In this article, I will introduce you to moka pots – also known as stove-top espresso makers or caffetieres – and how they work. Additionally, this article will act as a user’s guide and and offer tips on which models to buy online.
Moka pots are a classic and elegant method of coffee preparation, creating a perfect ambience – in large part due to the gurgling and suction sounds they produce.
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Do Stove-Top Espresso Makers Deserve Their Name?Moka pots don’t actually make espresso – only real espresso machines can do that.
Espresso is produced in a portafilter under high pressure of about 9 bars (approximately 130 psi), whereas a moka pot only reaches 1.5 bars (approximately 22 psi). The result is therefore not an espresso, but instead a beverage produced by a coffee percolator.
This also means that you can’t technically make classic espresso drinks, such as a cappuccino, with this coffee.
You can top off the coffee with hot milk, then you have what’s called a café au lait (also known as a caffe misto).
Espresso Maker User’s Guide
I recommend using freshly ground coffee with a coarseness that isn’t too fine. Many coffee merchants simply take the word “espresso” in “espresso maker” and automatically set the grinder to espresso-fine coarseness. However, this grind can destroy the moka pot and also burn the coffee, resulting in a bitter, unpalatable coffee.
Moka Pot – Step by Step Instructions
- Fill the boiler base of the moka pot with warm water. Please don’t use boiling water, because then you can’t screw the pot together and you will burn yourself. Only fill the water up to the mark; if you can’t see a marking, then fill it about halfway or up to the level of the valve.
- Grind the fresh coffee beans as we previously described.
- Place the filter funnel into the base and fill it to the brim with the ground coffee. The coffee grounds should be evenly distributed, but please don’t compress them, as this will cause too much pressure to build during brewing.
- If the coffee is too strong, you can reduce the amount of grounds.
- Now tightly screw on the top and make sure that no coffee grounds clog the thread.
- Turn on the stove – not at full power, but rather at 50-percent output.
- As soon as you hear gurgling sounds, you can look into the top to see the coffee rising. When you no longer see liquid rising to the top, turn the espresso maker off and pour cold water over the boiler base.
Try to heat the water slowly in order to avoid burning the coffee – especially on gas stoves, as they heat up quite quickly.
Advantages of Moka Pots
- Moka pots are light, especially the aluminum models.
- Cheap to purchase.
- They look great.
- Easy to clean, and easy to learn how to use.
- They make your kitchen smell like coffee.
- Their size and weight makes them ideal for camping and outdoor trips. They are also suitable to use with a gas stove.
Disadvantages of Moka Pots
- People often use too fine of coffee grounds.
- It is easy to forget the espresso maker on the stove or briefly leave it unattended. This can not only ruin the coffee, but also the moka pot.
- The aluminum versions are controversial.
Stainless-Steel Moka Pots
Italian caffetieres were originally made of aluminum, which people favored for its low cost and light weight.
Nowadays, there are also many models made without aluminum, but they are usually more expensive. Aluminum moka pots aren’t suitable for induction cooktops, whereas you can use stainless-steel ones on all types of stoves.
Stainless-steel moka pots are longer lasting, but they are often less classic in their design.
The Parts of a Moka PotAn stove-top espresso coffee pot is made of several individual components:
- Filter funnel
- Boiler base
- Coffee collector pot
- Gasket Ring
- Filter plate
When you use a moka pot correctly, the rubber gasket is the only part that you may need to replace. You can extend the life of the gasket ring if you never put it in a dishwasher and don’t leave it lying in direct sunlight.
The gaskets come in different diameters, depending on the individual make and model of the moka pot.
Assembly is quite straightforward – the filter goes in first, then the rubber gasket.
When assembling your moka pot, ensure that the flat side of the filter plate fits into the bottom of the coffee collector. Looking at the photo, you would place the gasket ring over the filter plate as it lies and then insert the side of the filter, which is against the table, into the top edge of the collector pot.
Bialetti Moka Pot ReviewThere are many brands and patents of stovetop espresso makers – the stainless-steel or aluminum varieties are most common. Some are operated electrically, while others are designed for use directly on the stove. There are also models made especially for induction cooktops.
The best-known manufacturer is Bialetti with their Moka Express. These are available in different sizes: the four-cup model, or the six- and 10-cup versions.
Bialetti also manufactures stainless-steel espresso makers for induction cooktops. Additionally, Bialetti’s electric “Cloer 5928” espresso maker is also quite popular.
Bialetti Moka Express
The Moka Express is a classic, aluminum moka pot that is very light-weight.
I have already extensively reviewed this famous moka pot: Bialetti Moka Express.
This model does have some disadvantages – you can’t wash the boiler base in the dishwasher, nor can you descale it with citric acid.
Those of you with induction cooktops or gas stoves should use the stainless-steel version, instead. I will introduce that to you next. However, in terms of design, I think that there is no better moka pot than the Bialetti Moka Express.
This stainless-steel stove-top espresso coffee pot works exactly the same way as the others made of aluminum. You can find a detailed review of the Bialetti Venus here: Stainless-Steel Espresso Makers.
However, The Bialetti Venus can go into the dishwasher and is more robust. It is also suitable for all cooktops. Additionally, you can easily descale the Venus with citric acid.
Overall, it is definitely the more practical moka pot.
The Bialetti Brikka has a so-called crema valve, which generates additional pressure and froths some of the coffee as it rises. This will give you something that looks like crema, but is still a far cry from real espresso. Its design increases the pressure and thus the temperature inside the espresso maker.
In any moka pot, the grounds come into contact with very hot water – which can quickly scald the coffee, turning it smoky and bitter. I haven’t tested the Bialetti Brikka yet.
Do Moka Pots Produce Crema?
No, unfortunately not. This form of preparation doesn’t generate enough pressure. Some frothy bubbles appear, similar to what you get when using a French press, but you can’t speak of a true, fully developed crema.
Like the Bialetti Brikka, some models contain a so-called “crema valve,” which froths the coffee somewhat as it collects in the top. It may look a bit like crema, but you still can’t even remotely compare it to espresso coffee made with a portafilter.
If someone has told you that you can replicate real portafilter espressos with a moka pot, don’t listen, you will be disappointed.
Below is a YouTube video of an espresso maker with a “crema valve” by Bialetti (not my own making).
Electric Espresso Makers
I have tested Cloer’s moka pot model 5928, an electric moka pot. These use electricity and function like an electric kettle. Because of this, they are not suitable for camping, but are great to use at home.
The Cloer moka pot is a rather simple yet modern design and is made of stainless-steel.
It heats up within about five minutes. Like a kettle, this espresso maker can rotate fully, so you can easily take off the espresso maker from any side.
This espresso coffee pot is just as easy to clean as a Bialetti, but – as with the aluminum version – you shouldn’t put it in the dishwasher. You should, however, regularly descale it.
There are different filter inserts for different amounts of coffee grounds. A more detailed review of the Cloer espresso maker can be found here: electric espresso makers.
What Does Coffee Taste Like from a Moka Pot?
Using good quality coffee or espresso grounds and following my instructions will result in a strong and flavorful coffee. However, this kind of coffee is less full-bodied than you’d get from a French press.
When using beans from Kenya or other African countries, you run the risk of the coffee from the moka pot tasting sour. In this case, I would try grinding the coffee a bit coarser.
If the coffee tastes burnt or too bitter, I recommend taking the pot off the stove sooner and grinding the coffee coarser.
Since the coffee comes into contact with very hot water by this method of preparation, there is greater risk of scalding the coffee. The result is an ashy note, making the coffee unpalatable. For this reason, you should always keep a close eye on the temperature.
Cleaning – Can Moka Pots Go in the Dishwasher?This is a matter of personal preference. In any case, I would avoid putting the rubber gasket ring in the dishwasher. Stainless-steel models are often designated as dishwasher safe, but you can also easily clean these models by hand.
Aluminum models suffer considerably when washed in the dishwasher. You will find the material will wear faster and the aluminum can also tarnish.
I wash my stove-top espresso coffee pot by hand and dry it with a towel so nothing oxidizes. The most important thing, though, is to always clean moka pots in a timely manner, otherwise mold can develop.
Descaling Espresso MakersHow often you need to descale a moka pot depends on the type of water you use in it and the amount of calcification that bothers you.
You can find most of the calcium deposits at the bottom of the boiler. I would remove these with a citric acid solution: 2 to 3 tablespoons of citric acid per liter (34 ounces) of water is usually sufficient.
I always separately soak the filter funnel and the filter plate in citric acid, too. You can do this in the same solution, but don’t forget to rinse them thoroughly afterward.
Further Questions Regarding Moka Pots
My moka pot is leaking. What can I do?
It could be that the rubber gasket is defective. After a while the gasket will become porous. You can replace the gasket ring, which is probably the easiest and fastest solution.
If the espresso maker no longer unscrews, it could be due to oxidation or burnt coffee grounds. In this case, it may help to light tap around the pot at the level of the thread – but be cautious, as you can easily make dents.
Is the coffee from moka pots unhealthy?
I’ve read quite a few reports in which people say they have trouble tolerating the coffee from moka pots. I think that this is mostly due to improper preparation, using too fine of coffee grounds, or burnt coffee.
Help! My moka pot keeps boiling over!
Filling the boiler with less water and bringing the water to a boil more slowly (at a lower temperature) should solve the problem. This way, the coffee pot can’t easily overheat and burn.
Can a moka pot replace a portafilter?
No. An espresso machine makes espresso, while a moka pot makes coffee. That being said, none of the moka pots outlined here are true alternatives to a French press or a pour-over coffee maker.
I would say, though, that any of these methods are better than “making coffee” with capsules (Nespresso) or other instant coffees.
What should I consider before using my moka pot for the first time?
Always rinse a new espresso coffee pot thoroughly with hot water first.
What if the water isn’t rising into the coffee collector properly?
Try a coarser grind or a smaller amount of coffee. The coffee is probably too compacted. Please note that you shouldn’t tap down or firmly compress the coffee grounds.