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Sometimes you want something a little stronger than your regular coffee. An espresso would be nice now and then but you don’t want to buy a whole new machine just for a few cups of espresso. Can you somehow use your normal coffee machine to make that espresso you’re craving? Here’s what you want to know.
A drip coffee maker is not capable of making a drink like espresso because the lack of pressure means it can’t extract enough from the coffee grounds quickly enough. An espresso machine uses 9 bar of pressure which makes extraction much faster and more efficient and can therefore use less liquid.
How does that work exactly and what can you do if you crave that strong, intense tasting coffee? Let’s find out.
Can You Make Espresso In A Regular Coffee Machine?
Espresso machines and regular drip coffee makers brew in very different way that result in very different types of coffee. While it’s possible to make very strong coffee with a drip coffee maker, it’s not possible to brew proper espresso with one.
Is it possible to get an espresso out of a normal coffee machine?
We have to look at two things to answer that question:
- What is espresso
- What is a normal coffee machine?
Most consider a drip coffee maker a normal coffee machine so that’s what I’ll assume you mean as well. A drip coffee maker usually has a cone you put a paper filter in, the coffee grounds go in the paper filter and the machine drips the water on top of the grounds, and the coffee goes through the filter into a carafe under it.
An espresso is usually considered a drink. Technically it refers to the brewing method though. While that might seem like a small distinction, it’s quite important for our question because the two are inseparable. More on that later.
Most people think of the drink when you say espresso. So let’s look at that first. An espresso is a small amount of liquid but with a very strong and intense taste and it packs a big caffeine punch for such a small amount.
Is it possible to get that tiny amount of liquid with the same punch as a ‘real’ espresso from a normal coffee machine? No it isn’t and that’s because the brewing methods are just too different.
What makes espresso?
It’s not possible to make espresso with a normal drip coffee machine. There are a few reasons for that.
An espresso machine pushes hot water through a bed of finely ground coffee under high pressure (around 9 bar). The high pressure and finely ground coffee means that the coffee grounds are extracted really quickly and with really little liquid.
Because of the high pressure, you need less water to get everything you want out of the coffee grounds. That’s why espresso is so viscous and tastes so intense. There are so many compounds and oils from the coffee beans in that little amount of liquid actually makes it thicker.
Without the high pressure, it’s not possible to extract so much from the coffee grounds, even if you grind very finely (which increases surface area), you won’t extract the grounds as quickly as when using pressure. That means if you just put espresso grounds in a normal drip machine, and you pour in enough water to get 1 Oz. of liquid in your cup, that liquid will be very weak compared to espresso from a machine.
The high pressure in an espresso machine (9 bar) means the coffee grounds are extracted much faster and more efficiently. Less water is needed to extract everything you want from the grounds which is why espresso can taste so intense while using so little water. A normal coffee machine doesn’t have the same pressure and needs to use more water to extract the same amount from the coffee grounds which means it’s more diluted and nothing like espresso.
How to make stronger coffee with a drip coffee maker
So making actual espresso isn’t possible to make with a drip coffee maker. But can you make something that’s a lot stronger than your normal coffee? Yes, you can, but you’ll need more liquid than for an espresso and it won’t taste the same.
Here’s what you can do:
- Grind your coffee beans fine or use espresso grounds.
- Use a dark roasted coffee
- A coffee blend that has +-80% Arabica and 20% will taste stronger and have more caffeine.
- Make the paper filter wet with hot water. (A separate kettle will help. Put the paper filter in the basket but pour hot water in the basket before putting any grounds in it. Wait for it to drain and pour out the water.)
- Add enough water to the machine
- Pour the coffee grounds in the filter. (Start at 65 grams per liter, you can bump it up to 70 or 75 grams per liter if you need)
- Add a little bit of hot water, just enough to make all the grounds wet but not more.
- Wait 45 seconds
- Turn on the coffee machine and let it brew until you have enough.
The resulting coffee will be quite a bit stronger than usual but it won’t be anywhere near espresso.
To get closer to espresso without a machine, get your hands on a moka pot. That little Italian aluminum pot is capable of producing about 2 bar of pressure and can therefore get a lot closer to espresso than a drip coffee maker.
Affordable espresso machines for home use
What if you really do want that real espresso but don’t want a huge machine that costs way too much? There are a few options for you. Be warned, making espresso is an expensive hobby and even the cheap options are still not super cheap.
One of the best espresso makers for under $500 is the Gaggia Classic Pro (Amazon). It’s been produced for decades and has a pretty big fan following. It produces great espresso, is well built and easy to use. Yes, $500 is a lot of money but if you’re serious about making your own espresso, it’s worth it. However, because it’s a pretty popular machine, you can see if there are some second hand ones available. Because it’s so well built, buying second hand is not a problem.
It’s possible to just use an espresso machine and just make an Americano if you want something closer to drip coffee. However, there are a few machines that are capable of brewing both espresso and normal coffee. They aren’t too expensive and make life easier. They also take up less space than two separate coffee makers. Most people don’t want that much clutter in their kitchen so a combo is a good solution. The De’longhi All-in-one (Amazon link) makes both espresso and drip coffee for a relatively friendly price.
Another good option is a lever espresso machine. Some of them are very expensive but there is also a brand that makes pretty affordable ones. Take a look at Flair espresso presses. The cheapest model costs less than $150 which isn’t cheap but it is capable of brewing good espresso, especially if you compare it to the prices of other lever espresso makers. It also looks cool and is a great conversation piece in your kitchen. They’ve also got higher end models that are even better built and look a bit nicer.
In the sub $250 price range you’ll be much better off with a manual espresso maker than an automatic one. Of course the automatic machines just take a push of the button and the lever machines require some elbow grease. If comfort is more important than the difference in taste, an automatic one is better.
Finally, you can look at coffee makers that use cups or capsules like the Keurig. While a Keurig won’t make “real” espresso, you can get a small but very strong cup from it. There are cups that contain espresso grounds and if you select the smallest cup size, it’ll brew a very strong, small cup of coffee.
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.