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How to make espresso without an espresso maker

Snow pelts the glass of your window. You take a deep breath as you imagine the sweet smells of espresso infiltrating your nostrils, its glorious caffeine effects hugging your brain. You’re daydreaming, of course, because the latest blizzard has trapped you in the apartment, alone to craft an espresso all by yourself – no machine or peppy barista in sight to guide you. What to do?

In truth, your mad scientist skills probably won’t invent the perfect espresso without proper equipment – sorry, it’s just how the stroop waffle crumbles. But, there are a surprising number of ways you can craft a kinda-sorta espresso shot without once touching the lever of an espresso machine. And though it may sound farfetched, hear us out. The next-best thing is on its way -- if only you’ll have some patience, and maybe be a little scrappy along the way.

Method #1: The Aeropress

It’s important to know the key to making an espresso is not the duo of hot water and a filter, like with coffee, but pressure. We’ll explain this more later, but keep this in mind as you’re testing your makeshift espresso skills. The aeropress, as its name implies, is defined by the pressure it applies to the grounds – making it an ideal candidate for crafting an espresso-like drink. You’ll craft a concentrated coffee drink that will, if not in exact texture, pretty accurately replicate the taste and caffeine content of an espresso shot.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
  • Aeropress
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tablespoon or scale
  • Grinder
Make coffee with an aeropress

Step 1

Stack your aeropress. Place a filter – more than one, if you can, to slow the flow of water when pressing -- inside the drain cap, lightly rinse, and then put it inside the compartment of the press that will rest atop your coffee cup. You’ll want this out of the way before grinding your beans, for freshness’ sake.

Step 2

Prepare about 2 tablespoons of coffee by grinding the beans on a fine setting. Drop them into the filter. Note that adding more coffee than normal during these makeshift brewing sessions is not an altogether bad thing – it will create a more reliably concentrated shot.

Step 3

Add approximately 3 ½ fluid ounces of water, heated to about 200 degrees. Stir with the coffee. Then, press down on the plunger – hard. Remember, pressure creates espresso. (That said, don’t break your machine in the process.)

Step 4

Transfer your espresso (or coffee shot) into a demitasse and enjoy!
Pouring turkish coffee

Method #2: The Moka Pot

Ah, the trusty Moka pot. The utility knife of coffee brewing. This handy-dandy, teeny-tiny kettle produces an espresso-like pour that soothes the soul and puts a little pep in your step. Here, you’ll get a taste that is assuredly neither coffee nor espresso, but satisfying all the same.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
  • Moka pot
  • Coffee grinds
  • Tablespoon or scale
Turkish coffee method materials

Step 1

• Measure out 1 ½ tablespoons of coffee, or measure out on a scale to about 21 or 22 grams. Grind your beans as finely as possible; Moka pots work best with a fine grind.

Step 2

Pour 3 ½ fluid ounces of water into the bottom of the pot. Inside the pot will also be a built-in filter, where you’ll place the coffee. Heat to about 200 degrees.

Step 3

When water begins to heat to the point that the coffee naturally sinks and the sugar can dissolve, stir the two together and lower the heat. You’ll want this mixture to slowly simmer without ever coming to a boil.

Step 4

The rest of this process is a lot like listening for a tea kettle to whistle. Wait until the coffee begins to expand and foam in the upper level of the pot – the hot water will create the pressure needed here to produce a concentrated coffee, as well as a bit of foam. When the top is filled with coffee, stir and pour into a demitasse.

Step 5

Enjoy! And don’t be too frustrated if the espresso isn’t precisely right the first go-around – the Moka Pot is an inexact art.

Method #3: The French Press

One of the most commonly owned coffee materials, the French press will certainly give you a brew that’s concentrated (if prepared correctly), though we certainly recommend this as the last-resort option of your espresso endeavors. The French press will get you where your going, but without the concentrated punch of the other two methods. Your coffee shot will also come out a smidge more oily

WHAT YOU'LL NEED
  • French press
  • Ground coffee
  • Tablespoon or scale
  • Kettle
Bag it method materials

Step 1

Grind the beans on a fine setting, measuring out about 2 tablespoons – preferably more. You’ll want a hefty mound of coffee with a French press to add some richness to the brew, since it won’t come out as frothy as with a Moka pot or aeropress. Boil your water to just below 200 degrees.

Step 2

Boil your water to just below 200 degrees.

Step 3

Bloom your coffee – that is, release the flavor notes of your particular blend – by adding a splash of hot water. Let the grounds soak for 30 seconds.

Step 4

Add the coffee to the bottom, then pour the 3 ½ ounces of water. After 45 seconds, stir the mixture to ensure absorption of all the coffee grounds, and to be sure grounds aren’t sticking to the bottom and sides.

Step 5

Close the lid. Let this mixture steep for approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

Step 6

Plunge. Toward the bottom, lift the plunger back up and then down again to ensure you’ve gotten all of the coffee. Enjoy!

Conclusion

The snow starts to subside, and you’re finally able to wander into the streets in search of espresso. But, why would you? Because you’ve got your own delightful little concoction – whether PSI- and concentration-perfect or not – steaming right in front of you. Its fumes beckoning you forward, your mind wondering what tweak to the process could make the next shot more suitable to your taste, even more exciting to craft.

And that’s what being a barista – at home or at the shop – is all about.

Espresso: Knowledge to seem more worldly at your next cocktail party

What we can all agree on: Coffee-brewing is not a quick process. Unless we’re settling for K-cups, it’s a methodical process that takes attention and occasionally some fast-acting reflexes.

Realizing this, the Europeans – Italians, specifically – invented the espresso machine at the height of the steam-powered industrial era in the second half of the 1800s – just when cafes were taking the continent by storm. What they did, in essence, was discover that high pressure applied to water and coffee creates a quickly produced coffee-like drink called espresso. With 9 bars of pressure applied per square inch (“PSI” – you’ve surely heard the acronym), totaling 130.5 PSI, you have the bite-sized cup of caffeine gloriousness so many of us are now familiar with.

That pressure is why we have espresso machines to begin with. “It’s pretty hard to create that pressure by hand, which is why most espresso machines have pumps that build that pressure,” says Andy Pickle, TK ROASTER. “But they do now have lever machines where you manually apply the pressure, where the lever doesn't require the full nine bars.”

Moreover, though we associate espresso with the darker Italian coffee roasts, there is no such thing as a true “espresso roast.” Remember that espresso is a brewing method, not coffee type.

“Historically, espresso beans have been a darker roast, but this is a misnomer,” Pickle says. “You can make espresso with any type of coffee or roast but to brew it in the correct amount of time and with the appropriate amount of pressure, it needs to be very fine -- not quite like a powder, but finer than table salt, for sure.”
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