Being a 20-Something often goes hand in hand with empty wallets, woeful bank accounts and enormous student loans, all of which limit our access to the small (and large) luxuries in life. Thankfully, with a little bit of ingenuity, you can concoct delicious espresso-based beverages on the cheap (without an espresso machine).

The Basics

The good news is that coffee drinks are not as mystical or foreboding as I believed prior to my brief stint as a barista. To put it simply, a latte is espresso (one to two shots depending on the desired strength) plus steamed milk. A cappuccino is espresso plus steamed milk with even more froth. You might add vanilla syrup and give it a fancy name, but the general principal remains consistent.

So, we are left with only 2 questions: How will we brew espresso and froth milk without an espresso machine? In the below recipe I explain just that.


  • Stovetop Espresso Maker (or a French Press)
  • Stainless Steel Milk Frother (or a jar)
  • Shot Glass


  • Milk (Soy, Almond, or Dairy)
  • Ground Coffee
  • Water
  • Dark Brown Sugar (Optional)

Part 1: Brewing Espresso

In this example I utilize a stovetop espresso maker. These are popular in Italy, and can be purchased for under $20, compared to quality espresso machines which cost roughly the same amount as a small yacht. In a pinch, you can also use a French Press, but in my experience this method isn’t quite as delicious.


1) Unscrew the top half of your espresso maker and remove the filter funnel.

Stovetop Espresso Maker Apart

2) Pour water into the bottom part of the espresso maker, being careful not to fill past the safety valve. As a reference point, halfway between the bottom of the compartment and the safety valve makes three shots of espresso in my particular espresso maker. (You need one to two shots of espresso per coffee drink, depending on your caffeine tolerance.)

Safety Valve

3) Put the filter funnel back into the bottom component, and fill the filter funnel with ground coffee all the way to the top.

Filling Funnel with Ground Coffee

4) Screw the top part of your espresso maker back onto the lower part, and place your reassembled espresso maker onto your stovetop at medium heat.


My espresso finished brewing in approximately 8 minutes. However, you will know when your espresso is done when coffee is no longer entering the uppermost chamber of your espresso maker.

Finished Espresso

Part 2: Frothing Milk

In this example, I use a stainless steel milk frother, which can be purchased for around $9. However, if this is $9 too many, you can put your heated milk into a jar and shake it up in order to froth your milk. Admittedly, the traditional method of steaming milk in order to produce froth releases a subtle sweetness from the milk that cannot be replicated with the two methods I have presented. Possibly due to years of lurking in the underbelly of society, my unrefined palate cannot honestly tell the difference.

Stainless Steel Milk Frother

1) Fill the mug you intend to use to drink your beverage halfway with milk, and heat it in the microwave for approximately one minute. In this tutorial, I have used soy milk.

(Note: Soy milk froths easier than almond milk, but both work. Dairy milk froths easier than almond milk but not as easily as soy milk.)

2) Pour the heated milk into your stainless steel frother.

Soy Milk

3) Move the plunger up and down until your milk has frothed the desired amount, keeping in mind that cappuccinos require more froth than lattes.

Frothing Milk
Either way, this process will take no longer than 20 seconds.

Frothed Milk


Part 3: Putting it all Together

1) Measure one shot of espresso by pouring it from your espresso maker into a single shot glass (1.5 oz).

Espresso Shot

2) Pour the shot into your coffee mug (two if you would prefer a double).
Espresso Shot in Mug
3) Quickly pour your frothed milk into the mug on top of your espresso shot.

Inexpensive organic fair trade latte

4) Add a bit of dark brown sugar onto the top of your froth for a little bit of sweetness.

5) Behold your beautiful creation and enjoy!

Latte with Brown Sugar


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