Similar to how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares; all espresso is coffee, but not all coffee is espresso. Espresso is a coffee brewing style that involves finely ground coffee beans and highly pressurized water to create an espresso coffee shot.
The term espresso typically refers to a shot, but it can also refer to many different drinks with varying water, milk, and froth levels. In addition, each espresso coffee drink that involves an additional element has its own unique name and preparation method.
What is an Espresso?
An espresso shot involves pushing hot, pressurized water through finely ground coffee beans to create a bold-flavored coffee with a golden layer of crema. This method creates a dark and robust coffee shot that can be enjoyed solo or with water or milk additives. One shot of espresso will be between 1 oz and 1.25 oz.
Does an espresso shot have more caffeine than coffee? According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), each 1 oz shot of espresso contains 63 mg of caffeine. Compare that to 12.5 mg of caffeine per ounce in a regular cup of coffee, and it is easy to see why ultra-concentrated espresso drinks are so popular.
Espresso has Italian origins dating back to the 1800s. The name espresso directly translates to "to express" or "to press out," which perfectly describes the brewing process. In Europe, espresso coffee is frequently ordered as a caffe espresso or a pressed-out coffee.
Who Invented the Espresso Coffee Machine?
What is credited as the first espresso machine made its appearance at the General Expo of Turin, Italy, in 1884. Angelo Moriondo developed a steam-powered coffee machine that won the bronze medal at the Expo and paved the way for developing the espresso machines we use today.
He named his invention the "new steam machinery for the economic and instantaneous confection of coffee beverage." While it is a very descriptive title, espresso machine has a better ring to it.
In addition to the bronze medal at the 1884 Expo in Turin, Moriondo was granted a six-year patent. However, it took the work, knowledge, and innovation of Luigi Bezzerra and Desiderio Pavoni to modify Moriondo's design to a smaller scale. The reduced scale allowed espresso to be made at home and in smaller coffee shops.
How to Brew an Espresso Coffee at Home
There is an art to brewing the perfect espresso. Espresso coffee beans, water quality, and even the shape and temperature of your cup all play an essential role.
Due to the intense nature of espresso, dark roasted coffee beans are generally the go-to when brewing espresso. While you can experiment with different roast levels for espresso, the grind level must always be fine. Finely ground coffee allows the steaming water to adequately saturate the coffee grounds without clumping.
Water is the unsung hero of high-quality coffee. When brewing coffee, the water should be filtered and taste wonderful on its own. After all, coffee is over 98% water, so the taste of your water is integral to the taste of your espresso shot.
When drinking espresso, the cup plays a role in the aesthetics as well as the flavor. An espresso cup should be between 2 and 3 oz. Any larger than 3 oz and the crema will spread too quickly, become too thin, and then disappear.
Espresso shots require a lot of effort to prepare and take a mere 30 seconds to brew. A pre-warmed espresso cup will keep your espresso warmer for longer. There is nothing worse than a coffee drink going cold before you can finish it.
Equipment For Making Espresso at Home
Cold-brew, for example, does not require specific brewing equipment, but the majority of at-home coffee brewing methods will, including espresso. Therefore, before brewing espresso shots at home, you will need to acquire specific equipment, like:
Espresso brewing machine or Aeropress
- Burr grinder
- Frothing tool
At-Home Espresso Brewing Machines
For the water to be pulled through the finely ground espresso coffee beans, you will need a machine to assist you. There are four types of espresso coffee machines that range from manual to fully automatic:
Main Types of At-Home Espresso Brewing Machines
- Fully automatic
A manual espresso machine is operated by a pull lever, which is how the term “pull” became associated with brewing espresso. A manual espresso coffee maker requires a level of mastery reserved for professionals or serious at-home espresso connoisseurs.
Semi-automatic espresso coffee makers use an electric pump to maintain consistent pressure. Since it is a semi-automatic machine, you can control the pour by stopping the extraction process. In addition, these machines typically come with a steam wand to heat and froth the milk.
Fully automatic espresso machines do all the work, with an excellent payoff. You input the espresso coffee beans, water, and milk, then let it work its magic. A fully automatic espresso machine will grind the beans, pull the shot, and froth the milk to the specifications of the drink you choose.
Capsule-style espresso machines use pods in the same way a single-serve coffee maker does. Pop the espresso pod in the machine, pull a lever or push a button, then wait a few seconds for the capsule machine to produce a fantastic espresso shot with crema.
The Best At-Home Espresso Coffee Bean Grinder Style
While there are many choices for coffee bean grinders, one clear coffee bean grinder style is better than the rest. Instead of chopping the coffee beans like a typical coffee grinder, the burr grinder crushes the coffee beans between two hard surfaces. As a result, the burr grinder will give consistently uniform coffee grounds, making it the best at-home coffee grinder.
How to Froth an Espresso at Home
The froth level plays a vital role in each espresso coffee drink. You can create a thick and luscious froth or a microfoam at home using one of the three methods below.
3 Ways to Froth Milk Without an Espresso Machine:
Handheld and countertop milk frothers are an excellent way to get a perfect layer of froth to your morning espresso coffee each day. However, if you are looking for a more multi-purpose product, you can use a French press or a whisk.
Using a French press to make a milk froth is simple. Add steamed milk to your French press, replace the lid, then press the plunger up and down until the milk doubles in volume. If you only have access to a hand whisk, you can whisk the steamed milk while it is on the stovetop until you have the desired amount of froth.
Step-By-Step Guide for Brewing an Espresso Shot at Home
- Espresso machine with a portafilter
- Coffee beans
- Burr grinder
- Filtered water
- Knock box
- Mug or decanter
- Start with the coffee beans ideal for brewing espresso.
- Using a burr grinder, grind the espresso coffee beans until they are fine. They should be the size of a grain of salt. Then, loosely fill the filter cup.
- Use the tamper to press the coffee grounds down into the filter cup. The grind level of the coffee beans plays an important role in ensuring the water can pass through the coffee grounds.
- Brew the espresso. A proper espresso brewed between 1 and 1.5 oz is considered a “short” pour.
- A properly brewed espresso will have a thick enough crema to support a teaspoon of sugar for five seconds. In addition, a pre-heated cup will help to maintain the temperature of the espresso shot.
5 Most Popular Espresso Coffee Drinks
Espresso shots are amazing on their own; they are often the kick we need to start our morning or push through the afternoon slump. However, there is a vast world of glorious espresso coffee drinks waiting to be created at home, in your own kitchen.
Espresso Coffee Drinks to Make at Home:
- Caffe Americano
- Caffe Latte
- Flat White
Caffe Americano or simply Americano gets its name from the Italian spelling of American. This espresso drink is diluted to be similar in strength to what the typical American prefers.
There are two common ways to prepare an Americano:
- 2:1 water to espresso shot ratio
- 3:1 water to espresso shot ratio
The 2:1 ratio is the one most often used when making an Americano. This ratio creates a lightened flavor while still preserving some of the dark bitterness that espresso is known for.
How to make an Americano espresso at home:
- Finely grind espresso coffee beans
- Brew espresso
- Boil water
- Pour the boiling water over the espresso shot and enjoy!
An Americano will still possess the signature crema that espresso drinkers love. The number one rule for making an Americano is: do not add milk. If you are a fan of adding milk or milk substitutes to your espresso shots, there are plenty of other great options.
The caffe latte is the dairy version of an Americano. Caffe latte directly translates to “coffee and milk” in Italian.
While an Americano is an espresso shot, boiled water, and foam, a latte is an espresso shot, steamed milk, and a layer of foam. A 2:1 ratio of steamed milk to espresso shot makes the ideal caffe latte.
Cow's milk is the preferred additive for espresso drinks because of its chemical makeup. The protein chains in milk are activated by introducing heat and air to produce a surfactant that can trap bubbles.
These bubbles are what create the frothy texture in an espresso. The fat in cow’s milk allows the milk to coat these bubbles, giving the espresso a creamy texture. Depending on your dietary needs or choices, cow’s milk might not be an option for you.
5 Non-Dairy, Plant-Based Espresso Coffee Options
- Oat Milk
- Macadamia Milk
- Pea Milk
- Coconut Milk
- Almond Milk
How to make a caffe latte espresso at home:
- Finely grind espresso coffee beans
- Steam milk using an espresso coffee machine, or heat milk on the stovetop at medium-low, then froth with a whisk
- If preparing milk on the stovetop, heat to 150 degrees. Froth steamed milk and wait between 30 seconds to a minute before adding to your latte
- Brew espresso
- Pour steamed milk into espresso shot while holding foam back with a wooden spoon
- Add foam on top and enjoy!
The cappuccino is one of the most popular espresso coffee drinks in America. While other espresso drink names are direct translations of their function, the cappuccino has a more whimsical backstory.
The name cappuccino comes from the Capuchin friars, founded in 16th-century Italy. After the espresso, milk, and foam are mixed together, it creates a light brown color. This shade of brown reminded coffee drinkers of the Capuchin friars' robes.
If you’re new to making espresso coffees at home, it might surprise you to discover the differences between a latte and a cappuccino are negligible. While a latte is a 2:1 steamed milk to espresso ratio, a cappuccino is equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and froth.
How to make a cappuccino espresso at home:
- Begin with finely ground espresso coffee beans
- Steam milk in an espresso machine, or heat and froth milk. You will want equal parts milk and froth.
- Pour milk and froth over the espresso shot
- For a special treat, sprinkle cinnamon or cocoa powder on top and enjoy!
Macchiato is the Italian word for "stained." Similar to most other espresso coffee drinks, this name is a literal translation of how the milk is incorporated into the espresso.
A macchiato is an espresso with a dollop of steamed milk or froth. So, the espresso coffee drink is stained by the milk.
How to make a macchiato espresso at home:
- Finely grind your espresso coffee beans
- Brew your espresso
- Heat milk to 150 degrees
- Froth your milk
- Spoon a dollop of foam onto your espresso and enjoy!
The flat white espresso coffee is very similar to a latte and cappuccino. However, instead of having equal parts espresso, milk, and froth like a cappuccino or a small amount of froth like a latte, the flat white has a minuscule amount of microfoam.
The microfoam on a flat white is less than .79 inches (20 mm). It is just enough to fully cover the top of the drink for a consistent color. If you are a fan of pretty milk designs, rest easy because there is enough microfoam for latte art.
Another difference between the three milky espresso coffee drinks is the amount of espresso. While a latte and cappuccino are typically made with one espresso shot, a standard flat white is made with a double shot of espresso.
How to make a flat white espresso at home:
- Select then finely grind espresso coffee beans
- Brew espresso
- Steam milk in an espresso machine, or heat and make microfoam
- Wait between 30 seconds to a minute to allow the foam to absorb into the espresso
The Beauty of Making Espresso Shots and Espresso Drinks at Home
Whether you enjoy an Americano, a cappuccino, or a strong and solid espresso shot, brewing espresso shots at home can be a rewarding experience. By ensuring you have dark roasted coffee beans, high-quality water, and the necessary equipment, you can put those coffee chains to shame from the comfort of your kitchen.