Espresso is just a shot of super strong coffee, right? Actually, it’s not. Espresso is the foundation for many popular coffee beverages and so learning how to make a good espresso the proper way (with and without an espresso machine) is essential for any wannabe coffee barista.

What is an Espresso?

An espresso is a concentrated shot of coffee. Instead of using boiling water and coffee grounds as you would in a French press or a coffee maker, you use very fine grounds and pressurized, steaming hot water.

The result is a very highly concentrated, aromatic shot of coffee with a rich crema created by the steaming water and air as it hits the coffee oils. From there it can be consumed simply as an espresso or combined with varying amounts of steamed milk, foam, and alcohol to create lattes, cappuccinos, macchiatos and my favorite; the espresso martini.

Generally, an espresso is 1floz and a double is of course 2floz. In that 1floz there is around 64mg of caffeine and a boatload of flavor.

History of the Espresso


The first patented machine recognizable as an espresso machine was registered in Turin, 1884, by Angelo Moriondo. It forced a controlled amount of steam and water through the coffee at just the right temperature and pressure to create a perfect brew. Angelo’s machine, however, made espresso in large, multi-serving quantities. Unless you think you can manage a liter of espresso in one go.

The single-serve espresso machine wasn’t around until a decade or so later (another Italian, no surprise there) and coffee history just hasn’t been the same since.

Espresso Ingredients

To make a good cup of espresso, you will need:

  • Freshly ground coffee beans (the finest grind you can manage)
  • Steaming hot water (ideally at 96C or 205F)
  • 9 bars of pressure

For every 1oz of coffee grinds, you need 4floz of water. Make sure you weigh the coffee grinds once they are a fine grind, not before. You can use any type of coffee bean you fancy to make your espresso, as long as it’s high quality and freshly ground just before use.

Kettles will boil water to 100C, so getting water to 96 is easy. The pressure, however, is going to require at least some specialist coffee equipment, namely an Aeropress, Moka pot or French press and some elbow grease, unless you already have an espresso machine.

Make an Espresso With a Machine

With an espresso machine, it’s as simple as following these steps:

  1. Grind your coffee beans using a bur or mortar and pestle, to the finest grind you can muster.
  2. Fill your coffee machine with clean, filtered water and let it start warming up.
  3. Add 1oz of finely ground coffee to the filter, using a tamper to tightly pack them in there.
  4. Lock on the filter and turn to start brewing, with an espresso cup below to catch the crema.
  5. Brew for approximately 20 seconds, filling the cup.
  6. Serve.

You also need to clean your espresso machine between each serving, usually by tapping out the grounds and rinsing it with water.

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What is Espresso FAQs

Still got some burning espresso questions? Don’t get bitter, we’ve answered the most frequently asked below!

How do you drink an espresso?

Firstly, an espresso is served in a tiny white cup in most coffee bars, but you can serve it in any style espresso shot cup you like. The ideal size of the cup holds 3floz, which is plenty of space for your double espresso and crema.

Espresso is sipped. You want to really savor the rich crema and steamed coffee oils rather than gulping it down in one go. Due to the quick nature of producing espresso, it’s likely to be very hot, so sip cautiously and don’t be afraid to stir it.

Some coffee bars serve espresso with a glass of sparkling water – use this to cleanse your palette. Don’t expect this in your local Starbucks!

How do you make espresso without a machine?


To make espresso without an espresso machine, you’ll need to use your French press, Aeropress or Moka pot. This is our easy method for making an espresso with a French press:

  1. Grind your coffee beans using a bur or mortar and pestle, to the finest grind you can muster.
  2. Boil the kettle and let it cool slightly.
  3. Add 1oz of finely ground coffee to the French press: you need approximately 1oz per cup of water.
  4. Pour in a few drops of hot water to release the coffee oils for a minute or so.
  5. Carefully fill your press with the rest of the water, trying not to dislodge the fine grounds, and let it brew for 5 minutes.
  6. Apply steady pressure to push down the plunger halfway, before returning to the top and going all the way down.
  7. Serve your strong, espresso inspired coffee.

How do you make espresso on the stove?

To make an espresso on the stovetop, you’ll need to use a Moka pot and follow this method:

  1. Grind your coffee beans using a bur or mortar and pestle, to the finest grind you can muster.
  2. Fill your Moka pot with water to the fill line (the exact volume depends on the size of your moka).
  3. Add 4oz of finely ground coffee to the top section of the Moka pot and attach filters securely.
  4. Place the Moka pot on your stove top over a medium to low heat, so that the water steam will rise through the coffee grounds.
  5. When the top of the Moka pot is full of coffee with a rich crema, take it off the heat and give it a stir.

When used correctly the Moka pot gives a much more authentic espresso flavor compared to the French press method, but be aware that it’s much harder to master.

Can you make espresso with Keurig?

Much like the French press method, using your Keurig to make an espresso doesn’t actually make an espresso. It makes an espresso inspired coffee.

Your Keurig is just not designed to create the pressure and steam needed to make an espresso. It’s designed for drip coffee and beverages with a longer, less pressured brew time.

Of course, if you just want a strong shot of coffee your Keurig can probably manage that. You may even be able to find pods that claim to give a rich espresso flavor. But we can tell you for free that it won’t compare to a true espresso.

How do you make espresso with instant coffee?

You can’t, but you can make mock-espresso drinks if you’re looking for a concentrated coffee buzz.

The simplest way to achieve an espresso with instant coffee is to just increase the amount of coffee to water ratio. This will create a strong, albeit bitter, coffee flavor. Without the coffee oils and fresh grinds, you’re not going to get a rich, full body unless your instant coffee has additives and flavorings to create that.

You’re also not going to get a true crema in any shape or form. Adding a dash of milk will add a creamy edge and slightly improve the taste, but it still won’t be an espresso.

But, considering how easy it really is to make a decent espresso or coffee beverage using a machine or even the stove top, why use instant coffee at all? If you’re at all stuck about which French press, espresso machine or single-serve coffee maker to buy, check out all our coffee reviews written by ourselves, the Coffee Dorks.

Frequently Asked Questions
Is Espresso stronger than coffee?

It really depends what you call a "cup of coffee", because espresso is essentially a drink/beverage made out of coffee beans. One shot of espresso contains 63 mg of caffeine. By comparison, regular coffee drinks average 12 to 16 mg of caffeine per one ounce. So, technically speaking, espresso does have more caffeine.

What is espresso shot?

Espresso (ess-PRESS-oh) shot is made by forcing pressurized hot water through very finely ground coffee beans. This process is known as "pulling a shot" and hence you get a shot of espresso.

Is espresso good for health?

Espresso, like coffee, is mostly associated with a lower risk of stroke. It is also known for strengthening long term memory, improving concentration, improve digestion, and reduced chance of diabetes.

Espresso, like coffee, is also high in antioxidants.