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Espresso is one of the best ways to drink coffee, but there’s a reason most people head to the coffee shop when they want a cappuccino or latte. Espresso machines are expensive, take up a lot of space, and they can be tricky to use. The good news for espresso lovers is that you can get close to coffee shop quality at home, without buying an espresso machine.
There are ways to make espresso drinks without a machine, but there’s a caveat. If you want barista-grade quality, you’ll need to shell out for the real thing. La Marzocco machines are the standard in coffee shops, and the personal version of their machine, the Linea Mini, costs $5,000. There are more affordable machines we’ve reviewed, such as the De’Longhi Arte Espresso machine. That will still set you back $700, though, which is still a steep investment for your morning brew.
If you’re not willing to take the plunge, we get it. That’s why we put together this guide to making at-home espresso without an espresso machine. You won’t get true espresso, sure. But you can get pretty close using affordable equipment that will actually fit in your pantry.
What Is Espresso, Anyway?
Suffice to say, making espresso isn’t like making regular coffee, which is why the espresso machines baristas use cost thousands of dollars and take training to master. The key factor that sets espresso apart from regular coffee is pressure. With a French press, coffee grounds mix with hot water, before being separated by a metal filter. A drip coffee maker or pour-over uses hot water, gravity and a paper filter to brew.
These methods rely on passive forces like immersion and gravity, meaning they don’t require much energy other than heating the water. Espresso, on the other hand, combines hot water with high pressure, resulting in a bold flavor and a highly concentrated dose of caffeine. Espresso is identifiable by its crema, or the layer of light brown foam that sits on top of the black coffee. While you won’t be able to make true espresso without a machine that can brew at high pressure, you can make delicious espresso drinks using other methods, such as the Moka pot or AeroPress.
How To Make Espresso Without an Espresso Machine
Whether you like to drink a double shot to get your day started or you prefer to savor a latte in the mid-afternoon, these are the affordable tools you need to make espresso without an espresso machine.
The AeroPress is one of the most beloved coffee brewing methods among coffee enthusiasts, and the good news is that it’s affordable. At $40, it’s cheaper than all but the most basic drip coffee makers, and its compact size and plastic construction make it highly portable. The AeroPress brews quickly and allows you to make a single cup of regular-strength coffee, or you can make a highly concentrated shot that tastes like espresso. The AeroPress is also one of the best travel coffee makers.
To use the AeroPress for espresso, you’ll need finely ground coffee. With finely ground coffee, you’ll get a brew that tastes closer to espresso. However, with a finer grind, it will require more force when plunging.
The moka pot is the classic Italian method of making espresso at home, and it’s one of the simplest and most affordable methods. Plus, the moka pot is just plain cute looking.
To use it, fill the bottom compartment with water. You can use cold or hot water, but hot water from an electric kettle will speed up the process. Then, put finely ground coffee in the basket, twist the top on, and put it on the stove. Once it starts gurgling, it’s close to completion.
As is the case with the AeroPress, the moka doesn’t use enough pressure to be considered true espresso, but the flavor and strength is great for use in espresso drinks.
How To Froth Milk Without an Espresso Machine
Unless you’re making an Americano or drinking it straight, making espresso is only half of the battle when it comes to brewing coffee. If you want to make lattes or cappuccinos, you’ll also need to froth the milk. There are also ways to do that without the steam wand included on espresso machines. If you’re frothing milk using a hand frother or a French press, it’s important to first heat the milk. This can be done in the microwave or a stovetop.
Zulay Original Milk Frother
Zulay’s milk frother is a compact and affordable handheld tool that uses a fast-spinning head to quickly froth milk. It comes in a wide range of colors, is highly reviewed, and comes with a convenient stand that keeps the head clean.
If you’re a coffee lover, there’s a decent chance you have a French press lying around. But you might not realize that a French press is one of the easiest ways to froth milk for espresso drinks. Simply put hot milk in the press, and plunge it up and down repeatedly. This will create a rich froth that’s ideal for lattes.
Other Equipment To Consider
There are other ways to take your espresso to the next level. The best way to enhance your coffee routine, other than by buying good coffee, is to grind the beans yourself. Espresso, the moka pot, and the AeroPress espresso method all require a finer grind. Finely grounding your coffee beans with a high-quality burr grinder is one of the easiest ways to enhance your coffee-drinking experience.
The Baratza Encore is the most widely recommended home coffee grinder, and with good reason. It’s incredibly simple to use, runs reasonably quietly, and has a wide range of brewing settings for every coffee-making method. There are trade-offs (no auto-shutoff, no cup measurements), but it’s a great option for the home brewer.
Fellow Prismo AeroPress® Attachment
If you’re a real coffee nerd, then your fellow coffee nerds at Fellow have you covered. Their electric kettle is beloved by pour-over fans, and they also make this AeroPress attachment that allows for greater pressure. More pressure brings your brew closer to true espresso. It costs nearly as much as the AeroPress itself, but the Prismo and AeroPress together are still much cheaper than an espresso machine.
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