So I’ve been a coffee drinker for about 10 years, at this point. Coffee has become a significant part of my life, whether to help me wake up in the morning, to bring pleasure to my taste buds, to help me pull all-nighters studying for my exams, among other things. That’s why I want to look for ways to improve the quality of the coffee that I consuming daily. So far, I’ve observed that the flavor profile of coffee is controlled by 3 main factors: where the coffee beans are grown, the roast of the coffee, and the brewing method. So out of my desire to expand my tasting experience with different coffee brewing methods, may I introduce you to the Bialetti Moka Espresso Maker, which I have purchased recently from Amazon.
My main favorite way of making coffee before I bought this awesome little moka pot was to employ a pour over for the coffee beans. I loved pour overs because that method made considerably better coffee than drip; drip only seemed to water down the coffee while making it distastefully bitter. If you wanted a metaphor, almost any other coffee preparation method can compare to the finest caviar; whereas drip coffee compares to a McDonald’s happy meal that may or may not have maggots festering under the bun. Doesn’t that just make your mouth water?
What makes the moka pot special is that it uses about 1.5 bars of pressure to squeeze out the coffee from the grounds, siphoned into the upper chamber from the push of steam. You can get more of the crema into your cup since the coffee is pushed off the top of the grounds, in contrast to a pour over or drip that takes the coffee out from the bottom.
Making Coffee with the Moka Pot
The first step to making a fine cup of coffee with a Bialetti Moka Pot is of course acquiring one. I got mine from Amazon, but I’ll let you decide where you get yours.
When brand new, you are supposed to make a weak coffee in the pot & throw it away. This serves the purpose of cleaning the pot and applying a protective coating of coffee oil to the aluminum. This protective coating prevents the metallic taste of aluminum from entering your cup and protecting the aluminum from rusting.
Fill the boiler or bottom chamber with water. People advocate not to go above the safety valve, but I often do because I purchased the smallest (single cup, 1oz) moka Pot, which does not develop as much pressure as the larger moka Pots do. The water shouldn’t be super-pure, but also shouldn’t be extremely chlorinated. If you are using water that is highly chlorinated, I recommend setting the water open for a couple of hours to let the chlorine evaporate. Otherwise, the chlorine would react with the aluminum and cause dark discolorations.
I also highly recommend that you pre-heat the water you put in the bottom chamber. Trying this I discovered that the coffee tasted more like coffee, not burnt toast. The wisdom to adding pre-heated water is that it shortens the brew time and therefore lessens the excessive heat exposure your coffee grounds go through.
Grind the coffee. The grind should be in between an espresso fine to medium grind. Also note that you should avoid pre-ground coffee for any brew that you are making, since coffee gets stale quicker when ground up due to increased surface area exposure to the air. Personally, I find that the “best practice” is to only grind the amount of coffee that I actually need. So to insure that I don’t end up wasting coffee or overfilling the basket, I fill the filter basket with coffee beans and use my fingers to level off the excess.
Note that you should not overfilling or tamp down the permafilter basket with coffee grounds. The moka pot is not an espresso machine; the moka pot can only properly brew coffee at 1.5 bars of pressure, whereas espresso machines use 8 to 9 bars of pressure. So overfilling or tamping impedes the flow of water through the coffee grounds and out of the spout. This causes an increase in pressure, therefore temperature that burns the coffee grounds before it can be properly brewed. The safety valve may release from an increased pressure, and the coffee may either not siphon out from jamming or explode out of the top with force. I find that filling the basket with 4/4 coffee grounds is optimal and allows the water to pass through. Filling all the way is actually prevents the coffee from burning, since more pressure is used instead of more temperature. But be careful when filling all the way, because coffee grounds in the rubber gasket will ruin the rubber.
After lowering the filled basket into the water chamber, you screw on the top of the moka pot to the bottom, making sure that the coffee grounds don’t spill outside. If coffee grounds spills out you may get them stuck to the rubber gasket, which weakens the seal and therefore lowers the pressure that forms inside. Similarly, if you screw in the moka pot’s top and bottom too lightly, the moka pot won’t form enough pressure inside. Signs that there isn’t enough pressure inside the moka pot include the water not having enough force to reach the upper chamber or the water seeping out from the weak points of contact for the rubber gasket.
Another cause of decreased pressure inside the moka pot is that overtime, the rubber gasket degrades and weakens the seal; therefore causing the problems aforementioned.
You then set the Moka Pot on a gas stove & set the fire to medium-low; the heat shouldn’t be on so high that the fire creeps up past the bottom. That’s how you get a melted plastic handle. On the other hand the heat should not be too low; otherwise the brew time is extended and the coffee becomes over-extracted. I also noticed that if you leave the cover open, the moka pot won’t get hot enough to push the water to the upper chamber. Again causing over-extracted coffee. If you want to use extremely low heat for extracting a less acidic brew try using a pour-over instead. (I want to add that a finer grind requires more heat for the coffee to exit into the upper chamber than a coarser grind.)
Typically the brew is finished within 4 minutes, but 2 minutes if you pre-heat the water. This is my experience from a single cup (1oz) Moka Pot, the smallest one. Bigger sizes may vary in brewing time. It’s best to keep an eye on it while making your first few pots of coffee until you get an idea of how long it takes to brew the coffee; the coffee fills the upper chamber of the pot in a matter of seconds to finish brewing. If you forget to turn off the heat after the moka pot is finished brewing, you will end up with a melted rubber gasket that ruins the moka pot and it’s contents with a burnt rubber smell that doesn’t go away easily… I’ve learned this the hard way.
Also, when the coffee starts filling the chamber, it is best to put the heat on absolute low or completely cut off the heat; otherwise near the end of the brew you will get steamy-foam exiting the siphon that ruins your cup with burnt coffee or you will get explosive squirts of coffee racing out of the siphon. Foam signifies that because there is no water left, the temperature became too high where the coffee grounds are loaded. You want to capture the liquid fraction of the brewing process, not the foam.
Another way to prevent acrid coffee foam from entering your cup is to quickly transfer the Moka Pot into a small container filled with water. The water quickly cools the pot, abruptly stopping the brewing process.
Edit: Just recently I adopted a technique where I put the heat as high as possible without melting the plastic handle, and abruptly lowering the heat to absolute minimum when the coffee starts rising. This is a fine way to reduce the amount of time it takes to brew the Moka coffee, just as long as you don’t allow the coffee to burn. The coffee starts burning when there isn’t enough water in the bottom chamber, producing burnt foam that is highly irritating to the stomach. I adopted this brewing method because the problem is that this acrid-foam is made even at low heat if there isn’t enough water.
Finally, your brew is ready! The espresso-esque shot goes well with a generous amount of milk, but given that I am lactose intolerant I like to fill mine with ice & enjoy the coffee in its full flavor. (Sometimes I use an alternative Goat milk that helps cut the irritating components of coffee, and actually makes it easier on the stomach! Weird isn’t it?)
And for clean up, I either leave my moka pot in a container with room temperature water to cool it down quickly or hose it down under the sink with water while taking apart the pot for cleaning. You shouldn’t rub excessively or use soap, which would remove the protective oily coating that comes from the coffee. Instead, I just gently rise with regular water and rub away the excess with my fingers.
For sure the Bialleti Moka Pot is an improvement over standard the coffee, if the standard is defined to be drip. Obvious improvements include a decreased volume of coffee a person has to drink. I bought the 1 cup version, which is comparable to a single shot of espresso. On top of that, the full flavor is extracted without over-extraction that is experienced with a drip machine. Signs of Over-extraction is a bitter-rancid taste.
If you are an individual with a sensitive stomach, I recommend sticking with pour-overs that use low temperatures and very short brew times. I find that this type of coffee is very easy on the stomach, especially with goat milk to cut the astringency of black coffee.
Note that the freshness of the coffee beans dictates how the coffee tastes. Otherwise, let me re-iterate that the beauty of the Moka Pot is that it pushes the delicious coffee crema to the top first. Compare this to a drip or a pour-over extraction that leaves the coffee crema floating on top, so much of does not reach the drinker’s cup.
Finally, if you are new to moka pots be prepared to for the learning curve that comes with this pot! It took me quite a bit of research and practice to finally produce a cup of moka that tastes so good that I’d say it’s a good competitor to espressos.