How to Make Espresso: The Best Beginner’s Guide Online

Updated on: June 2, 2023
Author: Alex DeCapri
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How to Make Espresso

If you are a big drip coffee drinker, you might be interested in trying your own espresso at home. With the proper gear, ambition to learn, and a bit of patience, you will be pulling your own espresso shots in no time.

Not sure what makes a great beginner espresso setup? Check out our reviews of the best espresso machines, grinders, and other accessories that you will need to get started.

Grab a cup of coffee and continue reading as we discuss in detail how to make espresso, full of tips and tricks to help you better your craft and pull the perfect shot.

How to Make Espresso with an Espresso Machine

1. Choose your coffee

First things first… make sure you start with some quality beans. Traditionally, darker roasts are used for Italian-style espresso shots. However, there are still a few coffee roasts to choose from. 

Medium-to-dark roasts generally have a flavor profile that works well with espresso, emphasizing more nutty and chocolatey notes.

Full-bodied coffees that are sweet with low acidity are popular choices for espresso. They also pair really well with steamed milk if you plan on creating espresso drinks like cappuccino, latte, or flat white.

Many roasters make blends specifically for espresso, but beans with a light roast can make delicious espressos as well. Picking a light roast single origin could be perfect if you want to appreciate the nuances of a particular coffee as a single or double shot.

Whatever you pick, make sure the beans you select were recently roasted. Coffee is best when used within a reasonable time of roasting.


Make sure you don’t grind your beans for espresso for at least two days after roasting.

Roasted coffee needs sufficient time to rest. There is a degassing process that lasts between a few days and up to two weeks. (1) Carbon dioxide is slowly released from the beans’ interior during this time.

To be safe, wait at least five days after a roast before using coffee for espresso. Carbon dioxide affects this style of brewing more than other methods, and you definitely don’t want off flavors and bad crema in your shots of espresso!

One more tip: buy whole beans and store them in an airtight container. Don’t put them in the fridge or freezer because you run the risk of the beans absorbing unwanted odors and moisture.

2. Turn the machine on

Give your espresso machine ample time to warm up and start heating water to the correct temperature. If you have a machine with a reservoir (and not a plumbed-in espresso machine), make sure that it’s filled with filtered water if it does not already have a filter.

3. Measure the coffee

Reach the desired weight

For this step, accurate measurements are important! You do want the perfect shot after all! Make sure you are using a scale that can measure within 0.1 grams and weigh out the right amount for your espresso.

If you don't already have one, here's a great option from Amazon:

  • Single shot: 7-9 grams
  • Double shot: 14-18 grams 

15-16 grams was the sweet spot for most roasts at the specialty coffee shop where I worked, but it all depends on the bean, roast level, and desired attributes in the final cup.

4. Grind the coffee beans 

This may be the most frustrating step, as it generally takes a few tries at pulling espresso before you dial in the perfect grind size.

For espresso, you want to use a very fine grind size.

How fine is very fine?

Something finer than granulated sugar but coarser than powdered sugar. If your grounds look like the white sand you would find on a picturesque beach, it’s too fine.

Make sure you only grind your coffee immediately before making espresso. Ground coffee that sits out for a while becomes stale fast (since you vastly increased the surface area by grinding).

You want to make a delicious espresso, not something that tastes like cardboard.

Purge your grinder before putting in your measured coffee beans. If you are using an electric grinder with a hopper, it probably has a cleaning lever that you can flick to vibrate any stuck coffee grounds out of the machine.

Once clean, grind your coffee.

5. Distribute the coffee grounds

Once the espresso machine is warmed up and the water is hot, flush the group head with an empty portafilter attached.

Wipe down the portafilter with a rag and carefully place your finely ground beans into it. Use a distribution tool to evenly distribute the grounds so that there are no clumps. 

If you don’t have a tool, tap the side of the portafilter gently with one hand while holding it in the other. Try to shake the grounds into an even distribution, cleaning up any excess grounds on the rim with your index finger. One quick swipe is all it takes.

6. Tamp the ground coffee into the portafilter

Tamping the Filter Basket

Place the portafilter on a rubber tamping mat or a folded towel towards the edge of the countertop. Keep the portafilter level while you tamp down hard.

Make sure to tamp straight down and not at an angle.

How much pressure should you use to tamp the grounds? Go as hard as you comfortably can and make sure to keep it consistent shot after shot. You want to ensure that there is an even bed of finely ground coffee beans in the portafilter.

If you are worried about consistency, there are calibrated espresso hand tampers that you can set to a specific force to tamp with the same pressure each time.

7. Get your scale and cup ready

Grab the same scale you used earlier and place it on the espresso machine under the group head. Place an espresso cup on top of the scale. You can use a ceramic espresso cup, but a 3-ounce clear glass will help you clearly see the shot you are pulling.

Ideally, you want your espresso cups warm and as close to the temperature that the espresso will be leaving the machine at. This helps keep the espresso warmer for longer and may improve the crema.

Some argue it may affect the taste as well.

Start with a brew ratio of 1:2. It’s what most coffee shops use as their ideal ratio of coffee grounds to espresso liquid.

This means if you use 14-18 grams of coffee for a double shot, you want to have 28-36 grams of liquid espresso in your cup when you stop the brewing process. 

Try not to mess with this ratio too much, as there are many other variables to adjust if you want to change the taste of your espresso.

8. Place the portafilter in the group head

Purge the group head if you haven’t done that already. Then, put the portafilter in and lock it into place.

Pro Tip: Don’t leave the portafilter locked into place for too long before pulling your espresso. You risk burning the dry grounds before extraction.

The group head gets very hot.

9. Pull the espresso shots

Espresso Coffee Cup

Press start and watch the coffee start to trickle down into a beautiful espresso.

Don’t forget to tare your scale and start the timer before hitting “start”!

You want to shoot to achieve the 1:2 brew ratio between 24 to 30 seconds. Don’t expect your first shot to be perfect. Even coffee shops adjust their timing multiple times each morning until all the variables are dialed in just right for the perfect espresso flavor.

Keep tasting and adjusting as necessary. 

If you are using 15 grams of coffee grounds, you want to stop the espresso once you have 30 grams of liquid in the cup. 

If this happens much quicker than 24 seconds, try using a finer grind size to slow down the water moving through the grounds. If this happens much slower than 30 seconds, use a coarser grind size to let water pass through more quickly.

10. Clean up

Between each pulled shot of espresso, it’s important to properly clean each part of the machine as necessary. 

Remove the portafilter from the group head and get rid of the coffee puck inside. The easiest way to do this is by using a knock box. If you don’t have one, it’s a game changer for improving the flow of espresso brewing.

Seriously, it beats using the garbage can or burning your hands!

Wipe the portafilter clean and reattach it to the group head. Purge the portafilter to get rid of any remaining residue or ground coffee that may still be stuck in the components.

There you have it! A delicious shot of espresso made 100% by you.

Don’t worry if it’s not great the first few times. Keep tasting and adjusting as necessary, and you’re bound to make a tasty espresso shot.

How to Make a Better Espresso Shot

Now that you know how to make espresso, can you make your shots even better? Does your espresso taste sour? Is it bitter and hard to drink? 

You will need to change the amount of coffee used, grind size, and other variables in order to get the best shot of espresso possible for each coffee that you try. Each bean and roast requires different adjustments.

A darker roast will react differently than a lighter roast.

Nothing can replace your palate. Keep pulling, tasting, and adjusting as necessary until you get an espresso shot that you love. After all, the only thing that matters is if you like the taste of your coffee. Play with both a single espresso shot and a double espresso shot to really become a pro!

Follow the following tips below to learn how to make espresso taste even better.

Keep Your Espresso Machine Clean

This may seem obvious, but it’s worth stating: a clean machine is a functioning machine. If you don’t properly care for it, parts can fail, residue can build up, and the flavor is ultimately affected.

If you have a reservoir espresso machine, make sure to rotate the water regularly or only fill it up before use. This will help avoid limescale buildup. Use high-quality filtered water if your machine is incompatible with water filters.

Make sure you also remember to wipe down the portafilter, steam wands for milk, and other components that you use. If you get into the habit of wiping and purging water through the system as you go and immediately after pulling a shot, it’s much easier to remember.

Follow your machine’s suggested regular maintenance and warmup/shutdown procedures, and troubleshoot any issues right as they happen.

How to Fix a Sour Espresso Shot

If your espresso tastes sour, it is most likely under-extracted.

In order to extract more coffee during the brewing process, you can use a finer grind size or use more coffee.

A smaller grind size will slow water through the coffee puck as it’s pushed through the portafilter. Using more coffee brings more coffee grounds in contact with water, creating a less watery espresso as well.

Make sure to only change one variable at a time to see how each affects the final espresso.

How to Fix a Bitter Espresso Shot

If your espresso is overly bitter, over-extraction is your most likely culprit.

In order to extract less coffee, try switching to a coarser grind size or using less coffee.

Again, we suggest only changing one variable at a time so you can see the effects in flavor.

A larger grind size will allow water to travel through the coffee grounds faster. Using less coffee can create a more watery espresso, something you may want if the brewed coffee was too bitter with an overpowering body.

Monitor Temperature and Humidity

Temperature & Humidity

If you live in a place where temperatures and humidity fluctuate regularly, your machine will react differently when brewing espresso.

If you calibrated the perfect espresso shot in the cool morning but intense heat and stormy weather roll in later in the day, you will notice that your espresso tastes differently.

Coffee shops that work with their doors open are constantly adjusting their espressos throughout the day, due to changing temperatures. 

This probably won’t be a major issue for you if you are using your machine occasionally in your temperature-regulated house or office, but it’s worth considering.

How to Make Espresso Without Espresso Machines

Do you want to make great espresso, but aren’t prepared to invest in a pricey espresso machine?

While espresso requires high pressure, you can create something similar to this tasty coffee drink using what you already have at home whether that’s a pod espresso maker or another common brewing device like a French press.

How to Make Espresso with a Moka Pot

Caramel Colored Crema

This is your best option for brewing an espresso-like-coffee at home without a machine.

To start, fill this reservoir of this espresso maker reservoir with filtered water. Then fill the smaller reservoir with very fine coffee grounds. Place the device on the stovetop on medium heat and wait until the espresso starts to fill the chamber.

Once it gets close to the top of the Moka pot, lower the heat and eventually turn it off.

How to Make Espresso with a French Press

Normally, the French press is used with coarse coffee grounds. To make something like espresso, you want to use fine grounds for a stronger flavor. 

Place 2 tablespoons of coffee into the French pass. Boil ¾ cup of water and let it cool for a bit before adding it to the coffee grounds. Wait 3 minutes and 45 seconds, then slowly press the plunger down as far as the French press will let you.

It may be harder than normal to push the plunger down due to the size of the grinds.

How to Make Espresso with an AeroPress

Start Brewing Espresso

James Hoffman, a revered coffee roaster, YouTuber, and 2007 World Barista Champion, developed a recipe for making “espresso” with an Aeropress. (2)

  1. Place a paper filter in the cap and rinse with hot water.

  2. Place the plunger inside (but do not push in far) and invert the AeroPress so that it is upside down.

  3. Add 18 grams of ground coffee to the brew chamber. It should be ground fairly fine (a bit coarser than an espresso grind). He recommends a dark roast.

  4. Pour 90 grams of boiling water over the grounds.

  5. Stir to remove any clumps, a little bit aggressively.

  6. Fasten the filter cap and let sit for 90 seconds.

  7. Flip the AeroPress and press gently into a cup. Keep pressing all the way through the hissing to brew espresso.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do you make espresso at home without a machine?

You can make espresso at home without a machine by using a Moka pot, French press, or AeroPress. While true espressos require high pressure, the Moka pot will get you something similar.

Fill the reservoir of the Moka pot with filtered water. Then fill the smaller reservoir with very fine coffee grounds. Place the device on the stovetop on medium heat and wait until the espresso starts filling the chamber. Add milk to make one of your favorite espresso drinks, like a latte or cappuccino.

Can I make espresso with regular coffee?

You can make espresso with any type of coffee bean or coffee roast. Medium and dark roasts are more popular among espresso blends, as they give the espresso a full body, sweetness, low acidity, and nice crema, the light brown foam that people have come to love in espresso. Regardless of the coffee used, make sure to use a very fine grind size.

Is espresso just black coffee?

Espresso is just black coffee in the sense that only black (roasted) beans are used. However, black coffee isn’t necessarily espresso. Espresso requires forcing hot water at high pressure through finely ground coffee. Espresso also has a crema - or foam layer - that regular black coffee doesn’t have.

Bottom Line

There you have it, now you know how to make espresso! By following the 10 steps of this article, you can successfully make espresso with a machine.

We also gave you some options to make something similar to espresso using brewing methods you probably already own (if you don’t have an espresso machine available).

Remember, keep tasting and adjusting until you pull the perfect espresso!

Alex DeCapri is a curious coffee writer and specialty coffee roaster. Currently, he is slowly making his way from the United States to Brazil in his camper van, visiting as many coffee farms as possible!
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