How to Make Espresso: 3 At-Home Methods for Great 'Spro

Coffee Education
Kirkland Gee
July 26, 2023

To attempt to condense espresso making into a simple blog article is a task I didn’t think I was ready for. I’ve sat down to write this piece a number of times, each time stopping after a couple of sentences because of just how much there is to cover. Coffee brewing is a sweet, complex science in all forms, but espresso is especially so.

Each and every element, from the beans you choose, their freshness the espresso machine you’re using, how you grind the coffee beans, the temperature of the water, and 100 other tiny details make each espresso unique. You could brew the same coffee 10 times, and depending on your methods and consistency, it could end up with 10 drastically different flavors.

In this article, I know I won’t cover all the essential details and variables that go into brewing delicious espresso. If you want that, go spend some time on Barista Hustle or watch some videos from James Hoffman, both of which have some of the best content online related to espresso making.

What I do hope to accomplish, though, is to give you the essential building blocks you need to start having espresso at-home that rivals your favorite coffee shop. And, I hope to open your eyes to the depths you can take this hobby if you have the passion and patience to do so. The pursuit of perfect espresso is one we’re all on—and we hope after this, maybe you’ll join us.

What is Espresso?

This may seem like a dumb question, but it’s worth addressing. At its most basic, espresso is a concentrated coffee beverage, made by pushing water through a finely ground puck of coffee with high pressure (usually between 5-9 bars, depending on your recipe and how modern you want it to be).

Great espresso is sweet, syrupy, and it provides a much more intensified version of a traditional brewed coffee. You can use it to make a latte, but we typically prefer enjoying the shot of espresso with it’s beautiful crema on its own.

What is the difference between “traditional” and “modern” espresso?

Espresso originated in Italy as a way to speed up the coffee brewing process. This business guy, Luigi Bezzera, was experimenting and found that if he pushed hot, steam-pressured water through a small amount of ground coffee, he could brew a full drink in less than a minute, and it also was a much more intense, concentrated version of coffee.

This became increasingly popular throughout the 20th century, to the point that now, if you walk into a cafe in Italy and order “a coffee,” you’ll be served a single espresso, not a filter coffee.

These traditional “single” espresso shots are typically brewed with around 7 grams of ground coffee and output 14-25 grams of liquid espresso, sitting somewhere between a 1:2 and 1:3 ratio. Sometimes you’ll find double shots, pulled at closer to 14 grams of ground coffee in, with closer to 30g of liquid out. Both of these would shoot for an extraction between 20-30 seconds. 

This was the standard for a long time, typically using fairly dark-roasted coffees. But in recent years, more third-wave shops are brewing espresso with much higher doses and pushing the extraction way farther than it was in the past on account of the shift towards denser, lighter-roasted coffees that are harder to extract. 

For example, Onyx coffee recommends a 20g dose to a 48g output for most of their coffees, including the Monarch espresso blend. You’ll see similar recipes at most specialty shops, most sitting around that 1:2.25/2.5 range. This higher dose leaves you with a much thicker, more syrupy shot than the more traditional methods will. 

What Tools do I Need to Make Espresso?

Espresso making, unfortunately, is a relatively complex affair. To make proper specialty espresso, you will need quite a few tools. However, towards the end of this article, we’ll also show you two alternative methods if you can’t fork out the cash for all the fancy equipment that will get you relatively close.

That said, to make a proper espresso, you’re going to need:

Your espresso machine of choice


  • Flair Pro (Manual, so you’ll also need a kettle to heat water with this, as it doesn’t contain a boiler)
  • DeLonghi Dedica



An espresso grinder

A scale that fits on your machine

A few other items

Tips & Tricks for Brewing Better Espresso

While that covers the basic recipes and steps, there are lots of variables you’ll need to account for when brewing. The easiest way to solve for them is to just start brewing and change one thing at a time until you see an improvement. 

Generally, the 3 things that have the biggest impact on your final espresso are:

  • The recipe you’re using (both dose in and ratio out)
  • The quality of your puck prep (tamping, distribution, etc.)
  • The grind size of the coffee

You can push and pull each of these “levers” to affect the final coffee you get out. Barista Hustle has one of the best resources out there for this—their Espresso Brewing Compass. Based on what you taste in the coffee, it will tell you what to change in order to get closer to the flavors you’re looking for—an excellent resource.

A few simple points that will help you as you’re getting started:

  • If your espresso pulls too fast and tastes weak, sour, or just too watery, try going finer with your grind, as you probably aren’t extracting enough of the coffee.
  • If it pulls too long and tastes  bitter, harsh, intense, or dries your mouth out like a red wine, try coarsening up your grind, as you’re likely over extracting the coffee.

However, if you find that you’re:

  • Pulling shots way too fast, even with a very fine grind setting (sub-15 seconds)
  • “Choking” shots (very little liquid coming out at all)
  • Only getting terrible-tasting espresso, regardless of the other variables

Pay closer attention to your puck prep. You may not be tamping hard enough, distributing the coffee evenly, or something similar. This can lead to channeling, choking, and a host of other problems.

What Coffee should I Use for Espresso?

While you can use any coffee to make espresso, you'll usually have an easier time with a coffee roasted specifically for that purpose. We don't have space in this article to get into the intricacies of roasting for espresso vs. drip, but we recommend going for an espresso roast.

One of our favorites is the Light Spro from Third Wave Coffee. This is a rotating, single-origin coffee, but it's always light, fruity, and roasted specifically for espresso. Know that for this coffee, you probably want to push your ratio closer to ~1:2.2-3, but you can feel free to experiment with your own setup.

If you prefer dark roast coffee, there are plenty of great options for you to explore, as well.

How to Make Basic Espresso

Now—it’s time to get into what you all came here for. How to actually make espresso.

Keep in mind, as we said, this is just a starting place, and many people will probably recommend steps that are drastically different than ours—that’s okay! Espresso making is an art and a journey you have to go on yourself in order to understand how you like to create this beautiful beverage.

That said, here is exactly what we would do if we were going to make our very first espresso. Keep in mind, these steps are for a steam-powered espresso machine, not a manual brewer. We’ll explain our workflow below, but if you’re using a different kind of coffee maker for your espresso, skip ahead to a different section.

  1. Turn on your espresso machine at least 10-15 minutes before you want to brew. In most cases, the longer the better. This helps you maintain temperature stability throughout the machine and throughout the brewing process. Ideally, you're aiming for somewhere between 205-210 farneheit.
  2. Weigh out your chosen coffee. Your dose will depend on your preferences, but we typically recommend starting with an 18 gram dose. This is fairly modern, but with any 58mm basket (what comes with most modern espresso machines) you’ll be off to a good start. 
  3. Grind that coffee extremely fine. It should be soft and stick together in your hands—around the same size as your typical table salt. With most grinders, you can grind straight into your portafilter. The finer the coffee, the more pressure you’ll be able to generate, and the more you’ll extract the coffee, up until a point. If your shot chokes (no or very little liquid is coming through the puck), then you probably ground too fine and need to coarsen up just a little.
  4. Evenly distribute that coffee through the portafilter. You can either do this by hand with something like the Stockfleth method, or you can use a distributor tool for more consistency. Make sure you tamp your bed of coffee so that no air remains between the grinds. This should require roughly 25lbs of pressure but may depend on the coffee and grind size. Generally, you should tamp until you feel the puck pushing back against you.
  5. Lock your portafilter into the machine, place your scale and cup directly under the spout, and start brewing!
  6. Some machines will allow you to include a pre-infusion step here in the beginning, but whether or not you include this comes down to your particular recipe.
  7. Brew until you reach your desired output. To start, we would recommend a pretty straight 1:2 ratio, so aim for around 36-40g of liquid out. However, going closer to 2.2-3 can yield better results with a lot of coffees, so don't be afraid to experiment.
  8. As the espresso brews, pay attention to the sights and sounds. What color is the liquid? Is it flowing quickly? Slowly? The answer to all of these questions will influence what changes you make for your next shot. When you reach your desired weight, you can stop brewing. 
  9. Be sure to stir your espresso and enjoy!

How to Make Espresso using a Manual Espresso Maker (Flair, Rok, etc.)

If you don’t have a traditional espresso machine and instead are using one of the many popular manual brewers out there for your home espresso, your workflow will be a little different, but the basic principles are the same.

You should try to find a dose and output that suits your brewer. Typically, these manual espresso makers work better with slightly lower doses. For example, Flair recommends starting around 16 grams instead of 18 or 20.

And, as with any other method, try pulling a shot and see how it tastes—and then you can adjust accordingly.

How to Make Espresso without a Machine

For many folks, full-on espresso brewing at home is unattainable. It’s expensive, takes up a lot of room in your kitchen, and it takes a lot of work to get anywhere close to the level you’d have at a cafe down the street.

For those who forego a full setup, you can still create a delicious, concentrated coffee beverage using a Moka Pot or the Aeropress with Fellow’s Prismo attachment. In fact, if you’re really tight on budget, the Aeropress + Prismo combo can be better than most espresso machines on the market under ~$250.

Making Espresso with a Moka Pot

We could try to take time and explain the best way to make Moka Pot coffee, but James Hoffman already did this a lot better than us.

If you want a guide to Moka Pot espresso, just follow the video below. We promise you’ll end up with amazing results.

The Ultimate Moka Pot Technique (Episode #3)

Making Espresso with an Aeropress and Prismo

Like we said, if you want the best low-budget option, the Aeropress is no slouch—especially with the Fellow Prismo attachment. It essentially makes the hole you push coffee through smaller, funneling all the liquid through one small opening and creating additional pressure.

It isn’t anywhere near 9 bars of pressure, but it’s a marked improvement over the traditional Aeropress for making espresso-style coffee.

If we start talking about Aeropress recipes—we’ll be here all week. There’s an entire World Championships dedicated to finding the best way to make coffee with the seemingly simple brewer.

So, to keep things simple, we’ll give you a place to start, and you can adjust and experiment from there to find something you like.

  • Start with 20g of coffee ground very fine, but not quite as fine as you would with an espresso machine. It should be somewhere between espresso and a fine V60.
  • Pour that into your brew chamber and set it on top of your mug (We don’t bother inverting—but if you want to, do your thing. In our testing, it didn’t make much of a difference.)
  • Pour 50g of hot water, just off the boil (100 degrees celsius, 212 farenheit) into the brewer and agitate aggressively. To compensate for the lack of pressure, we need very heavy agitation. We recommend using a wooden spoon (or the stirrer that comes with the Aeropress) and stirring intensely for 15-20 seconds.
  • Place the plunger on top to keep the heat in, and give it at least 30 seconds, and up to a minute. You’ll have to test this to find the right brew time for your setup
  • Once time is up, press your brew into the mug and enjoy!
  • Using only 50g of water, you should end up with around 40g of liquid out after what is soaked up by the coffee.

To be clear, if you put this and a proper shot of espresso beside each other, they would be nothing alike, but this is much closer than almost any other brewing method you can achieve without a dedicated espresso machine.

What About Making Espresso with a French Press?

You’ll often see french press espresso as a recommended method of coffee brewing online. And while it does “work,” to an extent, we don’t recommend it. The french press can’t provide any pressure to the brewing process, so it doesn’t make for the best espresso.

If you’re going to be making coffee drinks with espresso like lattes, cappuccinos, etc., then you can sometimes get by with a highly-concentrated french press brew. However, if you’re wanting to drink the spro on its own, we’d recommend one of the other methods.

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