A moka pot is a nifty device that brews coffee using the pressure of steam. The moka pot is also called stovetop espresso coffee maker. This coffee brewing method is very popular because it brews a strong concentrated coffee that uses pressure during extraction. The moka pot is the choice of many coffee lovers because it’s inexpensive, easy to use, and very reliable. You can probably use one of these devices forever if you take care of it properly. People also love the taste of stove top coffee, which is basically a rustic espresso with a lot of bite.
The macchinetta, as the Italians call it, was invented by Luigi de Ponti, and he patented it for Alfonso Bialetti in 1933. The exact same model is still sold by Bialetti as Bialetti Moka Express. The full history of the macchinetta here. The aluminum made octagonal coffee maker is the favorite way of making coffee for millions of people.
How Moka Pot Coffee Tastes
People call Moka pot coffee espresso. Technically, we can call it espresso, because the brewing method involves pushing hot water through a puck of coffee. Taste-wise it’s not really an espresso, because it tastes differently. The reason is the water temperature, which is hotter than the pump espresso, and the lower pressure during brewing.
Moka pot espresso is a rich coffee with a full body, with full notes of chocolate and caramel. There are also more bitter accents in a stovetop espresso. Probably more than in most of the coffee brewing methods.
If you love strong coffee, and you aren’t afraid of some bitter notes, this is definitely for you. If you add sugar to your coffee, you will fall in love with this brewing method. Italians use sugar with their coffee prepared in a macchinetta. You can use sugar in two ways, more about that in the preparation technique section.
If you need an espresso-like coffee for your milk-based beverages, the stovetop espresso is a great option. The milk will mellow down the bite, and you will get a flavorful cup similar to the drinks at Starbucks. You can prepare a great cappuccino, or latte using the espresso brewed in a moka pot.
Bialetti Aluminum Moka Pot
The Italian moka pots are among the best, at the end of the day they invented the brewing methods, and they are constantly improving it. I love Italian kitchenware, because of their quality, and great design.
They are just a joy to use, and the Bialetti moka pot makes no exception. Bialetti is the company that brought stovetop espresso on everybody's table, and they continue the tradition.
This is the Bialetti Moka Express, one of the most sold in the world. The pot is made from aluminum, it's easy to disassemble and clean, and has a 2 years warranty. They have 5 dimensions ranging from 1 cup to 12 cup, plenty to choose from depending on your family size.
How to Brew with a Moka Pot
Most people will tell you that brewing with a Moka pot is very simple, and you can’t mess it up.
Well, if your objective is to get a hot, black, caffeinated liquid, the statement above is true. If we are talking specialty coffee, you need to time and tweak your brewing sequence. If you don’t, you risk to over-extract or burn your coffee.
Sure many times this isn’t an issue, for instance in a latte. Lattes contain a lot of milk and this will mask the bitterness resulted from over-extracting the beans. Any beverage with less milk will be ruined. For those who want to obtain a great, unique cup of coffee, here are the instructions.
- Make sure your stovetop coffee maker is clean.
- Fill the base of your moka pot with hot water up to the line, or slightly below.
- Grind coffee beans. The grind size is slightly coarser than espresso but definitely finer than drip. The range is between espresso and hand drip.
- Fill the filter-funnel loosely, without packing the grounds.
- Some people like their coffee clearer, if that's you, place a round paper filter on top of the grounds.
- Make sure rim is clean or it will lose pressure during brewing.
- Screw on the three parts and put it on the low, or medium heat. A gas stove is the best, but if you have an electric stove, you can use a heat diffuser to control the high temperature.
- Wait a couple of minutes if the water was hot. If you poured cold water, you probably have to wait up to 6-8 minutes until coffee starts flowing in the top reservoir.
- Once coffee starts to flow in the top carafe, immediately take it off the heat. The residual heat will be enough to finish the brewing. Depending on the stove, (gas vs electric), you might need to keep the pot on the stove longer.
- Stir in the upper chamber with a spoon to mix the different coffee layers for uniform flavor.
- Pour it in cups right away.
Note that moka pot coffee doesn't have crema. Carrie Pacini from the forthefeast.com has a little trick to make some fake crema. Put 3 sugar teaspoons in a small cup. When your moka pot starts to brew, and you are removing it from the heat, pour about 2 or three teaspoons of the coffee over the sugar. Whip the sugar and coffee for about 2 minutes or a little more, until you get a foamy, creamy consistency. Pour coffee over the frothy mix and stir. This will also help to lock in some of the oils that evaporate normally.
Moka Pot Paper Filter
There is some scientific research that shows that coffee oils can raise cholesterol levels. Also, many coffee lovers like their cup clear. If that's you, you can use one of these precut filter papers. They are made from unbleached paper, and the box contains 100 filters.
I personally like my cup muddier, if you use a filter paper you decrease the TDS. But that's just me.
Additional Instructions and Explanations
I strongly recommend reading this section, because it will help you understand the instructions above. When you understand why you can further tweak your method to improve your cup.
Make sure your moka pot is clean, the reason behind this is obvious, no comments needed. What is very important though, is: never wash it with detergent. Just rinse it hot water, and from time to time, use some dry paper towel to wipe the excess of coffee buildup.
When you pour water into the water recipient, you don’t want to pass the line. That ensures your safety. You use hot water because this reduces the amount of time water reaches boiling temperature. It’s easier to babysit the pot 3 minutes than babysit it 9-10 minutes. Trust me with this, you always find something in the meantime, and you miss the critical second when you have to remove from heat. I’ll tell you in a bit why is this important.
The funnel is where the magic happens, the coffee beans get firstly soaked, and as the saturation with water completes, the coffee will start to flow. The steam from the boiler chamber goes up where it cools down just a bit, just at the right temperature for brewing. As more steam is developed, more water cools down in the funnel, and it’s pushed further up. If coffee is packed too firmly, the steam pressure will not be enough to get through the puck. Or it will flow too slowly, over-extracting and burning your coffee grounds. This is why is critical to fill it up, but not tamp. You sometimes need to play with your grind settings, to compensate for beans differences. If you use too little coffee, there is not going to be enough pressure, and water will pass too fast through the grounds.
This step is one of the most important ones: When coffee starts to flow in the upper chamber, remove from heat immediately. The pot has enough thermal inertia to carry on the brew to the end. On the other hand, if you hold it on the stove until all the water in the lower chamber climbs up through the funnel, the water gets too hot. It’s going to burn the coffee, of over-extract. See the troubleshooting section for more tips.
Some people like to wrap a wet towel around the base after coffee starts to flow. It depends on the coffee maker. Some don’t need the forced cooling, but some pots do need it. I let the coffee flow a bit more then I pour my coffee in cups.
Troubleshooting Moka Pot Espresso Brewing
The biggest problem when learning to make a stovetop espresso is the timing. You have to perfectly measure the on-the-stove time so that coffee is fully extracted, but not burnt. If you remove it from the heat too early, you will have a very strong coffee. Too long on the stove, and the brew temperature is too hot, causing over-extraction.
The other big problem is the amount of pressure in the funnel-filter. Fill it too much, and the water will not be able to pass through; (too much pressure). If you use too little coffee, the water will pass through too fast, and the coffee will be under-extracted. (A watery, sour, black liquid that resembles coffee.)
The pressure is also determined by the grind size. The finer the grind size, the more pressure it creates. So if your coffee comes out too fast, and you filled up the funnel with coffee, it might be because of too coarse grind size. Or if it doesn’t come out at all, you either put too much coffee, or the grind is too fine. Remember, never tamp, the pressure in a moka pot is not enough to push through a compacted puck.
We explained in the Instruction section that you have to remove the pot immediately when the coffee starts to flow in the upper chamber. What if after removing from the heat we have water that didn’t climb up in the collector chamber. If that’s the case, use less coffee, or grind more coarsely. Most likely there is too much pressure in the brewing chamber, (the funnel).
We need to mention that beans can have different densities, depending on the origin. So when you change your beans, you might need to compensate for the density. If you buy the same beans, most likely you don’t need to change anything.
A moka pot can be paired with a manual milk frother for a perfect inexpensive home cappuccino and latte solution. Yes, you need to work a little for your latte. First, you need to nail that steamed milk perfectly and make sure you don't burn it. And then you need to make your stovetop espresso. This one is easier because the milk covers any brewing flaws. Don't judge me, I'm not the one who invented the concept. Starbucks invented it. That's why for a long time I couldn't drink their espresso neat. On the bright side, I had three consecutive decent shots at Starbucks lately, the world must be coming to an end...
Just before we conclude this page, I wanted to mention that an electric stove is not the best solution for Moka pot coffee. This is because the electric burner runs too hot, and your timing needs to be perfect. Gas stoves are the best because you can control the amount of heat very well. If you don't have a gas stove, you can still use a propane burner, for best results. With a propane burner, you can control the brewing to perfection, and you can get a coffee that is close to espresso. Some people love stovetop espresso more than the real one. However, moka pot espresso needs to be perfectly brewed, and make sure you don't burn it.
The Dark Star Propane Burner is a great device, at a decent price, and allows you to have that perfect temperature control during brewing. It's the perfect solution for those who need to brew Moka pot or Turkish coffee.
Another Stovetop/Moka Pot video tutorial from James Hoffmann on Vimeo this time. Less interactive, however, the same great advice, and a little bit more.