How To Make Espresso Without a Machine

A shot (or two) of espresso is an incredible luxury, particularly for those who love great coffee. Enjoying an espresso shot typically requires an expensive espresso machine or a trip to your local coffee shop.

But what if you don’t have the time or money for these options?

Don’t worry, you don’t have to go without. Keep reading for four quick tutorials that will teach you espresso making without a fancy machine.

Defining Espresso

Surprisingly, despite its prevalence in coffee shops throughout the world, there is no fixed definition for an espresso. In fact, it is almost easier to get experts to agree on what espresso is not. There are, however, a few basic guidelines upon which everyone agrees.

Espresso is a highly concentrated coffee beverage made up exclusively of coffee and water. It is made in a machine that uses very high pressure to force hot water through a tightly packed basket of finely ground coffee over a short time span. The resultant drink has a foamy surface layer known as the crema which is difficult to achieve with alternative brewing methods.

What varies among machines, baristas, and definitions are the specifics, like the precise pressure, water temperature, and grams of coffee. Most concur that a minimum pressure of 9 bars (130 psi) is required for brewing espresso, a force that requires a specialized machine.

How To Make Espresso Without an Espresso Maker

No machine? No worries! Here are a few simple hacks:

Use an AeroPress (but not the usual way)

aeropress

The AeroPress was invented in 2005 and has been heralded as a revolution in coffee brewing by many aficionados. This simple and inexpensive bit of plastic tubing produces what many experts have claimed is the finest cup of coffee they’ve ever had.

The key is that, like an espresso machine, the AeroPress relies on pressure to force the maximum flavor from your coffee beans. Unlike an espresso machine, however, the AeroPress is cheap, lightweight, portable, and requires no electricity. 

It has quickly developed a following among backpackers and RVers. BUT... while it makes good coffee, you can't just make an espresso using an Aeropress the normal way. No no no. You need to get creative and use a bit of muscle. I'll explain it below, but I did a more detailed case study on it here.

What You Need

  • AeroPress with two filters
  • Espresso beans
  • Coffee grinder
  • Tamp
  • Kettle
  • Cold water
  • Pre-warmed mug
PRO TIP: The first step to great espresso is a quality grinder, and burr grinders are far superior to their bladed counterparts. While they can be pricey, there are plenty of affordable options on the market.

Use a Hand Espresso Machine

wacaco handpresso

A simple and lightweight hand espresso machine is a simple unit consisting of a pod for coffee grounds and an adjacent arm that is filled with hot water. The pressure required to pull a shot of espresso is built up by pumping the arm, much like a bicycle pump.

Like the AeroPress, the hand espresso machine is popular among outdoor enthusiasts. It is even more compact than the AeroPress and has few parts to manage. The hand espresso machine can also be used with prepackaged coffee pods, though your espresso will be far superior with freshly ground beans.

What You Need

  • Cold water
  • Kettle, or other means of boiling water
  • Espresso beans
  • Grinder
  • Hand espresso machine
  • Mug

How To Make It

  1. Finely grind enough beans to fill the espresso pod of the machine.
  2. Lay out the espresso machine with the espresso pod pointing up. Unscrew the espresso pod filter and fill it with the finely ground coffee. You may or may not need to use all the coffee you prepared. Fill it until the grounds lay flat and in line with the top of the pod.
  3. Heat the water in the kettle until it reaches boiling point, then add it to the water cavity. Ensure the cavity is full to the top.
  4. While firmly holding the upper portion of the machine, pump the bottom pump up to 16 psi. Once you reach this pressure, press the extraction button and hold over a mug till complete.

Use a Manual Lever Machine

manual lever machine

A manual lever machine is a complex and beautiful piece of equipment that takes a certain skill to use well. However, once this skill is mastered, this instrument delivers a truly remarkable product as you strive for the perfect espresso.

Check out this video for a great introduction on how to make espresso using a manual lever machine:

There are several good reasons to choose a manual, lever-operated espresso machine instead of an automatic one. Manual machines offer more space for customization, allowing you to optimize every nuance of your espresso. Grind size, grams of coffee, tamp pressure, single shot, double shot, pre-infusion - all these, and more, are under your direct control.

As a result, manual espresso machines allow you to truly feel like you’re mastering a craft, rather than simply pushing a button. When you finally get everything down, the pride that goes along with it can be even more delicious than the best espresso.

What You Need

  • Manual lever espresso machine including portafilter
  • Espresso beans
  • Grinder
  • Tamp
  • Cold filtered water
  • Pre-warmed mug

How To Make It

  1. Turn the machine on, pour the cold filtered water into the machine’s reservoir and allow it to warm up.
  2. Grind the beans in a burr grinder to a fine espresso grind. As with the AeroPress, and any other espresso method, the grind size is crucial. Expect that you will need to experiment before you hit on the perfect result.
  3. Spoon the grounds into the portafilter and press down on them with the tamp. As with grind size, the force with which you tamp will affect the end product. You want to aim for about 30 pounds of pressure, but this too will likely require some trial and error.
  4. Install the portafilter in the machine and place a warmed espresso cup underneath. Slowly and steadily raise the lever. When you reach the top, wait ten seconds, then smoothly and firmly lower the lever. This should take about 20 seconds and 45 pounds of pressure.

Try a Moka Pot ('Stovetop Espresso Maker')

a pot used in making coffee

The Moka pot is often called a stovetop espresso maker, even though it doesn’t make true espresso. In an espresso machine, water is forced through the coffee grounds under high pressure, resulting in the coffee we are all familiar with. The resultant beverage made on a stovetop is concentrated and flavorful, like an espresso, but lacks the characteristic crema.

Nevertheless, a Moka pot is a simple and inexpensive way to get espresso-style coffee at home. The biggest worry with a Moka pot is over-extraction and burnt tasting coffee, but both issues can be avoided with a little care and practice.

What You Need

  • Moka pot
  • Espresso beans
  • Grinder
  • Cold filtered water
  • Warm mug

How To Make It

  1. Grind beans to a fine espresso grind.
  2. Fill the bottom chamber of the Moka pot with cold filtered water.
  3. Fill the filter basket with the ground beans and assemble the Moka pot by placing the filter basket into the water-filled bottom chamber and screwing on the top chamber.
  4. Place the Moka pot on a heat source (stove top burner, hot plate, even an open fire if you’re camping) and wait for the water in the lower chamber to come to a boil.
  5. Await for the characteristic gurgling sound that lets you know the upper chamber is now full of delicious coffee. Remove the Moka pot from the heat immediately and pour the contents of the upper chamber into a mug.

Now You Know You Can Enjoy an Espresso Without Going Broke!

A great espresso is a wonderful thing and with this set of tutorials, you can now enjoy one anytime without needing to invest in an expensive machine. The alternatives listed here even provide ways to enjoy espresso off the grid.

Whether it’s a manual lever machine in your cottage, an AeroPress at the trailhead, or a Moka pot over the campfire, you need never be without good espresso. Now that you know how to make an espresso, learn also how to properly drink one

Did you enjoy this tutorial? Do you have another method for making espresso without a machine that we missed? Let us know in the comments below and share this article with your coffee-loving friends. If you enjoyed this, check out our other brewing guides here.

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Alex
 

Alex is the Founder and Editor of Homegrounds.co. He is passionate about brewing amazing coffee at home, and teaching others to do the same.