Coffee hack: How to make espresso drinks at home without the fancy machines
Making your own coffee drinks at home can literally save you thousands of dollars over time. Here are two simple tips and some great coffee gadget ideas to help you make the absolute best cappuccino, latte, macchiato or café au lait right in your own kitchen, at a price you can afford every day.
I am a self-proclaimed and unashamed coffee addict. The hubs and I jokingly call ourselves coffee achievers. A few weeks ago, when we were standing in line waiting for our latest obsession — cappuccinos — I whipped out the calculator and did some simple math.
I was shocked at how much we would be spending if we did this on a regular basis (and of course we want our cappuccinos on a regular basis!). Something needed to be done before we broke the budget. Just a cup a day five days a week totaled out to a whopping $993.75. Each!
In typical DIY form, we started researching how we could make our cappuccinos at home. They had to taste good enough so we wouldn’t default back to the local coffee shop. Well, I’m happy to report we have been enjoying them at home ever since.
So what is a cappuccino, and how does it compare to other popular coffee shop drinks?
- A cappuccino has a greater percentage of foamed milk to steamed milk. Although it might seem like you’re getting half a cup of foam, the flavor of the drink is more intense and less “milked-down” than a latte's.
- A latte has equal amounts of espresso and steamed milk, topped with a bit of milk foam.
- A macchiato is an espresso with just a little “mark” of foam. So no steamed milk.
- A café au lait is made with coffee instead of espresso. Hot steamed milk is added, and it has no foam.
So how do we make this expensive drink taste so good without an expensive espresso machine? I'll be referencing cappuccinos for this tutorial, but you can use the above breakdown to help you make your coffee drink of choice.
Tip 1: Learn to make a high-quality cup of espresso
Espresso is not a type of coffee bean or a type of roast but rather a method of brewing coffee. But let’s back up and start with the grind…
Many baristas will tell you that the first and most important piece of gear for making espresso is the grinder. Use the freshest beans you can get your hands on, and grind them one cup at a time with a burr grinder. A blade grinder tends to burn the beans with its metal blades spinning at such high speed. A burr grinder uses two revolving abrasive burrs and crushes the beans a few beans at a time so beans are ground in a more uniform size without burning them. For this reason, burr grinders are much quieter and produce fine, consistent grounds, which can be more precisely adjusted than those ground with a blade grinder.
I have a countertop electric burr grinder for larger batches, but recently I’ve discovered you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for a good grinder. This portable Skerton ceramic hand grinder by Hario (Amazon.com, $24) is affordable for any budget and is a great size for traveling. Now that's a win!
So now that we have fresh ground coffee, let’s move forward with brewing…
While it’s undeniably true that you’ll never get the flavor of a Slayer espresso machine (those start at $9,000!) from an in-home espresso maker, it is still possible to make a quality cup with the right tools.
I have two favorite methods of brewing espresso at home, the first being an AeroPress (Amazon.com, $30).
This method is super quick and easy and produces an amazingly flavorful cup of espresso (or coffee if you want a café au lait). You simply insert a filter, add your fresh ground coffee, pour in very hot water, stir for 10 seconds, then slowly press the plunger down right into your cup. I was pleasantly shocked when I tasted my first sample. I had to bring it to the hubs for a taste, and we both were impressed with how much flavor was extracted from this little gadget. We’re also excited that we now have a lightweight espresso maker that is the right size for packing and camping.
The second method brings us to Italy with a stovetop moka pot. This little red moka pot by Imusa (Amazon.com, $14) is great if I have a couple of minutes to sit by the stove and watch while it brews. Since the water has to come to a boil for it to percolate and create pressure, it has a more “cooked” flavor. With this method you can’t walk away from the pot, or you risk boiling it dry.
Tip 2: Learn to whip up a big mountain of milk froth
This is where it gets really fun. Steamed milk is easy peasy. Just pop it into the micro, or gently heat on the stove until hot and steamy but not boiling. This little handheld Knox gadget (Amazon.com, $5) does a whopper of a job frothing hot milk. Then simply pour or spoon it over your coffee drink.
The trick to getting a nice, thick, wet froth is using whole milk. You can also use almond milk, coconut milk or low-fat milk; it just takes much longer to work up a nice froth. I'm showing it here in a glass mug so I can show off the nice, thick clouds of milk foam!
Tip 3: Use filtered water
Let’s face it: Typical city water contains ingredients that affect the taste. Depending on where you live, there may be fluoride, chlorine and unwelcome minerals and sediment that can affect the taste of your water, so starting with filtered water is a safer bet.
Before you go, check out our slideshow below.