If you love espresso purchased in a coffee shop, there’s a good chance that at some point, you’ve wondered what’s needed to enjoy the benefits of home-brewed espresso.
However, you’re equally likely to have discovered that it’s not as straightforward as brewing other types of coffee. There are a number of reasons this is the case, but the primary ones are that this brewing method is complex, it can be a hassle and will require a specialist espresso machine – a not-insignificant investment. It’s also time-consuming and takes a considerable amount of effort. Thankfully, there are some ways around these common problems.
Where it comes to brewing espresso, we’ve “been there and done that,” using a range of espresso machines. In this comprehensive espresso-brewing guide, we’ll explain the best ways you can make fantastic espresso at home.
What Is Espresso?
A quick Google search reveals plenty of tutorials suggesting ways to brew espresso with a French press. This indicates that, for many people, an espresso constitutes nothing more than a concentrated, robust coffee served in a small cup. However, this is not the case.
An espresso is a concentrated, often thick coffee beverage with a layer of dense foam whose ingredients are exclusively coffee and water, created with a machine that forces hot water through a basket of tightly packed, finely-ground coffee for a limited amount of time at very high pressure.Popular Science: https://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2012-06/fyi-what-espresso/
Wherever you look for definitions of espresso, you’ll always find mentions of both “pressure” and “crema.” While no single definition perfectly encapsulates what espresso is, most people would agree that these two elements are crucial.
To brew an authentic espresso shot, a device has to push pressurized water through some fine coffee grounds. The result will be a smaller-than-average cup of coffee with crema on the top.
When air bubbles mix with the soluble fine coffee ground oils, the result will be a brown foam, best known as crema, which looks like this:
To brew an espresso shot, an espresso machine will be required. In other words, you won’t be able to brew espresso using a French press by simply altering the ratio of coffee to water. That’s because a French press coffee doesn’t operate using pressure, meaning it won’t create the all-important crema.
But is there a way to brew espresso without an espresso machine? We’ll address that question further on, offering a few alternatives.
First, let’s go into detail on the best ways to make espresso using a conventional machine.
Things You’ll Need To Make Espresso At Home
An Espresso Machine
One thing, you’ll need to make authentic espresso is a proper espresso machine. Many people find the cost off-putting, and they can be expensive. However, if you usually spend money on espressos bought in a coffee shop, it’ll save you money over the long run.
Thankfully, there are espresso machines on the market available across a range of budgets. For the beginner, a semi-automatic espresso machine should suffice. The machine in the photo above is the Breville Barista Pro, similar machines like this are good to get started.
To assist you in arriving at the best choice for yourself, take a look at our guide reviewing the best semi-automatic espresso machines.
The more money you have in your budget, the better your options will be. A semi-automatic espresso machine should offer you fantastic espresso that’s mercifully hassle-free.
If you can’t stretch to a semi-automatic espresso machine, you can find some excellent and affordable manual ones, we reviewed the Flair espresso maker here.
For those who enjoy a completely hand-free coffee brewing experience, opt for a bean-to-cup espresso machine that does everything for you.
An Espresso Grinder
One of the biggest mistakes coffee lovers make is to fail to invest in a decent-quality grinder.
If you don’t own a good burr grinder that can make the fine grinds you need for espresso, you won’t be able to brew a premium espresso even with an expensive machine.
Devices such as the Breville Barista Express and Breville Barista Pro are good options if you can afford them, as they have built-in grinders and can ultimately save you the extra expense of buying a separate burr grinder.
The next step is to choose the correct coffee beans for brewing espresso.
Unsurprisingly, your best option is to use fresh beans. These ensure a better flavor and a richer crema on your espresso. To begin with, try beans that are medium or dark roast. This will lead to a more balanced flavor that has less acidity than a light roast. Espresso roast on the market tends to have a darker roast profile than drip coffee or pour-over.
Can You Choose Ground Coffee For Espresso?
The short answer is yes. There is a range of finely ground beans on the market specially made for espresso. Well-known brands, including Starbucks, Lavazza, and Lily, have espresso beans and ground options too.
Your best bet is to use a pressurized filter basket rather than a non-pressurized alternative if you plan to use ground beans for making espresso. The main reason is they allow more room for mistakes in instances where altering the grind size is not an option.
How To Make Espresso At Home With An Espresso Machine?
With all the equipment at your disposal, you’re ready to pull an espresso shot. The settings and features of your espresso maker and grinder will determine the exact details. However, for the majority of semi-automatic espresso makers, the fundamental instructions will be similar.
We will explain the best way to dial in to brew the optimum espresso shot. We use “dial in” to convey the brewing process and the necessary tweaks to produce the espresso flavor you desire.
1.Pre-heat The Machine And Portafilter
Switch your espresso maker on and attach the portafilter to the device’s group head. Wait for between 10 and 15 minutes (the time typically needed for the espresso maker to reach the optimum water temperature).
Certain espresso makers, such as the Breville Barista Pro, use the ThermoJet heating system, which allows the devices to heat up in only three seconds. However, for the best results, the portafilter and group head still ought to be pre-heated.
Tip: to speed up the time it takes to pre-heat your machine, pull a few shots of hot water.
2.Measure Your Dose
The dose is the measurement of coffee grounds you’ll require to fill the filter basket. Filter baskets come in different sizes, so you should use a scale to measure the correct number of beans you’ll need. The majority of espresso makers have baskets for both single and double shots. From our experience, we recommend using between seven and 10 grams of coffee for a single espresso shot and 18 grams for a double espresso shot.
How can you tell if you’re using too much or too little coffee? Simple! Once you’ve pulled a shot, check to see if there’s an impression on the puck. If there is, you need fewer grounds.
However, if the coffee puck’s surface is too watery, either more grounds will be required, or you need to tamp less forcefully.
3.Grind The Coffee Beans
Grind size is essential for a perfect shot of espresso. You need to find the perfect adjustment on your grinder. Usually, the grind size for espresso should be table salt-like consistency. Check out our coffee grind size chart to see more details.
You will waste some coffee to find the perfect grind size. Also, you’ll need to adjust the grind setting every time you change beans from different roasters. Different freshness also requires some minor adjustment.
4.Distribute The Coffee Grounds Evenly
We made a few errors with this process to begin with, so hopefully, you can avoid making similar mistakes by reading on.
Once you’ve measured the precise number of beans most home coffee brewers grind, then add the coffee straight to the portafilter. After that, typically, you’d make the surface level using your finger. However, this isn’t particularly efficient as you’ll lose some of the grounds doing this. Not only that, but it’s an inexact means of measuring the amount of grounds you need and can create a mess.
Rather than grind straight into the portafilter, the best thing to do is use a dosing cup. If your machine has a 54mm filter basket, for example, you’ll need a dosing cup with an identical. Once you’ve added the grinds to the cup, place the portafilter on top of it, then turn them over. This gives an accurate measure and prevents mess.
If you’d rather dose straight into the portafilter, you can buy a dosing funnel to make the process easy and mess-free too.
Usually, we gently tap the filter basket a few times to help the coffee grounds settle. Doing this also helps remove air gaps and clumps. You can make the procedure even easier and more efficient by using a coffee leveler.
5.Tamp The Grounds
Tamping isn’t an easy process to describe, so the best way to learn how to do it correctly is to try it yourself. Most beginners tend to press unevenly and too hard.
Thankfully, there are some means of making it more straightforward.
Calibrated tampers stop at a particular pressure to prevent the coffee from being subjected to too much force. This leads to consistent tamping.
Palm tampers allow you to alter the depth, meaning you can set the tamping level you need. It stops when it hits the ridges. This is our preferred method for great tamping every time.
Three Secret Weapons
We use a two-in-one tamper and coffee distributor, as well as a dosing funnel or dosing cup that guarantees the correct amount of coffee. Using these tools, your grounds should be appropriately prepared for the filter basket.
These tools may be optional, but they help immensely in pulling the perfect espresso shot. They also take away many of the things that can make or break an espresso, leaving you to concentrate on the grind size adjustments. This will make it significantly more straightforward for you to dial for the optimum espresso shot. We explained how to make use of these espresso tools in another article.
6.Pull A Shot of Espresso
Attach your portafilter to the brew head, place a mug on a scale, then tare it. Set the timer.
The espresso coffee to water ratio should be 1:2. So, if you want to pull a double shot using 18 grams of coffee, you’ll need 36 grams of water.
The length of time needed for this should be around 25 to 30 seconds. Some espresso makers pre-infuse the grounds, so begin the timer when the beverage hits the cup.
7.Make Adjustments And Repeat
If the time it takes to brew 36 grams of coffee is less than the ideal minimum of 25 seconds, tweak the grind setting so it’s finer. If it takes over 30 seconds, make it more coarse.
Measure another 18 grams of grounds, then tamp and distribute them using the methods (and tools) we outlined earlier. Then time the shot to 36 grams. Keep carrying out this process, iterating as you go, until you get the all-important 25-30 seconds timing.
This will leave you a palatable espresso, but it’s not likely to be brilliant. The reason for that is we haven’t considered the roast level of the grounds yet or considered your tastes.
If you have a premium grinder allowing for plenty of dial-in configurations, feel free to tweak it. If your espresso maker allows for different temperature settings, alter these incrementally until you find the one that suits you best.
8.Milk-Based Espresso Coffees
The majority of espresso makers have a milk steaming wand. After making your espresso, you can steam some milk to produce either a cappuccino, a latte, or similar milk-based coffee drinks. Of course, practice is needed to do this perfectly as well, and we won’t touch on it in this guide.
How To Make Espresso Without A Machine?
Espresso makers and high-quality coffee grinders are costly, making it an expensive past-time for coffee enthusiasts. So, what are the options for brewing espresso without a machine? Thankfully, there are two ways. While the results won’t be as satisfying as espresso made in a machine, you’ll get coffee in an espresso style inexpensively.
Make “Espresso” with an AeroPress
AeroPress has been highly rated by coffee enthusiasts for several years and is well-regarded as one of the most versatile coffee makers. It is also portable, lightweight, inexpensive, and doesn’t run on electricity.
It is similar to espresso machines in that it uses pressure to generate the optimum flavor from the coffee beans. The plunger is then pressed down, forcing the coffee into the mug. If you use the correct ratio of coffee to water, it will make a concentrated coffee with a robust taste, similar to espresso. However, even with the plunger’s highly forceful pushing, it’s still a long way from the nine of pressure needed for the enticing crema to appear.
AeroPress Espresso Instructions
1. Set up your AeroPress in the usual manner. This process uses the inverted method. Place the plunger into AeroPress’s brew chamber and allow the chamber to sit on it.
2. Finely grind 18 grams of beans, and place the grounds in the brew chamber.
3. Pour approximately 90 grams (3 ounces) of heated water into the chamber, and ensure it mixes consistently with the grounds.
4. Stir the liquid for a minimum of 10 seconds, then leave it for 90 seconds (the inverted method ensures that while it is steeping, the liquid won’t enter the cup).
5. Place a paper filter to the drain cap, then attach it to the brew chamber.
6. Flip the AeroPress over onto a strong mug.
7. Gradually begin moving the plunger until it’s all the way down.
8. You’ll now have suitably concentrated espresso-style coffee.
Here are our step-by-step AeroPress instructions >>
AeroPress Espresso Attachments
Because AeroPress is so well-liked, there is a range of add-ons that you can buy separately. Some of them help make espresso-style coffee even better using AeroPress. The following add-ons operate similarly to a pressurized basket, adding one to two bars of pressure to the process.
The Joepresso add-on makes your AeroPress a pressurized percolation coffee maker as opposed to merely an immersion brewer. This means you can achieve more pressure than that generated with a regular filter basket, and you’ll get an espresso-style coffee with a more robust flavor and even a thin layer of crema.
The Prismo is an AeroPress add-on that has a pressure-activated valve. The attachment fits on your AeroPress’s lid and effectively turns the device into an espresso maker.
Brew ‘Stovetop Espresso’ Using A Moka Pot
The Moka pot is regularly referred to as the stovetop espresso maker, and there are some similarities.
It brews coffee using pressure for a start. However, it doesn’t generate anywhere near the same nine-bar pressure espresso makers achieve. Still, espresso-style coffee brewed with a Moka pot will have a layer of crema. It won’t be as rich and thick as the crema produced by an espresso machine, but it is not dissimilar.
Finally, like authentic espresso, the coffee will be strong – so strong, in fact, that adding milk or hot water may be necessary.
The Moka pot has been widely used in Italy for almost a hundred years. You may have one tucked away in your kitchen somewhere. If not, they are inexpensive and certainly much cheaper than an espresso machine. Another advantage is the grind won’t need to be quite as fine as grounds you need for authentic espresso. Therefore, certain pre-ground or hand-ground coffees will suffice. This means you won’t need to invest in an expensive grinder either.
In general, Moka pot offers a straightforward and cheap means of brewing espresso-like coffee at home.
Instructions For Brewing Moka Pot “Espresso”
1. To begin with, finely grind your coffee beans.
2. Pour boiling water into the bottom chamber, just beneath the safety valve.
3. Add the grounds to the coffee filter basket( ensure you completely fill the basket).
4. Put the Moka pot together by attaching the filter basket to the lower chamber (filled with water). Carefully attach the top chamber. Make sure you don’t burn yourself.
5. Put the Moka pot on your stovetop and allow it to stand for a few minutes.
6. The liquid will begin emerging from the tunnel into the upper chamber.
7. When you hear the gurgling sound, remove it from the heat. Do this before the final drop makes its way to the upper chamber, so over-extraction doesn’t occur.
8. Pour your espresso-like coffee and enjoy.
For more details about making espresso with a Moka pot >>
A Final Consideration – Nespresso Machines
If purchasing an espresso machine and grinder is out of reach financially, you don’t have the inclination to spend time honing your skills, or you’d rather not brew espresso-style coffee with AeroPress or Moka pot, there is a final option.
Nespresso machines are extremely easy to use and are far cheaper than standard espresso coffee makers. You just place a Nespresso pod in the machine and push a button. This will give you an espresso containing a thick crema in only one or two minutes, similar to the cup of coffee you tasted in coffee shops.
The flavor of the Nespresso is likely to differ slightly from authentic espresso. However, for most coffee enthusiasts, it’s perfectly acceptable. Nespresso is a fantastic way to enjoy home-brewed espresso without the hassle if you’re happy with the taste.
We shared a buying guide showing you how to choose a Nespresso machine.
* Some readers asked if Keurig also makes espresso like a Nespresso machine, the answer is no. Keurig makes coffee instead of espresso. Check out this article to figure out the differences between Nespresso and Keurig.
Whether you have an espresso maker or not, making either espresso or an espresso-style coffee at home is perfectly possible.
Making authentic espresso is undoubtedly a more costly affair than other coffee brewing methods. There is also a learning curve, so there may be some frustration and failures as you hone your craft. However, pulling a great espresso shot is also good fun and provides a real sense of achievement.
Not only that, but despite the initial expense of the equipment, if you’re used to spending several dollars every day on coffee shop espressos, over time, you’ll make that money back with the savings you’ll make.
For coffee lovers on a more restricted budget, there are also ways to brew espresso-type drinks for a fraction of the cost, as detailed in this guide.
For those on a budget somewhere in the middle of the two, Nespresso machines offer a perfectly viable option that’s well worth considering. Not only that, but they are hassle-free and speedy to operate as well.
While making espresso can be tricky and expensive, we hope this guide has shown you that there are ways to brew espresso at home regardless of your skill level and budget. Whichever method you choose, we’re confident that before long, you’ll be making beautiful espresso or espresso-style drinks, meaning those expensive shop-bought espressos may soon be a thing of the past.