The Moka Pot (sometimes referred to as a stovetop espresso maker) is a classic brewing method with strong Italian roots. Patented in 1933 by inventor Luigi De Ponti, the Moka Pot has spent over three quarters of a century as one of the most recognizable and championed at-home coffee solutions (especially in Europe).
What is a Moka Pot
A Moka Pot is a brewing device that uses steam pressure and an external heat source to create a strong coffee concentrate (usually about a 1:7 coffee to water ratio).
They are typically made of aluminum and consist of three major parts: a boiler, a filter basket and a collection chamber. There are also a few minor parts including a gasket and a removable metal screen.
It is a fairly fool proof brewing method that is easily accessible to the masses. The Moka Pot comes in a variety of sizes, brands, material composition and designs but the most popular and iconic model is the Bialatti Moka Express.
The Moka Pot that I currently use was gifted to me by Eugen, a reader of this blog. He sent me a 6 cup Bialatti Moka Express all the way from Switzerland. I have been loving experimenting and brewing with it ever since. Thanks Eugen!
What a Moka Pot isn’t
Despite the Moka Pot’s “Stovetop Espresso” moniker, it is not actually an espresso maker.
According to most modern definitions of the term, espresso is a coffee that is extracted at 9-10 bars of pressure. From my research of the Moka Pot, it peaks at around 2 bars of pressure and is often lower than that.
The Moka Pot is not a cheap work around for spending hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on an at-home espresso machine. It can make a delicious cup of coffee concentrate but make no mistake, it is not actually an espresso maker. An experienced espresso enthusiast will not be fooled by this faux espresso concoction.
How to Brew With a Moka Pot
As I mentioned previously, the Moka Pot is actually a pretty easy device to brew with and hone your skills. I recently left mine at my parents house with a few simple instructions and they were so pleased with the results that they would like to add one to their brewing arsenal.
Some basic parameters
Moka Pot best practice is filling the filter basket completely with coffee and filling the boiler up to the fill line with water. If there is no fill line, fill the boiler up to the bottom of the relief valve. This means your ratios are pretty much set. The only things you have to fiddle with are grind size and heating technique.
IMPORTANT: DO NOT fill the boiler with water above the relief valve. The valve is there to relieve steam pressure should something go awry. If the valve is covered with water, it will not work as designed.
A note on grind size: Most of the Moka Pot brewing tutorials I have read suggest using a fine “espresso grind.” You will typically see recommendations like using pre-ground Illy and similar styles. I found that I like the coffee better when I use a coarser grind. I’ve been using a drip grind setting and find that the results are a sweeter less bitter coffee.
The first time you use your Moka Pot, you will have to approximate how much ground coffee your filter basket will hold. I recommend filling the filter basket with the correct volume in whole beans, weighing it and adding about ten percent more (by mass).
Do not pack the coffee into the filter basket. If you compress the coffee bed (like you would for coffee in a portafilter) you may end up with a really long brew time and burnt tasting coffee.
Load up the brewer
Once you have figured out the amount of coffee to use, fill the boiler with water up to the fill line (or the bottom of the release valve).
There is some debate on whether to use hot or cold water when filling the boiler. I prefer to use warm water but the key is to use the same water as you typically use for brewing (i.e don’t use hot tap water as it can be different than your cold tap). If you would like to start with hot water, heat the water up in your electric kettle. Use cation when screwing the Moka Pot together as the aluminum boiler can become quite hot.
Place the filter basket into the boiler and fill it will coffee. There should be no water that seeps up into the filter basket, if there is, the boiler is too full. If you get any coffee on the rim or threads, make sure you brush them off. Having a good seal is essential to the operation of the Moka Pot.
Screw the upper collection chamber onto the boiler base and make sure you screw it together tight (if you have chosen to use hot water in the boiler, you may need to use a towel to hold onto the bottom piece).
Heat on low (have patience)
Place the loaded Moka Pot on your stove. If you have a gas stove, put the flame on low and make sure there aren’t any flames going up the sides of the boiler (this could scorch the coffee inside).
If you have an electric cooktop, set the burner to low and place the Moka Pot on the edge of the burner instead of directly in the middle (this will also help keep your coffee from scorching).
It may take a few minutes for the water in the bottom to heat up to boiling but be patient. Leave the lid of the upper portion open and look for coffee to start coming up from the bottom.
Pay attention at the end
Once coffee starts to flow from the bottom reduce the heat further. For an electric cooktop, you may want to try simply turning the burner off as the burner often stays hot for awhile.
You want the coffee to come out in a slow trickle, not a violent coffee eruption. From the time coffee starts to flow, it should take about a minute for the brewing cycle to complete.
The pacing of the flow of coffee will take a little bit of practice and experience with your chosen heat source. I will typically take my Moka Pot off of the cook top entirely when it is about halfway done (hopefully around :30 since the coffee flow started).
Once the majority of the water has traveled from the boiler to the top, there will be mostly steam in the bottom portion. Try to avoid having this super-heated steam come through the coffee grounds at the end of the brewing cycle. It will scorch the coffee grounds and bring a bitter burnt flavor to your brew.
Coffee should be removed from the Moka Pot as soon as possible when brewing is complete. The coffee can also take on a scorched taste if it is allowed to “cook” in the hot aluminum collection chamber. It is more important to get the coffee off of the heat source before the steam scorches your coffee than to get every last bit of water out of the bottom of the boiler. There will always be a small amount of water left behind.
Enjoy and Tweak
As with all brewing methods, as you are enjoying your coffee, think about things you would to change next time you brew with your Moka Pot and record it.
Was the coffee too sour? Grind the coffee a little finer next time.
Was the coffee too bitter? Try grinding the coffee a little coarser.
Did the coffee taste burnt? Try taking your Moka Pot off of the heat sooner. Make sure you are removing your coffee from the Moka Pot as soon as possible.
Did the coffee taste thin or not as concentrated as you would like? Make sure you are filling your boiler up to capacity and try starting with warm or hot water.
If you are ready to dive deeper into the world of Moka Pot science, check out this video. It may help you trouble shoot some problems you are having.
Cleaning and maintenance
Let the Moka Pot cool before cleaning (it will stay hot for awhile). Unscrew the boiler, remove the filter basket and discard the grounds. As tempting as it may be, don’t bang the filter basket on the side of the garbage. If you do this, it will eventually dent and need to be replaced. Rinse all parts with cold water and hand dry.
You will want to give it a deeper clean with Joe Glo (or a similar product) on occasion. The rubber gasket will also need to be replaced periodically. A new Moka Pot will typically come with a few extras gaskets.
Do you brew with a Moka Pot and have a favorite technique, tip or trick? Share your experiences and questions in the comments below.