Just what is a Moka Pot?
The Moka Pot is one of the oldest ways of making espresso at home.
It was originally invented in Italy; named after the famous port city of Mokha – a city in Yemen, the country that first started trading coffee.
The invention of this little machine (machinetta in italian, another way they refer to it) revolutionized the way that millions of people drink their coffee.
The inventor of the machine, Alfonso Bialetti, came up with the machine in 1933 and it was a smash hit across the country; Italy fell in love with the Moka Pot. Bialetti Industries still makes Moka pots to this day.
How Does a Moka Pot Work?
The Moka Pot operates almost exactly like old steam-based espresso machines. But why do you need steam in the first place?
Almost all brewing methods rely on water passing through the coffee grounds. With filtered coffee, the weight of the water -and gravity- is in charge of all the work. But when you can use pressure to increase the speed on extraction, you can achieve even better tasting coffee.
The first espresso machine utilized hot water loaded directly into the machine and a pump that would force water through the grounds, brewing coffee in a matter of seconds.
The problem? The pump had to be manually operated. Too much work!
So they came up with a new solution – they built a chamber for the water to heat up and create steam. Eventually the built up steam pressure forces the water to escape through a tube, and through the coffee grounds.
The principle is the same for the Moka Pot. It consists of three chambers:
- The lower chamber, which contains water.
- The middle chamber, which is made up mainly of a metallic filter and is where you place the coffee grounds.
- The upper chamber, which has a tube in the middle, and holds the brewed coffee.
As the heat turns water into steam in the lower chamber, most of the water is forced to escape through a small funnel going upward, through the coffee grounds, and into the upper chamber.
This results in what could be considered a weaker version of espresso: a coffee much more concentrated than drip or filtered coffee – but not nearly as strong as espresso.
This difference results from a key difference between an espresso machine and a Moka pot- espresso machines are usually between 7 and 15 bars of pressure while the Moka pot only achieves between one and two bars.
Popularity of the Moka Pot
What is the appeal, then, of the Moka Pot?
The Moka Pot is a preferred way of making coffee for millions of people; in Italy and the majority of Latin America, a home is not complete without a Moka Pot.
In many parts of South America, this machine is simply referred to as a “coffee maker”; that is indicative of how prevalent the use of the Moka pot is.
Way back before home espresso machines were invented, the only way you could make anything close to espresso in your home was the Moka Pot. But even now, the Moka pot offers a range of advantages to other brewing methods. The most notable advantage is that it is incredibly cheap- with high-quality models being as cheap as 30$. Compared to a home espresso machine, this is an incredibly low price to pay for a cup of coffee that approximates an espresso.
Otherwise, a Moka pot is a relatively easy to use machine and is small, portable, and easy to wash. For many living in lower-income countries where coffee is a way of life, this machine has been part of the culture for generations.
How to make coffee using a Moka Pot
Before you start making coffee with the Moka pot, you need to give it at least 2 dry runs. The upper chamber has a rubber band to make sure that steam has nowhere else to go but up. This rubber band is made of very resistant material, but gives off a rather nasty smell.
For your first “dry run”, fill the lower chamber with water and let it boil until most of the water is on the upper chamber. Ideally, your second “dry run” can be done with cheap/stale coffee you don’t intend to drink; this will further cleanse any hint of rubber smell off the machinery.
Done? Now you’re ready to make coffee, for real.
You’re going to need:
- Hot water.
- Medium fine ground coffee.
- An espresso coffee cup.
Sounds simple enough. Let’s make some coffee:
Once you’ve mastered these steps in your head, you should be more than ready to give it a try in real life!
Tips for making the perfect Moka pot espresso
While the basic steps above are most important, you can achieve an even better cup from the Moka Pot with a few little tweaks.
Tip #1: Use hot water
Nobody seems to do this nowadays. Using hot water to pour into the bottom chamber might sound redundant at first- aren’t you going to heat the water up anyway?
Well, yes. But the thing is – Moka pots are made mostly of aluminum, to conduct the heat better. But aluminum conducts heat a little too well. This means that, before the water starts going up, your filter is going to heat up faster and the coffee grounds in direct contact will burn a little.
The result? Bitter coffee.
Using hot water for the bottom chamber will eliminate almost all the bitterness from the coffee – while also speeding up the brewing process significantly.
Tip #2: Don’t use an espresso grind
In the US and the UK, people tend to call this machine a stove-top espresso machine. While this characterization has some merit, it does indicate a misunderstanding that a Moka pot makes espresso.
It doesn’t. And using the same grind you would for espresso is a mistake.
The moka pot needs higher temperatures than espresso machines. And there’s a reason why: Espresso machines force water through the grounds at a much higher speed. If you were to let water and fine coffee grounds mingle for more than 10, 15 seconds in an espresso machine, they would become over extracted, yielding bitter, burnt coffee.
Instead, grind your coffee just a little bit coarser. A medium point between espresso grind and Hario V60 grind is an ideal size.
Tip #3: Don’t let your machine gurgle
If there’s one thing that people instantly associate with Moka pots, it’s the distinctive gurgling sound they make.
Some people think that the sound is simply the sound of the coffee coming out – a sign that everything is going well.
But, to the contrary, this gurgling sound is made by a combination of both water and steam coming out of the tube. This results when the pressure buildup is too great; instead of just water passing through the coffee grounds, steam makes its way up, diluting your coffee.
If used correctly, a gurgle from your Moka pot indicates that you should immediately take it off the stove. Your coffee is done.