Espresso Basics: Skip the Coffee Shop & Make Yours at Home

Skip that over-roasted, burnt latte from Starbucks and learn how to make your favorite espresso drinks at home. All you need is a little know-how of the basics, quality tools and some practice and you'll be saving money and time, all while you savor your favorite wake up beverage at home in your PJs.

Invest in the Right Tools

You can save a lot of money at your local coffee shop with a minimal investment in a few tools for your kitchen to brew a great espresso drink. The easiest option is to get a capsule espresso maker with an automated milk frother, such as the one made by Nespresso. Not only is this option affordable, with many models under $200, but since Nespresso machines use espresso capsules to make a single serving of espresso, there is much less cleanup and you won't need a coffee grinder to grind your own coffee beans.

Other alternatives to a big, expensive espresso machine are an AeroPress coffee maker or a stovetop espresso maker like the Bialetti Moka Express. Both options make a fine cup of espresso; however, they are not as foolproof as a Nespresso machine and they do have a little learning curve to find the sweet spot for brewing that perfect cup.

If you prefer a latte, flat white, macchiato or cappuccino, you'll also need a way to froth your milk of choice. There are a wide range of options available, depending on your budget. But really, this isn't even a necessity, as you can achieve a similarly frothy result by shaking up some milk in a jam jar and microwaving it (after removing the lid) for a few seconds. However, it's worth noting that this method works best when using full-fat or two percent fat milk and is not as effective at frothing milk alternatives like almond, cashew or hemp milk.

Get High-Quality Coffee

As one of the most highly traded international commodities, coffee growers have an unimaginable demand to meet in order to keep all of us coffee lovers properly caffeinated. In an effort to cut costs and maximize profits, in many cases, this causes growers to use harsh fertilizers and pesticides on their crops in order to help them grow more. For this reason, it is crucial for our health and sustainability to buy organic, fairly traded coffee beans. You can find coffee beans in a wide range of roasts and flavor profiles, so choosing the best tasting bean is a matter of personal taste.

You don't need a special type of coffee bean to make homemade espresso, but you do need to grind it to a finer ground than you would for an average cup of coffee. You could buy a pre-ground espresso blend of coffee, but many coffee aficionados find that it's worth the extra effort and expense to invest in a coffee grinder and grind your beans fresh daily. There are many options of coffee grinders available in a variety of prices, but for a quality grind, it's worth getting a burr grinder. This type of grinder uses burrs instead of a blade to pulverize the coffee beans and produce more consistently sized coffee particles, which results in a brew with a more pure flavor.

Other Factors to Consider

Water quality is a critical factor when brewing your own espresso at home. Even the best coffee beans won't produce a great espresso drink without high-quality water. If you live in an area with sub-par tap water, be sure to use the same quality of water for coffee brewing that you use for drinking. In many cases, a simple filtration system like a Brita pitcher is all that's necessary.

Another factor to keep in mind when preparing espresso at home is tamp. This is the pressure at which you compress the ground coffee in the espresso maker when preparing to brew a cup. This is crucial because without evenly compressed coffee, the water flows through the ground coffee too easily and doesn't get enough time to properly extract the flavors. Aim for an evenly compressed batch by tamping a 30 pound press evenly over your coffee grinds. The result should also be level.

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