Beginner's guide to making great espresso at home

Lauren Farrell

How you grind your coffee beans is a core component to good espresso.

How to make espresso at home

Buying coffee at the cafe all the time can get pricey. Plus, when you know what you’re doing and have the right equipment, it’s pretty easy and time-efficient to make delicious coffee at home.

Whether you prefer lattes or americanos, all good coffees start with a well-made espresso. The espresso shot is where all the rich flavor and taste comes from, but it can take a little bit of know-how to get it just right.

Making top-quality espresso to your exact preferences can take some practice, but it’s worth it to guarantee tasty coffee at home every time.

What is espresso?

Espresso is a very concentrated coffee drink. The term “espresso” actually refers to the brewing method rather than the drink itself.

Making espresso involves highly pressurized water passing through ground coffee beans to extract a small amount of coffee. 

How to make espresso

Step 1: Select your coffee beans

Good-quality coffee beans make the best espresso. Whether you use a light or dark roast depends entirely on your flavor preferences. 

Step 2: Grind the coffee beans

Coffee connoisseurs usually agree that a separate high-quality burr grinder produces the best results.

An overly coarse grind allows water to move through the ground coffee too quickly, making the taste weak. An overly fine grind can produce a bitter taste. 

A good rule of thumb is to time how long it takes to produce 2 ounces of espresso. If it takes less than 25 seconds, your coffee grind is likely too coarse. If it takes more than 25 seconds, the grind is too fine.

Step 3: Preheat the espresso machine

Water temperature is critically important to making good espresso. Make sure your machine is fully heated to the optimal temperature before you begin making your espresso. Aim for 195-205 degrees.

Step 4: Tamp the coffee grind

Add around one heaped tablespoon of ground coffee (16-18 grams) to the portafilter basket of your espresso machine. The tamper, which is usually a metal implement with a flat, round bottom, allows you to push down the coffee beans into the portafilter. 

The most important thing is that the ground coffee is evenly tamped. Once this is done, lock your portafilter into the espresso machine.

Step 5: Brew and pull your espresso shot

Place your espresso cup under the portafilter under the coffee spout. Select the espresso setting on your machine and wait for delicious coffee to appear.

Best coffee grinders for making espresso

JavaPresse Manual Coffee Grinder: available at Amazon
This coffee grinder comes with 18 separate settings so you can get your grind as precise as possible but with a beginner’s hand. It uses only a hand crank mechanism, which is great for noise reduction and portability but does mean it takes longer to grind your coffee. 

Cuisinart DBM-8 Supreme Grind Automatic Burr Mill: available at Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl’s, Home Depot, Wayfair and Sur La Table
If you want a quick and convenient way to grind your coffee beans, this Cuisinart grinder comes with an 8-ounce bean hopper. Simply select how many cups you want to grind for and choose from 18 different settings for super fine or coarse grind. Some users report that certain types of coffee beans can cause the grinder to clog easily.

Kaffe Electric Coffee Grinder: available at Amazon
For a single person or small household, this is a compact grinder for your kitchen countertop that quickly and efficiently grinds beans for making espresso or using in a French press. It’s also very quiet in comparison with other electric grinders, but it’s less precise than other models.

Best espresso coffee machines for beginners

Best manual espresso machines

Flair Manual Lever Espresso Maker: available at Amazon
No electricity or battery power is required for this espresso machine — it’s a fully manual lever system that allows you to press your coffee to your exact taste and preference. Overall, it’s a lovely-looking machine that produces great coffee, but beginners should be aware of the trial and error needed to brew truly tasty espresso.

La Pavoni EPC-8 Europiccola 8-Cup Espresso Machine: available at Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond
This manual press machine comes with a tamper and cappuccino accessory, so all you’ll need is a burr grinder and the beans of your choice. The built-in water tank heats up to produce consistent pressurized steam to make one to two cups of espresso at a time. While there is a relatively steep learning curve in using the machine, users agree that it produces quality espresso.

STARESSO Portable Espresso Machine: available at Amazon
If you want to make hand-pressed espresso while on the go, this machine is compact and requires no power to operate. Simply add your ground coffee and hot water and hand press the espresso with the easy-to-use cylindrical mechanism. However, it only produces one shot of espresso at a time and can be a little difficult to clean.

Best semiautomatic espresso machines for beginners

Breville ESP8XL Cafe Roma Stainless Espresso Maker: available at Amazon
This semiautomatic espresso machine comes with three espresso filters for single shots, double shots or using espresso pods. It comes with a warming tray to preheat your espresso cups and it’s extremely easy for beginners to use.

Gevi Espresso Machine: available at Amazon
Combining ease of use and top-of-the-line flavor extraction, the Gevi machine uses professional-level 15-bar pressurized steam to produce exceptional espresso and crema. All you need to do is load your favorite ground coffee and press a button. However, you will have to manually time your espresso pull as it doesn’t automatically shut off.

Mr. Coffee Café Barista Espresso and Cappuccino Maker: available at Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond
If you like to vary your coffee drinks every now and then, this machine can produce espresso shots, lattes or cappuccinos by pressing a couple of buttons. The milk frother is automatic, so all you need to do is fill up the reservoir. The temperature control can be a little tricky to figure out, but once you get it working for you, it hits just the right temperature to produce a rich espresso.

Best super automatic espresso machines for beginners

De'Longhi Magnifica Espresso & Coffee Machine: available at Amazon and Home Depot
This model is ideal for true beginners who want minimum fuss. It’s a grinder and espresso maker all in one machine, and the automatic settings make it highly consistent. If you’re someone who likes to experiment, even using different types of coffee beans may start to affect this espresso machine’s performance.

Gaggia Brera Super Automatic Espresso Machine: available at Amazon
For people with busy schedules, this machine is easy to use and quick to heat up and dispense your espresso. You can even program customized drinks into the machine to make again and again. However, it has a fairly small capacity. 

Philips 3200 Series Fully Automatic Espresso Machine: available at Amazon and Sur La Table
This fully automatic machine has an adjustable grinder, simple touch display and comes with five pre-programmed coffee drinks to choose from. You can also program the strength and quantity of your preferred espresso into the machine for regular use. Some of the hardware, such as the milk reservoir lid and the power buttons, are a little flimsy.

Lauren Farrell is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.