Espresso: Overview, Steps to Make It, and How to Order It at Starbucks

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Espresso is the base for many coffee drinks like latte and cappuccino. Find out the different ways to order this drink or how to make it at home.

Espresso in small white mugs.

What is Espresso?

  • Espresso is a method of making concentrated coffee. An espresso machine forces hot water through finely ground coffee using pressure (around nine bars). The espresso coffee drink that’s produced is called an espresso shot and the process of making the drink is called “pulling a shot.”
  • Coffee made in a French press, Moka pot, and Aeropress is NOT espresso since it isn’t made using nine bars of pressure. The French press uses the immersion method, not pressure. The Moka pot uses the percolation method and the Aeropress use the pressure method but not enough pressure to call the drink espresso.
  • A single espresso shot can be ordered at Starbucks but most coffee shops make the drink with two shots.
  • Solo refers to a single shot (1 ounce) of espresso and doppio for a double shot (2 ounces).
  • It’s pronounced ESS-PRESS-SO, not EX-PRESS-SO.

RELATED: Blonde Espresso, Ristretto, Lungo, Flat White, Cortado, Macchiato

Differences Between Espresso and Brewed Coffee

Espresso shots are made using the pressure method where hot water is forced through finely ground coffee. Brewed coffee is made using the gravity filter method where water flows through coffee slowly.

Espresso is made in seconds using high pressure, while brewed coffee can take 3-5 minutes. The application of pressure in espresso creates flavor compounds from the coffee that you can’t get with brewed coffee.

An espresso is a highly concentrated coffee drink that is syrupy and intense in flavor. Brewed coffee is much milder and is usually enjoyed in larger quantities starting at 8 ounces. 

Both espresso and brewed coffee can use the same kind of coffee grounds. Usually, espresso beans are darker roasted, but there’s no one way to roast coffee for espresso. You can use the same coffee for both brewed coffee and espresso. Coffee ground for espresso is much finer than brewed coffee.

BARISTA’S TIP: Most coffee shops serve espresso with a small spoon called a demitasse spoon. The crema on top of an espresso is often much more bitter than the liquid below, so the spoon helps to incorporate the flavors together. If you’re not convinced, take your spoon and just scoop a small amount of the crema on its own! The experience will be mind-blowing! 

Difference Between Espresso and Ristretto

Espresso and ristrettos are made the same way but ristretto is made with less water. It’s a smaller sized drink than an espresso and it’s referred to as a short shot, meaning the shot is shortened from a regular espresso.

Espresso at Starbucks

Espresso can be ordered in four sizes: solo (a single shot, .75 oz), doppio (double shot, 1.5 oz), triple (three shots, 2.25 oz), quad (four shots, 3 oz). Most menus have espresso at the very bottom of the list of drinks. 

There are different roast and caffeine options for espresso: blonde or decaf. If you want less caffeine, you can order it with 1/2 decaf, 1/3 decaf, and 2/3 decaf. If you order a doppio and ask for 1/2 decaf, you’ll get one espresso shot caffeinated and the other half, decaf.

Espresso in a small white mug.

What You’ll Need to Make an Espresso

  • Espresso machine 
    To make authentic espresso, you’ll need an espresso machine to get the proper amount of pressure. To get espresso-like coffee, you can use a Nespresso, Aeropress or a Moka pot.
  • Coffee grinder
    If your espresso machine doesn’t have one, you’ll need to get one that can finely ground coffee for espresso.
  • Whole coffee beans
    Use coffee beans you already have for your coffee machine, or one that’s recommended for espresso.
  • Filtered water
    Always use good quality water to make any coffee drink.
My Espresso Machine Pick

Photo Credit: crateandbarrel.com

The espresso machine I use every day to make espresso-based coffee at home. There is a bit of a learning curve, but definitely worth it.
SEE PRICE ON CRATE & BARREL

How to Make Espresso at Home

For full ingredients and instructions, scroll down to the recipe.

  1. Fill and tamp your portafilter with finely ground coffee.
  2. Pull 1-2 shots of espresso.
    Serve and drink immediately.

BARISTA’S TIP: Getting a great shot of espresso takes a lot of practice. What you want to look for is crema, the light brown froth that sits on top of the liquid. The crema gives espresso more flavor and indicates a good shot. Freshly roasted coffee beans will have lots of gas, so the crema will be very thicker than older coffee beans.

Expert Tips

  • Espressos are drinks meant to be served immediately. It’s advised to make them to order, not to make a batch at a time for a large group of people.
  • Some folks, especially in Italy, might not even say “espresso” but simply order a solo or doppio. This refers to a single or a double shot of espresso.
  • Most brewing devices for espresso purposely don’t have paper filters and that’s on purpose. Part of the flavor of espresso is the insoluble oils and compounds that are in coffee. They give espresso its mouthfeel and syrupiness.
  • It’s common to see home espresso machines boast how many bars of pressure their machine can achieve. 9 bars is optimal and more than that will pull out unfavorable flavors in the coffee.

Questions You May Have

Can you make an espresso without an espresso machine?

You can only make espresso-style coffee without an espresso machine.
An espresso machine uses 9 bars of pressure (about 130 pounds per square inch). Stovetop espresso makers (like the Moka pot) and Aeropresses use pressure to brew coffee but don’t use as much pressure as an espresso machine so while they make concentrated coffee drinks, the coffee produced isn’t authentic espresso.

Can you make espresso in a Nespresso machine?

Nespresso machines make espresso that’s similar to one made in an espresso machine but it’s technically not considered espresso. Nespresso also use pressure to extract coffee out of coffee grounds and most machines are designed to make espresso-based drinks. Nespresso machines have pre-portioned espresso pods that you can use to make espresso. The resulting espresso will look a lot like the espresso you’re used to seeing—highly concentrated with a crema on the top. 

Can you make espresso in a Keurig?

Keurig can also make espresso-style coffee, but it’s not recommended. There are certain Keurig machines that are designed for espresso, but Keurig machines are much more tailored to drip coffee. 

Can you make espresso in a French Press? 

No. Espresso requires high pressure to be applied to the ground coffee which isn’t possible with a French press.

Is espresso stronger than coffee? 

The strength of your drink depends on how much ground coffee you use. A 10 ounce cup of brewed coffee uses about 20 grams of coffee — that’s about the same amount of coffee you’d use for a double shot of espresso. 

What is crema? 

Crema is a frothy, light brown layer that sits on top of the espresso. The crema traps a lot of aromatic compounds, so it dissipates quickly. Drink the espresso while there’s still a layer of crema on top. 

How do you drink espresso? 

As the name implies, espresso is meant to be drunk quickly, in 2-3 sips. You can add sugar if you’d like and you can use a demitasse spoon to incorporate the crema and the espresso together.

What kind of coffee do you use for espresso? 

You can use any kind of coffee you’d like! Traditionally, coffee for espresso is roasted a little darker than for drip coffee but that’s not a rule and you can try drinking espresso with any of your favorite coffee beans. 

Can you eat espresso beans? 

Yes! Chocolate-covered espresso beans are a common treat, and you’ll still get the caffeine benefits from eating espresso beans as you would drinking espresso. Although these are popular treats, that doesn’t mean you’ll like just grabbing espresso beans by the handful. Espresso beans can be hard to chew through and they generally don’t taste super pleasant—that’s why they’re often served dipped in something sweet like chocolate. 

Why is making espresso called pulling a shot?

Older espresso machines applied pressure to coffee using a lever and a set of springs. Baristas would literally pull a lever down and activate a spring that would push water through espresso. That’s where the term comes from.

Espresso coffee in a small white mug.

Drinks to Make with Espresso

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How to Make Espresso

Author: Jee Choe
Espresso is the base for many coffee drinks like latte and cappuccino.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 3 mins
Total Time 3 mins
Course Drinks
Yield1 serving

INGREDIENTS
 

  • 15-18 grams freshly ground coffee
  • filtered water

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Remove portafiter and run the water through the machine (grouphead) to remove any leftover coffee grounds.
  • Fill portafilter with finely ground coffee. Level and tamp filled portafilter. Remove loose ground coffee off the portafilter.
  • Put portafilter into the grouphead and place a cup under the portafilter. Pull shots.
  • After pulling shots of espresso, remove the portafilter and flush grouphead.

NUTRITION

Sodium: 4mg
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