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How to Make Espresso Without a Machine

How to Make Espresso Without a Machine

Whether you drink it as a shot or as a base for something milky, the espresso is the pinnacle of professional coffee making. It’s the reason so many people visit their local coffee shop rather than make coffee themselves.

But if you’re looking for a way to make espresso without a machine, we’ve got your back. We’ve provided three different methods for you to get a strong cup of joe at home.

What Defines an Espresso?

Of course, we all know what an espresso is when we get our hands on one. But what is it exactly that makes a true espresso, rather than just a strong coffee? In terms of what you get in your cup, most people would define an espresso as a small serving of concentrated coffee. But the truth is you can have concentrated coffees that are not espressos.

The single defining feature of the espresso is the extraction method.

Espresso makers force hot water through compressed coffee grounds at a pressure of nine bars, or around 130 psi. This pressure is the reason why it’s so difficult to make a true espresso with anything other than an espresso machine. While some other coffee makers do use pressure to brew, you won’t get anything like the nine bars of pressure required. This pressure is also how the brew gets its signature crema – the dense, dark layer of foam that sits on top of a well-made espresso.

We generally brew espresso at a ratio of 1:2, so for every 20g of grounds, you would want a yield of 40g of brewed coffee. But again, this isn’t what defines the drink, as these ratios can vary (1).

Espresso In White Cup

Espresso Beans

One of the reasons there may be confusion about what makes an espresso is the sale of espresso beans. Simply using espresso beans does not make your drink an espresso (remember it’s the pressure that counts). So, what is the deal with marketing coffee beans this way?

Basically, these beans have been roasted in a way that makes them suitable for brewing the perfect espresso. A dark roast is preferred for making espresso due to the short extraction time. Beans become more soluble the longer they are roasted, which means the water can extract the coffee more quickly (2).

Dark roast coffee beans also have a higher oil content than light roasted beans, creating the crema. And if you’re using your espresso to create a milk-based drink like a latte or cappuccino, a dark roast is preferred. The particular flavor profile and lower acidity levels make it a better match with dairy.

If you opt for pre-ground coffee (which we don’t recommend), you’ll find that anything labeled “espresso” has been finely ground to be suitable for espresso machines.

Despite what people might think, espresso beans are not a different variety to regular coffee beans. However, they have been selected from regions or varietals that will form a full-bodied cup when brewed as an espresso.

To make a good espresso, you don’t necessarily need beans that have been labeled for the purpose. However, you should still stick to something with a dark roast and a rich flavor profile.

How to Make Espresso with a Moka Pot

If you have a Moka pot at home, you’re in luck. This classic Italian fixture is perfect for making espresso without an espresso machine. Like an espresso maker, it uses an extraction method based on pressure, as the hot water is forced from the lower chamber up through the coffee grounds. 

It’s important to note that even if you use espresso grounds, you’re not technically making a true espresso.

Serious Eats

The difference here is that the pressure that develops in a Moka pot is around one or two bars, compared to the nine bars of an espresso machine (3). You’ll also miss out on the espresso’s distinctive crema, though you might see a little foam build up inside the pot.

What you need

  • Moka pot
  • Dark roast beans
  • Coffee grinder

Step 1: Grind your beans

The Moka pot requires a fine grind, as you would use in an espresso machine. You’re aiming for something a little finer than table salt, which will clump together in the middle when pinched (4). Ideally, you should be using a burr grinder, which will give you a much more even consistency than with a blade grinder, particularly when it comes to the espresso grind (5).

Step 2: Fill the Moka pot

Fill the bottom chamber with cold water to reach just below the safety valve, then insert the filter. Add the coffee grounds to the filter basket, filling to the top without over-filling. Be careful not to tamp the grounds or the water will have trouble getting through, and you’ll end up with over-extracted coffee. Instead, lightly level them out with your finger.

The water and coffee grounds required will depend on the size of your pot.

Step 3: Brew your coffee

Screw the top chamber firmly and place the pot over high heat. It might take a few minutes to warm up, but don’t wander away – once the water boils, things will happen quite quickly. You need to listen to the gurgling noise, meaning the water is being forced through the coffee into the top chamber. Once you hear this sound, remove the Moka pot from the heat and pour the coffee right away. Due to the high temperatures that the metal of Moka will reach, leaving the coffee to sit in the pot will be detrimental to the flavor.

Pro tip: The Moka pot is also a great option if you want to use your espresso to make milk-based drinks, as you can see in our guide on making latte without a machine.

How to Make Espresso with an AeroPress

One of the selling points of the AeroPress is its ability to make a decent espresso alternative, but it does require a bit more fiddling around than the Moka pot. The AeroPress design combines elements of filter, immersion, and pressure extraction methods, which allow you to get the strength required for this brew (6). 

Aerobie, the AeroPress makers, say that their basic instructions for use create “espresso-style” coffee, but we’ve made a few adjustments to the method to get a stronger, more concentrated shot.

how to makes espresso without a machine and using an aeropress

What you need

  • AeroPress coffee maker
  • 2 paper filters
  • Dark roast beans
  • Coffee grinder

Step 1: Grind your beans

As with the Moka pot, you’ll need a espresso grind. When you get to the extraction step, you’ll know if you’ve achieved the correct consistency. If the grind is too coarse, there will be no resistance to your pressure, and you’ll end up with an under-extracted coffee. Grind your coffee too fine, and you won’t be able to depress the plunger.

Step 2: Add the filters and coffee

Place the first filter in the filter cap, followed by your coffee. To get the most espresso-like coffee from the extraction, you’re going to want to tamp down the grounds. You can do this using the AeroPress plunger, but some people also use any manual grinder base that fits. You then want to place another paper filter on top to hold the grounds in place. The easiest way to do this is by using the plunger again to push the filter down.

If you have a metal filter, you can use this in the filter cap, but you’ll still need a paper filter to sit on top of the grounds.

Step 3: Pour in the water and extract

After you add hot water, some ways of using the AeroPress require you to leave it to steep for around 1-2 minutes. This makes it more of an immersion method. Here, we want to try to replicate the espresso machine’s pressure technique, so extraction should begin straight away. The extraction requires a bit of elbow grease on your part – you want to make sure you can fully depress the plunger in around 30 seconds. If it’s much quicker than this, try grinding your beans a little finer. Likewise, if you find you can’t depress the plunger at all, you’ll need something a little more coarse. 

Pro tip: The inverted AeroPress method is popular with fans of this device, but if you’re aiming for an espresso, the traditional “right way up” method is the best.

How to Make Espresso with a French Press

If you’re craving an espresso at home, the French press is unfortunately not the best option. It uses an immersion method of extraction, which provides a strong coffee cup, but without the concentration of an espresso. But if that’s all you have to hand, don’t worry, we’ve got some tips to get your brew a little closer to an espresso style.

The French press is a lot more versatile than most people expect.

Perfect Daily Grind

With a few tweaks to the traditional brewing method, you can get a much stronger coffee from your cafetiere than you might have ever thought possible.

What you need

  • A French press
  • Dark roast beans
  • Coffee grinder

Step 1: Grind your beans

Grind your coffee beans to a coarse grind as you usually would for French press. You might be tempted to grind for an espresso here, but this will result in over-extracted coffee with a whole lot of sediment that slips through the mesh filter. If you must use pre-ground coffee, skip the espresso grind as this will be too fine. 

Step 2: Brew your coffee

Add two tablespoons of coffee to the French press, followed by one cup of hot water. Stir well, then leave to steep with the lid sitting just on top. After four minutes, slowly press the plunger down and pour the coffee out into a cup.

Step 3: Brew it again

Repeat the brewing process precisely as in the step above. Instead of using hot water, this time, use the coffee that you’ve just decanted from the French press. This is a method known as double brewing, and it will add the strength to your coffee that you’ve been looking for.

Pro tip: Just be aware that after 8 minutes total steeping time, your coffee isn’t going to be piping hot. But it will be strong!

Final Thoughts

While you may not technically make espresso at home, you can get something pretty close to it without shelling out for an expensive espresso machine. The best option is the Moka pot, which creates a strong velvety coffee cup, earning it the nickname of the stovetop espresso maker.

An AeroPress will do a pretty good job of things if you can get the technique right, and even the humble French press can be coaxed into giving you a rich, strong brew.

FAQs

There is 40mg of caffeine in a shot of espresso (7). This is the average when using a machine to create your espresso and depends on the beans and settings you use. However, if you’re using alternative ways to make espresso, like those above, the caffeine levels will vary.

The best grind for espresso when using a machine is a fine grind. The pressure generated by the machine means that the water would pass too quickly through a coarser grind, resulting in an under-extracted, weak coffee.

An espresso freddo could be described as the Greek version of iced coffee. It starts with a double shot of espresso, combined in a drink mixer (not a blender) with ice and sugar and served in a glass of ice. One variation is to top the finished drink with a layer of frothed milk known as a cappuccino freddo (8).

References
  1. Espresso Coffee – The Espresso Menu Explained. (2020, April 07). Retrieved from https://www.fivesenses.com.au/blog/the-espresso-menu-explained/
  2. Riportella, K. (2020, December 09). How to Adjust Your Brewing Recipe For Coffee Roast Level. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2019/10/how-to-adjust-your-brewing-recipe-for-coffee-roast-level/
  3. Gokey, M. (2020, July 29). The best stovetop espresso makers and moka pots. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/best-stovetop-espresso-maker
  4. Owen, T. (2020, August 09). Espresso: The Grind. Retrieved from https://library.sweetmarias.com/espresso-the-grind/
  5. Paajanen, S. (2020, January 9). What’s the Difference Between Blade and Burr Coffee Grinders? Retrieved from https://www.thespruceeats.com/blade-or-burr-grinder-765770
  6. Aeropress. (2020, September 30). Retrieved from https://www.partnerscoffee.com/blogs/brew-guides/aeropress
  7. Caffeine Myths: Espresso vs. Drip. (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2021, from https://www.kickinghorsecoffee.com/en/blog/caffeine-myths-espresso-vs-drip
  8. Grant, T. (2020, July 22). A Complete Guide to The Greek Freddo. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2020/02/a-complete-guide-to-the-greek-freddo/

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