I love coffee and, living in the Pacific Northwest, I have usually had easy access to it. That all changed with the COVID quarantine.
While I can brew a perfectly respectable cup of standard coffee at home—I own a Chemex, an AeroPress, a Moka Pot, a French Press, and a V60 dripper—I’ve never been able to brew an espresso substitute with any consistency. While I could buy a proper espresso machine, my dear fiancé, whom I love, believes I own too many coffee gadgets already and has been against the idea of yet another one entering the house. Given that edict, I have been trying to figure out how to make the best espresso-like drink without a proper espresso machine.
And, after months of toiling, I think I have found it!
Before we begin, I should say something – I’m not coming at this problem the same way someone who writes about coffee probably would. Those writers will focus on how to get 100% possible flavor and awesomeness from a cup, usually the cost of added brewing complexity. I try to find the compromise point – the thing that gets me 90% of a perfect cup, with 50% of the work.
For example, I love my Chemex, but I’ll say something blasphemous here: if you don’t use any technique at all when making Chemex coffee, and just dumped water over the grounds, as long as the coffee-water ratio was reasonable, and the water temperature was vaguely correct, you’d still probably end up with something better than what most electric coffee makers give you. While I would recommend a little bit of technique with pour-over, I don’t use a timer, because I want the solution that gets me the best thing for the least work.
So, why is it so hard to make espresso at home? In a word, pressure. The modern process for making espresso was developed by Francesco Illy in 1933 and involves pushing near-boiling water through fine coffee grounds at high pressure, around 130 PSI.
While you can get a proper espresso machine for your home, good ones start at $400, and they can take up a non-insignificant amount of counter space. Stove-top espresso makers, also known as Moka Pots, use a much lower pressure, around 36 psi (depending on several factors), and use hotter water, so they cannot generate “real” espresso; the resulting beverage has a slightly different flavor.
Our method, using the AeroPress, cannot make proper espresso either, but I have found it does a remarkably good job of creating something similar. Here is what you will need:
- An AeroPress Coffee Marker
- A kitchen scale (measure your coffee and water by weight – trust me, it helps)
- A good coffee grinder (a burr grinder is strongly recommended)
- Fresh coffee
- A kettle (anything that boils water works, but you will want a spout to help you pour)
- (Recommended) The Prismo attachment for AeroPress
- (Optional for cappuccino or latte) A milk frother
The Prismo attachment is a metal mesh filter for the AeroPress that comes with a pressure valve, so you can use slightly higher pressures. While you can use the AeroPress on its own to create something like espresso, I’ve gotten better results with the Prismo (I can never get a crema, the small bubbles on the top of an espresso with an AeroPress alone, but I can with the Prismo).
To start, grind your coffee; you will likely want something slightly finer than normal drip. If it helps, on my Capresso 16-setting grinder, where #1 is extra fine, I use setting #5.
Next, attach the Prismo on the end of the AeroPress (don’t forget the to place the filter in the Prismo, unless you enjoy getting coffee grounds out of your hair – I have done this and would not recommend it). Then place it over your mug on a kitchen scale.* Load in 20 grams of coffee.
Heat your water to 96 degrees Celsius, or about 205 degrees Fahrenheit (if you do not have a good way of measuring, bring your water to a boil, remove from heat, and wait thirty seconds). Pour 50ml (50g) water over the coffee in the AeroPress. Stir.
This isn’t very much water, and you might be tempted to add more. Do not give in to that temptation.
Once you have mixed the slurry, remove your mug (and the AeroPress over it) from the scale (we don’t want to press down while we’re still on the scale).
Place the plunger on the top of the AeroPress, and press firmly and evenly down. This will force the water through the coffee grounds. Continue until the plunger has pushed all the water through the grounds.
Remove your AeroPress from your cup. You now have something resembling espresso.
If you want a latte, take 1 cup of milk and place it in the microwave on high for about 90 seconds, and use a milk frother to create a foam. You can then pour this over the faux espresso to make something very similar to a latte!
* You can make iced coffee drinks using this method simply by placing ice in your mug beforehand. When the espresso is brewed, it will fall onto the ice and cool.
The coffee image used with this article was shot by Michael Delaney, and is used under a Creative Commons license.