The Moka pot has been a fixture in kitchens across Italy, Spain, and Portugal since the 1940s. It is practically synonymous with Italian coffee but for a long time failed to take root stateside, mainly being appreciated only by true coffee connoisseurs.
This is the result of moka pot coffee having a bit of a sub-par reputation in the specialty coffee world. It’s sometimes a deserved reputation, but also a mistaken one.
Historically, moka pot coffee has been very bitter, which puts it at variance with the objectives of specialty coffee. Having said that, we’re discovering new and improved methods to brew this style of coffee and, as a result, it has taken a more prominent role in the coffee world.
Our aim is to enable you to make the best moka pot coffee you possibly can. Without further ado, let’s get started.
The Moka Pot: A Brief History
The moka pot (called a “caffettiera “ in its native Italy) was invented in 1933 by Luigi De Ponti. The design was purchased, perfected, and patented by Alfonso Bialetti shortly after.
Bialetti, who had existing business ties in the aluminum and metalworking industries, decided all moka pots should be manufactured from aluminum. At the time that was considered an innovation, but keep in mind that aluminum retains heat and can burn you if handled improperly. Bialetti moka pots are still manufactured today and the company is one of the leaders in the industry.
What a Moka Pot Is and What It Isn’t?
Moka pots are stovetop coffee makers that produce a distinctly strong brew. The stove top’s heat produces pressurized steam that ultimately forces boiling water upwards through coffee grounds. You’ll regularly hear moka pots described as stovetop espresso makers by the manufacturers but this is technically incorrect.
Espresso is a method of brewing (not a type of bean or strength of coffee) and by definition requires 8-10 bars of pressure. This intense pressure can only be created by real espresso machines. The moka pot generally creates 1-2 bars of pressure. That’s more than humans can produce manually, but nowhere close to a real espresso machine.
So while it’s still very intense coffee, it’s not quite espresso. However, flavor wise it’s pretty close. Many people probably wouldn’t know that it’s not espresso and you can still utilize it to make espresso-style drinks.
Top with steamed milk for a cappuccino or latte or mix with water for an americano. Even if it’s not 100% genuine, if you enjoy its taste, who cares?
Basic Construction of a Moka Pot
A stainless steel or aluminum body is designed to withstand the heat of hot stoves and resist damaging rust. A water chamber at the bottom of the device holds the water while it’s heated.
Directly above the water chamber is a coffee basket. The basket holds the grounds and features tiny holes on the bottom, allowing the steam to rise and extract things (like oils, acids, flavors) from the coffee grounds.
Directly above the basket is the filter screen that allows the brewed coffee to rise (but not the grounds) via pressure, through a funnel, out a spout, and into the upper chamber.
The Pros and Cons of Moka Pots
- A moka pot can make delicious coffee that tastes different from what you can brew with other methods
- A great moka pot is extremely affordable compared to similar brewing methods like an espresso machine
- With separate compartments, keeping things clean is really simple
- Overall, it isn’t difficult to master this way of brewing (but can be a little tricky)
- The resulting coffee is intense and flavorful. If that is the kind of coffee you like, this is an excellent and inexpensive way of brewing it well
- Though not terribly difficult to learn, it is still harder than simple methods like a filter machine or a French press
- Moka pot coffee is easy to over-extract causing bitterness
Making Great Moka Pot Coffee
Things to Know Before You Start
Fresh coffee is a must. Coffee beans at peak freshness can have fascinating and rich flavors. Unfortunately, those flavors start to fade 2 weeks after roasting. Ground coffee only has 30 minutes to be at its peak. Buy freshly roasted coffee and grind it moments before you brew. There’s no other way to preserve the fresh flavors of your beans.
Choose the right sized moka pot. They are sized so 1 cup will produce roughly 1 shot (1-2 of intensive coffee) a 2 cup will make 2 shots and so on.
Keep in mind you can’t half fill a moka pot, so don’t buy a 6 cup thinking you can only make 3 cups worth from time to time. Moka pots only work well when filled appropriately.
Use a consistent fine to medium fine ground size. You shouldn’t use espresso fine grinds. These could clog the filter screen and create a dangerous amount of pressure. Go for a coffee grind that’s just a little finer than your average drip coffee grounds
Remember that consistency is everything. Inconsistent grounds will brew unbalanced coffee. Only use a burr grinder (skip the blade grinders) for best results.
Pre-heat your water to reduce the amount of time the moka pot has to sit on the stove. This also reduces the risk of accidentally “cooking” the grounds while the pot heats up which damages the flavor and creates bitterness
What about a coffee scale? Using a moka pot eliminates the need to measure your coffee and water. Just fill the coffee basket with grounds and level off with a knife. Then you want to fill the water chambers to the bottom of the release valve.
Step-By-Step Brewing Guide
Assemble your tools and ingredients before you begin:
- Freshly Roasted Coffee
- Moka Pot
- Hot Water
- Burr Coffee Grinder
- Cold Towel
For this guide we’re brewing with a 2-cup moka pot
- Grind enough coffee to fill the coffee basket all the way up. Use a knife and level the grounds. Do not tamp the grounds. A moka pot doesn’t have as much pressure as an espresso machine; they can’t push through tamped grounds properly. At best, doing this is going to ruin your coffee’s taste, at worst, the pressure will build and your pot can explode.
- Fill the water chamber with boiling water up to the very bottom of the release valve. This is the safest measure. This valve releases extra pressure when there is more in your pot than needed. If you fill past it, this can’t happen and your pot may well explode.
- Throw a damp towel in the freezer.
- Assemble the moka pot making sure there are no loose grounds so that it seals properly. Loose grounds will prevent a full seal, which will damage flavor and balance.
- Set the moka pot on your stove and turn it on to medium low heat. For safety reasons, when placing the pot on the stove, ensure the release valve is pointing away from you.
- Start a timer and relax. It could take 5-10 minutes before anything happens. If nothing happens after 10 minutes turn up the heat slightly. The coffee should start oozing into the upper chamber. That means the pressure is working and that the coffee is brewing. If it starts to spurt, the heat is too high; turn it down.
- When the coffee is about 80% of the way up the spout, take it off the burner and place it directly on the cold towel. This is to stop the brewing process dead on its tracks. Otherwise the built-up pressure and heat are going to continue brewing resulting in an oven-extracted pot and a bitter cup.
- Pour and serve immediately
Not every moka pot is amazing the first time around. Don’t give up. You may just need to make a few adjustments.
If the coffee is too bitter it means you over extracted from the grounds. Here are a few things you can try to extract less next time. This should give you more balance and better flavor.
- Use a slightly coarser grind setting
- Stop the brewing a few seconds earlier
- Use a lower heat setting
If the coffee is too weak, it’s likely that the water vapor is foaming channels in the grounds.
- Try tapping the filter basket to distribute the grounds more evenly
- If that doesn’t work, you may just need to use a finer grind to boost extraction
How to Clean Your Moka Pot?
Keeping your moka pot clean is important, so how exactly do you do it? This is what you’ll need to do for an everyday clean.
- Use just warm water and a simple cloth for an everyday clean instead of soapy water and an abrasive brush
- Clean and rinse all sections until clean
- Leave to dry on a drying rack and make sure all components are entirely dry before the next use
This will be fine for using your pot a few times in a single day. However, long term you will need to do bigger cleans. Oil build up goes bad fairly quickly, so try to give your moka pot a full clean quite often. This is what you need to do:
- Use hot soapy water
- Using a soft brush, clean off all residue from the inside of each compartment
- Pay particular attention to the ground coffee section and stern for steam to rise up; make sure no oil residue is lingering in these places
- A longer brush or toothbrush is great for cleaning areas you can’t reach easily
- Allow each section to dry individually and only reassemble after they are fully dried
Is Coffee Build Up a Bad Thing On a Moka Pot?
Not everyone who uses a moka pot agrees that cleaning is necessary. Some like to season their moka pots (like you’d season a cast iron pan) to add flavor to their next cup.
The thinking behind this is that the excess oils from your brew can be left intact, which pass on extra flavor to future cups that brew in the same pot. There is some merit to this, but a long term build up is going to do more harm than good.
Those extra oils are really just stained bits of your last brew. When brewing on the same day, this is going to add a bit of flavor to your cup. However, these little build ups can become over-extracted themselves, bittering your coffee.
If you’re brewing to get the best tasting coffee each time, that leftover build-up is an unnecessary wild card. It’s a risk to take: will your build up enhance the flavor of your pot of coffee or ruin it? That isn’t to say you need a full clean after each use. The build-up oil is fine over the course of the day. You should be removing it fairly quickly though. If left for weeks, that coffee residue is going to become pretty old and bitter. It will be harder to remove and have a bigger impact on your coffee taste. Aging the oil in a pot can be a fun experiment, but not if it prevents you from having a great cup of coffee again.
Moka pots make a rich and intense coffee that is definitely a different experience from anything else. On top of this, they’re affordable and easy enough to use especially when compared to their relative, the espresso machine. But always remember, the best results always come when you’re using freshly roasted, specialty grade coffee beans. If you’re not going to use the best beans you can find, then you’re cutting yourself short before you even begin the brewing.