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Ask Aunt Bean:
Dear Aunt Bean,

I've always been a coffee lover, but I've never owned an espresso machine. I've always wanted to try making espresso, but I'm not sure if I need an espresso machine to do so. Can you tell me, do I need an espresso machine to brew espresso coffee?



Dear Espresso-curious,

Thank you for your excellent question.

I think you're asking if you can make a strong, short, pressurized coffee extraction without a large machine--the answer is yes, and I'll get to that! But I also want to take a moment to say that quite a lot of whole bean coffee blends are called "Espresso," as in our own Espresso Strata, but they are in fact just like any other coffee beans and can be brewed in any way, including with a drip brewer. They are simply blends the roaster thinks work well as espresso. So the answer to the question "Do I need an espresso machine to buy Espresso Strata?" would be no, it works for all brew methods!

But assuming you mean, "Can I brew an espresso-like beverage at home without a machine?"

Yes! Espresso is defined by its preparation method, which involves forcing pressurized hot water through finely ground coffee beans. There are a few alternative ways to make a coffee that's similar to espresso without an espresso machine.

One popular method is to use a stovetop Moka pot. This device works by boiling water in a lower chamber, which creates steam that forces hot water up through the coffee grounds and into a top chamber. The resulting coffee is strong and concentrated, with a similar flavor profile to espresso. While it's not quite the same as espresso made with a machine, it's a great way to achieve a similar result at home.

woman making espresso-style coffee at home with moka pot

Another option is to use an Aeropress. While Aeropress is typically a little more mild and less concentrated than espresso, it can be made stronger by using a finer grind of coffee and letting it steep for a longer period of time. This can create a coffee that's closer in flavor to espresso.

man pressing down on aeropress

No matter what your brew method, any coffee setup can be improved with a good burr grinder. We stock the Baratza Encore. A crucial part of making espresso is creating a puck of finely ground coffee to provide some resistance to the water flow. If your coffee is ground too coarsely, you won't get as much aroma, flavor, and body. Look here:

piles of coarse, medium, and fine coffee

In conclusion, while an espresso machine is certainly a convenient way to make a large number of espresso shots, it's not the only way. With a Moka pot or an Aeropress, you can still apply the basics of increased pressure (in the case of the Moka pot, from steam, and in the case of the Aeropress, from your own muscles), a fine grind, and a quick infusion of hot water to achieve an at-home espresso coffee drink. 

Keep those questions coming! Don't be afraid to espresso yourself.

- Aunt Bean