How to Brew

How to Make Espresso Without an Espresso Machine

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How to Make Espresso Without an Espresso Machine
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We can’t really help with the dentist or the hang gliding. (And really, is caffeine what you need before you sit in that sadist…er, dentist’s chair?) But if you’ve got a hankerin’ for espresso at home and don’t want to take out a second mortgage to buy a gleaming wonder from far-off Torino, you’ll be happy to know you can learn how to make espresso without an expensive machine.

Whichever method you choose — AeroPress, Moka pot, French press, or manual lever machine — you’ll be ready to caffeinate without breaking the bank.

How to Make Espresso Without an Espresso Machine

Strong, Dark, and Powerful: Espresso Coffee

Ever since an enterprising Turinese gentleman named Angelo Moriondo invented the espresso machine back in 1884, discerning coffee lovers have cherished the deep, dark, and delicious brew.

The three most important aspects to master if you want to understand the espresso-making process are the roast, grind, and pressure used to brew the coffee. Once you’ve gotten the hang of all three, you’ll be well on your way to crafting a great espresso even if you don’t have access to hundreds of dollars’ worth of shiny Italian hardware.

Espresso Roast

Traditionally roasted to a very dark finish, espresso has a much stronger, more potent flavor than drip coffee…which is one of the things you love about it, right? All those tasty coffee solubles are easier to extract from dark roasted beans than their lesser roasted counterparts.

This is because longer roasting results in more porous coffee beans, increasing available flavor compounds that can be extracted more quickly once the beans are ground.

However, espresso beans aren’t different from regular coffee beans. The difference comes down to how they are roasted. Beans for regular coffee are typically light or medium roasted and lack the oily sheen you see on beans roasted for espresso.

Can you use regular coffee beans to make espresso? Sure. Nothing is stopping you. But would we recommend it? No way. Using regular beans would result in a less flavorful, less intense shot. When it comes to espresso, stick with the beans that have been roasted specifically to make espresso.

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Espresso Grind

Once it’s been roasted, espresso coffee is ground into a very fine powder. The fine coffee grind slows water penetration, which increases the pressure necessary to push the water through the filter and create a perfect shot of espresso. If the grind is too fine, however, it can block the coffee filter and ruin your coffee, not to mention your entire day.

If you grind coffee beans at home (What do you mean, you don’t? Do we need to come over there?), you can get a finer, more precise grind with a burr coffee grinder.

It’s technically possible to hand-grind your beans to the superfine consistency required for espresso, but it’ll take you quite a while and requires a lot of stamina. And unfortunately, the results won’t be nearly as predictable as with an automatic coffee grinder…though you may end up with some pretty buff biceps.

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Espresso Pressure

Espresso machines work by forcing extremely hot water through finely-ground coffee at enormous pressure — ideally, nine times atmospheric pressure, or nine bars. That’s about 130 pounds of pressure per square inch or roughly twice the pressure in your average truck tire.

Mere mortals can’t generate that kind of force by hand without specialized equipment, but you can mimic the pressurization process to create espresso-style coffee.

4 Ways to Make Espresso Without An Espresso Machine

Now that you’ve got those beautiful beans ground down to a fine powder, it’s time to put them to work and get yourself properly caffeinated. Let’s brew an espresso substitute so delicious that even the barista at your favorite coffee shop would be impressed.

How To Make Espresso Graphic

How to Make Espresso with an AeroPress

We’re huge fans of the AeroPress. It’s perfect for making a double shot of espresso (Want a single shot? Just cut the amounts of water and coffee in half).

You’ll need:

  • AeroPress
  • Freshly roasted coffee beans
  • Burr coffee grinder
  • Scale for coffee measuring (or a tablespoon)
  • Electric gooseneck kettle or stovetop kettle

Once you’ve got your equipment and your beans, it’s time to make espresso!

  1. Heat one cup of water (eight ounces or 234 milliliters) to 185°F (85°C). The ideal coffee brewing temperature is 205°F (96°C), just shy of boiling. However, with an AeroPress, you can experiment with water temperatures anywhere between 185°F and 205°F (85°C and 96°C) until you find your ideal temperature.
  2. Grind your beans to a fine consistency until you have two tablespoons (one ounce or 28.3 grams).
  3. Put a filter in the AeroPress drain cap and rinse it with hot water.
  4. Put the drain cap on the AeroPress and place it directly onto your coffee mug or tumbler. Make sure you choose a sturdy cup because you’ll be putting pressure on it.
  5. Transfer your ground coffee to the AeroPress.
  6. Tamp down the grounds, making sure the puck of coffee is nice and tight. You can use an espresso tamp to handle this chore, but if you don’t have one handy, you can use any cylindrical item with a flat bottom that’ll fit into your AeroPress.
  7. Measure out half a cup (four fluid ounces or 120 milliliters) of the heated water. Pour the water into the AeroPress and give it a quick stir.
  8. Wait 30 seconds after stirring, then plunge with just the weight of your hand. You’ll probably feel strong resistance, but keep pushing steadily. Once the plunger is fully depressed, remove the press from your cup.
  9. Transfer your freshly brewed espresso to your favorite cup, and enjoy!

When it’s time to clean up, simply remove the drain cap from your AeroPress, hold it over your trash can or composter, and push down the plunger to pop out the grounds. Rinse everything with hot water, and you’re ready to make another cup.

If you’re a fan of coffee that’s quick and easy, but still tastes great, there’s really no reason not to own an AeroPress. It’s a convenient and powerful tool to have in your coffee arsenal and pretty forgiving if you’re learning how to make espresso, on the go, or even just branching out from drip coffee.

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How to Make Espresso with a Moka Pot

A favorite in Europe and Latin America that has fans around the globe, the Moka pot might not be an espresso maker, but it is a marvel of Italian engineering. It adds water pressure via steam to the mix, helping to simulate that distinctive espresso taste and feel.

If you’re wondering how to make espresso — or, at least, the next best thing — the Moka pot is your answer.

You’ll need:

  • Moka pot
  • Darker roasted coffee beans
  • Burr coffee grinder
  • Scale for coffee measuring (or a tablespoon)
  • Electric gooseneck kettle or stovetop kettle
  • A small spoon for stirring

Once you’ve collected your gear and beans, it’s time to join team Moka.

  1. Measure and grind four to four and a half teaspoons (0.71-0.78 ounces or 20-22 grams) of coffee. As with the AeroPress method, you’ll want to grind your coffee to a very fine, caster sugar texture.
  2. Add enough water to the bottom of your Moka pot to reach the fill line. Don’t overfill the reservoir, as this can waterlog your coffee and negatively affect its flavor.
  3. Add the ground coffee to the filter basket of the Moka pot.
  4. Attach the Moka pot’s spouted top.
  5. Place the assembled Moka pot on a stovetop burner over medium heat. The water in the lower chamber will boil as it heats, and the pressure will push a stream of coffee through the filter and into the upper chamber.
  6. Listen for a hissing sound.
  7. Look for the hazel brown foam that appears just seconds before the coffee is completely done. When the top of the Moka pot is full of coffee, remove it from the burner.
  8. Give the coffee in the upper chamber a quick stir with the small spoon and serve!

Mastering the Moka pot is as much an art as it is science (not exactly a surprise, given that the perky little percolator hails from the land of da Vinci), and you’ll probably need to brew a few pots to achieve coffee excellence.

That’s half the fun, though, and once you’ve gotten the process down, you’ll have a classy and classic way to enjoy the espresso experience at home.

How to Make Espresso with a French Press

If you’re a serious coffee lover, chances are you already have a French press in your kitchen. So why not use it to make your favorite espresso drinks?

You might think of it as a “big grind” brewer, but with a little tweaking and some careful techniques, you can learn how to make espresso in your trusty French press.

You’ll need:

  • French press
  • Freshly roasted coffee beans
  • Burr coffee grinder
  • Scale for coffee measuring (or a tablespoon)
  • Electric gooseneck kettle or stovetop kettle

Armed with your gear and your grind, you can press forward (sorry, we couldn’t resist).

  1. Grind your coffee very fine, using very dark roast beans or espresso beans. You’ll need two tablespoons (one ounce or 28.3 grams) of beans for every cup of water.
  2. Fill your kettle and heat the water to a boil, then set aside for 30 seconds before brewing.
  3. Add the coffee grounds to your French press. You’ll be using roughly double the amount of coffee you would normally use for French press coffee. This will give your brew a stronger flavor and darker brew, reminiscent of espresso.
  4. Use your hot kettle to add a few splashes of water to the French press and let it rest for a few seconds. This allows your coffee to bloom, releasing its oils and aromatics.
  5. Add the rest of your water to the French press. Don’t stir it — this will cause the grounds to fall out of suspension and potentially ruin the extraction of tasty coffee flavors and richness.
  6. Close the lid, but don’t plunge yet! Allow your coffee to steep for about four minutes. If you prefer your espresso stronger, you can let it steep for a minute or two longer. Don’t let it go for too long, though, as this can lead to over-extraction and a bitter, dry taste.
  7. Press down the plunger on your French press with slow, steady, and even pressure. Plunge halfway, and then raise the plunger to the top before plunging all the way down to finish the press.
  8. Pour your coffee into a serving pot. This will halt the extraction and help preserve the coffee flavor you’ve worked so hard to create.
  9. Serve your “French press-o” and enjoy!

As it’s not really designed for espresso-making, the French press is the least effective of the four options. But if you’re in the mood for espresso and don’t have any other equipment handy, it’s an easy way to brew a very strong shot of coffee if you remember to keep the grind fine, extract in a timely manner, and serve the coffee immediately after brewing.

How to Make Espresso with a Manual Machine

If you’re an espresso traditionalist, you might be interested in making your shot with a manual machine, also referred to as a piston machine. This method requires precision and a bit of elbow grease, but some swear it’s the only way to get truly great espresso without an automatic machine.

You’ll need:

  • A manual espresso machine
  • Freshly roasted coffee beans
  • Burr coffee grinder
  • Scale for coffee measuring (or a tablespoon)

Here’s what to do:

  1. Pour two to three cups of water into the machine’s water reservoir, and allow the machine to heat the water for five or six minutes.
  2. Add 20 grams (1.25 ounces) of ground coffee to the portafilter and lightly tamp it.
  3. Gently tap the portafilter on the counter and tamp it again.
  4. Attach the portafilter to the brew head.
  5. Slowly and steadily raise the lever.
  6. When you reach the top, wait 10 seconds.
  7. Then, slowly lower the lever. This should take 20 seconds or so.
  8. Pour espresso into pre-warmed cups, and savor every sip!

This method of espresso making is not for the novice, and you’ll likely go through several rounds of terrible-tasting espresso before you discover the technique that yields the strength and flavor you prefer. But if you are ready to step up your espresso game, we think you should give this method a try.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Alternative Espresso-Making Methods

Can you make espresso with a Keurig?

Sorry, Keurig lovers. The well-loved brewer isn’t a proper coffee machine for making espresso.

They don’t supply enough bars of pressure for brewing espresso. The best you can do with a Keurig is try to approximate the dark concentrated drink.

Choose a dark roast coffee pod — the darker the better. Then, set your machine to brew the smallest cup of coffee possible, usually 6 ounces. This will produce a very concentrated dark coffee that isn’t espresso but is more espresso-like than a regular cup of coffee.

Can you make espresso with a regular coffee maker?

You can’t truly make espresso with a regular coffee maker, but you can make some modifications to brew very strong coffee that will have a more intense flavor like an espresso shot. Here’s how you can try it for yourself:

  • Use 2 ounces of filtered water per tablespoon of ground coffee.
  • Use the correct grind size. A medium-fine grind will yield the best results. Using a grind that’s too coarse will result in weak flavor, but ground beans that are too fine could result in a bitter-tasting beverage.
  • Use warm water to fill the reservoir of the coffee machine. This will help ensure that the water heats up to the proper temperature to brew delicious espresso.

You’ll need to experiment a bit to get the levels of coffee and water just right. Once you find the ratios you like, then you can easily make “espresso” anytime you like with your regular coffee maker.

Can you make espresso with the Ninja Coffee Bar?

The Ninja Coffee Bar claims when it comes to coffee, the fancy machine can do it all. However, the Ninja does not have a setting for espresso preparation. As with some of the other methods we discussed, you can adjust the amount of water and amount of coffee you use in the Ninja to create a very strong cup of coffee. But alas, it’s just not espresso.

Many Ninja owners use it to create a coffee concentrate as the basis for lattes and other coffee drinks, but it’s not the best option for creating an authentic espresso moment.

Can you make espresso with the pour-over method?

Using the pour-over method to make espresso is generally not recommended. When you think about espresso brewing methods versus pour-over coffee, the reasons why they aren’t the same start to make sense.

Espresso is all about pushing hot water through ground coffee at intense pressure. It’s that intense pressure that brings out all of the complex flavors of the bean.

Pour-over is coffee is essentially the exact opposite of espresso. The pour-over method relies on gravity to allow hot water to slowly trickle its way through the coffee beans. Will this produce amazing coffee? Absolutely. But trying to approximate espresso with this method isn’t ideal.

Many of the coffee-brewing methods discussed in this article can be tweaked, adjusted, or fooled around with to get a strong cup of coffee that’s an acceptable stand-in for espresso. However, you can’t get espresso from a pour-over.

Wrapping Up

There’s no need to sell a kidney or knock over your neighborhood java joint to enjoy a good shot of Italian coffee. No matter your budget or skill level, you can learn how to make espresso with everyday brewing equipment and quality coffee.

Just remember the three key factors roast, grind, and pressure and you’ll be making some truly impressive “pseudopresso” in no time.

Happy Caffeinating!

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