Our story with this beautiful publication goes back a long way, we are proud to have been the first coffee shop outside of London to be an official stockist – a relationship that carries on to this day.
When we were asked by the chaps at Caffeine Magazine to write a piece on the usage of this iconic brewing method – we happily obliged.
As always at Christmas time with the gifting of Moka pots, come the requests for recipes and how to’s. So we thought it would be a good time to re-highlight this popular post.
Here is the article that featured on issue Jun-July 2013 – enjoy..
First patented in 1933 for the Italian manufacture Bialetti, the new Moka Express coffee pot came to symbolise far more than a piece of equipment for “stovetop espresso” at home. Completely unintentionally , this cheerfully-looking piece of kitchenware reflected the changes that Italy experienced under Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Party in the 1930s.
Mussolini wanted to make aluminium the national metal of Italy – after all, it was light, strong, good-looking and very modern. To this end, he imposed an embargo on stainless steel so that Italy can could profit from its home grown bauxite ( aluminium ore). After invading Ethiopia, – major coffee-producing country – in 1935, Mussolini’s formula was complete.:
Coffee +aluminium= a dynamic new empire.
Before the moka pot, Espresso was enjoyed in coffee bars, mostly by men on their way to and from work, and only the wealthy could afford to have a proper Espresso machine at home. But thanks to its inexpensive price tag, the Moka allowed everyone to enjoy a superior espresso-like experience indoors, and Bialetti’s design cheekily echoed the silver coffee pots of more upper-crust dining tables. It was after the Second World War that the Moka truly rocketed to fame, however, as many Italian, Central European and Latin American households fell for its charms. It has been held in great affection for 80 Years – 90% of all Italian homes have one – and Bialetti has sold more than 300 million units since its launch.
The Espresso promise is technically incorrect, however, as Espresso is achieved by a different brewing method with at least 9 bar of pressure, while Moka pots reach 1.5 bars. However the occasional appearance of ‘crema’ caused by the inner dispenser funnel design (fresh coffee also helps), created an ideal marketing hook that lead to the ‘Moka Espresso’ label.
The little fellow was the first thing I packed back in 1997 when I moved from Italy to the UK, as imagined I would be unable to find a decent coffee here – and at that time I was right! It’s therefore quite ironic, that nowadays I pack an Aeropress on my trips back to Italy (not because I have fallen out of love with the Moka, but because it’s a different brew experience , I hasten to add).
These days the Moka sometimes receives negative reviews, as using on is not as straight forward as it looks and can result in over-brewed coffee. But then, brewing coffee with a syphon it’s not a walk in the park either..
‘…..here is the thing: coffee brewed with a Moka can be amazing….”
, especially when applying the best principles, practices and tool from the third wave movement. That’s why we serve Moka pot at La Bottega Milanese, my coffee bar in Leeds. My method blends heritage with contemporary techniques, and a good sprinkling of tips that have been passed down through generations of baristas and domestic Moka men/women.
BREWING WITH THE MOKA
Follow the tips below, try not to be greedy with the liquid yield, and remember not to leave it to overgrew on the hob.
A pre second crack roasting level is desirable. In our tests, we used a Panama Hacienda La Esmeralda and Ethiopia Hachira N2 kindly provided by Damian ( now in 2020, of Darkwoods coffee Co).
Good results are also achieved by combining a roast that is rich in chocolate tones (see La Bottega ‘Classica’ £8.50 for 250gr, absolutely perfect for the job), or venture into single origins like an Ethiopian Harrar or Sidamo, with a more floral Ethiopian or a fruity Kenyan.
Between Aeropress and Espresso. The grounds should have the consistency coarse sand (not powdery).
The desirable minimum is 36 hours from roast, but feel free to experiment with younger coffee.
Ingredients for 3 cups – serving.
-15gr fresh coffee beans
-Cold** filtered water, approx 160ml (allow for different hardness and total dissolved solids TDS in regional waters, consider using bottled water).
**Together with Chris Weaver, at the time head barista at Bottega Milanese, we conducted multiple hot water vs cold water tests on Moka pots. After numerous blind tasting sessions with respected figures from the industry, the overwhelming consensus was that using hot water delivered a much flatter brew that lacked body. In my opinion, a slightly longer brew with cold water on medium heat delivers a stage comparable to the blooming and pre infusion of other methods.
-3 cup stainless steel Moka pot.
-Good ceramic-burr hand grinder or domestic grinder.
-Scales (you own some right?!)
-Electric/Gas hob or burner (aluminium Mokas cannot be used with induction hobs)
-Small basin with ice water for an ice bath (or place in the sink with the cold water running)
- Prepare ice bath, or be prepared to have a sink running cold water towards the end of your brew.
- Fill the bottom chamber with cold filtered water, in line with the release valve – the water should not seep through the holes of the filter (use the scales to memorise the amount of water used, for future reference). For brew ration enthusiasts the figure to aim for is a ratio of 1:11 coffee to water, which delivers a solids vs soluble yield of approximately 13.5%.
- Making sure it is clean and bone dry, insert the middle chamber funnel in the bottom chamber, set on the scales and tare off. Add 15gr of coffee.
- Resist the urge to pat down with a spoon! Instead set on a flat surface and carefully knock the bottom chamber to level out the coffee and achieve a uniform dosing in the filter. As a rule of thumb, if scales are not available, heap the filter with coffee to form a coffee dome (not a pyramid) and knock on a flat surface to level out the coffee grounds (for other Moka Pot sizes 6-9 etc, work with the 1:11 brew ratio). Twist the upper chamber in place, again making sure that is clean and bone dry (especially the lower mesh part that will come to contact with the coffee grounds).
- Set over a low to medium het on the hob. Make sure the burner is not wider than the Moka pot base. The times it takes the water to reach the upper chamber depends on the size of your Moka pot ( Note I have not said ‘boiling water’ as pressurised steam from the bottom chamber pushes almost boiling water through the coffee into the upper chamber).
- Start your timer
- The coffee should begin appearing in the upper chamber after approximately 5 minutes, if using a 3 cup Moka. If this happens more quickly, you are not using enough coffee or your grounds are too coarse. If it happens more slowly, you are using too much coffee or your grounds are too fine.
- Check time. The total time from the very first drops of coffee appearing in the upper chamber, to the coffee reaching optimum yield (approx 110ml), should not exceed the 1 minute mark ( max 1’10”). Too quick? Your coffee is too coarse or you have not put in enough coffee, resulting in a flat, watery sour brew. Too long? Your coffee is too fine or you have put in too much., resulting in an astringent, over-extraceted ashy brew. Does this process sound familiar? It should do, brewing trouble-shooting with the Moka Pot is no different from any other coffee brewing method. The trick is to stop in time and not overgrew. As a general rule, never wait until all the liquid has stopped coming out of the bottom chamber, for chances are it’s too late. If you have made a mistake, go back, change a few details and pursue what a great coffee coffee tastes like to you.
- As the coffee reaches the 1 minute mark (max 1’10”), from its first appearance in the upper chamber, immediately remove the Moka pot from the heat and plunge in the ice bath or under cold running water (just the bottom end..) This cools down the bottom chamber & mass, thus killing extraction – so there is less chance of over-brewing.
- Stir and serve, without adding any water.
As for all coffee equipment, keep very clean, and wash the different parts as soon as you can after brew. Replace the inner gasket every 6 months of medium use, if dark in appearance and flaky, replace immediately. In order to maintain the shower screen unblocked and clean, drop it in Puly powder and hot water after every other brew. Many people believe you should not wash the moka pots completely, as leaving a thin layer of coffee oil prevents the coffee tasting metallic. I don’t agree. Aged coffee oils is always bad news,anywhere, anytime. Just keep your moka squeaky clean, and if you have any doubts, purchase a stainless steel model.
To conclude, I’d say that when used correctly, the Moka Pot is a very rewarding brewing technique. It produces a velvety, full-bodied cup not as clean as a V-60 or Aeropress, but with richer notes and mouth feel. Just keep an eye on that timer.
A variation on the Moka, the Brikka features a modernised weighted pressure valve, which essentially acts as a pressure cooker. This means less vapour is released from the valve, so that pressurised water reaches the upper chamber at a much lower temperature. This lower brew temperature is similar, and perhaps slightly lower than the 92/94 degrees widely applied to pour overs and opens a new world of possibilities for this old-fashioned charmer.