How To Make Espresso, Without A Fancy Espresso Machine

Ever since the espresso method of brewing coffee was first invented back in 1884, it has the been favoured drink of coffee lovers the world over.

Usually the exacting brewing method means investing in a fairly expensive espresso machine or bean to cup machine

With proper maintenance and cleaning they should last for many years, but like any machinery there is the risk they may pack up and stop working through no fault of yours.

Secondly these machines are not easily portable, so its not like you can take it on your next business trip or family holiday.

So today we will explore how to make espresso style coffees when you are without an espresso machine, and I don’t mean nipping down to the local coffee shop.

So even if the unthinkable happens and your espresso machine packs in or you’re a regular traveller you’ll never be without your hit again

But before we get into that, we should have a little recap of what exactly makes an espresso shot

What Exactly Is Espresso Coffee

Espresso Beans

You will often see “espresso coffee beans” on the side of a bag, but the truth of the matter is there is no special coffee bean for making espresso.

Instead what they really mean is blend of beans or single origin bean that the roaster thinks has the correct flavour profile to make a great shot.

Similarly there is no espresso roast, what they mean by “espresso roast” is a medium to dark roasting, to allow for that dark finish and full bodied shot you love.


Lavazza Espresso Italiano

Lavazza Espresso

My Favourite Coffee bean for Espresso is the Lavazza Espresso Italiano, its dark smokey and just tastes like Milan.

Lavazza have been the best selling brand for espresso in Italy for over 100 years, so they really know what an espresso bean should be.

How To Grind The Beans

One of the most critical elements of making espresso is the pressure and the brew time, to achieve this the coffee beans need to be ground to a very fine consistency.

The espresso grind powder is then compacted and tamped to make a solid disk inside the filter basket/portafilter.

It is this solid disk that slows the rate at which the water can pass through, and in turn allows the pressure to build, and the brew to take the correct amount of time.

If you want a great shot, this part is essential to get right. If you have one of the best bean to cup machines then it will have integrated burr grinder and do this automatically, hopefully the grinder is still working, or you have an external grinder?

When you grind your coffee beans too coarse, that allows the water to pass through with ease, and the pressure doesn’t build. The resulting coffee will be watery and no better than a cup of instant.

If you don’t have access to a grinder then check out my guide on how to grind coffee beans without a grinder


Lavazza Rossa

Italy’s #1 selling coffee the Lavazza Rossa is available pre-ground and makes and absolutely amazing espresso.

To ensure maximum freshness order no more than 1 month supply at a time

The Pressure

To be a true espresso, the machine must be able to achieve a pressure of at least 9 bar (130PSI) when forcing the water through the ground coffee beans. Most modern day machines will operate at 15bar.

Unless you’re superhuman, it’s not possible for you to recreate this high pressure and as such what you are going to learn below is how to make “espresso style” drinks. We can’t call them espressos as technically they won’t be made at 9+bar.

But don’t fret, I am not talking about a small instant coffee in an espresso glass. No these will be almost as good as the real thing and will certainly do until you can have a real one.

4 Ways To Make Espresso Without An Espresso Machine

So now we have had a recap on what exactly an espresso is, and what the critical elements are when brewing one. You are ready to get your finely ground beans out and get making a shot the alternate way.

Each of the 4 brewing methods described below will give you that all important espresso taste, even if they can’t technically be classed as espresso.

How To Make Espresso With a Moka Pot

moka pot

For those that are not familiar with the term “Moka Pot“, it is that distinctive hexagon shaped pot you place on the stove, that has been referred to as the “stovetop espresso maker”

But despite the nickname the Moka Pot is not an espresso maker and neither can it make a true espresso. It isjust not possible to get the Moka Pot up to the required 9bar pressure.

But don’t let me put you off.

You will get a concentrated coffee just like an espresso, it will just lack the crema that is distinctive of espresso.

In fact the coffee produced in a Moka Pot is so good it is the most popular way Italians make coffee at home, and almost every home in Italy will own a Moka Pot.

Equipment Needed

  • Moka Pot
  • Fresh Roasted Coffee Beans
  • Burr Grinder
  • Non Hard Tap Water or Filtered Water
  • Measuring spoon
  • Stove or Heat source

As you can see you really don’t need any fancy equipment to use the Moka Pot method

The Process

  1. Measure out the required amount coffee beans, for 1 shot this will equal 20-22grams
  2. Grind the coffee beans to a fine consistency, something that resembles table salt
  3. Place the ground coffee in the filter basket and tamp it down (compact it)
  4. Fill the bottom chamber with the water, up to the “fill” line. Do not over fill as this can result in the water bubbling up through the coffee rather than steam. Leaving a watery shot
  5. Place the filter basket atop the bottom chamber and then screw on the Moka pot’s top chamber, the bit with the spout.
  6. Place the Moka Pot on the heat source or stovetop
  7. The water will gentle boil and force steam up through the coffee filter, and this will then condense into the top chamber
  8. Take the Moka Pot off the stove when you hear the gurgling sound (indicating the top chamber is full)
  9. There should be a light brown layer on top of the coffee, similar to a crema (but not the same)
  10. Pour out your shot and enjoy

As you can see making an espresso style shot in a Moka Pot is probably as simple as it gets, you don’t need lots of fancy equipment or loads of time.

It can take a little practice to get the process right and create the perfect shot, but this is true of even the most expensive espresso machines. One thing to be careful of is “over-extraction” and knowing when to take it off the stove.

No wonder then its the most popular way of making espresso-style coffee at home in Italy

How To Make Espresso With A French Press

How to Make Espresso With French Press

If you know anything about coffee you will know that espresso and French press are at the opposite ends of the brewing spectrum.

A French press uses what is known as the immersion brewing method, meaning you leave the ground coffee to infuse with hot water over time.

A French Press does not use pressure to brew coffee, and neither is it capable of producing the required pressure to make an espresso.

You are probably thinking right about now, why the heck have I included the French Press in the article then?

Well I can assure you I have not gone mad, and there is actually a little know hack that will allow you to make an espresso-style coffee in your French Press

Equipment Needed

  • A French Press coffee maker (There’s probably one lying around at the back of a cupboard)
  • Whole Coffee Beans
  • Burr Grinder
  • Kettle
  • Measuring spoon
  • Thermometer (if you have one, for exact water temperature)

So again no fancy expensive gadgets required and most homes will have what’s needed.

The Process

Right bear with me here, this is slightly different to how you normally use a French Press

  1. Grind your beans to a fine espresso grind, and add 2tbsp of coffee grounds per cup to the French Press
  2. Boil water in the kettle and allow to come off the boil slightly, ideally 96°C
  3. Add a small splash of the hot water to the French Press, allow the coffee grounds to soak for 30-40secs, this will release the oils and aromatics of your beans. Known as “blooming your coffee”
  4. Add the rest of the hot water to the French Press, do not add more water than the coffee you measured
  5. Allow the coffee to steep for 4/5 mins, be careful of over-extraction and bitter coffee
  6. Plunge your coffee in one slow, steady and even motion. Start by plunging halfway, raise and then plunge fully
  7. Pour into your favourite espresso glass

The French Press method will produce an intense, strong shot of espresso like coffee to enjoy. Snobbish coffee lover will note there is no crema, but I can live with that until I get my machine back.

How To Make Espresso With An Aeropress


The Aeropress is becoming more and more popular, and its easy to see why. Its small, cheap and portable and makes fantastic tasting coffee.

The Aeropress like the espresso machine uses pressure to extract the full flavour of your roast coffee bean. That does not mean however you can simply produce a espresso with ease, no used normally an Aeropress does not get up to the 9bar of pressure required.

What You Need

  • Aeropress (two filters)
  • Good Quality Beans
  • Grinder
  • Measuring spoon
  • Kettle
  • Thermometer

The Process

Ok got your gear sorted and your ready to make an Aeropress espresso, like I said it’s not as straight forward as it seems, so follow the steps with care

  1. Use the kettle to heat 1 cup of water to between 85°C and 95°C, the exact temperature will be a matter of personal preference. A little experiment and you will learn what is your ideal temp. If its the first time start at 85°C
  2. Grind your beans, to a fine consistency, you need 2 tablespoons worth
  3. Gently rinse a filter and add to the drain cap
  4. Place the drain cap back on the Aeropress and position on your mug. Make sure your mug has a flat bottom, so it won’t move when you apply the pressure
  5. Add the coffee grounds to the Aeropress and tamp, making sure you have a nice compacted coffee puck (the same as you would in an espresso machine).
  6. Add 120ml of the heated water to the Aeropress and stir gently
  7. Leave the water and coffee to steep in the Aeropress for 45secs
  8. Now plunge the Aeropress using just your own strength, try press it in one steady movement.
  9. Remove the press from the mug and enjoy your “espresso”

This method produces the closest resemblance to a real espresso, and you will love the resulting coffee.

An Aeropress is cheap, reliable and portable, and if you are serious about coffee you really should own one.


Aeropress Aerobie with tote bag and BaristaKit Stainless Steel Reusable Filter

How To Make Espresso With A Lever Coffee Machine

Lever machines are not really for when your espresso machine packs up or for when you are travelling, they are more an alternate method.

Lever Espresso maker

The Lever Machine is not simple to use and will take a certain level of experience and skill to master. However with one you can really brew a truly unique and excellent shot of espresso.

You Will Need

  • A Lever Machine
  • Dark Roast Espresso Beans
  • Grinder
  • Filtered Water

The Steps

  1. Turn the machine on let it warm up
  2. Grind the espresso beans to a fine consistency
  3. Place the grounds in the portafilter and and tamp until compacted. This step is the same as when using a espresso machine
  4. Lock the portafilter into the grouphead and ensure its tight
  5. Place a pre warmed cup under the grouphead
  6. Pull the lever down, making sure to hold the portafilter in place
  7. Once a few drips of coffee appear, slowly and steadily raise the lever
  8. The spring will push the piston down and force the pressure to brew the espresso
  9. For non spring machines, wait 10secs when the lever is at the top and then lower again.

Safety Tip : Wait a few mins before removing the filter to allow the pressure to drop.

Final Thoughts

An espresso is a truly unique drink and is really special, and I urge you to invest in an espresso machine if you want the taste.

But for the times when you haven’t got access to one, the methods outlined above will allow you to make a real decent substitute without the need for visiting coffee shops.


Can You Make Espresso In A Normal Coffee Machine?

Technically NO you cannot make an espresso in a traditional coffee machine. As you have learnt above the essence of making a shot is forcing water through compact ground coffee at very high pressure.

A traditional coffee maker, like drip coffee cannot achieve the required pressure, only an espresso machine will do this.

What Are the Differences Between Espresso and Coffee?

The main differences between espresso and coffee are :-

Brewing method : An espresso is made by forcing water through compact ground coffee at high pressure, allowing a string flavour to develop. When making a coffee thee brewing process generally involves leaving grounds and hot water to infuse together over time.

The Crema : The distinct part of a good quality shot is the thick creamy layer of foam that adorns the top, this is known as the crema, an espresso is not an espresso without crema. A regular coffee will not have this layer.

What Is the Best Grind Level for Espresso?

To make a good espresso requires using really fine grounds. The way you grind your coffee beans has a real impact on the shot produced.

As you become more experienced as a barista and making espresso at home, you can start to alter the grind level. You can really start to isolate different flavours from your beans just by adjusting the coarseness.

However if your inexperienced then start with the traditional espresso grind, this will resemble table salt in consistency.

Is Espresso stronger than coffee?

A standard 25ml espresso shot will actually have less caffeine than a mug of regular filter coffee. However the caffeine to volume ratio is much higher, so if you drink a mug full of espresso, not only will you be bouncing off the walls, but you could do your stomach some serious damage.

About Jacques Carner

Jacques is the man behind behind We Spill The Beans. He as a lover of all things coffee, and has previously worked as a buyer for one of the biggest coffee companies in the world. You can find more about him here.