Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Most Extensive Moka Pot/Stovetop Espresso Guide on the Internet

Source: Me! 
The purpose of this guide, besides making unattainable hyperbolic statements, is to touch on many aspects of making Moka pot coffee.  This post is broken into four parts: Introduction, Brewing/Tips, Cleaning, and More Information. I spent considerable time writing these set of posts so please leisurely read through them reflecting upon each section.  It will be broken into 3 posts over roughly seven days.  Please leave a thoughtful comment, if you have any questions, critiques, or revisions I should make.  Without further ado, here is the first part of the "Most Extensive Moka Pot/Stovetop Espresso Guide on the Internet."

Introduction:  First, one point on nomenclature.  When I refer to a Moka pot, stovetop espresso maker, or coffee percolator, I am referring to Bialetti's Moka pot, the most popular manifestation.  While there are other products that use the same principle of steam to make coffee on a stove, most people have some version made by Bialetti.  

The 5 parts of the Moka pot
How does a stovetop espresso maker work?  It is composed of roughly three components: the base with a pressure valve which holds the water; the basket which holds the coffee; and the "collecting chamber" which the coffee brews into.  Additionally, there is  the metal filter and the "O" ring which ensures a good seal for the pressure to build and that the coffee grinds don't infiltrate your end product.  The Moka pot creates stream by boiling water in the base that pushes water into the coffee hopper.  Then, the water comes into contact with coffee, brewing, and then goes through the filter above the hopper, and into the collecting chamber.  The whole process from heating the water to drinking the coffee is about 5-10 minutes.


I will focus on the "3 cup" Moka pot which I own as the basis for this guide.  Remember, the designation of "3 cups" means three small espresso cups resulting in ~6-7 oz of liquid in total.  It does not make 3 American-sized cups of coffee.  If you want 3 large cups of coffee, the Moka pot is not for you, unless you buy the 12 cup Moka pot, which makes 25 oz of coffee. For a breakdown of all the different sizes of the Moka pots, look here.

Unfortunately, I must disabuse you of the notion that the Moka pot makes espresso.  It does not.  Let me repeat that.  Stovetop espresso makers do not make espresso.  They make strong coffee.  Let me explain why.  Espresso is brewed using around 9-10 bars of pressure.  The Moka pot is capable of around 1.5 bars of pressure.  This amounts to a difference in consistency, taste, and appearance, principally the lack of "real" crema you would see on good espresso.  Additionally, the temperatures involved are different.  Since Moka pots rely on steam to push water up, it requires the water to reach boiling, 212 Fahrenheit.  Espresso machines, ideally, keep the water temperature around 202-5 Fahrenheit.  What is the difference you may ask?  Boiling water can burn the coffee damaging the delicate flavors of the coffee you just spent 20 dollars on.  A rule of thumb for most coffee preparations generally advise to never allow boiling water touch coffee.  Technically this is true for the Moka pot as the steam pushes non-boiling water into the coffee grounds (I think), but nevertheless a higher temperature is involved than in making traditional espresso.  While espresso machines and Moka pots use pressure, the difference in pressure produced is significant.
Stainless Steel
Aluminum













If that wasn't complicated enough, there are two different versions of the Moka pot (besides the different sizes): aluminum and stainless steel.  The aluminum version is the first Moka pot made by Bialetti and appears to be the most popular version, probably due to tradition, modern aesthetics, and the cheaper price.  Unfortunately, there is one large issue with the aluminum version.  Aluminum can impart a "metallicy," bitter taste to the coffee.  To counter this, people "season" their pots by allowing a film of coffee oil cover the top chamber by not thoroughly washing it.  I will address this later, but its an important issue to remember.  The stainless steel Moka pot generally does not impart the aforementioned metallic taste. [Source for the two pictures is Bialetti's website]

In addition to the aluminum and stainless steel Moka pots, Bialetti makes one's that steams milk and brew coffee resulting in a cappuccino, and ones that are electric. If that wasn't enough, other companies like Bellman have ones with steam wands!

Brewing Steps and Tips:
First, let me walk you through how to brew with the Moka pot.  At each step, I will introduce some helpful tips and hints to improve the end product.  If you want a quick "how to," search James Hoffman's video on the Moka pot, and watch it.

0.  Quickly wash out the base part with tap water and wet the the metal filter and O ring on the collecting chamber.  I think it helps reduce the "metallicy" taste, especially if the Moka pot has been sitting for a few days with use.

1.  Pour water into the base stopping where the pressure valve is.  Any more and the water will prematurely contact the coffee grounds.

At this point, there are two "schools of thought."  The first school of thought is to use cold water.  The reasoning is more of habit than anything else.  Reconsidering this reasoning, it really is not a "school," but that of uncritical thinking.  The second school of thought is to boil the water in a teapot and pour this into the base.  In doing so, this prevents the the stove from heating the whole Moka pot to an unpleasant temperature for the coffee which might cause it to burn.  I'd recommend this method.

Be sure to use quality water!  Water right out of the tap is drinkable, but it can also introduce unwanted tastes into your coffee.  I suggest using a water filter to minimize the introduction of foreign elements into your perfect brew.  Consider using a Brita filter or the like

2.  Grind the coffee.  Try to ensure an even distribution and flat surface.  The hopper must be filled completely for the Moka pot to function properly.  If it isn't, wonky things will happen...

Like so!
This is sticking point for me.  I have read and heard that the grind for Moka pot coffee should be just above an espresso setting on your grinder.  They have forgotten that we are making strong coffee not espresso.  From my experiences, a medium grind has produced the best results avoiding the bitter, over-extracted coffee that plagues the Moka.  If you want to experiment with different grind settings, please do!  I have found that the finer one goes, the more bitter the coffee tastes.     

3.  Screw on the top chamber with a dry towel (if using hot water).  Make sure it is tight enough as the coffee can seep out where the base and the top chamber meet.  Turn the stove to low-medium heat.  On my gas stove, I ensure that the flame isn't touching the pot.  Don't want it to burn or melt.

4.  After a few minutes, the coffee will begin to come out of the spout in the upper chamber.  After about half the chamber is filled, I cut the heat and remove the pot from the stove.  I try to limit the watery end of the brew from diluting the quality coffee brewed in the beginning.  However you do it, please do not leave the Moka pot unattended!  This could lead melting, but more importantly the more the coffee is heated after brewing the bitter it gets.

5.  Pour the coffee into your favorite coffee receptacle.

6.  Before drinking, quickly run water over the collecting chamber to prevent coffee oils globbing all over the aluminum.  By doing so, this ensures a nice uniform oily film to prevent a "metallicy" taste in future brews and doesn't allow the pot to get too dirty and gross.  Proper "seasoning" of the pot should look something like this:

A "Seasoned" Moka pot: Notice the light and even coffee oils.  Any thicker it may be time to clean it.
End of Part One.  Please come back in a few days for Part Two: "Cleaning the Moka pot."  I hope you enjoyed reading it, if there are any errors on the science of it, please comment below, or if you simply want to leave a pleasing message.  For Part Two, click here.

Best,
Jack

39 comments:

  1. Krups espresso machines are easy to use, reasonably priced, easy to clean, and make great espresso . The best part about owning a krups espresso machine, is that if a piece breaks, I dont have to buy a whole new machine, because there are places that specialize in selling krups espresso machine parts .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, some personal sharing here, “The ‘World-Stopping Taste’ campaign has been conceptualized for the launch of Essenso MicroGround Coffee to celebrate the ‘coffee pause’ – the moment when coffee drinkers forget the world around them while enjoying their coffee, read more at:
      http://kidbuxblog.com/super-essenso-microground-coffee/

      Delete
  2. Thanks! I'm still experimenting with mine; I agree you can't use the "fine" settings with the grinder because otherwise you get lots of grinds in the actual coffee you drink. The problem is my coffee grinder has the automatic settings. I guess either way you just have to try and be precise about how much you put in the grinder and for how long to find that perfect cup!

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  3. It is very rare these days to find blogs that provide information someone is looking for. I am glad to see that your blog share valued information that can help to many readers. Thanks and keep writing.

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  4. I have tried so many methods and even tried this method today and I still get burnt coffee. I don't know what to do with the moka pot.

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  5. Anonymous - "still get burnt coffee" - it might be your coffee beans. I find darker roasts taste burnt to me no matter what method I use. Try different coffee beans (fresher the better - good coffee shops sell beans that have just been roasted within the last few days - ask them which beans would do best for avoiding burnt taste) and use a burr grinder (the whirly blade type grinders do not do a good job of properly grinding the beans).

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  6. Anon,

    You get burnt coffee because you moka pot isn't sealing properly.
    Note there must be a tiny hiss, a leak from the seal level.

    That's the main problem with a stovetop maker of this type: you must make sure it's screwed on very tight! This is not for the weak.

    If the inner metal coffee funnel/holder is bent from banging it or dropping it, that too makes it not fit perfectly. Reshape it with your hand. If you forget the coffee one time and it burns, the gasket can get destroyed and you have to replace it. When the gasket goes your coffee will burn every time.

    The gasket also has a break in. You have to twist it super tight, especially the first five or so times when you have a new gasket...I think the rubber is so hard.

    Then, when you replace the gasket, be sure to get the silicone ones IF THEY ARE AVAILABLE IN YOUR SIZE. The silicone ones are more forgiving if you accidentally leave your device on the stove too long. They are going to last much longer.

    I use a Bieletti 6 cup and have used it for years. I had to learn the ropes to make coffee properly with this, you have to do it like I said, or you get the nastiest burnt coffee ever. No leaks.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am posting here what I have also posted on another blog hoping someone can shed some light on my problem.

    I have recently been enjoying the wonders of espresso coffee on a stovetop pot but I am still confused by the sizings. My research has shown me that an espresso cup is 1oz/30mi. This means what I thought was around a 2-3 or even 4 cup pot Ihad, is actually a 6 cup. I carefully measured the water in a measurement jug after tipping out of the base of the pot (As is normal, just under the pressure valve). This came to 180ml which is supposedly 6 demitasse espresso cups. However, I have just bought was is supposed to be a six cup pot from Ikea (I thought it was a 6 cup going on the assumption my little one was around a 3 cup). Not only is the Ikea one useless and I have wasted a lot of good coffee (Illey), but it has left me totally confused. If my little one based on 30ml per cup is actually 6 cup, how can the large Ikea one be 6 cup? Ikea also do a smaller supposedly 3 cup which is still slightly larger than my little pot. Can you shed any light on this?

    The Ikea one is here:http://www.ikea.com/gb/en/catalog/products/50149838/#/30149839 and believe me, for a six cup it seems massive.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Coffee makers have come a long way. From yesterday's cowboy pots boiling coffee over the coals to today's sleek gourmet brewers, there's a coffee maker to fit every taste, every lifestyle, every budget and every counter space.

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  9. I have a problem with my moka pot. When the The water starts boiling, it leaks. I've tried to make share that top and bottom parts are attached tight enough, but still this happens. Anyone has any comment on that?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There should be a plastic/rubber gasket between the two pots, fitted to the underside of the top pot. My guess would be that its a little tired. They generally don't like dishwashers and need changing every few years. A good kitchen shop should stock them, otherwise there are plenty on the web. D

      Delete
  10. Have recently rediscovered my moka pot after a colleague accidentally dropped my awesome 80s espresso machine down the stairs ...long story, but a bit of a blessing. I do enjoy a good espresso and I agree you'll never get the same smoothness from a moka pot, all the same you can get a very good coffee out of them! I'll have to beg to differ regarding the hot water approach, and here is my thinking:
    I cool the pot top and bottom with cold water, grind my medium-dark roast coffee to medium-fine, switch on the hob to pre-heat (full heat), chuck the water from the top and bottom of the pot and refill the bottom with chilled water. Place and fill the hopper(being careful not to overfill), screw top on tightly and pop it onto the hot stove, removing it just as it starts producing a spitting sound. The chilling of the water and pot creates a bigger temperature gradient, protecting the coffee at the top... AND it guarantees an initial denser volume of air in the bottom section. Upon heating, the air expands more (than the already hot air would have)and pushes the water up through the ground coffee at a marginally lower temperature. Finally, the spitting sound at the end is when really hot steam is coming through and I assume spits out boiling coffee.
    I have found that these simple steps produce a smooth strong coffee that i may even prefer to an espresso... with the added satisfaction that it comes out of a cheap, simple and small piece of kit... So in hind-sight, a big thank you to my colleague ;)

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  11. Hello!!! I am absolutely bewildered about what I just did...I bought this moka press (stainless steel) and of course, ruined it. One morning I was quite scatterbrained (stressed/rushed) and forgot to put water in the pot!! So for ten minutes it was on high heat, and I stood there like a complete dumbass, wondering why my coffee wasnt happening. The pot didnt smoke or give off a burnt smell until ten minutes went by. I washed it out and cleaned it, in horror, but it still smells burnt two days later. I made coffee out of desperation and it didnt taste very different but gave me quite a headache, most likely from the burnt particles. Is it worth trying to save? Could I try scraping it or running vinegar though it? Somebody please help me... Im a poor girl thats so in love with coffee and I cant possibly afford another moka press, this one was 50% off too. Would be so grateful for a response.

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    Replies
    1. Dear Kitty Cat, I had the same experience. Did you find a way to clean it? I was thinking about vinegar or baking soda. Thanks, Susan

      Delete
  12. I had an 'accident' with my first pot. Thankfully it was one that I had been given, although I was still mortified it had happened. Not sure how but I ended up with burn marks and blue/purple on the outside of the pot. Gas flames had been too high as well (most unlike me). I seem to recall I ran a few batches of water with lemon juice through until everything was clear. Mine was mainly on the outside though. It's worth a try. I learnt my lesson after that. I bought a 'reducing ring.'

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  14. Hello! :D

    Im using 6 cup. With max water and max coffee I get almost 200ml 'espresso'. Usually its just for me. I spend much money for coffee so I was thinking I could reduce coffee dose. Perhaps max water tank and half coffee basket, or half basket means half water tank?

    Any advice,suggestion or something else pls! :D

    Cheers! ;))

    ReplyDelete
  15. I just purchased a 3 cup Bialetti thinking that I would be able to add enough water to the finished product to get my customary 16 oz cup of coffee. Not so. Makes it way to diluted. Do you dilute yours at all for a bigger cup of american style coffee and if so, what ratio? What size Bialetti should I consider to do what I want to do? Thanks for your service to the coffee community.

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  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  17. Time to go start heating up the coffee pots!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hi My moka pot works great, but recently it has been making really weak coffee. One brew is strong, the next is so weak; the strong coffee is in the hopper instead of the top. What have I done wrong, and why does it only do this sometimes? Thanks

    ReplyDelete


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  21. Hi,
    very good article!
    I agree to all the steps, except the filling of the hopper. I do like strong coffee,
    but when I fill the hopper to the top with coffee grind, the coffee is nearly not dringable, because it is way to strong then. When I fill it about 2/3, the coffee is very tasty and strong. I use the Bialetti Venus for 10 cups. What is the reason for filling the hopper to the top technically?

    Thanks in advance
    pAt

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  28. Thanks, I find that, like recipes, the steps are important but real world situations and comments are extremely helpful. Steps tell you what to do but more times than not, something goes wrong and we need to know how to "recover." I didn't even know there was a "fill line!"

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  30. Anyone who decide to buy a stevetop maker got a clear idea after read the whole article. You share such a valuable information which a novice user search when they want to select a moka pot. Love to see this post in this Coffee Guide Blog.

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  32. My little pot has suddenly started producing thin, weak coffee, just hours after it produced its regular morning rocket fuel. Have tried coarser grind, a new seal, have wasted much coffee just trying to get a decent result from what was my most reliable of several pots. I've been making moka for decades, and I do find this from time to time. I have abandoned pots in the past for this, only to try them again years later to find no problem! Any ideas?

    ReplyDelete
  33. You guys are all a little crazy. This is your standard, run of the mill coffee pot found on just about every stove in Italy. It isn't the Ferrari of coffee pots, and doesn't need to be treated as such.

    Boiling the water first in a tea pot? Are you kidding me? That's a good way to get ridiculed in Italy, nothing more.

    Worried about the flame touching the pot? Seriously? Most moka pots are beat to hell, and rightfully so. This pot is for blue collar, utilitarian coffee. If you want good coffee, you go to the bar and pony up 70, 80 or 90 euro cents. Simple as that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a fair opinion. I completely understand your attitude, and would completely agree if I hadn't been able to regularly get better, more satisfying coffee from my moka pots than I have received in many cafes.

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