A couple of years ago I became infatuated with stovetop espresso. I liked the idea of an espresso maker that didn’t cost as much as a Volkswagen and yet produced decent coffee. Yes, coffee. The true espresso aficionados will tell you that the stuff that is produced by this little pot is a strong coffee and not an espresso. But since it looks like espresso and is seemingly as strong as espresso, we’ll refer to it as such. Moving on…
If you live in Italy and make coffee at home, there’s a good chance you have one of these. There’s a good chance the handle is partially melted and there is a fine layer of oily coffee film inside the pot because you never wash it as instructed. There’s also a good chance you have an awesome espresso maker as well, but your mother/grandmother used the stovetop pot before there were consumer-level espresso makers for the home (and in some cases, before electricity was a thing). However, the invention of the moka pot is attributed to Alfonso Bialetti in 1933. The pot essentially takes advantage of water boiling through the coffee beans. Water is boiled in the bottom of the pot and is forced up through the ground coffee that is placed in the center. The top holds the brewed coffee. It doesn’t have the same kind of pressure as a pump-type espresso machine and therefore you don’t get the same strength. It’s definitely strong for me though
There are many brands of these pots and some are better than others. Bialetti gets my vote for good construction and easily replaceable parts. Primula is one I see at some of the big box stores but I’ve become accustomed to Bialetti. I am the only coffee drinker in my household so I started with the 1-cup size. It makes about one espresso shot worth of liquid. This worked for me for about one week and I realized it was not enough. I then bought a two-cup Brikka. This is the same as all the other kinds of stovetop pots but it adds an extra step at the end. While it’s not espresso crema, the coffee is infused with a little bit of air so you get some bubbles. I wanted to try this pot just for fun and I still use it occasionally. But then I wanted more! Then it was a 3-cup. Somehow I got it into my head that I need a 4-cup stainless pot because aluminum would be bad for me if used every day. I totally forgot that people have been using these for decades and haven’t died from aluminum poising (that I know of) so I got a stainless one as well.
Everyone has their own technique when it comes to these pots. Stumptown coffee has a great tutorial on how to use moka pots and I definitely like to preheat the water as they suggested. And since I like lattes, I got a milk frother. The Capresso FrothPRO is alright, but I’ve had two and each has lasted less than a year. This seems to be on par with other electric frothers but that’s pretty awful. Chalk it up to modern “throw away” manufacturing. I’m going to try using one of those battery-operated frothers for a while and just warm the milk in the microwave. I mix the milk with a little bit of vanilla coffee creamer and it’s like a marshmellowy latte!
Now for the coffee! Since this isn’t a traditional espresso maker, you can pretty much use any kind of coffee. Espresso blends work and I used Intelligentsia’s Black Cat Espresso blend for a while. I’ve even used some awesome stuff from Colombia that a friend of mine gave me. It’s really more about the grind than the bean itself, so make sure you’re setting your grinder between the mesh cone filter and the espresso setting.
Cleaning: It’s important that these pots not be washed with soap and water. Think of them as a cast iron pot. Over time, your pot will become seasoned with the oils from the coffee. This is a good thing! When you’re finished, rinse the pot in warm water and let it air dry. That’s it. Make sure all of the parts are completely dry before you reassemble it. If you haven’t used your pot in a while, wipe off the inside of the upper chamber with a napkin. If you’re really paranoid about rancid oils, spray a tiny bit of white vinegar inside and towel off.