Coffee via the Mighty Moka Pot: a Guide to ‘Stovetop Espresso’

The moka pot, also known as the “stovetop espresso maker,” is a neat gadget that’s been brewing quality coffee at home for decades. In fact, with its syrupy, velvety mouth feel and rich, encompassing flavor, coffee from moka pots is perfect to savor when you have a little more time and can just concentrate on that lovely nectar.

This is not true espresso, which needs specialized machines providing a minimum of about 9 bars of pressure shooting through finely ground coffee. The moka pot generates its coffee through steam, but at nowhere close to that pressure. From what I understand (and I am no scientist, just a beverage enthusiast), we’re talking a maximum 2.5 bars, if even that much.

The point? The commonly used term for the moka pot, the “stovetop espresso maker,” is erroneous, as the device does not make espresso. But the moka pot makes a damned good coffee that, in many ways, is about the easiest quality coffee you can make at home.

Here’s how.

While moka pots can look a little different from each other, they share the major elements in common. A base chamber, which holds the water; a funnel, which sits within the base chamber and holds the grounds; a filter held in place by a rubber gasket, and a top chamber, into which the coffee ultimately flows.

Step one: water. Fill that base chamber with the best drinking water you have. I’ll reiterate what I advised in the “French Press” best practices piece: “coffee is mostly water, and you shouldn’t use anything you wouldn’t drink by the glass as the key ingredient in your coffee. Filtered water, ideally by reverse osmosis, will help yield excellent coffee.”

Fill the base chamber to just below the relief valve; any more than this, and you’ll pre-saturate your ground beans. Don’t worry that it won’t make too much coffee; with this rich brew, you don’t need as much.

Step two: place the funnel unit into the water.

Step three: Grind your beans. I grind to something finer than drip — but not too fine, or you’ll create clogs. Espresso grind is much too fine. It may take a little trial and error to find your happy medium. Eyeball it; you need just enough to loosely fill the funnel basket. Once you put the beans in, do not attempt to tamp them down. Just a nice, casual heap, administered by the patient spoonful.

This is actually one way in which the moka pot is a little easier than other methods: it’s hard to add too much ground coffee; the size of the funnel basket pretty much guides you to exactly the right amount. Again, your biggest worry here is finding the right grind size.

Step four: After making sure that your filter is secured via the rubber gasket to the bottom of the top chamber, screw the top chamber onto the base.

Step five: put it on the stove over low heat. No need to rush; when that coffee comes out, you want it gently oozing, not screaming to get out. Overheating the moka pot may burn your coffee. Nice and steady is a good method here.

Making Moka Pot Coffee

The coffee should gently flow, a nice steady trickle

Step six: when you hear the top chamber start to sputter, you know the coffee is mere moments away. It’ll fill up the chamber at a pretty good rate, even when “oozing” has been achieved; once the rate of coffee jumping into the chamber has slowed significantly, you’re all done.

Step seven: Pour into a favorite mug.

This is a great chance to enjoy your coffee black, especially if it’s fresh from a local specialty roaster, since the moka pot’s brew is especially flavorful and expressive of the quality of the beans you’ve used. Of course, it’ll still be delicious if milk and sweetener are your thing.


6 comments for “Coffee via the Mighty Moka Pot: a Guide to ‘Stovetop Espresso’

  1. December 30, 2009 at 9:11 am

    thanks for giving the moka pot its well deserved accolades. i do not take my morning coffee any other way. i grind my beans pretty coarse to avoid problems with clogging and also add a splash of cinnamon to the bean basket. result is pure deliciousness.

  2. horsethiefbandit
    February 23, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    Yo Jer, quick question: my stovetop espresso pot is made out of cast aluminum … should I be worried about brain-scrambling metals leeching into my latte?

  3. February 23, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    I’m no expert, Mr. Bandit, but when I posed the same question once to an online forum, someone responded by saying something akin to: “hasn’t seemed to hurt generations and generations of Italians . . .”

    Hah! But I would do a little independent research to ease your mind. I started feeling a little oogie about my aluminum model at a certain point, which is why I traded to stainless . . .

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