If you love espresso, it might be worth it to own an espresso machine — but the good news is that it's not mandatory for great coffee. You could opt for a capsule espresso machine or Nespresso machine — or you could make espresso-like coffee with a stovetop coffee pot or even with instant coffee. But whichever kind of home barista you’re looking to become, you’ll need to learn the basics of espresso and how to operate the machine of your choice.
The pros in the Good Housekeeping Institute Kitchen Appliances and Culinary Innovation Lab have learned a thing or two about brewing espresso and making the perfect coffee drinks through decades of testing espresso machines and all kinds of brewing methods. Here’s how to get started on your at-home espresso journey.
finely ground coffee
Using dark roast coffee beans and a quality grinder, grind enough beans to make one or two shots of espresso. (An average single shot of espresso will require 6 to 8 grams of coffee; a double shot, about 15 grams.) Your grounds should be powdery and fine, so use the finest setting on your grinder. If you're weighing your grounds, place your portafilter on the scale and tare; add coffee to the desired weight.
Transfer the filled portafilter to a counter or flat surface. Gently distribute the grounds evenly with a finger, then use a tamper to tamp down the grounds to create a compact disk of espresso in the portafilter.
Purge the machine by running it briefly without a portafilter in place to clear the ground head. Then, lock the portafilter into the machine, position your demitasse glass — a 2- to 3-ounce glass meant to hold espresso — or other vessel underneath, and start your shot. The espresso should be ready after 25 to 30 seconds, but it will take practice with your specific machine and lots of taste tests to find your preference. (Some machines will regulate the length of the shot for you.) The final product shouldn’t be too light or too dark, shouldn’t taste too acidic or too bitter and should have a fine layer of caramel-colored crema on top.
If you want to make a latte or other drink with milk, you’ll then need to steam your milk (we’ve included step-by-step milk steaming instructions in our latte how-to). Otherwise, your espresso is ready to enjoy as-is. Be sure to clean and dry the portafilter — and to purge and wipe down the milk frothing wand, if needed — when you’re done.
How do you make espresso at home?
To make true Italian espresso at home that rivals what you’d get in a coffee shop, you do need an espresso machine. These range from manual machines (where you tamp and brew everything yourself) to automatic and capsule machines (where you press a button and the machine does the rest). While coffee experts generally prefer manual machines for the level of control they provide, we found in testing that automatic, super-automatic and capsule machines like the Nespresso VertuoPlus and Breville Barista Pro are the easiest to use for beginners and give consistent results.
If you’re not working with capsules or a machine with a built-in grinder, here's what you’ll need:
- Coffee grinder: We like the Breville Smart Grinder Pro for espresso because the finest setting produces fine, even results that don’t clump together. Make sure to use quality, dark roast coffee beans.
- Kitchen scale: If you're serious about mastering the perfect shot, you'll want a scale to weigh your grounds.
- Milk frother: You'll need this only if your go-to is a latte or another specialty drink.
Can you make espresso without a machine?
Although technically not true espresso, you can get bold espresso-style coffee using other brewing methods, including single-serve coffee makers like the AeroPress. These are our favorite methods to make espresso at home without a machine:
How to make espresso with an AeroPress
Portable and lightweight, the AeroPress is a relatively new device invented in 2005 that brews coffee by pressing down a plunger to create air pressure, forcing the liquid through a filter and into a cup. The AeroPress doesn’t make espresso, but it can brew a strong, flavorful cup that’s closer to espresso than what you’d get from a French press, which requires a much more coarse grind. To use an AeroPress:
- Insert a paper filter into the filter cap, wet the filter and cap with hot water then dump out the water.
- Twist the filter cap onto the chamber of the AeroPress and place it securely over a mug or carafe.
- Pour the desired amount of medium-to-fine ground coffee into the chamber, then add very hot water and stir.
- Insert the plunger and push down gently until the plunger reaches the grounds.
How to make espresso on the stove with a Moka pot
Also called a stovetop espresso maker, the Moka pot brews strong, espresso-like coffee by passing boiling water pressurized by steam through coffee grounds. Like espresso, the coffee-to-water ratio is about 1:2. It’s a popular and inexpensive option for home brewing. To prepare your coffee:
- Fill the lower chamber of the Moka pot with water up to the fill line.
- Fill the filter basket with finely ground coffee, making sure it is even but not too compact and brushing away any loose grounds around the edge of the filter basket. Place it into the bottom compartment and screw on the spouted top.
- Place the pot on a burner set to medium heat. Remove from heat as soon as you hear a hissing, bubbling sound (after about five minutes).
- Immediately pour into your vessel of choice.
How to make espresso with a French press
While the AeroPress is a better press option for making espresso-like coffee, French press owners can still make a bold cup of coffee. Keep in mind that the French press usually calls for a coarse grind and doesn't generate espresso-level pressure, so even a strong cup from a French press is going to be weaker coffee than the options mentioned above.
- Remove the French press lid and place 2 tablespoons of medium-fine ground dark roast coffee in the bottom of the glass carafe. (Although fine grounds are ideal for espresso, they can make it very difficult to depress a French press, and you don't want your coffee to over-extract, which can make it taste overly bitter or sour.)
- Splash a small amount of very hot water (around 200°F) onto the coffee grounds in the carafe. Let the coffee bloom (warm and hydrate) for about 30 seconds, then pour in the rest of the hot water.
- Secure the French press lid onto the cylinder with the plunger all the way up.
- Allow the coffee to steep for four minutes. You can steep longer, but keep in mind your coffee might over-extract.
- Slowly press the plunger down with even pressure. When you've pushed the plunger halfway down the cylinder, pull it to the top and plunge again all the way to the bottom.
- Pour the coffee into a mug or carafe, leaving the plunger in the bottom position.
How to make espresso with instant espresso
Like instant coffee, instant espresso is made from brewed coffee that is dehydrated and powdered. If you're craving a cup and don't want to invest in any extra tools, you can pick up instant espresso from a brand like Nescafé and combine a teaspoon of the coffee with 1/4 cup of hot water, stir and enjoy. Keep in mind that the resulting cup won't taste as rich or strong as true espresso.
How to make espresso with a Keurig
While a Keurig can't produce the pressure necessary to brew espresso, there are a number of "espresso-style" Keurig pods and machines on the market that will give you a stronger and bolder brew than your typical coffee.
If you're married to your K-cups but also want a pod espresso maker like a Nespresso machine, you might consider the Instant Pod, a pod coffee maker and espresso maker from Instant Brands that works with both classic Nespresso pods and K-cups.
Why trust Good Housekeeping?
Cassidy Olsen covers food, kitchen appliances and gifting. She has written about coffee drinks and the best coffee gifts for coffee lovers for Good Housekeeping. She previously served as the kitchen and cooking editor at Reviewed.
Nicole Papantoniou is the director of the Good Housekeeping Kitchen Appliances and Culinary Innovation Lab where she oversees all of Good Housekeeping's content and testing related to kitchen appliances, tools, gadgets and gear. She's been testing kitchen appliances professionally since 2013 and oversaw the testing of coffee makers, espresso machines and Nespresso machines, as well as all other brewing appliances.