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How to Make Espresso at Home

By Matthew Berk on April 08, 2021
Posted in: How-To's
Tags: Espresso

While your everyday cup of drip and your demitasse of espresso are both essentially hot water passing through ground coffee and out of a filter, they are different in some significant ways. Once we know how they are different and why those differences matter, we can be on our way to a great cup.

Table of Contents

What Is Espresso?

Put simply, espresso is a brew method in which we extract flavor and aroma compounds from finely ground coffee under pressureThe name espresso literally means "under pressure. Traditionally, the beans used to make espresso are medium to dark roasted beans with lower acidity. The roast preference for espresso has changed over time, starting off as a medium roast, then a dark roast preference took hold, and now you can find great espresso shots from many different roasts, though a medium to medium-dark roast espresso is still common

How Much Caffeine Is in Espresso?

A common misconception is that just as shots of espresso taste super strong (concentrated flavor), they're also higher in kick. But even a generous double shot of espresso has about a third of the caffeine you'd find in a cup of drip coffee.

Best Coffee Beans for Espresso

There's actually no such thing as an espresso bean. Any coffee can be brewed as espresso, but there are coffee blends specifically formulated for espresso that taste best under pressure.

That said, although some cafes have started offering single origin espresso shots, by and large espressos are made with blends designed to produce the richest crema. What matters most, from the point of view of the barista, is how the beans are ground. While drip coffee is best when the beans are a medium grind (about the size of sea salt crystals), for espresso, the beans need to be finely ground and the consistency of the grind is essential.

How to Make Espresso at Home

Because of the pressurized brewing required, espresso usually requires specialized equipment, such as a burr grinder. When we chat with folks about the myriad home espresso machines that are available, we always recommend they spend more attention to (and money on) their grinder, since a great espresso machine is guaranteed to produce a mediocre shot unless the grind is super consistent.

Best Espresso Recipe

Scott Rao, who owns Espresso Vivace in Seattle and is widely credited with starting the latte trend, has a classic espresso recipe we like. Taken from his book, The Professional Baristas Handbook, these are the recommended ratios for espresso: 

How to Make Espresso Without a Machine

While you can't make a bona fide espresso without pressure from a machine, you can get close(ish) to the real deal with one of these methods: 

How to Make Espresso With a French Press

Making espresso with a French press basically means making less coffee. Here's what you do: Boil one cup of water. While you wait for the water to heat up, add two tablespoons of freshly, finely ground coffee to your French press. Add a bit of the boiling water to the French press and stir briefly. Wait four minutes, then slowly push down the plunger, pausing every few seconds. Note that it'll be slightly challenging to push the plunger down due to the grind size. 

How to Make Espresso With an AeroPress

The same goes for an AeroPress; using your normal brew method for the AeroPress, prepare less coffee using a fine grind. If able, heat your water in a kettle to 205 to 210 degrees Fahrenheit (the optimal temperature for espresso in an AeroPress, as well as a French press). 

Types of Espresso Drinks

If you’ve ever stared slack-jawed at the coffee shop menu wondering what the difference was between all the espresso drinks, you're in good company! Here's an overview of the different types of espresso drinks: 

  • Single Shot: 30 ml of espresso. Simple and delicious. 
  • Double Shot: 60 ml of espresso, also known as a doppio. The more the merrier, right?
  • Americano: 30 ml of espresso mixed with 60 ml of water. Think of it as a more intense cup of drip coffee.
  • Macchiato: 30 ml of espresso with a dot of foamed milk on top. Surprised that it’s not a caramel infused sugar bomb in a huge cup? It’s cool if you like that, too, but that's not a traditional macchiato.
  • Cappuccino: Equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk.
  • Flat White: Espresso with microfoam poured over it. Microfoam is steamed milk filled with small, fine bubbles that give it an ultra smooth consistency. Yes, it’s different from a latte.
  • Mocha: 60 ml of espresso, 60 ml of chocolate, and 30 ml of steamed milk. Delicious, and not overly sweet.
  • Latte: 60 ml of espresso with lots of steamed milk, around 300 ml, and very little foam.
  • Ristretto: A concentrated 22 ml shot of espresso, for when you don’t want to blink for a few hours or commit to anything longer than a sip. After all, you’ve got places to be and things to do.

What Is Blonde Espresso?

Blonde espresso, popularized by Starbucks, is simply an espresso made with light roast coffee as opposed to a traditional espresso, which uses medium or dark beans. 

What Is Espresso Powder?

Some baking recipes call for espresso powder, which is made from darkly roasted, finely-ground coffee beans. You can buy espresso powder at the supermarket or make it on your own at home. It's not meant to be used to make an actual espresso, however. 

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