How to make espresso at home: The simple guide to a signature shot of coffee grounds and hot water made with, and without, an espresso machine.

What Is An Espresso?

Commonly referred to as an ‘expresso’ across parts of Latin America and Europe the ‘espresso’ originates from Venice, Italy and features in all variations of coffee we make today.

An espresso is typically 1 ounce in size and a dark, thick almost honey-like consistency. Made with fine coffee grounds it boasts a bold concentrated aroma and taste. Proving too much of an acquired taste for many, you may like to add a sweetener or even experiment adding milk to find out how to make a latte.

But before all that, learning to prepare the perfect shot is the first step in creating all your favourite cups of coffee. In this guide we’ll teach you how to make espresso at home – with and without a machine!

Espresso Ingredients

In this how to make espresso at home guide it will become clear that the list of brewing methods is far longer than the list of ingredients. Just look at what you need below:

  • Espresso/Coffee – Work with whatever you have, or check out our ‘Choosing The Beans’ section for guidance on your next shopping trip.
  • Water – From the tap, bottled, mineral. Anything that’s available, as long as it’s clean and fresh(ish).
Optional extras
  • Sweetener – Fish your favourite out the cupboard or check out our recommended alternative sweeteners below.

Best Alternative Sweetener For An Espresso

The desire to cut through the rich bitterness of espresso with something sweet is not uncommon. Many who are unaccustomed to the bold flavour may opt for a sweetener such as Stevia. Or even a dollop of ice cream to make an affogato!

While ice cream may be our favourite addition, it is not the healthiest choice and so for a morning jolt with the edge taken off a little, we recommend:

Agave Nectar. With a lower glycemic index (GI) than refined white sugar and honey there have been a few health benefits attributed to agave nectar over the years and is sometimes recommended to those who are diabetic. As the nectar is made from the blue agave plant this low GI substitute is also considered vegan.

Studies suggest agave nectar however is high in fructose and so we recommend you use this and any/all sweeteners sparingly.

How Many Calories In Espresso?

3 calories. Per 1-ounce espresso cup there is approximately 3 calories. Averaging between 0-5 calories the espresso and americano are two of the lowest calorie drinks available on any cafe menu. Usually served without sweetener or dairy products, it is suitable for vegan, lactose-free and keto diets. 

Some coffee-drinkers report an appetite suppressant effect after drinking espresso, in any form.

How Much Caffeine Is In An Espresso Shot?

63.6 mg. A typical espresso shot is served in a small, 1 fluid ounce (~ 30g) mug and contains 63.6mg of caffeine which is around 15.9% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA for the average adult, 400mg). For a quick morning fix, an espresso is an effective tool. However, with many caffeinated drinks featuring 2 or more espresso shots, it’s easy to end up exceeding your own limits. Check your coffee pack for guidance on how many milligrams of caffeine per shot it contains.

Quick Conversion: 1 shot = 1 ounce = ~30g

How To Make Espresso At Home: Step By Step

The most essential step when learning how to make espresso is to learn how to brew it. However this is not the first step. Before you start setting up your espresso machine or moka pot you might want to follow these steps first. 

If you aren’t fussy and are ready to brew, jump to the espresso brewing equipment section to see how to get started.

1. Choosing The Beans

For many espresso drinkers it is make or break according to the beans you buy and use in your brew. Different types of coffee beans will taste better than others but it is a dark or even an espresso roast that recreate that coffee shop effect best when making an espresso as well as adding to light brown bubbled ‘crema’ you should see sitting on top once you have finished your pour.

2. Grinding The Coffee

Get to work grinding your beans with a blender, pestle and mortar, or if you have it – a coffee grinder. For an espresso the coffee grounds should be fine, and if you are grinding by hand this can be very labour intensive so we recommend getting even a handheld grinder asap.

When buying blends from local coffee connoisseur you can often ask them to grind it for you before leaving the store or of course purchase them pre-ground and skip this step.

3. Brewing The Espresso

When it comes to brewing an espresso, which technique you use will depend on what equipment you have available. The general process of brewing any coffee involves soaking ground coffee in (usually) hot water. However to make an espresso specifically the process involves a fast-paced jet of boiled water being passed through very fine coffee grounds. The perfect espresso should have a light, golden brown layer of bubbles floating on the surface of the rich dark brown liquid.

Having chosen your beans and created the finely ground coffee needed for this recipe, we now offer you a few of our favourite brewing techniques to teach you how to make espresso at home.

But first, it’s time to take a look at your equipment and decide which of our 7 methods is best for you.

Espresso Brewing Equipment

Despite the ingredient list being short, the equipment list for learning how to make espresso is just as long as (or maybe longer than) our other coffee guides! Hopefully, you’ll have at least one of these in the cupboard:

  • Espresso Machine. You’d have probably noticed this one lying around but it’s worth checking just in case.
  • Portable Espresso Maker. A forgotten Christmas gift? Or maybe a future one? Check out Nanopress and Aram for inspiration.
  • French Press. More realistic cupboard expectations.
  • Moka Pot. If you aren’t sure about this one- take a look. It might look like camping equipment, but it’s worth dusting it off – it might be in daily use after this!
  • Aeropress. Enjoy your espresso anywhere.
  • Manual Machine. Fun for those fully committed to the grind. 

Of course, a mug is needed when making any beverage but for an espresso specifically, a 1-ounce espresso cup is most popular. Our “no equipment” option includes just a cup, kettle/boiling pan and instant coffee.

How To Make Espresso With An Espresso Machine

Need help getting to grips with your new espresso machine? The good news is, you probably own 1 of the following products; an espresso machine, a portable espresso maker or a manual machine. We will break down how to make espresso using each type of espresso machine with step-by-step instructions.

Method 1: Espresso Machine

Most commercial, and now some at-home espresso machines come with a built-in coffee grinder, or you can purchase one separately from most home stores. Once you have your coffee ground you are ready to start.

  • Step 1: Begin by switching your espresso machine on, filling the water reserve tank and allowing it to pre-heat while preparing everything you need to make the espresso. 
  • Step 2: Dispense the coffee grounds into a portafilter until full, then use a tamper to press them flat. A stand cafe size portafilter will fit around 2-3 shots.
  • Step 3: Twist your portafilter into the grip on your espresso machine called the grouphead until it locks securely into place.
  • Step 4: Place your cup (or cups) under the spouts of the portafilter ready to catch the espresso shots. Then press the shot button.
  • Step 5: Usually taking around 20-30 seconds to pour, can tell you whether your coffee may have been too coarse by recording how long your shot takes to finish.

Whether running a business or just making breakfast having the best espresso machine can save you valuable time int he day and vastly improve your mood. Try out different grinding techniques to find which blend works best for you.

Method 2: Portable Espresso Maker

A portable espresso maker can be best illustrated by Nanopress and Aram, two of the best brands in this arena – each have detailed guides on how to use their specific machine. But for a general guide see the steps below:

  • Step 1: After taking your portable espresso maker apart, you will find in most a mini portafilter, tamper, water reserve tank. And commonly a small cup and brush
  • Step 2: Starting from the top, tightly  fill your portafilter using the tamper and brush. Put the portafilter back inside the coffee maker and reattach the grouphead. Set the tamper and brush to the side.
  • Step 3: Next add boiling water to the water reserve tank, and twist the top part of the espresso maker (containing the portafilter) onto the top of the water tank. 
  • Step 4: Twist to release the pump on the side which should pop outwards. Then (making sure all components are completely secure!) lift the machine and flip it upside-down.
  • Step 5: Holding the now “upside-down” espresso machine (with the water reserve on on the top) over your cup – push the pump back into the coffee marker slowly and steadily 20-30times until the espresso is completely extracted.

Perfect for travellers with trouble getting up in the morning. These portable espresso makers make it easier to tackle an early start. Although not as fast-paced as the coffee you might get from the cafe on the corner they are still relatively easy to use for beginners learning how to make espresso.

Method 3: Manual Machine

If you are crazy for control then a manual machine is perfect for creating the best brew. Also known as the ‘levered method’ using a manual machine you are able to manipulate every aspect of the process to suit your tastes. Assuming you already have your machine set-up (or after following the internal instructions on how to) here is how to get started.

  • Step 1: Preheat your water tank by submerging it in boiling water, while you prepare the portafilter and your particular blend of ground coffee. 
  • Step 2: Pack your grounds into the portafilter and brush off any excess. Use the tamper to press until completely flat. 
  • Step 3: Stack your water reservoir on top of the portafilter and fill to the line with boiling water. These form the brew head.
  • Step 4: Place the plunger in to seal the top of the water tank. Then tower all 3 pieces into the holder under the machine lever.
  • Step 5: Line up your cup underneath and pull the lever over and over until all the water in the tank has been drawn through.

Powered by hand, manual machines are considered more traditional and allow for a lot of adaptation and adjustment by even novice batistas. Costing less than the average coffee machine or espresso maker there is a lot of fun to be found fine tuning your signature shot – if you have the time!

How To Make Espresso Without An Espresso Machine

Although at-home espresso machines have become a must-have item for those looking into how to make espresso, sometimes we just don’t have enough counter space. The options below, while not quite as quick as coffee machines, are sure to come in handy for making a cafe-like coffee at home.

Method 1: French Press

Often used across Europe, a French Press, also known as “coffee press” or “cafetière” can be used to make an easy espresso in just a few steps.

  • Step 1: Upon removing the lid and attached filter, spoon approximately 7-8g of coffee into the bottom of your french press and boil the kettle.
  • Step 2: When you have boiling water pour around 1-ounce 28g (per shot of coffee) into the french press on top of the coffee ground. Attach the lid, inserting the filter but not allowing it to touch the coffee and water mixture.
  • Step 3: Wait for 3-4 minutes before slowly pushing the filter into the coffee mixture until it reaches the bottom of the glass. Then pour your espresso into a cup.

The french press is featured in a few recipes including how to make an americano, as well as being considered a fairly cheap and adaptive addition to the kitchen. It is a must have when making friends and family their favourite coffee drinks. Even if it’s not technically considered an espresso maker, a french press acts as an easy substitute in any how to make espresso guide.

Method 2: Moka Pot

This stove-top coffee pot requires no electricity and sits directly on the ring making it an ideal addition to any camping trip. Set up your Moka Pot on an open fire, camping stove or oven top.

  • Step 1: First pour water into the chamber at the bottom of the pot. Then fill your portafilter that sits on top with coffee grounds. There is no need to tamp the grounds with a Moka Pot.
  • Step 2: Next just reattach the top chamber by twisting it in place and sit the Moka Pot on the stove/hob for around 5-10 minutes or until it boils.
  • Step 3: Once it is done, the top chamber should be filled with espresso. Remove from the heat and pour directly into your cup.

With the espresso sitting in the top chamber upon boiling it’s important to keep the moka pot clean in between uses. This pot is a great way to make more concentrated espresso for a small group. It’s also portable and durable thanks to its stainless steel design and requires minimal interaction while brewing.

Method 3: Aeropress

After months of people talking about the air-fryer it’s easy to forget the Aeropress era. Everyone once talked about the compact coffee compression system that sits directly on your cup.

  • Step 1: Take the small circular tray-like portafilter and lay a coffee filter inside. Then twist this into the bottom of the solid, flare-bottomed tube. 
  • Step 2: Dampen the filter with a little hot water and pour your coffee grounds on top. Then fill your aeropress with water up to the line aligning with how many shots you need.
  • Step 3: Give the mixture a stir and then while it sits on top of your cup push the last piece – the plunger into the tube and the espresso should flow until you reach the bottom.

The air from pushing the plunger through the coffee should form a few light brown bubbles on top of the espresso. You can play around with this by pressing harder and forcing the coffee through the filter faster. Or visa versa. But golden brown layer of crema is customary so in theory bubbles are better.

Method 4: Instant Coffee

We have all been caught short when the shops are shut but there’s no need to go without a quick caffeine kick. So let’s break down this “brewing technique” into a few quick steps.

  • Step 1: Scoop a teaspoon or two of instant coffee into your mug. 
  • Step 2: Measure 30-60mg of boiling water into the mug and stir.
  • Step 3: Enjoy!

Brands like Nescafe have created instant coffee blends called ‘crema’ which form a similar light bubble layer seen atop a traditional espresso. A little less gold and far thinner in texture, these alternatives do not compare to the machine made methods. But in a pinch this is the easy option. 

What To Serve With An Espresso?

Sparkling water. A fresh sparkling water acts as a palate cleanser, preparing you to taste the depth of flavour in the espresso. This is a common side served in cafes across Italy. 

Lemon. You can also impress your guests with a twist of lemon and a teaspoon of sugar to make an Espresso Romano.

Storing Espresso At Home

Fresh is best. You can store espresso in the fridge or freezer and add it to milk to make iced coffee in the morning. If however you are looking to just reheat the espresso it’s best to start from scratch as recreating the exact texture of when it is fresh is near impossible after it has been cooled.

Frequently Asked Questions About Espresso

Now you know how to make espresso at home, with and without a machine we answer a few of your frequently asked questions about espresso. Starting with…

How do you make espresso without a machine?

You can’t. Or so some say. The speed/pressure used when applying the water to the coffee ground is arguably a key factor when making espresso, as opposed to making a very small, strong coffee. However, with correctly measured coffee grounds, and the 4 easy methods on ‘how to make espresso without an espresso machine’ in this article. Your at-home attempt should be almost as good.

Can you make espresso with regular coffee?

Yes. Absolutely, however – specific espresso beans may have a stronger and bolder flavour. Both are available in most supermarkets although it is worth exploring local roastries and coffee shops as they often have their own unique blends on sale.

Is espresso just coffee?

Yes …and no. All espresso is coffee but not all coffee is espresso. The difference is in the brewing, espresso is made by applying hot water to finely ground coffee in a quick blast and serving it in a small cup.

How much caffeine is in Starbucks Espresso?

75mg. Starbucks caffeine is a little stronger than average at 75mg per shot. Most single shot espressos contain approximately 63.6mg but Starbucks is 11.4mg or 15% higher. When calculating your caffeine intake, check the packaging of your coffee or search online to find well known brands listed.

How many espresso shots are in an Americano?

3 shots. With an average of 63.6mg of caffeine in the average espresso shot and 3 espresso shots in the average americano. That adds up to 190.8mg of caffeine in the average americano – 47.7% of your RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance). At Starbucks that is 225mg, 56.3% of your RDA in just one grande size americano.

How many espresso shots are in a Latte?

2 shots. An average latte contains 2 shots of espresso, combined with hot steamed milk, totalling around 31.8% (127.2mg) of your recommended daily caffeine intake. At Starbucks again that increases up to 37.5% (150mg). Learn more about how to make a latte with our guide.

More Espresso Recipes

Ready to read more? Now you know how to make espresso, the world is your baristro! Impress your friends with some of these easy espresso recipes.

Espresso Martini

A twist on the traditional martini lies this alcoholic caffeinated coffee liqueur combined with espresso and vodka beverage. Use your new skills to learn how to make an espresso martini.


Take creamy richness to new, icy extremes with an affogato. The warm bitterness of the espresso serves to melt through a soft scoop of vanilla ice cream that truly melts in the mouth.

Caffè Corretto

Back again with the booze, a caffé corretto takes an espresso and adds on top another traditional Italian treat, Grappa; or brandy and sometimes sambuca.