What Is the Best Espresso Alternative Brew
Espresso making is complicated and expensive, and finding a brew to simulate espresso is an old challenge. Moka pot, Aeropress, and French press are the closest brews to match the bold taste, strength, and unique aroma of espresso. That doesn't mean you will have an espresso, no way. You will have instead unique variations, that have their own charm, and personality, as a brew. You might even love these variations more than espresso. In fact, as a personal anecdote, years back when my wife and I got our espresso machine, I got hooked on instantly, and never looked back at other brews. My wife is still faithful to her morning Turkish coffee cup. She asks me for a shot of espresso from time to time, but that's only twice per month.
Moka Pot, or Stovetop Espresso
The pressure for a Moka pot is very low, compared to espresso, hence the extraction is a lot different. Compare at least 9 bar pressure from a pump in an espresso machine, with merely 1 - 1.5 bar for a Moka pot.
The brewing temperature is higher than the espresso method, and even higher than the drip method. It is slightly above the boiling point, (100 degrees Celsius), while going through the grinds in the funnel, otherwise the brewed coffee won't overflow in the top chamber, through the central column. This method brings the Bialetti brew method closer to drip and Turkish brew methods. For espresso on the other hand, the water temperature is a few degrees lower than the boiling temperature.
The grind size for a Moka pot is somewhere between espresso and drip size. If you grind it too fine, the water will not pass through the grinds, or it will pass too slowly, making a bitter coffee. A too coarse grind, will not extract enough of the oils from coffee, making it an average.
Resist the temptation to press the grinds in the funnel, as you would normally do with your espresso. Compacting the grinds, will make it impossible for the water to pass through.
Moka brew coffee is really great. It is very flavorful, strong, and yet not very acidic, as it often happens with long time, high temperature brew types. If you like Turkish coffee, and espresso, you will definitely love Moka.
Bialetti 6800 Moka Express
Bialetti 6800 Moka Express is one of the best stovetop espresso makers. It is made in Italy, with a beautiful design, (octagon shape), and is made of durable aluminium. Some call this an espresso pot, but this is not the original name, nor does it make real espresso. It is called a Moka pot, and it makes a coffee that resembles to espresso, and Turkish.
The Bialetti 6800 has a security valve, which lets the steam overflow, if your coffee is not going up in the top chamber. This usually happens with compacting coffee in the funnel, or grinding too fine. The pouring spout allows a precision pour, without any spilling. You will have to change the rubber gasket every once in a while, but it is only a couple of bucks, so no big deal.
French Press, or French Pot Coffee Maker
French Press is a great coffee maker, and many people just don't realize that. What makes it so great is its versatility. You can get a few great tasting brew types with this simple and inexpensive device, I'll explain right away.
French press can make a very strong coffee or a milder one depending on the water to grinds ratio. That's not the case with Moka pot, and Aeropress where the strength range is more restricted. You can add some hot water, as in "Americano", but it's not the same thing.
The taste of a coffee prepared with a French pot is in between drip and Turkish. This unique profile is not as gritty as Turkish, but it contains all the aromatic and volatile oils that are stripped down with drip coffee machines. If you like your coffee more dense, more muddy, as many folks from Middle East and Eastern Europe do, just grind your beans finer.
Steeping time and water temperature also plays a huge role in the final taste, If you let your ground coffee steep more you will obtain a bolder profile. Hot water and short steeping will bring the final cup closer to a drip like brew. Water that is not as hot, will give you a mild brew, very aromatic, but less hard on the stomach.
If you don't understand the French pot brewing, you'll think that the coffee is crappy, and you'll even write about it, like Matt Buchanan in this post. Between you and me, I suspect Matt used a psychological trick in his article, to draw people's attention. Negative publicity, and critique, is still publicity... Anyway, with a few little changes you can have a great variety of brews prepared with a French pot, just make sure you use a quality grinder and fresh beans.
The biggest concern with a poor grinder is that the grind is not uniform. This leads to non uniform steeping, more grits in your brew. In fact, the most common complaint about the French press is that the coffee is gritty. People are so put off by this, that they can't even enjoy the great aroma and taste. For those who brew regularly Turkish, this is very easy to fix, and for some this is not even a problem.
- Uniform grinding,
- Stirring before pushing the plunger,
- If you still have floating grinds, add a few drops of cold water, that will "convince" the grinds to sink.
- For clear coffee lovers, just adjust your grind a bit coarser, and that should do it.
- Also do not push too fast as this displaces the plunger from its normal slide.
Traditionally, a French pot coffee contains about two tablespoons of ground coffee per 6 oz of water. The water temperature at brewing time should be between 200 F and 98 F. Steeping time is between 2 and 3 minutes for a small pot.Brew Variations:
- Add colder water, and extend the steeping, for a milder brew.
- Add more coffee per the 6 oz water and you'll have a stronger coffee. Add less coffee if you have a sensitive stomach.
- Grind coarser for a drip like coffee.
- Grind finer for a muddy Turkish like brew.
- Use your imagination.
Bodum 4 Cup French Press Coffee Maker
AeroPress Coffee Maker
Aeropress is one of the greatest inventions in the coffee making industry. In fact, with the proper setup, (I'll get there in a second), it can be as close as possible to espresso.I highly recommend to use the AeroPress with metallic disc filters, since they allow a full body coffee, as close as possible to an espresso. The paper filters proposed by AeroPress are OK for an improved drip coffee, but the problem with any paper filters is that they filter too much, strippin down your coffee of its greatness, the aromatic oils that give coffee the great aroma and taste.
The AeroPress uses pressure to brew your coffee, as an espresso does. The pressure in an espresso maker is over 9 Bars, which for an AeroPress is a bit difficult to achieve. But you can get as high as possible with the pressure by adjusting the grind and the tamping. Grind should be a coarser espresso, or just espresso grind, and tamping should be about 30 pounds as with any espresso.
The steeping before pressing the coffee into the cup should be adjusted to your taste, but it is actually a great step, enhancing the body of your final cup. With espresso, there is no steeping before pulling the shot, but with AeroPress because the pressure is so low, steeping needs to be involved. This actually change the coffee profile a bit, but it is still a full bodied coffee, with a great personality.
If you want to get a cup as close as possible to an espresso, you would have to push the plunger down with a weight of about 650 lbs, (295 Kg), which is almost impossible. I thought I'd mention that since I have read an article where someone said you could get 9 bar pressure in an AeroPress. Here is a calculator converting from bar to Kg/cm2. For 9 bar we get 9.17 Kg/cm2. For a cylinder with the diameter = 2 and 1/2" or 6.4cm, we get the total surface of 32.17cm2. For that surface, we need 295 Kg pressure to get the standard 9 bars needed by an espresso.
The neat thing about Aeropress is that you can use a lower water temperature, and get a smoother coffee, with lower impact on the stomach, if this is a problem for you. The pressure would help tremendously the extraction, even with lukewarm water. You need longer steeping but in a half an hour you can get a cold brew, that normally take days to finish. Here is a complete AeroPress brewing guide.
Aerobie 80R08 AeroPress Espresso Maker
Aeropress is a manual device to push hot water under pressure through ground coffee. Is it an espresso maker? Well, if you can push the plunger with 650 pounds weight, it is an espresso machine, but I doubt you can. Enough with the bad things, this little nifty device has a feature that the espresso machines don't have it, it steeps the grinds before pulling the shot. The steeping allow a much more variety of coffee types, from close to drip, with the paper filters, with cold brew, if you use lukewarm water and steep longer. And to be honest, if you want an espresso, and perfect your technique, you can get a great shot. You have to get the metallic brewing disk for a great espresso.
Brewing DISK Coffee Filter for AeroPress
If there is something missing from the AeroPress, is a metallic disk-filter, as any espresso machine uses.
However, the third party metallic disks filters are a great addition to your Aeropress. If you don't have it and you were wondering why your coffee doesn't taste like espresso, you should try these.
The fine metallic disk filter from Able is a great device, that will dramatically improve your coffee by allowing more oils to pass through into your cup.
Moka Pot, French Press, and Aeropress Side by Side
- AeroPress - espresso grind
- French Press - coarse (drip size or coarser)
- Moka Pot - espresso grind
- AeroPress - you can get a lot of pressure
- French Press - no pressure
- Moka Pot - there is enough pressure developed with a firm tamping, semi-fine grind
- AeroPress - yes you can get crema with firm tamping
- French Press - no crema, you can get a foamy layer with finer grinds, but that contains a lot of grinds
- Moka Pot - yes with a correct grind and a firm tamping, you get crema
- AeroPress - espresso strength, and with longer steeping even stronger
- French Press - strong - drip coffee strength
- Moka Pot - espresso strength
- AeroPress - espresso Cloudiness
- French Press - very cloudy with finer grinds, (the way I like it), with coarser grinds, just a bit cloudier than drip
- Moka Pot - espresso cloudiness
© 2014 Dorian Bodnariuc
Delia on October 10, 2014:
Great information and comparisons...I love my Bialetti stove-top pot, and the wonderful taste of the coffee...flavorful
Johanna Eisler on September 09, 2014:
I really appreciate your clear explanation of the differences between these three coffee-making methods. I'm a little smarter than I was before I read it! :)