How to Make Espresso Drinks at Home with an AeroPress
If there's one thing I've learned over the past couple of years, it's that good coffee doesn't have to be hard to come by. It's pretty easy to fall into the mindset that you can't start a hobby unless you invest a bunch of money into having the best tools.
On the surface, coffee can look like that at times. When you walk into your local cafe, you'll probably see baristas pulling shots on a big, fancy espresso machine. You'll see them grinding beans on a $1,500 grinder and using all sorts of other crazy-looking gadgets. The truth is, you don't necessarily need any of this to make a great cup of coffee—or even great espresso—at home.
As lovely as it would be to dish out a thousand dollars right out of the gate for an espresso machine and grinder, this option isn't in the cards for everyone. There are great alternatives for those on a tighter budget that will get you espresso-like coffee without digging into your savings. Buying good quality coffee beans and opting for non-traditional brewing methods are the best ways to start you on your path to a delicious, low-cost cup of joe.
If you're looking to step up your coffee game and can't afford an espresso machine, the Aeropress might be right for you. An AeroPress is versatile and can be used to brew up some excellent espresso-style coffee (among other things). For less than $100, you can get an AeroPress and a Hario Skerton hand grinder to pull your very own faux-espresso shots at home!
Another way you can spice up your machine-less espresso is by cutting it with milk. There are ways to steam milk at home without a whole espresso machine if you're a fan of macchiatos, cappuccinos, cortados, or lattes. Although it's hard to beat a professional milk steaming machine, one of the best alternatives you can find is the Bellman Stovetop Steamer.
The Bellman Stovetop Steamer is a somewhat expensive option for those on a tight budget. That said, it will get you machine-quality steaming capabilities and a delicious creamy result. It could take a bit of getting used to if you've never used a real steam wand before, but there are tons of videos online showing you how to perfect your technique.
Another option is a handheld milk frother like this one from IKEA. They are significantly cheaper, but the result tends to be less creamy and more aerated steamed milk. If you like to keep it old school, you can always warm your milk up in a pot on the stove or use the microwave. If all else fails, you can add regular milk straight from the fridge!
What is an AeroPress?
Created in the early 2000s by engineer Alan Adler, the AeroPress has gone from a niche brewing device to a must-have item for coffee geeks worldwide. There's even an annual World AeroPress Championship, with regional and national qualifiers in over 40 countries!
The AeroPress itself is very unassuming. It looks more like a piece of PVC pipe from your local hardware store than a Swiss Army Knife coffee gadget that can bring your home-brewing game to the next level. The device is composed of:
the main chamber
a plunger with a rubber seal that goes into the top of the chamber
a filter that attaches to the bottom of the chamber
a paper or metal filter goes into the filter section, so grounds don't get pushed through into the cup.
Thanks to hundreds of coffee forums, thousands of pioneers—and certainly a lot of trial and error—you can find ways to turn your $30 AeroPress into a DIY espresso machine!
A Tried and True AeroPress Espresso Recipe
James Hoffman (or Jim Seven as some people might know him) is one of the most prominent specialty coffee ambassadors globally. A former World Barista Champion, Hoffmann spends much of his time reviewing coffee beans, machines and discusses just anything related to the industry. He also comes up with new recipes for anyone looking to dive deep down the coffee rabbit hole. Hoffmann's AeroPress espresso recipe is my personal favorite when I'm looking for a quick fix. After a few tries, you'll be brewing up delicious mock espresso like a pro!
What You'll Need
18g good quality coffee beans: medium-fine grind (for this article, I used Kaku by Rabbit Hole Roasters) *Note: Espresso roast might work best for this recipe
90mL water @ 212°F/100 °C (or just off boil if you don't have a thermometer)
Stir stick or spoon
Phone timer or stopwatch
Sturdy mug or glass
AeroPress + 1 filter (you can add a second for a bit more clarity)
Espresso cup (optional, for serving)
How to make espresso with an Aeropress
Push the plunger halfway up the chamber (roughly to the letter 'P' in the picture above).
Invert the AeroPress (plunger side down), and add the 18g of ground coffee.
Put the paper filter into the filter attachment, and pour some hot water through it to eliminate any paper taste.
Pour in the 90mL of hot water and use the stir stick to ensure no clumps in the chamber.
Twist on the filter, and start a timer for 90 seconds.
When the 90 seconds is up, flip the AeroPress, give it a little swirl and place it filter-side down against the mug (see picture above).
Put gentle pressure against the plunger, and keep pushing until you see it can't go any further. *Note: Don't stop when you hear the hiss!
Sip and enjoy!
Although there's no thick crema like you might find when you pull a shot on a real machine, you still get a great body and mouthfeel. I like to drink espresso with a glass of sparkling water on the side, but feel free to add a bit of milk or sugar if that's your style. Remember, the only wrong way to drink coffee is by forcing yourself to drink it in a way you don't enjoy!
How does the Aeropress compare to an espresso machine?
The way an espresso machine gets such a delicious, concentrated final product is through pressure. Espresso machines force water through a tightly-packed portafilter, which is why the result doesn't look the same as filter coffee you'd find at your local diner. Pressure is the key to getting that signature taste, with a nice robust body and, if you're lucky, some crema.
Conveniently enough, the AeroPress also uses pressure—thank the engineers for this one! Using the plunger, you force the water through the coffee grinds in a small chamber, pulling out all the delicious chemical compounds we know and love.
Although it lacks the pressure of an espresso machine, the Aeropress is the cheapest way to get your fix of espresso-like drinks brewed at home.
What Kind of Coffee Beans Should I use?
The key to brewing a great cup of coffee starts with the beans you put into your machine. Well-roasted, ethically sourced coffee beans will come with a higher price tag than anything you'll find on your grocery store shelf. These specialty beans are well worth the dynamic flavors you'll see in the final cup. Even better if the beans are sourced and roasted by a local coffee roaster! For espresso, you're generally looking for beans that are within 2-4 weeks of their roast date. Don't worry; if your coffee beans are a bit older than this, you should still be okay!
To maximize the espresso-like quality of your cup, try to look for coffee from origins that are known to have heavier bodies, with rich, sometimes chocolatey sweetness to them. South American coffees from Brazil and Colombia come to mind, but if you're looking to try something different, go for something from Indonesia! I opted for a coffee from Yunnan, China, with classic rich flavor notes such as almond, cacao, and cherry. I tend to be cautious with coffee from China. I buy beans from reputable roasters who source from transparent producers.
Ideally, your beans should be a "medium" roast. While well-roasted dark roasts can be delicious, make sure the beans don't look oily. Oily or "sweaty" beans are a telltale sign that they're over-roasted and have lost many of the chemical compounds that make coffee taste as great as it does.
Can I use fine espresso grind coffee in an Aeropress?
We recommend a medium-fine grind for this recipe based on recommendations from Aeropress. The suggested grind is finer than you would use for drip coffee but coarser than a typical espresso grind.
That said, coffee brewing is about experimentation and getting the most out of your beans. When using a fine espresso grind in your Aeropress, it takes a lot of extra effort to push down on the plunger to get the water out. This difficulty in making the water go through the filter can lead to over-extraction. If your coffee is harsh or bitter, consider shortening the 90 seconds steep time or switching back to a coarser medium-fine grind.
Once you've mastered AeroPress as a makeshift espresso machine, you might want to take the next step and check out the Fellow Prismo. At $25, this easy-to-use AeroPress attachment can add a whole new dimension to your faux-espresso shot pull. This attachment forces the water through a small hole, creating even more pressure in the chamber. The Prismo has some die-hard followers who swear that it's the best alternative to an espresso machine on the market. For environmentally-conscious coffee drinkers, the Prismo also comes with a reusable metal filter!
If you want to get even closer to cafe-level espresso drinks, Breville Duo-Temp Pro starts at about $450. We like the Breville Barista Express for people who have a bit more money to spend on an entry-level all-in-one setup.
With the right beans and the right recipe, the Aeropress can produce espresso-like drinks for a fraction of the cost of an espresso machine.
If you've fallen down the rabbit hole that is the world of AeroPress, check out the AeroPress Movie!
Who knows, perhaps you’ll love the Aeropress so much that we’ll see you at the next World AeroPress Championships!