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How to make espresso without an espresso machine: 5 methods

The process of how to make espresso is as much an art as it is a science. In fact, I feel that it’s this art-science blend that makes espresso so enjoyable and widely loved throughout the world.

Even though espresso started out in Italy, it’s now enjoyed everywhere by people of all ages(except perhaps children who should not be drinking coffee yet!)

Do you always need an espresso machine to make espresso, though? Let’s learn 5 ways how to make espresso without an espresso machine.

how to make espresso without an espresso machine: it won't quite look like this but it will taste similar

The only issue with espresso is that it is a lot more complicated to make than any other coffee preparation, and you’d actually be hard pressed to make espresso without at least some equipment.

This post will focus on espresso, but you can also make regular coffee without a coffee maker.

That being said, even if you don’t have an espresso machine), you can still make espresso pretty close to the original thing, so let’s get into it!

How to make espresso without an espresso machine: the basics

To make espresso at home or anywhere else requires three factors: the roast of the coffee beans, the grind of the beans, and the pressure used to brew.

Using the right kind of roast

Espresso roasts are generally darker roasts. Dark roasts have very intense flavor and the brewing method of espresso really helps extract all that flavor.

When coffee beans are roasted to a dark color, more and more pores open up in the beans. When the beans are ground, the flavor compounds and aromatic compounds mix into the water even more easily.

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You could experiment with using medium or light roasts if you want. I firmly maintain that coffee is about your personal preference. So if you find that dark roasts are too strong for you, go for the medium roast.

But you should definitely try the authentic way first, and modify as you go along. There is a reason it’s the authentic way, after all.

Grind very fine

Grind is absolutely critical for brewing good espresso. Since a shot of espresso is brewed so quickly, the grounds need to be very, very fine in order to extend the surface area as much as possible. This is the same as how sugar will dissolve more quickly in water if it’s very fine, whereas it would take much longer for a sugar cube to dissolve in water.

While you can buy pre-ground coffee from your favorite roaster, the right way to do it – and the way to have the most control over your grounds – is to grind at home just before you brew.

The best kind of grinder is a burr grinder. This uses three or more burrs – a kind of toothed, conical device – to grind the beans. Most good burr grinders will have automatic settings that will grind the beans to your desired consistency.

Espresso grounds are fine, almost powder-like, but not too powder like that they get stuck in the crevices of your machine. It’s a fine art to master, but you’ll eventually get the hang of it.

Note: Did you know that Turkish coffee uses a ground even finer than espresso?

Generate pressure

Espresso machines use pressure to force hot water through the puck of coffee grounds. Most machines use a default pressure of 9 atmospheres, which means 9 times the pressure of the atmosphere(Note: that’s quite a lot).

It’s hard for non-Herculean people to generate that kind of pressure, which is why you need to use a specialized machine.

Some fancier espresso machines can let you customize the pressure, so you can further adjust the flavor of the coffee.

However, since we’re not using an espresso machine, we’ll have to figure out alternate ways to come up with pressure. It won’t be as much as what you could generate with a proper machine, but it will do the trick.

Once you have these three boxes crossed, you can experiment with the processes for how to make espresso.

You also need to use the right kind of water, which you can read about here.

4 methods for making espresso without a machine

1. Use an Aeropress (the most innovative coffee device, period)

The Aeropress is an amazing little device that’s deceptively simple but brews superb coffee.

It’s my top method for how to make espresso without an espresso machine, there’s no doubt about it.

Originally invented by a frisbee manufacturer who wanted a better, quicker solution for good coffee(I kid you not), it has fast become one of the most popular ways to brew really good coffee.

It’s also overtaken the french press as my preferred way of making coffee since it is much quicker and brews far better coffee.

Are you convinced, and wondering how to make espresso at home with an Aeropress? Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • An Aeropress
  • Coffee beans
  • A grinder
  • Hot water
  • Something to stir with
  1. First off, get some hot water going in your favorite kettle. Bonus points to you if you’re using a gooseneck kettle, since this will make it easier to pour :).
  2. Measure out 2 tablespoons(15 grams) of coffee beans and grind them to a very fine, espresso-like consistency.
  3. Heat the water up to between 80-95 degrees C. This is the ideal brewing temperature for Aeropress. If your kettle only goes up to full boil, then leave the top open after it’s finished boiling for about 30 seconds to a minute to let the hot water cool down some.
  4. Place a paper filter in the filter tray of the Aeropress, and fasten it to the bottom half of the device.
  5. Place the bottom half of the Aeropress on a sturdy mug(you’ll be applying pressure to it soon, so make sure it’s not delicate) and scoop in your coffee. Fill water just up to the 1 mark on the Aeropress – this will be around 2 ounces.
  6. If you’re using a scale, it’s 70 grams of water.
  7. Make sure all the grounds get wet.
  8. Give the mixture a very gentle stir and let it sit for 30 seconds.
  9. Insert the plunger and start steadily pushing down – once most of the hot water(now coffee) has passed through the filter, you’ll hear a hissing sound, but keep going until you reach the grounds and you can’t push any further.
  10. This last step helps to extract some crema which will taste delicious on top of an espresso.
  11. Enjoy your quick-brewed espresso!

If you prefer Americano, dilute your shot with some more water.

Cleaning up is a cinch – with the plunger all the way down, just remove the filter holder, hold the Aeropress over a garbage can and push the plunger all the way out, ejecting the puck of coffee and the filter. Rinse off the rubber, separate the two parts and you’re good to go.

Why the Aeropress is good for making espresso

The Aeropress is one of the best ways to make espresso without an espresso machine. It’s quick, makes a great shot of espresso (almost), and is also really easy to clean up.

2. Use a Moka Pot (AKA camping coffee maker / percolator)

The Moka Pot or a stovetop espresso maker are brilliantly engineered gadgets that use the pressure of steam to brew great coffee.

They’re also known as percolators, and are one of the original ways to make coffee.

While it’s not exactly going to be an espresso, it’ll have the distinctly rich taste you love of espresso, minus the crema. Also, moka pots are best used to brew a full cup, not just a shot.

What you’ll need:

  • A moka pot
  • Coffee beans
  • A grinder
  • Water
  1. Grind yourself about 15 grams of coffee to a drip consistency, which is medium.
  2. Unscrew the bottom of the moka pot and you’ll see that there is a little chamber in the bottom and a filter device for putting coffee grounds in.
  3. Pour the grounds into the moka pot filter, and pour 6 ounces of water into the bottom chamber. This is usually up to the line marked inside the moka pot. If you’re a little short or a little too much, adjust until the water is just at the line.
  4. Screw the top assembly on, and place the moka pot on the stove.
  5. As the water heats up and turns into steam, it’ll go through the coffee grounds and up the spout inside the moka pot before coming out and filling up in the top reservoir.
  6. You’ll know all the coffee has brewed when you hear a distinct gurgling sound. This sound indicates that all the water has flowed into the top reservoir of the moka pot and only a few of the last bubbles are left.
  7. Turn off the heat and remove the moka pot from the stove. Pour your espresso into a mug and enjoy!

For consistency during experiments, remember to change only one variable at any time: either the blend, or the roast, or the ground size.

Why moka pots are good for making espresso

The moka pot is really simple, cheap, and a quick brewing solution for really good coffee. It’s ideal for camping and traveling, too.

3. Use a hand pump machine

Of all the methods we’ve talked about here for how to make espresso, this will brew the most authentic shot. This capsule-shaped machine is actually a portable travel espresso machine.

What you need:

  • Manual espresso machine
  • Coffee grounds
  • Water
  • A kettle

First off, as always, ground your coffee beans to an espresso consistency, very, very fine. Measure out 20 grams of coffee into the portafilter of the espresso machine and tamp it down into a nice puck. The ideal pressure for tamping is around 20 to 30 pounds – you can manage it with your arms.

Otherwise it is a nice excuse to go hit the gym. “I need to train my biceps for tamping espresso!”

  1. Screw the filter into the water reservoir, and fill 2 ounces of hot (90 to 95 degrees celcius) water in it. Screw on the top, and start pumping to generate pressure.
  2. As you pump, the coffee will start to extract through the filter into the mug – make sure it’s there below the machine to catch the espresso.
  3. Once all the coffee has been extracted, enjoy your hand pumped espresso!

You can even add some foamy milk to this in a separate mug to have a cappuccino or a latte.

Why lever machines are good for making espresso

This manual espresso machine is portable and super easy to use, and best of all, it’s cheap! What it lacks in machinery and piping it makes up from your raw body strength.

To really enjoy an espresso, try using this! You’ll have the satisfaction of extracting every last drop yourself!

4. Use a french press

French presses make the least authentic espresso, mainly because they’re not designed to generate much pressure at all. The only pressure applied to the brew is from the plunger.

Even then, the pressure is not that much because the plunger has holes in it.

Still, if all you have lying around is a french press and you have a hankering for espresso, here’s what you’ll need:

  • A grinder
  • 28 grams of coffee beans(use a dark roast for extra intensity)
  • A hot water kettle
  • A french press

Now on to brewing.

  1. Grind out 28 grams of coffee beans to a very fine grind, much like you’d use in an espresso.
  2. Add the coffee grounds in your french press.
  3. Pour about 50 grams of water of the grounds, wetting them evenly, and let them bloom for 20 seconds
  4. Pour the remaining water, making sure all the grounds have been soaked evenly
  5. Place the top of the french press on, but don’t plunge yet
  6. Let the brew steep for 4 minutes
  7. Plunge down very gently, and pour out into a mug to stop the brewing process
  8. If you feel the coffee is still very muddy, run it through a paper filter
  9. Enjoy

Here’s the caveat: french press is the least effective method, since there is minimal pressure, and all we’re doing here is attempting to mimic the flavor of an espresso using extra coffee grounds.

5. Make an Indian Cappuccino (similar to Dalgona coffee)

Technically, this is not a straight up espresso, but if you’re looking for a foamy, milky coffee reminiscient of a cappuccino and you have nothing at home besides instant coffee, this is one way to go.

I would never advocate instant coffee otherwise, but if you just need the caffeine and your back is against the proverbial wall, maybe this will tide you over until you find some good coffee beans.

Heat up some water to a boil. You don’t need too much, just a few drops.

Add one teaspoon of instant coffee to a mug and a few granules of sugar to taste.

To this, add just a few drops of water. This is critical – you want to form a paste, so don’t add too much. It’s better to add a little first and add a little again than adding too much in one go.

Take a spoon and start stirring the hell out of the mixture. As you stir and mix, you’ll see that the coffee/water/sugar mixture will take on a light brown color and form a nice bubbly paste.

Once you’ve got the light brown color, warm up some milk and add it to the mug – usually halfway to 2/3 up the mug will be enough.

The paste you made earlier will form a nice frothy foam on top, and you can enjoy an Indian Cappuccino!

Final word

These four methods are my favorites for making good espresso without a machine. You don’t need to spend $$$$ just to enjoy good coffee.

Of course, a machine will always produce superior coffee, and it will be more convenient to use, but these methods – especially the Aeropress and manual machine – will make some really good brew as well.

You can also experiment using a french press, but it won’t have as good of a result.

Finally, if you try any of these at home or you have your own special method, please don’t hesitate to share it with us in the comments!

Frequently asked questions

Can you make espresso with a coffee maker?

It’s tough to make espresso with a drip coffee maker. The best thing you can do is to add 1.5 to 2 times the coffee grounds and brew a single cup to maximize extraction and try to mimic the boldness and intensity of espresso.

Can I use regular coffee beans to make espresso?

Absolutely! It doesn’t matter what kind of coffee beans you use, though medium-dark or dark roasted beans will result in a much more flavorful cup.

Are espresso machines expensive?

Espresso machines can be found in all price ranges, from less than $150ish all the way up to beyond $1000.

Last update on 2020-09-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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About Shabbir

Shabbir is the Chief Caffeine Officer at Coffee In My Veins. When he's not weighing out coffee beans for his next brew, you can find him writing about his passion: coffee.

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