Espresso! That bitter, delicious, concentrated coffee that is overwhelming to drink plain, but a delicious, essential ingredient in countless, iconic coffee shop drinks.
It’s literally what puts the coffee in cappuccinos, in lattes, in americanos, and breves, and almost everything else you can get on those coffee shop drink menus.
And yet, most people don’t know the difference between espresso and regular coffee, and don’t know where to begin when searching for a way to make their own espresso (and espresso drinks) at home.
What’s the difference between espresso and regular coffee?
The short answer is really quite simple: espresso is coffee, it’s just prepared and brewed differently. Espresso beans themselves are typically roasted longer, and have a stronger, more bitter flavor.
The way that coffee and espresso are brewed or prepared is also different; with drip coffee, the coffee beans typically go into a filter, and hot water is poured over the grounds, resulting in coffee (this applies to pour-overs and drip coffee makers, but not french presses). Espresso beans, however, are ground super finely – almost powder-like – and then packed into a tight disc shape. These powdery grounds are then turned into espresso with hot water and a lot of pressure (typically made via steam).
A typical espresso shot is 1oz. Most small-size espresso beverages only contain one shot of espresso. Mediums typically contain 2, and large sizes contain 2-3 shots (or 2-3oz of coffee).
There are lots of different kinds of espresso machines, but there are really only two main kinds that average people own: stovetop espresso pots and automatic espresso machines. Today, I’m going over and recommending stovetop espresso pots.
Stovetop Espresso Pots
Also called moka pots, Italian coffee makers, and stovetop espresso makers, these are the stovetop devices that are often considered to be traditional espresso makers. They’re pretty to look at, and often used in coffee-themed decor. They’re also the cheapest option when it comes to making your own espresso at home.
The main difference between the espresso you get from stovetop pots and automatic coffee machines is that the stuff in the pots is going to be bitterer, and of generally lower quality. If you drink americanos or strait espresso consistently, then upgrading to automatic machine would be advisable. However, if you drink primarily lattes or other drinks, that mix frothed milk and/or flavoring to your drinks, you can often get away with a stovetop pot. Just know that it’s not going to be exactly the same as what you’d get from a coffee shop, and that it might take a little getting used-to.
Affiliate Disclosure: I’ve attached links to the products I recommend here. It in no way affects your purchase price, but if you use the links I provide, you have a quick way to find the products I’m referring to, and I earn a small commission. As an Amazon Affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases. All prices are as of December 2020.
Bellemain Stovetop Espresso Maker Moka Pot (Silver, 6 Cup)
Product: Bellemain Stovetop Espresso Maker Moka Pot (6 cup capacity)
Best Feature: Price
This is the best-rated cheap stovetop espresso maker I could find. It has over 2300 reviews on Amazon as of 12/2020 with an overall rating of 4.6 stars. However, the issues brought up in the majority of the negative reviews are pretty significant: some users have reported that silver aluminum flakes started chipping off over time, which ends up in their espresso and – understandably – is quite concerning.
When it comes to coffee-making machines and devices, you do often get what you pay for. I chose to include this pot because of its low price, because of its capacity for the price, and because it does have so many excellent ratings – so a lot of people do have had very positive experiences with it. However, if you do choose to go with it, make sure you’re aware of this issue, and keep an eye on your machine to make sure it isn’t doing the same thing.
Milano Stovetop Espresso Maker
Product: Milano Stovetop Espresso Maker
Price: $16.99-$44.99 (depending on size)
Best Feature: Price!
This stovetop espresso maker is from Grosche International, which is a great, ethical company, that donates a significant portion of their profits to provide clean drinking water in a variety of developing countries.
This stovetop pot comes in four colors and three sizes, and the price varies based on size. Remember that one typical espresso shot is equivalent to about one once. So, if you only ever get small-size drinks and you’re only planning on buying for yourself, the smallest size should be sufficient for you, as it has a 1.5oz capacity.
I would recommend the middle, 3-cup size, as it has a 5oz capacity (so it makes up to 5 regular espresso shots at a time), which is priced at $25.99, for most consumers. Five shots of espresso should be enough for five small drinks, two regular-sized drinks, or one insanely strong one. You shouldn’t need more than that unless you plan on consistently making espresso for multiple people at once, or if you’re the person who gets multiple extra shots in your already-large size.
This machine is made of durable aluminum, and it has amazing reviews. It is the #1 bestseller in “Stovetop Espresso and Moka Pots” on Amazon, where it has 4.5/5 stars on almost 7,000 reviews.
Bialetti Moka Express Espresso Maker
Product: Bialetti Moka Express Export Espresso Maker, Silver
Best Feature: Ratings & customization options
This espresso pot has a 1-12 cup capacity, and comes in a myriad of different colors, and it has incredible ratings! It has over 18,000 reviews on Amazon, with an overall rating of 4.7/5 stars.
Milano Stainless Steel Espresso Maker
Product: Milano Stainless Steel Stovetop Espresso Maker
Best Feature: Stainless steel quality
Also from Grosche International, this is their stainless steel stovetop espresso maker. And – it should be noted – it’s very large. It comes in two sizes – 9.3oz and 16.9oz. That’s essentially the equivalent of about 9 shots and 16 shots, respectively, so it makes more than enough espresso for the vast majority of consumers.
This espresso pot is a bit on the pricey side, but it has excellent ratings and it’s stainless steel composition makes it much more durable and of much higher quality than any of the aluminum models.
Delonghi Stainless Steel Electric Espresso Maker
Product: DELONGHI EMK6 Espresso, 6 cups, Stainless Steel
Best Feature: It’s electric! And stainless steel
This is actually an electric version of the stovetop pot – it works the same way, but you plug it in instead of having to heat it on the stove. Since induction stoves don’t work great for stovetop pots, this is an awesome option for someone who has an induction stove (or just prefers not to use their stove), but isn’t ready or doesn’t have the space to upgrade to an automatic espresso maker.
This particular electric espresso maker is also made of stainless steel, so it’s of high-quality material. It has a 3-6 cup capacity, and it has 4.6/5 stars on Amazon out of over 1800 reviews.
Do you have any experience with stovetop espresso makers? Have about automatic espresso makers? What are your thoughts on each?
Comment below to share your experiences, any recommendations you have, and any remaining questions you want to ask!