Caution: Contents Magical

Daily trips to the coffee shop quickly add up; but if you aren’t ready to invest in a $400 espresso machine, it’s easy to let that coffee budget get out of hand. The only way I have ever been able to reign in my coffee habit is by making my own espresso shots (and cold brew) at home. While the espresso I make isn’t technically espresso, it is highly concentrated in the same way espresso is. Which means I can’t tell the difference and that’s all that matters!

I’ll cover four different methods for making espresso without a machine, utilizing common low-cost coffee makers. However, I was also able to find a few portable or non-electric espresso makers; I’ll feature the top three I found. Regardless of the coffee maker you use, it’s surprisingly easy to make espresso without a machine; here’s how!

Can You Technically Make Espresso without a Machine?

While certain beans are specifically chosen and roasted for their complimentary espresso flavors, any coffee beans can be used to create espresso.The flavors and intensity of the shot will vary greatly, but espresso is the process of using pressure to push hot water through compact, finely ground coffee beans. Espresso requires about nine bars of pressure, which is 130 PSI (pounds per square inch). For comparison, filling car tires requires 30 PSI.

Because of this distinction, I’ve included researched reviews of "real" espresso makers that utilize enough pressure to technically be considered espresso. Quick links to each espresso maker can be found below.

However, the first half of the article focuses on creating an espresso-like brew using inexpensive (or common) coffee makers, including the Moka Pot and Aeropress. Quick links for each method can be found below.

Methods for Making Espresso without a Machine:

How to Make Espresso:

“Real” Espresso Makers:

Winner: Among the “real” espresso makers and the at-home makers, my research has shown that the Aeropress is the most beloved method overall. With the Flair Espresso Maker being a close runner-up.

Espresso Tips

Whether technically espresso or not, elements that are important for a delicious espresso shot include the time, the coffee beans used, the temperature of the water, and grind of the beans. These are all factors that will also affect our at-home espresso making.

Espresso Choice & Grind:

Though any beans can be used for espresso, you may want to begin your machineless espresso making with beans specifically chosen and roasted for complimentary espresso flavors. Doing so will help to create a highly concentrated coffee similar in taste to the espresso from a cafe.  

Unlike with espresso machines and devices, the grind of the beans will depend on which method you use to create espresso. I will cover the ideal grind for creating espresso within each method below.

Helpful Tools:

Kettle (preferably long nose)

If you plan to use a Moka Pot, Aeropress, French Press to make your espresso, then you’re going to need a kettle or alternative heating method. If heating water, the ideal temperature for brewing coffee is between 185°F and 205°F.

Grinder

I’ll be honest: most of the time I buy pre-ground coffee beans. I know—blasphemy. While I plan to improve my coffee game in the future, you can make tasty coffee without grinding beans each time. But for optimal freshness or travel, a decent manual burr grinder is recommended.

Scale (with Timer)

In this article, I will not be using a scale to give directions. I’ve noticed that nearly all coffee making recipes on the internet use a scale. One day I will be that person. But for now, I’ve got spoons and the ability to pour. However, I respect that a scale allows for precise coffee mastery; so for some, this is a must-have.

Milk Frother

If you’re dedicated to making cafe-like coffee at home, a handheld milk frother will make all the difference. Of course this isn’t an essential item; but for making lattes, it might as well be.

4 Ways to Make Espresso Without a Machine

Regardless of the method or coffee maker you use, if you reduce the amount of water and increase the amount of coffee, you will create a stronger brew that can be used as espresso. For this reason, experimenting with the coffee-to-water ratio using whichever coffee maker you already own is a great starting place for many.

Which Method Makes the Best Espresso? After extensive research and review reading, the Aeropress is the best coffee maker for creating espresso. The Moka Pot is a close second. Even when researching “real” espresso makers, many reviewers noted that they still preferred their Aeropress to any other coffee maker they own. That’s quite a statement when you’ve tried various coffee gadgets!

Moka Pot atop a propane heater; blurred background of outdoors.

How to Make Espresso on the Stove (Moka Pot)

Throughout college and well into my first job, a stovetop Moka pot was a huge asset to keeping a low coffee budget. This method is the closest on our list to real espresso in appearance and viscosity.

A Moka pot has three main components: the lower chamber for water, middle filter basket for coffee, and top chamber for the brewed espresso. Moka pots comes in various sizes; some are designed to make a single espresso shot, while others can make ten at once.

When placed on the stove, the water is heated until the pressure forces it up through the ground coffee. With a Moka pot, the coffee should be ground to the same fineness as regular espresso, which is to say fine but not extra fine. To make espresso with a Moka Pot:

  • Add water to the fill line (or bottom of pressure valve) in the bottom chamber.
    • Use warm-to-hot (but not boiling) water to expedite the process.
  • Add ground coffee to the filter basket and place onto bottom chamber.
    • You can use your finger to level the grinds, do not tamp or compress grinds.
    • If using a scale, it’s roughly 6 to 8 grams per espresso shot.
    • If using tablespoons, it’s about 1 tablespoon per shot; however, it’s recommended you experiment to find your preferred concentration.
    • Otherwise, the size of the basket is a good indicator of how much coffee to add when making a full pot.
  • Screw the top chamber onto the bottom. Place on your stove at a low-medium heat.
    • Watch the Moka pot, as you don’t want the espresso boiling out of the top.
  • After about three to five minutes (sometimes longer in my experience), the water will bubble up through the grinds and out the internal spout of the top chamber. Wait until the brew has created the proper amount (which will depend on the size of the Moka pot and the amount of water used).
  • Ta-da! Pour into a cup, over ice, or into frothed milk and enjoy!
Aeropress standing vertically on a heating source outside as someone pours water into it from a long-nose kettle.

How to Make an Espresso Shot with the Aeropress

This is, admittingly, the only method I haven’t personally tested yet. The Aeropress has become hugely popular over the last year. Reviewers note that not only is it easy to travel with and clean, it makes a damn good cup of coffee. People appreciate the strength, depth of flavor, and are often drawn to light and medium roasts when using the Aeropress, in order to enjoy their inherent subtle flavors.

But how does the Aeropress fair when making espresso? My research says it does a fantastic job. For the Aeropress, coffee should be ground to the same consistency as espresso. Here’s how:

  • Heat your water in a kettle. If going for precision, 195°F - 205°F is the recommended water temperature. Though some articles suggest going slightly higher at 210°F.
  • Rinse your Aeropress filter and place it in the cap. Screw the cap onto your Aeropress, then place the press over a sturdy mug.
  • Add about two tablespoons of coffee (consistency of espresso) to the Aeropress.
    • The trick is to tamp down on the coffee forming a puck. You can use an espresso tamper or household cylindrical object (tall spice containers work great).
    • One trick I discovered in my research is to use a second (rinsed) filter on the bottom of your tamper, leaving it atop the puck of grinds. This keeps the coffee more compact when pouring water, adding to the espresso’s body.
  • Pour ½ cup of your heated water onto the coffee grinds.
    • Some people recommend stirring or swirling the Aeropress; while others prefer to let the pressure of the plunger do its thing.
  • When making espresso in an Aeropress, you don’t need to let it steep like when making regular brew. Push the plunger down at a consistent pressure; there will be some resistance, be sure to hold your mug steady.
  • Add to frothed milk or ice, and enjoy!
french press with coffee inside and the plunger on its left in front of a blurred wood background

How to Make Espresso with a French Press

Aside from a drip coffee maker, a French Press is the coffee contraption you’re most likely to already own. However, a French Press is also the least suited to creating espresso-like coffee. You’re meant to use a coarse grind in a French Press; and the resulting coffee is often more smooth and oily than other methods.

Nonetheless, there is a way to rethink the French Press for creating espresso. The key is to grind your coffee to the fineness of espresso—or just slightly more coarse than espresso. Then double the amount of coffee you would normally use. The fineness of the grind allows the hot water to extract the depth of flavors found in espresso, while doubling the amount of coffee allows the overall brew to be much stronger.

Note: the grind of your coffee should be fine like espresso, but not fine enough to seep through the holes of the press, thereby muddying the brew.

  • Heat water in your kettle. If going for precision, 195°F - 205°F is the recommended water temperature.
  • Remove the plunger, and add your coffee to the French Press.
    • The recommended ratio is 2 tablespoons of ground coffee for every one cup of water.
  • Once your water is heated, add a couple splashes to the coffee grinds. Do not add all of your water; just enough to let the coffee “bloom,” releasing its oils and aromas. Let it rest for half a minute.
  • Add the rest of your water but do not stir. Close the lid to preserve heat but do not plunge yet. Let sit for 4-6 minutes, depending on how strong you prefer the brew.
    • Be sure not to let it steep too long or it will become bitter.
  • With even pressure, press down on the plunger.
    • Immediately pour your espresso into a cup or other container to halt the steeping process. Enjoy!

How to Make Espresso in a (Drip) Coffee Maker

When it comes to mimicking espresso, this isn’t the best method on our list. However, it’s a method many people can walk into their kitchen and use right now.

The method I suggest when making espresso in a regular coffee maker is different than every other way I saw it described on the internet. I saw article after article recommending you ignore the water tank and turn your coffee maker into a pour-over device. No, thank you.

If you’re using a coffee maker, that means you already own one. Which also means you already use a certain amount of water and coffee. The easiest advice is to simply half the amount of water you’re using (or double the amount of coffee). This will create a stronger brew.

The coffee beans should be ground for a standard drip coffee maker. To ensure you don’t burn the espresso-like brew, turn off your coffee pot once it’s made. After adding a couple shots to warmed soy milk in the morning, I enjoy letting my leftover faux espresso cool; in the afternoon, I pour it over ice.

Experimenting with your water-to-coffee ratio is ultimately how you’ll find the best espresso-like brew strength for your tastes when using a drip coffee maker.

To Espresso, with Love

After extensive research and review reading, the majority agree that the Aeropress is the best coffee maker for creating espresso. The Moka Pot is a close second. Even when I was researching “real” espresso makers, many reviews noted that they still preferred their Aeropress to any other coffee maker they own. That’s quite a statement when you’ve tried various coffee gadgets!

Regardless of the method you choose, experimentation is your friend. The coffee grind, water temperature, and water-to-coffee ratio will greatly affect the brew you create. It’s certainly worth changing one variable at a time to find the perfect at-home espresso for you.

If you have any questions regarding the info above, I'll do my best to answer them in the comments below! Which method is your favorite for making espresso without a machine?

How to Make “Real” Espresso Without a Machine

It’s important to note that all of the makers below do not heat your water; thus, you’ll need a kettle or alternative heating method.

the flair espresso maker on a boulder overlooking a tree-lined mountain valley

Flair Espresso Maker

Based on the plethora of reviews and my research, the Flair Espresso Maker (which is a manual press espresso maker that doesn't need electricity) is currently the favorite non-machine way to make a solid, easy cup of "real" espresso at home.

Though advertised as portable, the Flair Espresso Maker is certainly large enough to enjoy its own countertop space. Unlike some of the other espresso makers below, reviewers find using the Flair to be straightforward and easy to learn.

Reviewers who have tried multiple different portable espresso makers note that Flair has reliable and consistent results. The comment section is filled with valuable tips and tricks for new users as well. Though easier, other users note that there is still a learning curve, particularly in relation to getting the right coffee grind and water temperature.

Nonetheless, if you want consistently great espresso every day, with minimal clean up, there appears to be no better option currently available in the non-electric, portable espresso world than the Flair Espresso Maker.

a person sitting outside pressing a Kompresso as espresso comes out

Cafflano Kompresso

After reading Cafflano's promises and user experiences, the main takeaway I surmised is that the Cafflano Kompresso requires a learning curve with a solid chunk of experimenting one needs to work through before getting the quality espresso shot as advertised.

The clear pros of the Kompresso are its portability, price, and ease of cleanup. If you’re specifically looking for an lightweight espresso maker to travel with, compare the Kompresso to the Aeropres. Users who enjoy the Aeropress but want real espresso may choose this machine, as it’s similar in design.

The Kompresso, however, also has plenty of cons. It appears to be a finicky device, especially in the beginning when learning how to use it. Many users note that the lack of included instructions are a major part of the issue; thusly, I recommend contacting the company directly for advice when starting out. I think this struggle is best summed up by a reviewer who wrote, “If you expect to pull a perfect shot the first time, you will be disappointed.”

However, those who have invested in the learning process and mastered the device love it. The resulting espresso is higher quality than various other portable espresso makers, but it requires patience when experimenting to create consistent, quality results.

moss green Nanopresso outside next to notebook

Wacaco Nanopress

The Wacaco Nanopress, like many other portable coffee makers, has multiple chambers vertically stacked. The Nanopress is ideal for camping, as it’s the most self-contained espresso maker. But does the quality of the brew match that convenience? The reviews are mixed.

The Nanopress utilizes a pumping mechanism to build up the pressure needed to create your espresso shot. It’s also designed to work with coarser coffee than other espresso makers; therefore, it’s an ideal device for those who want to simply buy a bag of pre-ground coffee off the shelf. However, this also results in a coffee that’s quite different from a typical espresso shot. Like any device, testing out various tricks can improve the brew (but not everyone wants to invest time in perfecting a technique).

The Nanopress has an alternative chamber you can purchase that allows you to use coffee pods. This creates a more extracted espresso shot; however, whether it’s satisfactory or not will depend on your espresso standards and the quality of the pod.

You’re also limited in how much you can brew; the Nanopress creates a single shot. Although, you can buy the Barista Kit, which allows you to prepare a double espresso. For some, it’s important to know that the Nanopress does create a crema, though not the best you’ll have seen.

Though reviews vary, I’ve seen some testers consider it the best portable espresso device. Whereas others feel it simply falls short of what they want in portable coffee makers, espresso or otherwise.

There are a lot more portable espresso makers on the market—a lot more! If this topic interests you, let me know in the comments below. I’m more than happy to research and review various devices.

Why Make Espresso without a Machine?

Your answer to this question may also help you decide which method or maker is best for you. If you need your caffeine fix while traveling or camping, either the Kompresso, Nanopress or Aeropress is likely your best bet.  

If lowering your monthly coffee budget is your main focus, start by using what you already have and invest in a cheap milk frother. You’ll be surprised how far a bit of foam goes in making your latte feel legitimate. However, if you find yourself going back to the cafe more than you’d like, maybe it’s time to try something new.

Which method is your favorite? Have you found the perfect at-home espresso recipe? Let me know! I’d love to connect.


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