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How To Make Espresso Without a Machine (french press espresso + other methods)

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? With a little creativity and a manual coffee maker (that you probably have lying around) you can make an espresso style coffee - aka 'almost' espresso. Here's are 4 ways to make espresso without a machine.

Defining 'Espresso' coffee

Surprisingly, despite its prevalence in coffee shops throughout the world, there is no fixed definition for an espresso (1). 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 usually 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.

The intense flavor typical of espresso comes from a very high coffee-to-water ratio, though again there is some difference of opinion on the exact amounts. Scott Rao (​2​​​), author of The Professional Barista's Handbook and other works on coffee, has this to say:

Espresso with crema

This is clearly a cup of real espresso

Simply put, it’s the ratio of an espresso’s beverage weight to the weight of the dry grounds used to make the shot.  For example, if a barista pulls a 36g shot from 18g of grounds , the ratio would be 2:1.  - Scott Rao

Got that? So if you can force a little hot water through a lot of coffee in a short time, you can make something that will be pretty close to espresso. Without further ado here are a few simple hacks you can use to get (almost) espresso.

How to make espresso with French Press

pouring a hot coffee

Double brewing with your french press almost gets you an espresso.

If all you have is a french press, but you are craving an espresso based coffee, you have what we call a big problem. French press is an immersion style of brewing and clearly lacks the required pressure for a shot of espresso, but here's a hack to make almost espresso with your french press.

You can make espresso-tasting coffee with a french press if you use the following little hack: double brewing.

What you need:

  • French press coffee maker
  • Espresso beans (or any dark roast coffee beans)
  • Burr grinder

Steps to make it:

  1. Grind your beans to a coarse grind (as you normally would for french press brewing)
  2. Brew your coffee with your french press as you normally would.
  3. Filter your coffee through a sieve or filter into a canister or jug
  4. Immediately after doing this, start brewing another french press coffee, but instead of using water, use the coffee you just made to brew. This is double brewing.

Don't expect any crema, but you'll end up with a super strong, espresso-tasting coffee. Now froth your milk and make a latte, cappuccino etc. Here's a guide with more french press brewing tips if you're unsure of how to nail the french press brew.

How to make espresso with a moka pot

Bialetti Moka Express

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 when poured. (If you use the freshest beans, you can get a beautiful golden layer on top of the pot, but it doesn't transfer to the cup.)

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

Steps 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.

Heres a detailed guide on using the stovetop espresso maker.

How To Make Espresso with an Aerobie AeroPress

Coffee beans on the white box

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. 

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.

What You Need

  • AeroPress with two filters
  • Espresso beans
  • Coffee grinder
  • Tamp
  • Kettle
  • Cold water
  • Pre-warmed mug

Steps to Make It:

  1. Add a coffee filter to your AeroPress as normal
  2. Grind coffee beans to a fine grind
  3. Add coffee grounds and tamp
  4. Add another coffee filter on top of tamped grounds
  5. Add hot water and press!

Making AeroPress espresso requires its own article so you can read this walkthrough if you want to try this out: how to make Aeropress espresso.

And remember you'll need to tamp your espresso well to get this to work. Here's a guide on espresso tamping.

How to make espresso with a hand espresso gadget

wacaco handpresso

A hand espresso machine is a simple and lightweight 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 using 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

Steps To Make It

  1. Finely grind enough beans to fill the espresso pod of the machine.
  2. Unscrew the espresso pod filter and fill it with the finely ground coffee. Fill it until the grounds lie 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.

How to make Espresso with a 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 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

Steps To Make It

  1. Turn the machine on and allow it to warm up.
  2. Grind the beans in a burr grinder to a fine espresso grind.
  3. Spoon the grounds into the portafilter and press down on them with the tamp. Aim for about 30 pounds of pressure.
  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.

Final Thoughts

Now all you need to do is froth the milk. If you've changed your mind and want to make espresso with a machine, read this guide.

A great espresso is a wonderful thing and with this set of tutorials, you can now enjoy one any time 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 lever machine in your cottage, an AeroPress at the trailhead, or a Moka pot over the campfire, you need never be without good espresso. If you enjoyed this, check out our other brewing guides here.

FAQs

Can you use espresso beans in a pour over?

Yes, you can use espresso beans in a pour over. If you like the smoky, slightly bitter flavor of dark-roasted espresso beans, try grinding a little finer than you would for a fruity light roast. This will increase the extraction and add the toasted flavor from the dark roasted beans. You’ll have the body of a pour over with the aromatic depth of espresso.

Is espresso stronger than coffee?

Whether espresso is stronger than coffee depends on what you consider “strong:” flavor or caffeine. Espresso typically has a stronger flavor than pour over or drip coffee, because the ratio is very different. A common espresso ratio is 2:1, that is, 14g of espresso for a 1-oz (28g) shot. Pour over coffee is usually closer to the SCA Golden Ratio of 55g coffee to 1 L of water (about 18:1 water to coffee).

In terms of caffeine, a shot of espresso typically contains about 62mg of caffeine, while a 12 cup of brewed coffee contains about 120 mg. So while the caffeine in espresso is more concentrated, you’d have to drink two shots to get the same caffeine rush.

Can you make espresso from regular coffee beans?

You can make espresso from regular coffee beans, though the flavor will be different and you run the risk of making a sour shot of espresso. The issue: because there is so little water in an espresso shot compared to a pour over, the temperature drops very quickly when the water mixes with the espresso. This can lead to under-extracted coffee, which means that the sour components (the acids that give coffee its bright flavors) can dominate.


References

  1. FYI: What Is Espresso? (n.d.). Retrieved July 3, 2019, from https://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2012-06/fyi-what-espresso

  2. Scott Rao. (2017, December 18). The 2:1 Ratio. Retrieved July 3, 2019, from https://www.scottrao.com/blog/2017/12/17/the-21-ratio

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Scott
 

Hi, I'm Scott, and I've traveled extensively through North America and Europe, exploring food and drink pairings around the world. My Love of coffee began during my teen years when a friend's family introduced me to the glories of the classic Italian Moka pot. That technology got me through too many early-morning final exams in college and eventually led to a manual espresso machine after graduation.