How to Make Espresso (Two Methods)

Cup of espresso sitting on a wooden table

Your morning espresso might be one of the highlights of your day, but it isn't great for your wallet. If you're one of the many people falling behind (or already drastically behind) on your retirement savings it might even come with a hefty dose of guilt.

There is a better way. You can make espresso at home, and you don't even need a fancy espresso machine, thanks to specialty stovetop percolators. We've included both processes here to help you decide which one is best for you.

Making Espresso With a Machine

A home espresso machine is a pretty significant investment up front, but if you drink a lot of espresso it can save you a lot of money in the long run. You can create your ideal espresso by following the steps below:

1. Grind the Beans

You should always use a burr grinder instead of a blade grinder for espresso beans. Grind on one of the finer settings; you want your beans to be as fine as granulated sugar.

2. Heat the Machine

Most home espresso machines need to be heated for 15-20 minutes before you start the brewing process. Exact times vary, so it's always a good idea to check your machine's manual before you start using it.

3. Fill the Tank With Water

Unless you've hooked your machine directly up to a water source, you'll need to fill the tank with water manually. It's best to use filtered water as unfiltered tap water contains minerals that can clog your machine. If you do end up using tap water you will need to descale the machine frequently.

4. Let the Water Heat Up

The machine should heat your water to a temperature between 197ºF and 204ºF (92ºC to 96ºC).

5. Remove the Portafilter

Carefully remove the portafilter—it will be hot from being inside the espresso machine—and put it on a scale. Tare the scale so it sits at 0 with the portafilter on it. Once you're used to dosing, you'll be able to make your espresso without using the scale.

6. Dose out the Espresso

For a single one-ounce espresso shot you'll want to place 7 grams in the portafilter. If you want to make two ounces of espresso, place 14 grams in the portafilter. You can go all the way up to 18 grams if you want a really strong espresso.

7. Tamp it Down

Use a tamp (this comes with many espresso making kits and can also be bought separately on Amazon) to pack the grounds more tightly in the portafilter. This ensures that the water goes through the espresso evenly.

8. Clean the Brew Filter

Ideally, you should actually do this while you're tamping the grounds. All you have to do is turn your brew filter on for a few minutes, which rinses away any leftover grounds from a previous brew.

9. Insert the Portafilter

As soon as the initial rinse is done, put your freshly tamped portafilter into the brew head. This should be done as quickly as possible so the heat from the brew head doesn't burn the espresso beans.

10. Start Pulling the Shot

Once the portafilter is properly in place, turn the machine on and place your warmed glass under the spout. The initial liquid that comes out should look creamy and thick because it's the crema. You should also start a timer at this point.

11. Finish pulling the shot

For one shot of espresso, you'll want to stop after 20 seconds. If you're making a double shot you may want to wait up to 30 seconds. You should turn the machine off when you have the correct amount of liquid and it is starting to turn blonde.

12. Serve and Clean Your Machine

Empty the portafilter right away and rinse it out thoroughly. Moist coffee grounds can easily grow mold.

How to Make Espresso With a Stovetop Espresso Maker

Home espresso machines are great, but they're also quite expensive. You'll need to use a home espresso machine daily for multiple years before it even earns out the initial investment.

Stovetop espresso makers, on the other hand, are typically only $30-70. This is dramatically less than even the most affordable home espresso machines, allowing you to recoup your investment pretty quickly with regular use. Stovetop espresso rarely has the creamy, light top you'll get from the store or an expensive machine, but it still tastes great.

So how does it work? Just follow these steps for a great espresso:

1. Grind Your Beans

The one thing that doesn't change here is the importance of grinding your beans properly. No matter what you're using to make espresso, your beans should be ground with a burr grinder until they reach the consistency of granulated sugar.

2. Disassemble Your Pot

A stovetop percolator will come with three parts: a large bottom part for holding water, a part for the coffee beans, and a top part that holds the brewed espresso.

3. Fill With Water

Ideally, you should use filtered water for this to avoid mineral build up in the percolator. Make sure the water doesn't go above the steam valve (the small round brass thing inside the percolator).

4. Put the Filter in Place

Settle the filter carefully into the bottom of the pot.

5. Fill the Filter

You'll want to fill the filter all the way to the top, then pat it down a little with your spoon to make sure it's mostly even. This doesn't have to be as precise as the tamping process used with typical home espresso machines.

6. Screw the Main Pot Into Place

This will screw directly into the platform the filter is nestled in. Several models will click into place so you know it's ready for use.

7. Let it Cook

Turn your stove up to high-ish heat (on most stoves a 6-7 is good). It will take a few minutes for the espresso to brew; when the process is complete espresso will start pouring out of the top section. Once it starts pouring out the espresso the process is usually pretty quick.

During the brewing process, you'll hear a lot of bubbling and hissing sounds. Keep the lid on until those sounds taper off, then check your pot. If espresso is no longer pouring out of the section at the top, you're ready to serve!

8. Serve and Clean

Most stovetop espresso makers have a spout that allows you to pour your espresso directly into cups. Make sure you throw out coffee grounds and rinse the filter thoroughly right away; other parts of the machine can soak in hot water before you clean them.

Final Advice

Both processes are fairly simple and each type of espresso maker comes with its own benefits and drawbacks. Many people choose stovetop espresso makers for the savings, but if budget isn't an issue, you can choose entirely based on personal preference.

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