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Craving for making espresso at home but don’t have the budget or space for an espresso machine? There are a few alternatives you could use to brew espresso or something that comes very close at home that is much smaller and cheaper than a full espresso machine.
The best alternatives for an espresso machine are a manual espresso maker or a moka pot. Both of those come very close to espresso brewed in a normal espresso machine but lack the option to foam milk. A French press can both brew strong coffee and foam milk while also being compact and cheap.
It’s going to be pretty much impossible to create a ‘real’ espresso without a proper espresso machine. There are some options that can help you come close though.
1. Manual Espresso Machine
If an automatic espresso machine is too expensive and/or too big for your kitchen, a manual espresso machine can be a good alternative. A manual espresso machine usually doesn’t have a boiler which means you have to boil the water separately. They also don’t have pumps and so you have to build pressure by pulling a lever, which is why they are called manual.
Many people will tell you that the majority of manual espresso machines might not brew exactly the same espresso as a professional espresso machine but it comes pretty close.
While it’s more work to use a manual espresso maker, they are a lot cheaper (most of them) and smaller than an automatic machine. Many of them are also easy to move around so you could store them easily in a cabinet so it won’t take up space on your countertop all the time.
There are a few good options in this category. Professional grade lever espresso machines are cool and work very well but are just as expensive and even bigger than an automatic one. Compact manual espresso makers like the;
- Cafelat Robot
- ROK Presso
These are all good options that produce good tasting espresso, are built well and compact and while not cheap, they cost much less than a normal espresso maker.
You can also take a look at these: 4 Affordable Espresso Machines That Are Worth Buying
2. Moka Pot
The next good alternative is a moka pot. A moka pot is also referred to as a stovetop espresso maker. It’s the cheapest way to get close to espresso. A moka pot can be had for around $10 and you can get a Bialetti (most well-known brand) for about $30.
It’s a simple aluminum pot that is put on the stove. The heat from the stove boils the water in the boiler and pushes water through the coffee grounds. That means you are using pressure to brew coffee just like an espresso machine. However, the pressure is much lower. A moka pot can create up to 2 bar of pressure at most while a proper espresso machine brews at 9 bar.
A moka pot brews coffee that’s a little weaker and thinner than espresso from a machine but it comes pretty close. This little metal pot can scratch that espresso itch for a whole lot less money.
A Phin is a traditional Vietnamese coffee brewer. It’s a super simple aluminum or stainless steel filter that brews with gravity like a pour over filter. However, because of the finer grind and tamp the grounds in the filter, the liquid drips very slow. Combined with using a very dark roast, that means you get very strong, thick coffee.
Is it Espresso? No. But it’s a strong, thick coffee. It’s often over extracted and quite bitter. To counteract this, add a pinch of salt. The bitterness is also a result of the Robusta beans that are usually used in Vietnamese Coffee.
It’s a pretty good option if you want to create milk drinks like cappuccino or latte. The strong taste stands up to the dairy very well and while drinking it straight might not be your favorite, mixed with dairy yields good results.
4. Nespresso Machine
Despite the name having espresso in it, this is largely marketing. You’re not going to get espresso from a Nespresso or any other cup machine. However, it can brew very strong coffee if you get the settings right.
It depends what you’re looking for if a cup machine is a good option for you. If you like the convenience of cups and being able to brew different types of coffee easily, want to get a quick caffeine shot and taste is not the foremost concern, you can get by with a cup machine.
They are also good for milk based drinks since the resulting coffee is strong, bitter and works perfectly with dairy. The texture will be a bit different than when using a ‘real’ shot of espresso but once you add dairy the differences are very small.
5. French Press
A French press can make strong coffee but don’t expect anything near an espresso. You can make French press coffee stronger than usually but it’ll never be thick and strong like a real espresso or even like a moka pot.
The French press does have one ace up it’s sleeve though. You can use it to foam milk which all the other options on this list are lacking. (Some cup machines can). That means you can make milk drinks like cappuccino with just one piece of equipment that’s relatively cheap.
Clean out the press after making coffee and put hot milk in it. The milk should be around 55-65 degrees Celsius (130-150 f). Then simply move the plunger all the way up and down the press until you’ve got milk foam. It’s quick and simple.
So while the coffee itself isn’t close to espresso, the fact that you can foam milk with the same item still makes it a good and cheap alternative for an espresso machine.
Recommended Espresso Equipment
Besides an espresso machine, there are a few other tools that can make your espresso better. Here are my favorites:
- Espresso Machine: The Breville Barista Express (Amazon) is the sweet spot in price and quality for most casual home baristas. It comes with a built in grinder and most tools you need to brew espresso.
- Tamper: A nice tamper helps you tamp your grounds in the filter for the best result. Any correctly sized tamper can do the job but a nice heavy one just feels so much better in your hand than a plastic model. This Luxhaus one (Amazon) has a nice trick up it’s sleeve to make tamping very consistent.
- Beans: Good espresso starts with good beans. Using fresh beans is a big improvement over pre-ground coffee.
- Scales: Getting consistently good espresso means you have to know how much grounds is going into the machine and how much is coming out and how long this takes. A coffee scale is going to make your espresso much more consistent and also makes adjustments a lot easier. The Apexstone coffee scale (Amazon) is cheap and doesn’t look too sleek but is just as accurate as more expensive scales. The TimeMore scales (Amazon) look and feel a lot nicer but cost a bit more.
- Grinder: To make the best of your fresh beans, a good grinder is necessary. Espresso requires a good grinder to get the best results. The Baratza Sette 30 (Amazon) is a good espresso grinder that can also be used for other brewing methods and while not cheap, is good value for money. If you prefer hand grinders, the 1ZPresso JX-PRO is one of the best options (Amazon)
- Distribution tool: After grinding you can get some clumps in the coffee grounds. Those clumps should be broken up so the water can extract all the coffee grounds equally. Distribution tools are very simple things but this one (Amazon) is beautifully made and will look good in your kitchen.