Reviews

Moka Pot (Stovetop Espresso Maker) – A Beginner’s Guide

June 7, 2017

The Moka Pot – also called a stovetop espresso maker – is a thing that makes coffee and it looks like this…

a silver moka pot
The Moka Pot is a popular way to make coffee in Italy, Spain and Latin America

The 10-second How To

1. Grind the coffee. Fine grind, a little more coarse than for espresso.
2. Put your ground coffee in the middle compartment of your moka pot.
3. Pour some boiled water in the bottom compartment.
4. Screw it all together then place it on the stove, medium heat.
5. Wait for the pot to start making a gargling sound which tells you it’s done.
6. Pour yourself a delicious cup.

You can follow each step on this 113-second video showing a Moka brew.

Making stovetop espresso is actually one of the trickier methods of making coffee. But the challenge brings great reward – if you can master it.

Read on for a full breakdown of how to perfect that Moka Pot coffee.


The Basics

moka pot with brewed coffee inside

The Moka Pot is best explained by its other, much more descriptive name. The stovetop espresso maker. This little guy was invented in Italy about 70 years ago as a way to make espresso coffee that doesn’t require a large and expensive machine.

It’s cheap, light and portable. You can get a quality Moka Pot for less than 20 bucks and it’s so small it’ll fit in any suitcase. And the water can be heated in the Moka Pot, so you don’t even need a pan or a kettle. A traveler’s dream!

So what’s the catch? Well, it doesn’t technically make espresso. ‘Espresso’ in the original Italian means ‘pressed’. It is made with a high amount of pressure that only espresso machines can exert – about 9 bars. A Moka Pot can’t produce anything over 2 bars.

A Moka Pot makes something between espresso and brewed coffee. So it’s kinda like a strong coffee or a larger and weaker espresso. Hence the term ‘moka’ is used. For many people, the espresso-like coffee is perfect. And it can still be used to make hybrid Americanos or Lattes.

Aside from anything else, they are beautiful little devices that look great in a cute kitchen. Mine gets more questions from guests than basically anything else I own!

(Usually questions like ‘what the **** is that?’)


What you’re gonna need

Here’s your equipment. Make substitutions if you need to.

Moka Pot – which is…
upper chamber,
middle chamber
and lower chamber.
Grinder
Ground Coffee
Stove
Kitchen Scale (Optional)

Not made one in a while? READ THIS

If you’re testing out your Moka Pot for the very first time or it’s been sitting in the attic , pay attention to this.

If your Moka Pot is aluminum – as most are – then your first brew will contain a strong metallic flavor. It’s not subtle. We’re talking practically undrinkable.

Making a throwaway cup – or a ‘lungo’ as the Italians would call it – will do a kind of flushing out process. This ensures your next cup tastes perfect. Bialetti, the makers of the original Moka Pot, recommend you make three throwaway cups for optimal taste.


The Big How-To

Optional Step – Boil the water

You’re going to put the water into the Moka Pot and then onto the stove. The water can be pre-boiled or not. It’s your choice.

Some people say that pre-boiling the water before putting it in the Moka Pot reduces the chances of getting burnt tasting coffee. I can’t say I’ve noticed a difference. As such, I would skip this step. That said – I’m pretty lazy.

Step 1 – Grind the coffee

Moka Pot coffee requires a fine grind. The water will be pressurised from the bottom compartment and forced upwards into the top compartment. This gives a short extraction time. You want to aim between the grind for espresso and drip coffee, erring closer to an espresso grind.

Too coarse – the water will spurt out the top of the Moka Pot and land on the surface of your stovetop. Not pretty, but good feedback. Use a finer grind.

Too fine – the water will struggle to make its way through the densely packed coffee. The coffee that does come out will be overextracted and bitter. Use a coarser grind.

You will want to fill the filter – the basket that makes up the middle compartment of your Moka Pot – to the top. I use about 22g for my 4-cup Moka Pot.

IN QUOTES If you’re buying in a supermarket, check the label. Buying from the pretty little cafe down the road? You should be able to ask them to grind it for you. The best method of course, is to grind them yourself. More work, but more reward.

Step 2 – Put the coffee in the Moka

Fill the filter with your ground coffee and prepare to contemplate the grand old question of Moka Pot coffee. To tamp or not to tamp?

As a quick refresher, tamping is the process of pressing the ground coffee into a tight puck when making espresso. It needs to be densely packed as the water will be forced through at high pressure. If it’s too loose, the coffee will underextract.

Espresso machines use 9 bars of pressure whereas a Moka Pot can exert no more than 2 bars of pressure. For this reason, you do not want to tamp much.

I would recommend you aim to pat the ground coffee into a smooth and even puck. Using a spoon is fine, using a proper tamping device even better. [link]

You’ll know when your tamp is good when the coffee comes out with a minimum of spitting. It’s worth trying a few times with no tamp for this purpose.

Step 3 – Put the water in the Moka

Fill the bottom chamber of your Moka Pot with water up to where you see a small mark or a ridge. Don’t fill higher than this unless you like the idea of boiling hot coffee squirting around your kitchen. As mentioned before, your water can be boiled or cold.

Step 4 – Put the Moka on the stove

Begin by screwing the three compartments of your Moka Pot together.

If you have preboiled your water then place the Moka Pot on the stove on medium-high heat. If your water is cold, put it on high heat until you notice the coffee coming through and then change to medium-high.

You can experiment with the heat, you want the coffee to come out at a decent pace but not so hot that it gives it a burnt taste.

There are a couple of things I’d recommend for your first few times making a Moka. Firstly, keep the lid open. This will allow you to see the process of the coffee being forced up into the upper chamber. If it spurts upwards then the grind might be too coarse or the heat too high. If the coffee bubbles through slowly, try a higher heat.

Not only will you notice if the coffee starts spraying around and you’ve done something wrong, but it’s lovely seeing the pretty little shades of pale and dark brown bursting into view.

Step 5 – Wait for the gargle

When you hear a sort-of bubbling or gurgling noise then all the coffee has passed through. This is the sound of steam being forced through the thin pipe. Don’t worry about wondering whether you have heard it or not. You will know. It’s unmistakeable.

Step 6 – Pour out your Moka coffee

Take your Moka Pot off the boil and stir it in the upper chamber with a small spoon for a few seconds. At this point, you can pour.

You will have a small amount of fairly strong espresso-esque coffee. Creating something more interesting is possible. Adding steamed milk or chocolate or whatever for your spiced double mocha can be quite the adventure. Need some ideas? Well if this isn’t a link to an in-depth guide on all the cool and … coffee drinks you can make with your espresso coffee. [link]

Step 7 – Clean up

The cleanup of a Moka Pot is very important, especially compared to other coffee making devices.

Aluminum will oxidise if it is not dried properly. So you need to separate the parts, wash them and allow them to dry separately. You can’t put aluminum Moka Pots in a dishwasher for the same reason. I recommend giving your Moka Pot a wash before you sit down to enjoy your coffee. Annoying, but responsible.

If you notice some small white deposits somewhere in your Moka Pot, often in the lower chamber, then the aluminum has oxidised. You can remove these stains by using a mixture of warm water and vinegar and scrubbing.

photo of finished coffee


Highlights

Forgotten everything already? Want a refresher? Here’s the most important points from that boring wall of text above.

Overview
Grind – aim for a fine grind, somewhere between drip and espresso, a little closer to espresso. Experimenting is advised.
Make a throwaway – If it’s your first time or if you’ve not used your Moka Pot in a long time, do a throwaway cup. A lungo. Only necessary if you’re using an aluminum Moka Pot.
Heat – aim for medium/high, this is definitely something you will want to adjust. Make cooler if your coffee tastes burnt. Make hotter if the coffee is spurting out slowly.
Leave the lid open – this will give you information on how good the heat or grind is.
Clean up well- this will prevent the aluminum oxidising.

Quick Tips for Perfect Aeropress coffee

  • Grind – your coffee should be coarse ground. Like average chunks of sea salt. Use a burr grinder [link] for a perfect evenly-sized grind.
  • Boil – coffee brews best when the water is about 205F / 90C. Boil the kettle and wait 1-2 minutes. There should be very little steam coming from the spout of the kettle when it’s ready to pour.
  • Time – ideal extraction time is usually 3-4 minutes. Too long will make the coffee bitter. Too short will make it weak. You can play around to find the right time for you.
  • Amount – a good starting point is 24g for a single cup of coffee, that’s about 3 tablespoons. Play around with it to find the right amount for you.
  • Stir – after pouring the coffee will tend to sit on top of the water. Stir with a spoon or fork for 30 seconds or so to help the brewing process.
  • Record – to really start dialling it in, record everything and adjust until you reach peak perfection. See below.

TROUBLESHOOTING

Get a good grinder!

The number one ingredient in good coffee – except for the coffee – is a quality grinder. One that can make smooth, consistently sized coffee that will extract perfectly and make your coffee taste great.

If you are using a sub $50 grinder or – god forbid! – a blade grinder and you have a taste issue, then your grinder is (probably) the problem. [link] When your beans are ground into particles of loads of different sizes the coffee doesn’t extract like it should. It tastes bad. Sour, silty, bitter and acidic. I have an article on the best hand grinders for Moka Pots here and I’ll make one for automatic grinders at some point. [link]

Weak and Sour/Acidic Taste

  • Grind is too coarse – underextracting. Does the coffee spurt out? If so, you need to use a finer grind.

Bitter Taste

  • Grind is too fine – overextracting. Does the coffee come out slowly? If so, you need to use a coarser grind.
  • Bad beans. There’s no excuse for poor quality coffee beans. Check out this article for some high quality coffee beans you can get delivered from Amazon.
  • Dark roast. If the coffee you drink is a dark roast then the flavor is inherently bold and bitter. You may want to switch to a medium or light roast.

Too Strong, Not Bitter

  • Too concentrated. Are you adding hot water or milk once you are finished? The Moka Pot produces a strong, concentrated coffee more like an espresso than brewed coffee. To get something like brewed coffee or an americano then add hot water.

Coffee shoots out of Moka Pot

  • Grind is too coarse. If the coffee produced is weak and watery, then you need a finer grind.
  • Heat is too high.
  • Try a lower heat and watch how the coffee comes out.

Metallic Taste

  • Make a throwaway cup.
  • Check for oxidisation. If you can find white aluminium deposits then that’s what causing the taste. Scrub them off with warm water and vinegar.

PRETTY PHOTO OF AEROPRESS OR SOMETHING

Ready to take it to the next level? Check out this article on how to go from great coffee, to otherworldly coffee.[link] Sneak peek: it’s a lot like chemistry!

Now you know how to smash out a great stovetop espresso, wanna know all the drinks you can make with espresso coffee?

Enjoy the article? Absolutely hate it? Please comment and/or share. I’d love to hear from you.

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