A Beginner’s Guide to Making Espresso Coffee

Espresso has to be one of the purest, most intense and (in my eyes at least) most delicious ways to enjoy coffee. It may be a little more difficult to get into than a cheap filter machine or, heaven forbid, instant coffee but it’s well worth it. In this novice’s guide to making espresso, I’ll take you through the basics of what equipment, supplies, and how-to knowledge beginners need to get into making espresso coffee so you can start your adventure as quickly and easily as possible!

Fourth Estate’s Beginners Guide: What is Espresso?

The first thing of note for complete newcomers is that espresso is not just one drink which pretentious people swig down at the end of a meal, it’s the basis for a huge array of coffee drinks such as Lattes, Cappuccinos, Americanos and so many more. These all start with one (or more) shot of espresso which, when mixed with hot water, milk, sugar, syrups or whatever else you want can be transformed into the beverage of your choice.

A shot of espresso is produced by drawing hot water (not quite boiling) through a solid “puck” (a kind of compacted disc) of ground coffee at extremely high pressures (generally 15-bar). That may sound complicated, but from the user’s point of view you scoop some coffee into a little metal disc, press it down, stick it in the machine, flick a switch and enjoy the espresso. As you become more and more invested in espresso making, you can begin to fiddle with more features, custom-making espresso that’s just right for you. But, for the beginner, this guide is all you’ll need to make an awesome espresso drink.

Now that you understand what espresso is, we’ll dive into the equipment and processes you need to understand as you launch into your espresso-making journey.

What Kind of Coffee Do I Need (Beans, Pods, or Grounds)?

No beginners guide to making espresso is complete without a section dedicated to selecting the right type of coffee for your espresso drink. There are many different kinds of coffee, and many many different kinds of espresso machine, but we can break them down into three main categories: Coffee Pods, Whole Bean Coffee, and Ground Coffee.

Coffee pods are becoming increasingly popular as a convenient way to make a single-serving cup of coffee. However, they give you a lot less flexibility in what you can buy (often being tied into one manufacturer’s pods) and they tend to be a lot more expensive in the long run.

Whole bean coffee and ground coffee are the same basic product (coffee beans) but… well, one’s whole and one’s ground!

If you’re just starting out making espresso, I’d recommend getting a machine which takes loose coffee (not pods) and I’d definitely opt for packs of ground coffee to begin with. Eventually, you may decide you want to make the leap and grind your own whole beans, but a beginner will barely be able to tell the difference between espresso coffees.

What Kind of Espresso Machine Should I Buy as a Novice?

There’s a coffee machine for every budget, so cost should be the first thing considered. If you want to spend less than $60 on an espresso machine, I’d advise you to hold off for a while and save your money until you can afford a more elegant machine. To get any half-decent espresso machine you’ll want to spend at least $100 or $150, even at the low end of the market.

Depending on what route go down (pods vs loose coffee), you can take a brief respite from this guide and jump on over to my best espresso machines guide to help you make a sound purchase decision. I’ve personally tried every single product I recommend, so you can be sure you won’t go wrong.

Mr Coffee Machine. This sleek looking espresso machine is black and silver, and sized to conveniently fit on most surfaces.

Do I Need Any Other Equipment?

Basically… no.

But, as with any hobby, there are plenty of little bits and pieces to stash up on over time to make the experience even more enjoyable.

The first of these will probably be a quality tamper which is what you use to apply firm, even pressure to your ground coffee after scooping it into the filter. You might get a cheap, plastic one with your coffee machine but it’s definitely worth investing in a heavy, quality, metal tamper – such as my personal choice, the Vktech – to really compact those grounds and get the most robust flavor possible.

Another accessory which you will eventually want to add to your espresso-making repertoire is a good grinder. Unless you have a super-automatic machine (and the budget to boot) which does all of that for you, you will definitely need a grinder one day if you want to graduate from pre-ground to whole bean coffee.

My personal grinder is the Hario Ceramic Coffee Mill Skerton Storage Capacity which I’ve had for years and has yet to fail me. There’s something extremely satisfying about grinding your beans by hand, as opposed to the noisy electric counterparts.

Reflective, silver espresso tamper. The device possesses an hour-glass like shape and can be used to press coffee into a compact disc for making espresso.

Finally, as much as any cup will do the job just fine, you may want to invest in a range of different cups for your different espresso coffee drinks. The obvious first choice is a few espresso cups, as these allow you to accurately measure single shots of espresso and, also, is a much more sensible drinking vessel than a mug for such a small amount of liquid.

My current favorite espresso cups are the effortlessly and stunningly stylish DeLonghi Double Walled Thermo Espresso Glasses.

Coffee beans, both ground and whole, lay at the bottom of a small, glass cup of espresso. & Cup. Fourth Estate's beginners guide to making espresso includes coffee, machine, and other recommendations.

From Beginner to Enthusiast, Now You Know How to Make Espresso!

And there you have it!

Hopefully you’ve found our beginners guide on how to make espresso coffee to be thorough and helpful, and we hope you’re ready to enjoy a fine espresso drink of your own making. While there is much more to learn about making espresso, this guide provides you with the basic information relating to coffee, equipment, and how-to that is necessary to begin your personal espresso journey.

If you’ve enjoyed Fourth Estate Coffee’s guide to making espresso, please feel free to share the article or invite friends to review. We love coffee, and we like to share that enthusiasm with beginner and experienced espresso drinkers alike.

If you’re still completely flummoxed and need assistance with anything to do with coffee, machines, or accessories, feel absolutely free to send me an email and I’ll be happy to help in any way I can.