7 Ways to Make Espresso Without a Machine
Espresso is universally loved in the coffee world. This short, sharp shot of concentrated aromatic goodness forms the basis of so many coffee drinks that we know and love.
However, one of the barriers that stops many home brewers from enjoying great espresso is actually expensive espresso machines themselves. Now only can these be costly to get hold of and maintain, but they can also be difficult to operate.
However, if you are craving great espresso but only have limited equipment to hand, no problem! All it takes is a little bit of creativity and you’ll have a great cup of espresso in no time!
What is Espresso?
Many people use the words ‘espresso’ and ‘coffee’ interchangeably. But, espresso has a few defining characteristics that makes it special. Espresso is made by pumping steam through very finely ground coffee beans at a high level of pressure, typically between 9 and 15 bar.
Steam powered espresso machines came into the fore in the early 1900s, but strong coffee has been consumed for centuries. So, what exactly makes espresso, espresso?
Well, surprisingly there isn’t really a single definition of espresso amongst coffee experts, but below are a few of its defining characteristics, so we can agree on what we will be brewing with these alternative methods.
Something that sets espresso apart from regular coffee is its intense flavor. Espresso is highly concentrated coffee and is only served in 1 or 2 ounce shots as a result.
Where a traditional french press or drip brew method may yield multiple cups of coffee per brew, espresso is only the concentrated base of a coffee drink. Hot water, milk and sweeteners are subsequently added to espresso to dilute its intense flavor.
Espresso, which loosely translates from Italian as “pressed out”, is usually made using pressurized steam, which forces water through the tightly compressed coffee grounds, producing a highly concentrated coffee shot.
Whilst the alternative methods listed below don’t technically create espresso in the traditional sense, they can produce a strong, intense coffee that works as a suitable alternative.
Another aspect of espresso that sets it apart from other brewing methods is crema. In short, crema is the foam produced when hot water reacts with ground coffee. Some cream is produced with all coffee brewing methods that use hot water, but crema is more pronounced with espresso, as it is made under such high temperatures and pressure tolerances.
Why is Espresso so Popular?
Espresso is used as a base for so many coffee drinks because of its intensity and versatility. Producing great quality espresso isn’t easy, since there are so many variables that go into pulling the perfect espresso shot.
Yield, extraction, brew time, water to coffee ratio, grind size and the coffee beans used all play into the quality and taste of the espresso that gets made.
That being said, espresso’s intensity and bold flavor compared to other brewing methods, means it pairs incredibly well with water, frothed milk and sweeteners like sugar and flavored syrups. Lattes, cappuccinos, flat whites and cortados all follow the principle of adding frothy, steamed milk to freshly brewed espresso to create a creamy, well balanced coffee drink.
7 Ways to Make Espresso Without an Espresso Machine
So, we have discussed what makes espresso so popular and what it actually is. Now, let’s explore different ways in which you can brew espresso from your home without the need for an expensive or complicated espresso machine!
1. Moka Pot
The moka pot is an age old coffee brewing method that uses intense heat and boiling water to extract strong coffee. Moka pots are heated up over a stove top, which allows water to boil quickly and force steam through a small chamber containing coffee grounds.
This then forces the steam upwards through the ground coffee, producing a bold, rich coffee in the top chamber of the moka pot.
Whilst moka pot coffee is technically not espresso by definition, it is a pretty close substitute that will be suitable for most espresso based coffee recipes.
Moka pot coffee requires a fine grind of coffee beans, much like traditional espresso. You may get a thin layer of golden bubbles on the top of your moka pot coffee, but this is not the same thick foam that appears on a shot of espresso.
Here is a useful Youtube video by TarantuloTV showing an X-Ray vision of a moka pot in action. This is a great video that shows exactly how boiling water is forced through the coffee grounds and into the top chamber, producing strong, flavourful coffee.
Top Tip: Try to take the moka pot off of the stovetop as soon as you hear the gurgling of the hot coffee being produced. If you leave it to brew any longer, it is likely that you’ll end up with bitter, over extracted coffee due to the boiling water effectively burning the coffee grounds.
You can buy a moka pot for yourself on Amazon here:
Espresso-like coffee can be made using the most simple and easy to use gadget, the Aeropress.
The aeropress is an efficient, inexpensive way to make strong tasting coffee in no time! The aeropress was developed for backpackers, campers and RV enthusiasts that wanted a freshly brewed cup of coffee even when they have no room for a fancy espresso machine!
To make espresso-like coffee using an aeropress, simply add your finely ground coffee to your aeropress along with a filter. Then, tamp your coffee to ensure it is completely flat and evenly distributed, add hot water and press down the top of the device to produce freshly brewed coffee in no time!
Here is a Youtube video from AeroPress Coffee Maker themselves, demonstrating how their device works:
You can buy your very own Aeropress on Amazon here:
You can also buy Aeropress filters on Amazon here:
3. French Press
The french press is one of the most commonly used brewing methods for making great coffee. However, the french press differs from the espresso machine, in the sense that it uses hot water to submerge coffee grounds, rather than forcing the steam through them.
This means, in order to produce strong coffee with a french press, you have to give the hot water time to steep the ground coffee, with little to no agitation.
This is quite a different method to producing traditional espresso, and as such requires a much more coarsely ground bean. Using finely ground coffee in a french press will result in an over extracted, bitter tasting brew.
Usually, french press coffee lends itself to a long black rather than the short, sharp, concentrated brew of espresso.
However, if a french press is the only piece of coffee brewing equipment around and you really need espresso, there is a solution!
There are a few different ways to make espresso-like coffee using a french press. Most methods I came across in my research simply call for a normal french press technique, whilst using less water. This creates a stronger, more intense brew and most coffee websites are happy to call it a day there.
However, Home Grounds have come up with a method that guarantees rich, dark, earthy espresso even if all you have to hand is a humble french press! Check out their article “How To Make Espresso Without A Machine (French Press Espresso + Other Methods)” by Alex Azoury.
Their method calls for ‘double brewing’ to ensure your coffee is as intense and espresso-like as possible.
Firstly, use dark roasted beans as these have the most intense flavor, and actually tend to have a more uniform taste, therefore making them easier to brew with.
Grind your beans coarsely as you normally would, and add to your french press along with hot water.
Then, brew your french press coffee as normal and pour into a separate container.
After your first batch of french press coffee is brewed, clean the remaining coffee grounds out of your press and prepare it for the second brew.
Add 2 tablespoons of ground coffee per person, but this time, instead of pouring over hot water, you’re going to pour over your freshly brewed french press coffee, over your coffee grounds, hence the name ‘double brew’.
This method will ensure that your french press coffee is as strong, intense and espresso-like as can be!
You can buy a french press of your own on Amazon here:
4. Portable Espresso Maker
The aeropress is not the only coffee gadget to feature in the list of methods for producing espresso. Portable espresso makers have become more and more popular these days, and they are perfect for the coffee lover that wants a high quality brew on the go.
One of the most popular portable espresso makers is the Wacaco Nanopresso, and the Youtube video below by Wacaco themselves demonstrates how to use it:
Much like the aeropress, the nanopresso requires a bit of elbow grease to extract espresso from the device. However, where an aeropress is over and done with in one fell swoop, the Wacaco Nanopresso requires 20-30 pumps to extract fresh espresso (or until you can no longer press the built in lever).
You can buy your very own Wacaco Nanopresso on Amazon here:
Another way to make bold, strong coffee that resembles espresso, when you don’t have an espresso machine handy, is with a percolator. Percolators are quite similar to moka pots in the way they operate, using a build up of hot water to brew coffee inside the device.
However, coffee made in a percolator differs from that made in a moka pot, in that water rises through a thin chamber in the centre of the device, and then overflows and ‘percolates’ down through coarsely ground coffee. This produces more of a drip brew effect rather than steam being forced through the coffee grounds.
You can use a percolator to make strong coffee, which is not too dissimilar to espresso. But again, just like with the moka pot, try to avoid over extraction by removing your percolator from the heat source (which could be over the stovetop with a manual percolator, or a self contained heating element in an electric percolator), and remove it as soon as you see the coffee through the glass lid!
You can buy your own electric coffee percolator on Amazon here:
6. Espresso Lever Machine
Espresso lever machines are quite old school devices that strike a balance between a modern espresso machine, and a rudimentary hand brewed coffee device.
Lever powered espresso machines are ideal for coffee alchemists that want to dial in their yield, extraction and tamp pressure precisely.
To use a lever espresso machine, simply prepare your portafilter as you would for a regular, steam powered espresso machine. Once you have ground, distributed, tamped and screwed in your coffee puck, slowly and gradually press down the lever to extract the perfect espresso shot!
Check out this Youtube video from the king of coffee himself, James Hoffman, explaining how to use a Flair Neo manual lever espresso machine:
You can buy your very own Flair Neo on Amazon here:
7. Use a Strainer
Finally, if you really are up a creek without a paddle… you can always revert to a good old fashioned strainer!
This really should be used as a last resort as the chances of producing high quality espresso using just a strainer of fine sieve are pretty low. But, if you are really craving a cup of coffee and the cupboards are bare, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do!
To make espresso-like coffee using a strainer, simply take your finely ground coffee and add to a mug. Pour over 100 ml or 3 oz of hot water and let the coffee steep for around 5 minutes.
Then, pour this brew through a strainer into another cup and there you have it! Not perfect, but a freshly brewed, espresso-like coffee!
This article by Dairy Free Ginger gives a more detailed look at making espresso using just a strainer “Make Espresso Without A Machine (No Equipment Needed)”.
Overall, just because you may not have a big, expensive espresso machine to hand, doesn’t mean you can’t make great tasting coffee!
Whether you are on the go, caught out in a new apartment or simply don’t want to spend all that money on an espresso machine, you can still make strong, concentrated coffee using the methods listed above.
Can I Make Espresso With Regular Coffee?
Regular coffee beans can be used to make espresso, yes. But, espresso coffee beans are specifically designed for espresso brewing, and tend to be stronger and more intense than regular coffee beans.
What is the Easiest Way to Make Espresso from Home?
Using a specially designed espresso machine will give you high quality, consistent espresso results from home. However, pod machines, aeropresses and portable espresso machines will give you the closest approximation of espresso even if you don’t have an espresso machine handy.
Can You Make Espresso in a Saucepan?
Whilst some coffee based drinks can be made in a saucepan, strictly speaking espresso is not one of them. However, you can use your stovetop to heat a moka pot or manual percolator and make espresso that way.