Definitive Guide to Making Espresso Without a Machine


Over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed every day around the world. 

And espresso, without a doubt, is the most popular of all coffee drinks. It is from espresso that we get some of the best milk-based drinks out there; cappuccino, latte, and so on. 

The thing about espresso, though, is that you can’t make it as easily as other types of coffee: Espresso is brewed differently than regular coffee. 

What exactly is Espresso?

You’ll find a clue in the name: Espresso. It’s italian for “pressed out”. 

And that’s the first, and most important, aspect of the espresso: It is brewed using pressure. Traditionally, the pressure used for making espresso comes from steam. Water is heated in a sealed chamber with only one opening – when steam starts to form, water is forced out through the opening, passing through the coffee grounds at great speed. 

And voilà: Espresso. 

This quick brewing achieves a greater concentration of coffee with significantly less water than used in other methods. It is a much tastier, aromatic coffee. 

The great difference between espresso and other coffee is, therefore, the concentration of coffee achieved by this brewing method. 

Brewing espresso without an espresso machine

Yes, it is possible! Brewing espresso is not only for those who can afford to have an espresso machine right in their kitchen (or, in more extreme cases, even in the bedroom). 

Throughout the years, people have been seeking better ways to make espresso. Even if we have it relatively easy nowadays, it’s still an issue that people are always looking to solve: Let’s see some of the most viable and efficient ways there are for making espresso. 

The Moka Pot

It’s 1933, and the Moka Pot has just been invented in Italy. Its creator, Alfonso Bialetti, names its Moka Pot after the famous Yemeni port whence coffee was first brought to Italy. 

Nowhere was espresso more popular than in Italy in those days, and many wished they could enjoy a cup of coffee in their home just like the one they got at the coffee shop. And so Bialetti came up with the Moka Pot. And guess what? They’re still making Bialetti Moka Pots today!

How does it work?

Much like the espresso machines of old, the Moka Pot works by creating pressure through steam. It consists of three parts, or chambers, which are connected via a narrow tube. 

The water travels vertically, from the lower chamber up to the top chamber. 

First, you fill the bottom chamber with water. Second, you put ground coffee into the middle chamber, and place it atop the lower chamber. Third -and this is important- you screw the top chamber onto the lower chamber, making sure it’s tight enough so that no steam comes out. 

Once you place it on a heat source, the steam created in the lower chamber will force water up, passing through the grounds and then depositing freshly-brewed coffee in the top chamber. 

Keep in mind that the pressure created with the Moka Pot can only reach about 1 bar; The standard is 9 bars for a decent espresso machine. While you will get a very good cup of coffee, it will not be as concentrated as an espresso. 

Flair espresso maker

If the Moka Pot is a marvel of the last century, then the Flair is the coffee innovation of our time. Because espresso is all about pressure. Too little pressure, you get watered-down espresso. Too much pressure, you will probably get a bitter, undrinkable cup of coffee. But how can you control it? 

That’s what this espresso maker is all about: Controlling the pressure by yourself. It takes away everything else that a machine is supposed to have, and it focuses on one thing: The lever, which you will have to press down in order to make your espresso. 

How it works

So, this is what we call a manual espresso maker. The most important part of this is the lever. You will press down, pushing water through the grounds and into your cup. But what else is involved?

First, the brew head. This is where you fill place your coffee grounds and the water -which must be at brewing temperature- in different compartments. The brew head goes between the lever, above it, and the cup, below it. 

Lastly, there will be a gauge, telling you how much pressure you are creating when pulling down the lever. This is how you make adjustments: If the reading is too low, use more force. And so on. The optimal pressure is indicated clearly on this tool, so it’s fairly easy to get it right even on your first try.


Here we have arguably the most well-known manual espresso maker (besides the Moka Pot) of today. As its name suggests, the Aeropress relies on air to pull a shot of espresso.

The biggest selling point of this coffee maker is that it’s superior to the French Press, a coffee maker that is about the same size and same price range as the Aeropress. They are both the best option for small-sized coffee makers to have at home. 

However, the Aeropress actually delivers a cup of espresso. The concentration of coffee is the same as in regular espresso, and its unique brewing method achieves a higher PH -thus better tasting- cup of coffee. 

How it works

The brewing process of the Aeropress makes use of two different brewing methods.

First, the ground coffee is steeped: This varies from person to person, as longer steeping time yields stronger coffee. Then comes the manual part – you press down on the “plunger” with your hand to force your coffee through the filter, and into the cup. 

The result is a unique, aromatic cup of coffee which cannot be achieved by any other method than this one. 

French Press

So far, we’ve talked about methods that, while each of them very good in their own way, have one thing in common: They’re not readily available. Should you want to make espresso at home right now (craving espresso, we’ve all been there), you’d first have to go out and get one of the coffee makers we’ve talked about. 

The French Press, however, is something that most coffee lovers have at their home. Whether you use it often or not, you probably know how to operate it – its simplicity is a big part of its charm. 

Is it possible to make espresso in a French Press?

Of course. We said before that, fundamentally, espresso is coffee that has a greater concentration of coffee in it. You might wonder why can’t you just make espresso in my french press – just steep for a really long time, and there you go.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple. Infusion tends to draw out undesirable flavors in coffee. Particularly, the more you steep your coffee grounds, the more bitter and acidic your coffee will become. So making espresso in a French Press is very tricky business. But we have a few tricks to make a decent espresso using just your French Press. Pay attention! 

How to make espresso with a French Press

For this technique, we’re gonna be using a small french press. We’re gonna make the equivalent of a double espresso shot, although you can adjust this to however much coffee you want to make. 

  1. Bring 90ml of water to a boil. Remove from the heat source and let sit for five minutes. If using a kettle, remove the lid – we want the temperature to drop at least 5°C. 
  2. Now the coffee grounds: We recommend using a slightly coarser grind than espresso, as it yields better results. Scoop out 40mg of coffee and pour into the French Press.
  3. Once the water has cooled down a bit, pour a little on your coffee grounds; just enough so that they become wet. The grounds will absorb the water. After this, you will pour again until all the grounds are submerged in water.
  4. Wait one minute. 
  5. Stir the coffee bed gently. This will promote better, more even extraction. 
  6. Pour the rest of the water into the french press and put the lid on.
  7. After 6 minutes, press down slowly. 
  8. Pour yourself a cup of espresso! 

Note: If your French Press doesn’t have a mesh filter, use a paper filter when pouring. Otherwise you’ll be eating coffee.

The French Press method admits countless variations. The most important variation here is steep time. You must be very attentive to this, because just one minute could be the difference between perfect and unpalatable. 

On another note: French Press coffee tends to be acidic. Seeing as this method requires longer steep time, it’s very possible you will find it a little too acidic. To prevent this, add ¼ to ½ teaspoon of baking soda to your cup or directly in with the coffee grounds before brewing. This helps nullify acidity, but do be careful to use little or you’ll notice its unpleasant taste. 

Which method of making espresso without a machine did you like best? Be sure to try them all out and share your results with your friends!

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