffee in the filter so the water will pass through evenly and result in a better espresso.
Heat your water…you’ll want 3 1/2 to 4 fl oz heated to around 185 degrees. You can experiment with the temperature, too, with a range of 175 to 200 degrees.
Pour the heated water into the AeroPress, stir for about 10 seconds. Then press down on the plunger using steady pressure (you’ll feel some resistance, and that’s okay) until the plunger is fully depressed.
Remove the press from your cup, transfer the freshly brewed espresso to your demitasse, take a sip, and enjoy!
Find the perfect AeroPress for your espresso coffee:
How to Make Espresso on the Stove with a Moka Pot
The next lesson in our discovery of how to make espresso coffee without using an espresso machine is with the trusty little moka pot, a stove-top method.
Is it true espresso? No. The pressure of a moka pot is not as strong as an espresso machine. But, you’ll get a strong, flavorful brew that is pretty darn close!
You’ll want to experiment with the ratio of coffee to water and learn what works best for you. Here are the basic instructions to get you started.
Grind about two tablespoons (20-22 grams) of coffee as finely as possible.
Place about 3 1/2 ounces of water into the bottom of the Moka pot. You don’t want to overfill the pot, as this may affect overall result, so make sure that the water does not cover the safety valve.
Place the ground coffee into the filter basket of the Moka pot. With this method you do not want to tamp down or depress the coffee as this can extend the brewing time and result in bitter tasting brew.
Attach the top of the Moka pot to the base, then place on a stove top burner over medium-low (not high) heat. Then, listen and wait for about 5 to 10 minutes for the water in the lower chamber to boil. The pressure will create a gurgling sound. When that happens, the espresso will be coming out of the center post and up into the top of the Moka pot.
When the gurgling sound is dissipating (you may see hazel brown foam appear), the coffee is just about done. The top will fill with coffee and you’ll be ready to pour the brew into your demitasse to enjoy!
Find the perfect Moka pot for your espresso coffee:
How to Make Espresso with a French Press
If you’re a coffee-lover there’s a good chance your kitchen already has a French press. It’s a great way to brew a rich cup of coffee when your caffeine taste buds want a break from the auto drip coffee maker.
Brewing an espresso coffee with a French press won’t give you the same result as the other two methods, and the coffee will be a bit more oily.
But it is a method that can get you relatively close to the espresso you’re craving. So, let’s go make some!
Grind about 2 tablespoons of dark roast or espresso beans very finely. It will take extra coffee to create a rich brew like espresso, so bear that in mind. (This is not the typical grind for French press coffee, which is a coarse grind. But we’re making an espresso-like version!) This will give you enough coffee for about 8 ounces of water. Add the ground coffee to the French press.
Heat the water to about 200 degrees…just below boiling. When it reaches the proper temperature, add a little bit of water to the coffee grounds and let it bloom, or soak, for about 30 seconds.
Pour the rest of the water in, don’t stir it, and put the cover on. Let it steep for about 4 minutes. Remember, we’re not ready to use the plunger until the coffee is steeped. You can let it steep a little longer if you want stronger espresso, but don’t let it go more than 5 or 6 minutes or you could end up with a bitter result. Ugh.
Press the plunger down slowly and steadily about half way, bring it back up to the top, then plunge all the way down using even pressure. Now, pour your espresso coffee and enjoy!
Find the perfect French press for your espresso coffee:
If you enjoy brewing and drinking a tasty cup of coffee, learning how to make espresso coffee will probably pique your curiosity at some point. I know it did mine, being the coffee snob that I am. And, using one (or more) of the affordable ways to make espress without purchasing an espresso machine can be really appealing. Half the fun is in the experimentation and the learning process.
So go ahead and try these simple methods of making a full-bodied cup of espresso coffee. You might just find a new favorite way to enjoy your java!
Coffee Drinks to Create with Your Espresso
Enjoying your espresso coffee straight up is great, but you can dress it up quite simply, too, for a change of pace and flavor. Here is a really simple guide to show you how to combine the basics and create your favorite coffee drink:
Candi Randolph is a coffee lover, blogger, and content creator who loves to share her knowledge with the coffee-drinking world. You’ll often find her tending to her coffee bar at home, deciding which method to use to brew her next cup of java. Life is full of important decisions. ☕