The pleasure of drinking espresso coffee at home, without going to a café, is quite appealing. However, the price of espresso machines might prevent you from exploring this possibility further. Fortunately, there are other options to consider.
The AeroPress is a simple device that brews a concentrated shot of coffee. While it can’t do everything that a proper espresso machine can, it may be a good choice, depending on your priorities as a coffee drinker. Here are the factors to consider in AeroPress vs. espresso machine battle.
How does the AeroPress work?
The AeroPress consists of two pieces, both made of plastic: a tube-like brewing chamber and a plunger that fits inside it. It brews a single serving of coffee directly into your mug.
First, you put a paper filter inside the filter cap of the brewing chamber. Then, you set the brewing chamber on top of your coffee mug.
After that, add ground coffee and hot water to the chamber, and stir them together. This part of the process is similar to the French press brewing method in that the grounds are immersed in water.
Next, insert the plunger into the brewing chamber, and push the plunger down slowly. This will force the coffee through the paper filter into your mug. Compared with other brewing methods like Chemex, French press, and Moka Pot, AeroPress has a fast brewing time.
The resulting coffee is similar to an espresso shot. It is much more concentrated than regular coffee, so you may want to add some hot water to your mug at this point to make an Americano.
The AeroPress is light, compact, and works without electricity, making it a popular choice for travelers. You’ll need a separate heat source for hot water, but the AeroPress will work with cold water if you are okay with drinking cold brew.
How does an espresso machine work?
The espresso machine forces water through compressed coffee grounds at high pressure. The result is a thick, concentrated coffee that can be used to make various milk-based coffee drinks.
Home espresso machines usually have a water reservoir tank you need to fill up before using the machine. Meanwhile, those intended for commercial use connect directly to a water line.
Espresso machines have electric boilers that heat the water to the necessary temperature and need electricity to work. However, there are portable espresso makers that are compact, tough enough to withstand travel, and don’t require electricity, as long as you have a way to boil water.
Another question you’ll face as you consider buying an espresso machine is whether it is manual or automatic. For a manual espresso machine, you’ll have to apply pressure yourself using a lever. For an automatic espresso machine, you simply press a button to pull a shot. Some integrated espresso machines can also have a built-in grinder.
A portafilter is a basket with a handle that holds the coffee grounds. It attaches to the machine’s group head, where the hot water flows out.
When you are ready to pull espresso, you use a tamper to pack finely ground coffee tightly into the portafilter. You then lock it into the group head and apply pressure, either with the manual lever or by pushing the button to pull a shot.
Aeropress vs. espresso machine: the main differences
Comparing AeroPress vs. espresso machine point by point can help you better understand your priorities in a coffee machine. As you read through the differences, you’ll likely discover whether a lower price or greater control over the brewing process is more important for you.
0.35 to 0.75 bar
9 bars or more
The pressure is not high enough to produce crema.
High pressure creates crema.
Easy to clean under a running water.
Requires regular deep cleaning and maintenance.
A good espresso machine for home use costs between $400 and $700.
The manufacturer instructions for the AeroPress note that it is possible to use an espresso grind in an AeroPress if you only make a single serving of espresso. If you are brewing more coffee, you’ll want to default to medium-fine grind for AeroPress brew.
For AeroPress, you don’t want to grind your coffee beans as coarsely as you would to brew French press coffee, as your coffee will be under-extracted and taste sour.
Finely ground coffee is essential for an espresso machine. This grind size ensures that just the right amount of vivid flavor is extracted from the beans into the resulting coffee liquid.
Both brewing methods perform their best with freshly ground beans, so you’ll want a good burr coffee grinder.
The AeroPress performs best with water that is hot but not boiling. The ideal water temperature for AeroPress coffee is 175-185°F (80-85°C). However, the versatile AeroPress can also produce delicious cold-brew coffee if you fill it with cold water.
Espresso machines operate with much higher water temperature and heat water to 197-205°F (92-96°C). While automatic espresso machines will heat water without you having to think about it, you will need to boil the water separately for lever or handheld espresso makers.
Since AeroPress is an immersion brewing system, there is no need to tamp the ground coffee. The brewing process is closer to the French press when the coffee grounds are immersed in the water before the plunger is depressed.
Tamping the coffee grounds is necessary for making espresso if you use an espresso machine. It helps even saturation and ensures that the coffee puck does not dissolve. Compacted coffee creates more resistance to water going through it and helps to extract maximum flavor.
AeroPress reaches 0.35 to 0.75 bar of pressure. Even a Moka Pot can produce slightly more pressure than an AeroPress.
For extracting a rich, consistent espresso, brewing pressure should be around 9 bars. The smaller, portable versions usually stay around that figure, while some higher-end models can reach up to 15 bars.
Although Moka Pot and AeroPress coffee makers produce a concentrated brew, the high pressure necessary for true espresso can only come from an espresso machine. Some espresso machines even have a visible gauge where you can see exactly how much pressure is applied during the extraction process.
Crema, an oily layer on top of an espresso shot made up of microbubbles of carbon dioxide gas, is produced by high pressure. It’s more for texture than flavor, but it can give espresso a smoother mouthfeel. The capacity to produce high pressure, and therefore crema, is one of the key differences between AeroPress and espresso machines.
AeroPress is not designed to produce crema. While you may find some hacks on the internet suggesting using fine grind or even adding cream when brewing coffee, these tricks are not exactly how compact coffee makers are meant to work, so results are not guaranteed.
Using freshly roasted coffee beans can make a massive difference in how much crema you get with an espresso machine. It will also increase your chances of getting at least some crema from an AeroPress. Even if you don’t end up with crema, you’ll have a better coffee flavor as a tastier consolation prize.
Researchers digging into the science of coffee also found that Robusta beans produce more stable crema than Arabica coffee beans. If you are trying to tip the scales in your favor for getting crema out of a brewer that’s not designed to provide it, using Robusta beans might help.
As you compare coffee makers, it is important to be realistic about what each coffee gadget is built to do. The AeroPress makes concentrated coffee well, but anything more complex isn’t guaranteed. If the crema is a high priority for you, the best way to get it is with a real espresso machine.
AeroPress coffee is known for low acidity, making it an ideal option for people with digestive issues with other types of coffee. The AeroPress taste is on the light and bright side.
The AeroPress typically uses a paper filter. As in other coffee brewing methods that use paper filters, some of the coffee oils get absorbed by the filter, resulting in a less rich coffee than espresso. You can get closer to a thick espresso mouthfeel with your AeroPress if you replace the paper filter with a Fellow Prismo attachment that allows you to build up more pressure for a full immersion brew.
Prismo is a pressure-actuated valve designed to attach to an AeroPress Coffee Maker to craft espresso-style coffees. It creates a no-drip seal for full immersion brews. The special valve stays sealed until you press down and creates a build-up of pressure to brew coffee with a consistency closer to espresso.
However, you will need an espresso machine to achieve the flavor intensity that espresso is known for. Espresso machines use built-in metal baskets rather than paper filters, so you get the oils in your coffee. This provides a rich taste and creamy texture.
Espresso coffee can be bitter if you don’t know what you are doing. If your espresso coffee is too strong or bitter, you might try using freshly roasted specialty coffee beans, as the espresso brewing process can be especially sensitive to bean quality. Any high-quality coffee beans can work in an espresso machine, but espresso beans, which tend to be roasted dark, are prepared to shine especially well with brewing coffee.
Cleaning and maintenance
AeroPress maintenance is very easy. You can simply rinse it after use, although cleaning with warm water and dish soap is occasionally necessary to eliminate coffee oils. AeroPress can also go in the top rack of the dishwasher.
If, after extensive use, you have the problem of an AeroPress not sealing, you may need to remove the seal on the end of the plunger, clean it, and put it back in place. You can also buy a replacement rubber gasket for an AeroPress, as the seals tend to wear out over time.
An espresso machine has many moving parts, which makes it more work for you to clean and maintain. While you can’t just rinse the whole thing under the kitchen faucet like you can with an AeroPress, you must wash the espresso machine’s portafilter to remove coffee grounds and oils.
Some espresso machines have milk-steaming attachments. Cleaning a steaming wand is essential as milk residue can quickly grow mold and bacteria. Beyond that, especially if you have hard water in your area, you will need to periodically run a descaling solution through your machine to remove mineral deposits.
Regular use of a descaler eliminates limescale and other hard water mineral deposits and prevents corrosion, significantly extending your machine's lifespan and enhancing the coffee taste. It is compatible with all single-use coffee & espresso machines, including Nespresso, Delonghi, Hamilton Beach, Braun, Bunn, Cuisinart, Tassimo, Krups, Saeco, and more!
An AeroPress coffee maker costs $40, which is rather an inexpensive way to make strong coffee. Paper filters are an ongoing minor expense for AeroPress, although a metal filter is an option that lets you filter coffee without waste.
The most basic espresso machines start at around $100, but you shouldn’t expect consistency when brewing coffee with those. They use steam rather than high pressure to brew coffee, so you will get a lot of bubbles in your crema, and the coffee might taste burnt. A good home espresso machine can cost $2000 or even more.
Choosing between AeroPress and an espresso machine
The main difference between AeroPress and espresso machine brewing methods is that only the latter produces true espresso coffee. An AeroPress only brews espresso-like coffee. However, if you prefer not to spend much money, a low-cost and maintenance AeroPress may be close enough to satisfy your craving for espresso at home or on the road.
Why choose an AeroPress?
An AeroPress is designed to make good coffee using the immersion technique. It’s a great option if you want a compact and inexpensive coffee maker to travel with you and brew coffee quickly. The low cost is a major advantage of AeroPress.
That said, there’s no need for AeroPress to be a boring way of making coffee. You can get creative with the AeroPress recipes and drinks. With a low barrier of entry, you can often get straight to the fun part, like combining additional flavors, without getting stuck on the finer points of how to pull an espresso shot.
A household name amongst baristas and coffee enthusiasts worldwide, the AeroPress Original is a coffee press that uses a rapid brewing process to make smooth, full-flavored coffee without bitterness and with low acidity. The AeroPress Original brews a full-bodied coffee with maximum flavor every time! It is lightweight, compact, and durable and easy to pack for camping or traveling.
Why choose an espresso machine?
The main reason to buy an espresso machine would be if you truly appreciate the complex qualities of espresso. Coffee enthusiasts who savor crema will be happiest with an espresso machine in the long run, even if it requires a big initial investment and practice.
Many espresso machines also have steaming wands, which are great if your favorite beverage contains milk.
An espresso machine can be tricky to master. You have more control over brewing coffee, which is good if you know what you are doing and bad if you don’t. But once you get comfortable, you will take pride in your newfound knowledge.
The Barista Series offers all-in-one espresso machines with an integrated grinder to go from beans to espresso in under one minute. Digital temperature control delivers water at precisely the right temperature, ensuring optimal espresso extraction. The powerful steam wand allows you to hand texture microfoam milk that enhances flavor and enables you to create latte art.
Espresso-style coffee from AeroPress may satisfy your desire to enjoy great coffee at home. However, purchasing a home espresso machine will help you develop your barista skills. As long as you are honest with yourself about the amount of money and effort you are willing to invest, you can make the right decision.