How to Make Espresso at Home

Last updated

Want to learn how to make espresso at home? Good news! With a little practice you can start making espresso like the pros do at your favorite coffee shop.

What’s better, you can save some serious cash in the process!

Follow the guides below to get started.  But don’t stop there!  Once you master how to make espresso, try exploring different espresso based drinks to discover what you like. I’ve listed a few at the end of this article to get you started.

What You’ll Need

  • Espresso machine
  • Fresh beans
  • Grinder (if machine does not include one or you are choosing an alternative method)
  • Tamper
  • Milk product of choice (optional)
  • Frother (if not included on machine)
  • Alternative brew method (Moka Pot, Aeropress, French Press)

How to Make Espresso the right Way: Use an Espresso Machine

If you are looking to replicate the rich creamy espresso from your local coffee shop, having an espresso machine is a must. It is the only method that brews the coffee at the ideal pressure of 9 bars, or 130 psi. Plus, most machines have the added bonus of a built in grinder and frother!  

But hey I get it, these things are expensive. If you don’t have an espresso machine, skip to the bottom of this article. I have broken down three (much cheaper) alternative methods.

But for you coffee purists out there, here are the steps broken down to brew that perfect cup. 

1. Measure and grind the beans

The best espresso machine in the world won’t bail you out if you shortcut this step. The grind is where you make or break your cup. 

If you are just starting out, you might want to try a dark roast bean. Historically, this is what’s recommended.  That said, it is entirely up to you and your preference. Feel free to break the mold if you’re into that fruity, more acidic light roast flavor. This is your house after all!

No matter which beans you choose, make sure they are fresh!  I cannot stress this enough.  Try to use your beans before they reach two weeks past their roast date. That said, even older beans ground fresh are better than pre-ground beans, but still..  

Make sure you are using a quality burr grinder.  Most espresso machines come equipped with one. If yours does not (or you want to use a better one) then make sure you have bought a burr.  Blade grinders cannot provide the same level of consistency. 

Okay now that you have your beans and grinder, it’s time to measure them out.  Use 8-9 grams (1.5 – 2 tbsp) for a single shot, or 18-20 grams (3-4 tbsp) for a double.  Try spritzing your whole beans with water after you’ve weighed them. This will reduce static during the grind.

Select a finer grind setting (4-5 on a Breville Infuser is good) and start your grinder. Be sure that your basket is completely dry to avoid channeling. 

2. Distribute grounds and tamp

Once you have your beans ground, lightly shake your portafilter from side to side to evenly distribute the grounds.  If you have one, use a needle distribution tool to break up any clumps.

If you don’t have a distribution tool, use your finger to manually smooth out the grounds in your portafilter.

Now let’s tamp. 

Experts recommend you use 20-30 pounds of pressure to do this. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a built in pressure gauge on my body. Assuming you don’t either, simply press down firmly and evenly until you notice the puck doesn’t go down anymore.

Be sure not to over tamp or use too much pressure or you can cause channelling.  You don’t want to give the water an easy path through your puck!

3. Pull your shot!

Okay we’ve made it to the fun part. Insert your newly tamped portafilter into your machine and lock into place.

Brew immediately!

Your espresso machine will have built up heat while you were busy measuring and tamping and what not. This can actually burn your coffee grounds leaving a bad taste if left locked in for too long without brewing.

Bust out that stopwatch and time your shot.  It should take about 25-30 seconds to yield 2 ounces of coffee.

Any time less and your coffee will be too weak and acidic. If this is the case, try using a finer ground or more coffee. Also be sure you didn’t have any channelling going on.

Anytime more and your machine will choke up and sputter, leaving you with not so pleasant flavors.  If this happens try a more coarse grind or less coffee. 

Keep an eye on the temperature of your brew.  The ideal brewing temperature is between 195-205 degrees.  This gets you a shot around 160-165 in your cup.

If you are really into it, try preheating your cup with hot water before brewing so it doesn’t cool your shot down. 

4. Froth your milk (optional)

By this point you’ve done it.  You brewed your very own barista quality shot of espresso! But for most people, topping it off with some rich silky steamed milk makes it that much better.

To do this, start by turning the steam wand on to purge any condensation. This will prevent unwanted water from getting into your drink.

Fill a tall (metal) container with milk, about a finger width below the spout.

Holding the container with both hands, put the wand down at an angle and turn it on.  Move the container down immediately until the wand is just below the surface of the milk.  You should hear a slight hissing noise. This lets you know air is getting in and will result in that smooth silky texture you’re looking for.

Maintain this until the container gets to room temperature (about 20 seconds). Then push the wand back down.  You don’t want to get it too hot.

Tap the container on the counter to break down any bubbles.  There shouldn’t be too many.  We are going for smooth and silky not bubbly.

5. Adjust and perfect

Okay, so depending on your level of experience, that might have been a lot. But hey, you did it!  You know how to make espresso! Now all you need to do is practice.  

Perfecting a barista quality shot of espresso takes work. In the beginning, remember to be mindful of your brew time. Use the tips above if you are pulling outside that 25-30 second window.  

Once you get the timing down, it’s time to start tinkering to your personal preference.  Want it stronger? Try adjusting to a finer grind size.  Want a more fruity flavor?  Go with a lighter roast bean.

Remember, this is your kitchen, your cup! Experiment and have some fun with it! 

How to Make Espresso at Home: 3 Cheap Alternatives

#1 Moka Pot

If you want to make espresso at home but you don’t have an espresso machine, a Moka Pot is your best alternative.  

Like an espresso machine, a Moka Pot uses pressure to brew coffee. It’s worth mentioning, the amount of pressure is far less than an espresso machine (1.5 bars compared to 9), but you can still achieve espresso-like results!  

So if you are not eager to run out and spend hundreds (or thousands) on a quality espresso machine, grab yourself a Moka Pot and follow these steps to achieve a similar result.

  • Fill the bottom chamber or water reservoir right at or just below the pressure valve.  
  • Fill the basket with your preferred grounds. You’ll want to use a slightly coarser grind than what you would use in an espresso machine to avoid clogging. DO NOT pack it down!
  • Screw on the collector and make sure it is tight.  This is where your coffee gathers once brewed. 
  • Place the assembled Moka Pot on your stove top and set to medium-low heat. You don’t want to get it too hot or it will boil too fast resulting in a weaker tasting coffee. Remove from heat once you hear a gurgling noise and most of the water has come out.  Stir gently and serve.

#2 French Press

As far as making espresso without the use of pressure, a French Press is a decent way to go.  Considering you may already have one on hand, this is an attractive option compared to spending big bucks on an espresso machine. Here’s how it’s done.

  • Grind ½ cup of your preferred coffee beans to a medium-fine grind.
  • Heat ¾ cup water to hot but not boiling. 200 to 205°F is perfect.
  • Add your freshly ground coffee to the French Press on top with your hot (but not boiling) water. Stir gently and set a timer for 4 minutes.
  • Place the lid on the French Press and slowly press down on the plunger until you cannot press further. 
  • Serve immediately.

#3 Aeropress

If you are looking for the most inexpensive way to recreate espresso at home, an Aeropress is the way to go.  That said, what you gain in cost you’ll give up in texture and taste.

  • Grind your preferred beans fine, about 2 tablespoons.  Since you are using manual pressure with an Aeropress, you’ll want a finer grind. This makes it harder for the water to get through. Place them in your filter.
  • Heat 3 ½ ounces of water between 200 to 210°F, add to coffee and stir.
  • Now press!  Push down on the plunger, hard.  Remember this will be harder than a normal cup of Aeropress coffee since you used a finer grind.  This is what will get you that espresso-like taste.
  • Transfer our shot and serve immediately. 

Bottom Line

If you want espresso done right, invest in a proper espresso machine. Simple as that. With the right tools, a little practice, and the information in this article, you can be on your way to pulling the perfect shot right there in your kitchen!

But if you’re not keen on spending the money to get an espresso machine, you can always get by with the alternative methods listed above.  Just know you’ll be sacrificing some taste and texture to save that cash.  

Mastered your espresso shot? Want to try more espresso based drinks?

Okay, so you’ve used the advice in this article, mastered your shot, and now you’re ready to try out some new drinks.  Try out these different varieties and experiment with what you like best!

  • Americano – One part espresso, two parts hot water
  • Latte – One part espresso, two parts steamed milk 
  • Cappuccino – One part espresso, one part steamed milk, one part foam
  • Macchiato – One part espresso, one part milk foam
  • Mocha – One part espresso, two parts steamed milk, ½ part chocolate
Photo of author


Neal Drown
Neal has been proudly wearing the label of coffee enthusiast for over a decade now. He has an M.A. in Research and a true passion for all things coffee. Let's Brew Coffee was created to leverage his skills as a researcher and deliver the best content available on crafting the perfect brew.