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2 ways to make almost real espresso without a pricey machine

No espresso machine? No problem! Here are two ways to make strong, rich joe that mimics the punch of espresso.

Can you really make espresso at home without a fancy machine? No, but there are a few ways that come close.
Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Espresso is a tough drink to make. Brewing the stuff requires lots of steam pressure to push hot water through finely ground beans, and it all needs to happen fast, in about 30 seconds. That's something only elite espresso machines can successfully tackle. The problem is, quality espresso brewers can easily set you back multiple hundreds of dollars.

However, there are ways to mimic some of the delicious qualities of espresso without a fancy espresso machine. In this guide I'll lay out two of these far less expensive methods. While not as good as the genuine thing, the coffee you'll be able to make will be strong, rich, and super concentrated. Sometimes, that's all you need to start your morning. 


The Bialetti Moka Pot is an old school brewer that makes very strong coffee.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Option 1: Moka Pot

Invented by Italian engineer Alfonso Bialetti in 1933, the Moka Pot is a classic that remains popular today. The aluminium brewer sports a distinctive art deco design, and it doesn't even need electricity. Just heat it up on your kitchen stove to operate it. 

Start by unscrewing the brewer base from the pitcher. Fill the base with water to the fill line (just below the release valve). In my case I used 5.4 ounces of water (153.1 grams). Next add grounds to the filter funnel. Your grounds should be slightly finer than what you'd use for drip coffee -- a good coffee grinder can help with that. 

Once it's full, scrape away any excess grounds and put the funnel into the base. With that done, the amount of grounds in my brewer came to 0.42 ounces (12 grams). Next, screw the base back onto the main brewer body. Now place the Moka Pot onto one of your stove's burners. Pro tip: Try to set the brewer down a little off-center -- this way the handle won't get too hot to, well, handle.

After a few minutes of brewing on the stove, coffee will begin to flow into the main chamber.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Turn the burner on to medium heat and leave the brewer's lid open. After 5 to 7 minutes liquid coffee should start to flow up from the bottom of the brewer through the valve in its top section. Once the flow stops, or begins to sputter, turn the burner off. 

Since the Moka Pot is constructed from aluminum, its body can get hot. Take care not to touch any metal parts or you'll get burned. Immediately take the brewer to the sink and run cold water over its base. 

Coffee made with the Moka Pot had a brix percentage of 2.9. That comes to a TDS of 1.5%.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Once the base has cooled, pour coffee into your favorite cup. The coffee I made in the Moka Pot was strong and, while not true espresso, it was deep, dark and rich. A quick refractometer reading confirmed this: I recorded a high TDS (total dissolved solids) percentage of 2.5. That's slightly above the ideal range of 1.9 to 2.3%, but not outrageously so. This joe packed a big flavor punch and wasn't bitter at all. 


The Aeropress is a cross between a French press and an upside down Moka Pot.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Option 2: Aeropress

Another popular way to create really strong coffee is to use the Aeropress. This inexpensive gadget was dreamed up by the man, Alan Adler, who also brought us the aerobie frisbee-style flying disk. The Aeropress made its debut in 2005, and essentially is a cross between a French press and an upside down Moka Pot.

Start by adding a paper filter to the Aeropress' filter cap. Next twist the cap onto the brewer's brewing chamber. Add one scoop of ground coffee (coarseness suitable for drip) to the brewing chamber. In my case that came to 0.35 ounces (10 grams). Give the chamber a shake to even out the grounds inside.

Now place the chamber on top of a sturdy coffee mug. Next, add hot water to the chamber up to the "1" symbol on its inner wall. Aeropress recommends water at specifically 175 degrees Fahrenheit (79.4 Celsius), though a minute or so off the boil works, too. The amount of water I used weighed in at 4.25 ounces (120.5 grams).

Stir the grounds for about 10 seconds. Insert the Aeropress plunger into the top of the chamber. Carefully press the plunger down until it reaches the grounds and filter. You should hear a little hiss once that happens. Now your coffee is ready.

Coffee I made with the Aeropress had a brix reading of 1.8%. That translates to a TDS percentage of 1.5.

Brian Bennett/CNET

The liquid brew I made in the Aeropress was strong, too. It wasn't technically espresso, more like a robust French press. That said, it was certainly stiff enough to hit my taste buds with plenty of deep coffee flavor. It wasn't bitter and lacked grit of any kind.

I measured the TDS concentration to be 1.5%. That translates to an extraction percentage of 16. It's also a little under the recommended 19 to 23%. Still, this coffee wasn't bitter and was quite smooth, and I'm sure with a little tinkering I can create an even more powerful, balanced cup. With the right gear, there's no reason you can't as well.