Commercial espresso machines, those seen in most coffee shops, are big, heavy, expensive and power-hungry beasts. Home espresso machines are more affordable and are designed to fit in a regular kitchen, but they often can't recreate the coffee shop espresso that people have come to know and love.
Want to learn how you can make coffee shop espresso without the need to install a commercial espresso machine? You’ll learn about five important details such as:
Espresso vs. Filter Brew: How They Are Different?
Those who don’t drink coffee don’t realize there’s a difference between espresso and filter brew coffees. The key differences between them are how fine the grinds are and how long they are brewed.
- Filter coffee uses coarse grounds and is brewed at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. Filter coffee is “usually” lighter in color. The coffee is usually sweet and clean, which allow drinkers to taste the coffee itself. It also doesn’t have much acidity.
- Espresso, on the other hand, uses very finely ground beans, with hot water being pushed through the grounds at a high pressure. Espresso coffee is “typically” darker. The sweetness and body of the espresso coffee are delicately brought out but has a high concentration of acidity.
Now that you know the key differences between filter brew coffee and espresso coffee, it’s time to get a better comparison of their differences in reference to the five above-noted details.
What’s Needed To Make Amazing Espresso Coffee At Home?
Atmospheric pressure; the pressure we live amongst daily at sea level, is just a tad over one bar of pressure. This equates to about 14.7 pounds per square inch (PSI). Any filtered coffee you’re making is under that constraint, which means you’ll always brew filter coffees under the conditions of one bar of pressure.
An espresso machine, on the other hand, creates an airtight seal. An internal pump will push hot water through a tightly-packed finely ground coffee with a pressure of approximately eight bars – give or take a bar or two. It all depends on the brewer and the machine used. Now, eight bars of pressure equals 116 PSI. This is a huge difference from the atmospheric 14.7 PSI.
As the hot water is pushed through the coffee, it dissolves a certain percentage of every single particle of coffee ground. What dissolves is what flavors and colors the water, creating the espresso we know and love. The reason espresso shots are so thick, rich and strong is the result of around 80 percent of the coffee is dissolved and lands in the water. This is compared to the minute 1.3 percent that ends up in filter coffee.
Are you a potential or budding chemist who wants to learn more about coffee strain and extraction yield? Check out the comprehensive post at Barista Hustle.
For amazing brewed coffee at home – be it a filter coffee using a Chemex, a full immersion brew using a French press or espresso – there are some key aspects to look for (before you even add water to the coffee). You want to get them as close to right as possible to ensure coffee paradise awaits you.
Water is the easiest way to improve your coffee game. For instance, a shot of espresso is 92 percent water whereas filter coffee is 98 percent water. Excess minerals, microbes, pollutants, PH levels and chemicals used in water treatment affect the extraction, quality and flavor of brewed coffee. The water must be clean to see, smell and taste. The water must also be as hot as you can get it.
Since espresso extract is fast, the hotter the water is, the more extraction occurs.
A Look At Water Hardness and PH
Water hardness refers to the amount of dissolved minerals – magnesium, calcium, etc. – in the water. The higher the level of dissolved minerals, the harder the water and vice versa. Soft water has almost no minerals other than sodium ions.
Coffee prefers softer waters, as hard water has been known to damage espresso machines because of the excess mineral buildup.
PH refers to how acidic or alkaline the water is. For instance, lemon juice is PH2 (very acidic), and ammonia is PH12 (very alkaline). With coffee, you want a neutral PH7 level. If you use tap water, you can visit your local water processing center to find out this information.
According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), the perfect coffee will have levels found on the “target” section of the above-illustrated chart.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue to say, coffee grinders are the single most important piece of coffee equipment you can have. A good coffee grinder is one that grinds evenly. The ability to grind evenly is worth its weight in gold.
Why is that? The closer we get to each particle being the same size, the higher the chance to have each particle extracting at the same rate. If we have large chunks of coffee and finely ground particles, the fine particles will fully extract almost as soon as water touches them, unlike chunks that barely start.
Getting this right will allow your coffee to taste so much better and will be more economical, as you get the most out of every coffee bean and you won’t use as many of them.
To get optimal extraction, you want to grind as fine as possible – even finer than table salt or sand. By doing this, you ensure all grinds will extract. How can you improve your coffee’s tastes while it’s being extracted?
- Grind your coffee beans
- Place coffee into a sieve with holes big enough to let most of the coffee pass through (collecting the large chunks)
- Take the large chunks and regrind them (if possible)
- Add the reground coffee to your other coffee that went through the sieve
The boulders you sifted out would not have had much extraction to them so that no additional flavor would have gone into the coffee. However, regrinding them and adding them back to your other coffee means you get more flavor from them. This will help in dramatically improving the taste and efficiency of the extraction, as you’ve evened out the grind size.
Dose (How Much Ground Coffee To Use)
For espresso, we’re looking to use between 17 and 21 grams of coffee with a final 30 to 60 grams of espresso. Be sure you experiment with the amounts because you can come up with some interesting results.
Coffee is at its prime four to 14 days after the roasting date. Anything before this and the beans will not have had enough time to de-gas. This will cause an uneven extraction. After 14 days, the beans begin to oxidize, which causes coffee to become stale. Staleness leads to a loss in the coffee’s oils, flavor, aroma and acidity.
Equipment (Making Espresso Without A Coffee Machine)
There are literally hundreds of coffee gadgets out on the market with claims they can make espresso without the need of the traditional machine. However, many of them that claim this are incapable of producing the eight bars of pressure need to make a shot. While it’s not easy for a non-commercial espresso machine to make espresso, it’s not impossible either. With a little bit of foresight and ingenuity, you can make espresso without spending money on an actual machine.
Below are a few devices and equipment that could be considered espresso machines without the espresso machine price. Each can produce a fair amount of pressure and can pull off some decent shots.
Using the Aeropress, the Prismo machine creates espresso-like coffee. It’s equipped with a pressure-accentuated valve that screws onto the Aeropress in place of the traditional filter cap. How can it produce espresso like coffee? The Prismo, like an espresso machine, creates a seal for the pressure to build up. The seal screws on, in the form of a filter, that has a small valve the coffee is forced through when pressing down the Aeropress’ plunger.
How To Use It:
- Attach and secure Fellow Prismo onto Aeropress chamber
- Add 20 grams of fresh, ultra-fine coarseness coffee
- Add 50ml of 100 degree Celsius/ 212 Fahrenheit
- Sit like made for 30 to 60 seconds
- Plunge down the inner Aeropress chamber
- Portable and light
- Can be used to make cold brew and tea
- Unable to produce enough pressure to generate the results of an actual espresso shot
- You need to own or separately buy an Aeropress
The ROK EspressoGC is basically a fully manual-operated espresso machine. It doesn’t take up near the amount of space a traditional espresso machine does but produces real results. How does it produce espresso like coffee? According to ROK, the EspressoGC can reach the nine bars of pressure required to pump out a legitimate espresso. It creates a tight seal, just like an espresso machine and uses pressure generated by the two pull-down arms.
How To Use It:
The ROK EspressoGC is used similarly to an espresso machine.
- Preheat everything using hot water
- Grind coffee and dispense grinds into portafilter then tamp
- Insert portafilter into the GC
- Add boiling water into the reservoir
- Raise arms to pre-infuse for 10 seconds
- Plunge arms down to begin extraction
- Creates legitimate espresso coffee
- Closest on the list to the actual espresso machine
- Includes 10-year warranty on metal parts
- Larger and heavier than other options
- Contains plastic parts that could lead to a broken part with regular use
Wacaco Minipresso GR
The Minipresso GR is a manual handheld coffee-making device that brews a single espresso shot at one time. It uses a ‘pump’ type feature to build up pressure inside the chamber. How can it produce espresso like coffee? The key here is in its “pump” style pressure building system. The Minipressocan build up somewhere around eight bars of pressure with the hand pump action. When enough pressure has built up, the coffee will dispense.
How To Use It:
- Place finely ground coffee into brew basket using the provided cup
- Gently tamp the coffee down using the back of the dosage cup
- Insert brew basket into the chamber, screwing the bottom chamber on
- Add 70ml of boiling water to the water reservoir
- Screw water reservoir to the middle chamber
- Turn device over so water reservoir is on top
- Pump device over a cup and espresso will dispense
- Compact, lightweight and portable
- Easy to use
- Ability to gain enough pressure to brew legitimate espresso shots
- Comes complete and ready to go; just BYO coffee and hot water
- Many small parts make it feel a bit fiddly
- Contains plastic parts that could lead to broken parts during regular use
- Not easy to clean
Flair Espresso Maker
The Flair espresso maker is a damn sexy, almost manual espresso machine. It is really nice to look at. It’s a lever device that comes with a travel case and is more portable than most espresso machines. How can it produce espresso-like coffee? Since an espresso maker uses seals and a lever to build up pressure, the Flair espresso machine can build up the full nine bars needed to pull off a solid espresso shot.
How To Use It:
- Finely grind fresh beans and preheat cylinder and cup
- Add coffee to portafilter, tilled to the rim then tamp. Repeat this step by refilling the portafilter and tamping twice
- Place dispersion screen on top
- Attach preheated cylinder to portafilter
- Mount assembled brew head to base of the flair; fill with water
- Insert piston and full down on the lever, aiming for 25 to 40-second extraction
- Is capable of producing the pressure needed to do espresso shots
- Very good looking
- Multiple small parts make it feel fiddly
- Not easy to clean
- Bit more difficult for non-baristas to use
According to Barsetto, the Tripresso is a nifty little device that can produce up to 15 bars of pressure! It’s portable and lightweight. How can it produce espresso-like coffee? It works by building up pressure using a piston, tight seal and press down pump. Pressing down on the pump causing the water to push out and down through the coffee and into the cup.
How To Use It:
- Preheat everything
- Add seven to 10 grams of finely ground coffee into filter basket and tamp
- Cover with seal ring
- Place brew basket into coffee base
- Screw coffee base onto main chamber and place on cup
- Remove cap from top chamber and fill with boiling water
- Replace cap on top chamber and twist pump counterclockwise until it pops up
- Slowly pump until extraction is complete
- Manufacturer claims it can produce 15 bars of pressure
- Lightweight and portable
- Comes with own cup
- Small parts make it feel fiddly
- Contains plastic parts that could break with regular use
- Difficult to clean
It’s a bit difficult to attain liquid gold – espresso dragon – without using a traditional espresso machine. Think of it as you trying to swim with Nessie or catching Bigfoot. However, with the right tools, it is quite possible to catch the formidable beast.
The key to working with espresso or coffee is not to give up! Take a look down the line and check everything out. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is the water hot enough?
- Is the coffee beans ground real fine or can you grind them even finer?
- How fresh are the beans?
Be sure everything is hot enough – the cups to brew into, the brewing equipment – everything. Coffee is one big experiment, and with a little practice and patience, you can be deliciously rewarded for your efforts.
Do you have any hacks, tricks, alternative brews or techniques that you’ve used to create espresso without the use of an espresso machine? Leave a comment below and share the love!