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How to Make Espresso at Home (With or Without a Machine)

Matthew Berk Matthew Berk • October 19, 2021

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

Making Espresso in a Machine

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 pressure. The Italian caffè espresso name literally means "coffee under pressure" or coffee that is pressed or forced. Traditionally, the beans used to make espresso are medium to dark roasted beans with lower acidity. However, the roast preference for espresso has changed over time;  it started off as a medium roast, then a dark roast preference took hold, and now you can find great espresso shots from many different roasts, with a medium to medium-dark roast espresso being most 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 double shot of espresso has about two thirds the caffeine of an 8-ounce drip coffee.

Best Coffee Beans for Espresso

There's actually no such thing as an espresso bean, and the best coffee for espresso is subjective. Technically, any coffee can be brewed as espresso. But there are coffee blends specifically formulated for espresso that taste best as espresso drinks.

That said, although some cafes have started offering single-origin espresso shots, by and large espresso is made with blends specifically designed for espresso. 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), for espresso, the beans need to be finely ground and the consistency of the grind is essential.

How to Make Espresso at Home

Making a great shot of espresso requires an initial commitment, but once you put in the time and the practice, it's immensely rewarding to pour your first great-tasting shot. Follow our recipe to make espresso at home. 

The Best Espresso Recipe

Prep Time: 3 minutes 

Cook Time: 2 minutes 

Total Time: 5 minutes 

What You Need



Step 1: Turn on your espresso machine and give it time to warm up. 

Step 2: Once your machine is heated and you're ready to start brewing, place your portafilter on the scale and tare out the weight.

Step 3: Grind the coffee into your portafilter until you reach your desired weight, 18 to 20g for a double shot.

Step 4: Even out the bed of coffee in your portafiliter, either through a distribution tool or with your index finger. The goal is to make sure the coffee is level and evenly distributed across the whole basket. 

Step 5: Use your tamper to compress your coffee down with a fair amount of pressure. It's very important that you tamp straight down in order to achieve an even puck. If you tamp at an angle, the extraction of your coffee will be compromised.

Step 6: Pull your shot! 

Step 7: Taste your coffee and determine if you need to change any variables to improve the quality of your cup. 

Tasting your coffee and deciding what to change is the hardest part of mastering espresso and takes time to learn. If your espresso is tasting under extracted (sour), try making your grind a bit finer. Bitterness is indicative of over extraction and requires a coarser grind.

How to Make Espresso Without a Machine

Using a Moka Pot
Photo: viki2win/Shutterstock.com

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 Moka Pot 

Even though it’s smaller and looks a lot different than an espresso machine, the Moka pot is the best way to brew an espresso-like coffee. It makes coffee using pressure, similar to an espresso machine. Many people actually prefer the Moka pot to an espresso machine since it’s a lot more affordable and portable. Intrigued? Check out our guide to using a Moka pot at home here

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

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). Pro Tip: You can make this even easier with the Fellow Prismo Attachment for AeroPress ($25 on Amazon), an actuated valve that attaches to the device for espresso-like coffee.

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: 

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 drink, however.

Posted in: How-To's
Tags: Espresso

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