In my hit list of coffee preparation methods, the best moka pot ranks far behind pour-over filters and the French press. Why is that, really?
The first version of this guide expanded on what the moka pot can’t do — focusing on espresso, in particular. Recently, though, my attitude has changed a bit, and you guys are not entirely without blame for that.
Your numerous comments and questions have encouraged me to give the $20 moka pot another chance and see it for what it is:
- Easy to use without much prior knowledge
- Smaller than any coffee maker
- A reliable outdoor companion
What’s not to like?
Even if we cover our eyes a little, the drink from a stovetop espresso maker certainly reminds us of espresso. Although using “espresso” in the name isn’t justified for construction reasons alone.
Either way, we’re dealing with an exciting form of preparation here, which I’d like to reintroduce to you in an update without reservations.
In this review, I’ll give you an overview of manufacturers and variants for different types of stoves. I’ll compare stainless steel and aluminum moka pots, as well as look at whether the original Bialetti is still the best moka pot around.
I’ve also corrected a few errors and removed ambiguities that you pointed out about the first version. Thanks for that, and keep up the good work!
I’ll boil down all of my reservations about the stovetop espresso maker into one chapter. That way, you can decide for yourselves whether these differences or comments are important to you. Let’s start with pressure.
If we leave all other factors aside, pressure is the most important element in espresso preparation. In an espresso machine, this pressure comes from two sides:
- Finely ground espresso is compressed into a coffee puck in the portafilter, creating resistance to water shooting through.
- A pump pushes hot water at pressure through this barrier.
The stovetop espresso maker mimics this principle. Here, too, finely ground coffee in a filter insert forms a barrier against hot water. However, the stovetop pot relies on physics instead of pumps.
Water is heated in the stovetop pot’s lower chamber until it reaches the boiling point. It then wafts through the coffee grounds, cools to a liquid and thus, ends up coffee in the pot’s upper chamber.
Depending on the moka pot model, the liquid still has to pass through a more or less resistant valve. In some cases, it’s called a “crema valve” intended to produce the coffee foam that we appreciate so much in espresso.
Still, even with a super valve, a stovetop espresso pot doesn’t get close to the 9 bars of pressure needed for an optimal espresso — or any espresso, for that matter. On average, it only reaches 1.5 bars.
Due to this “upside down” brewing principle, the espresso pot belongs to the percolator family — so it’s more like that hipster favorite, the siphon coffee maker.
That said, the linguistic and visual similarity of the two forms of preparation can’t be denied. The fact that coffee from a moka pot is comparable, in many respects, to a classic Italian espresso is due to the circumstances surrounding its preparation:
- The coffee beans are ground (almost) as finely.
- The ground coffee is also compacted (minimally by the funnel shape).
- The coffee beans are roasted equally as dark.
- The higher preparation temperature brings out classic espresso notes.
Of course, we mustn’t lose sight of why the stovetop espresso maker — we’ll continue to use this term for simplicity’s sake — exists in the first place.
When the espresso machine was invented in 1884, Italians went crazy for strong espresso with delicious crema. They wanted to experience this pleasure at home. The trouble was that the average person couldn’t afford a stainless steel behemoth.
Fortunately, Alfonso Bialetti was kind enough to invent the Bialetti Moka Express in 1933. A similar principle, similar results, much lower price!
You can still buy this aluminum classic anywhere — and only have to throw down around $20. There are both cheaper and more expensive variants, too. You can choose between dozens of brands and countless design and function ideas — you can even find electric models!
Let’s not forget: the moka pot’s basic principle has never changed — why should it when it’s so easy to achieve such clear results?
Plus, good espresso makers from Bialetti and others are practically indestructible and you can (thoroughly) cleaned one in seconds. An espresso machine, on the other hand, will have a hard time keeping up with that!
However, the pot boiler has always been a clumsy copy of the espresso principle and isn’t entirely free from controversy. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.
- Lightweight — especially the aluminum pots
- Versions available for all types of stoves — including stainless steel pots for induction cooktops
- Stand-alone units available — no stove needed, just a power outlet
- Low price — and always pretty
- Very easy to use — and clean
- Ideal for camping and outdoor adventures — practically indestructible
I wanted to test my claim about the low price and sorted the search results list on Amazon for “moka pot” from expensive to cheap. I almost tipped the coffee out of the pot in amazement: there are actually stovetop coffee makers available for over $800!
No, no and no again. More than $50 (for a classic version) is unnecessary, and even then, you should look at what justifies this price! We’ll get to that later.
- The grind for a stovetop espresso pot is very specific, so you’ll need a burr coffee grinder. Pre-ground espresso is too fine and pre-ground coffee powder is too coarse.
- It’s important to keep an eye on the moka pot throughout the preparation process. Otherwise, you run the risk of burnt coffee, burnt equipment and maybe a few other kitchen accidents.
- Aluminum is a highly controversial material and is in frequent, direct contact with hot water in a moka pot.
These factors will keep us busy in the coming sections, especially when we look at the different manufacturers.
The Bialetti: Just a Classic or the Best Moka Pot?
Melitta is the filter coffee (or a better coffee filter), Kleenex is the facial tissue and Bialetti is the stovetop espresso maker. Not only does the Italian company hold the title of the inventor, but it also has a huge product range — even if all the versions are more or less the same.
However, three typical Bialetti examples give us an excellent snapshot of the main groups in the moka pot category.
The Bialetti Moka Express: Aluminum Mother of all Stovetop Espresso Makers
I hardly need to explain the polygonal classic with the Bialetti man on the side. It’s even in the kitchens of people who don’t drink espresso. This lightweight aluminum model is available in all sizes, ranging from 1 – 12 cups and costing $24.11 – $64.99 on Amazon.
As the mother of all stovetop espresso makers, the Bialetti Moka Express isn’t suitable for use with an induction cooktop due to its material. What’s more, it doesn’t it keep the coffee at temperature for particularly long.
On top of that, the pot (for 6 cups) got very hot during my review, and the handle wasn’t quite as easy to use as other models. These are minor issues, but they also show that even classics can be improved.
My review also made clear something that applies to all aluminum espresso makers: they must never be put in the dishwasher and should not be descaled with citric acid.
The reason: the aluminum dissolves under the influence of (citric) acid and can enter the body under certain circumstances. Check out the detailed FAQ list on aluminum and its influence on health that the Department of Health and Human Services has compiled for more information.
Equally important, from my point of view, you can buy the Bialetti Moka Express in colorful covered versions, ranging from Italian names to trendy pastels — for example, Bialetti Rainbow. Even though these moka pots aren’t coated on the inside, I would advise against buying one. In my experience, color coatings have a tendency to peel off over time.
Despite all reservations, this Bialetti moka pot has rightly earned its classic status. However, on the subject of aluminum as a health risk, I’ll refrain from giving my personal opinion. You can decide for yourselves whether it’s right for you or not.
The Bialetti Venus: The Steel Evolution
For around $10 more, the Bialetti Venus is a stainless steel stovetop update that has no issues with an induction cooktop. It also doesn’t have any of the aluminum drawbacks. What’s missing, though, is the iconic Bialetti design.
The current version is called the New Venus, and the price on Amazon ranges from $36.14 (for 4 cups) to $52.63 (for 10 cups). If you already have a Venus espresso maker, you definitely don’t need to buy a newer version. Either way, I consider the Venus to be the best moka pot in my review — even though my review selection is very limited.
As it should be for an overall winner, its stainless steel is high quality and it’s easy to clean. Plus, its result in the cup can even convince an espresso purist such as myself. We don’t even need to talk about the price-performance ratio.
The Bialetti Brikka: In the Name of the Crema
This device is the real reason for renewing this review and comparison because no one could understand why I wanted to test the Bialetti Brikka. After all, it is supposed to solve the problem of non-espresso from an espresso maker.
It has the previously mentioned built-in crema valve, which offers more resistance to the bubbling coffee. This makes for a drink that’s supposed to approach espresso both visually and taste-wise.
Still, my reservation hasn’t changed: coffee prepared in a moka pot is already at a higher-than-optimal temperature. The crema valve builds up additional pressure, which, in turn, shifts the boiling point of the water. This shortens the preparation time (good), but increases the risk of over-extraction (bad).
I’m well aware that many of you love your Brikka unconditionally. So, in this case, I’ll just abstain from any final opinion and trust your experience. For a New Brikka, the 2-cup model will cost you just over $40, and the 4-cup pot will run you about $50 on Amazon.
Viewed completely objectively, this Bialetti espresso maker also delivers the same advantages that apply to the entire brand range.
All owners know how long these devices last. However, if you need spare parts, they’re readily available and cheap. You can also order a matching Bialetti Tutto Crema manual milk frother to go with any stovetop espresso maker. The Italians really consider manual preparation a system and have thought it out from start to finish.
The Stainless Steel Moka Pot: Always the Better Alternative?
From IKEA’s Metallisk model to the popular LuxHaus stovetop espresso maker, stainless steel is currently the material of choice. Only some “traditionalist” Italians from Bialetti or Lavazza continue to make models with aluminum.
That said, I tend to believe that a sense of tradition plays a certain role here, as well as pricing. For example, if the ultra-affordable Primula aluminum moka pot is available for as little as $11.99 for 3 cups, why should you buy a stainless steel moka pot?
If we look at the case against aluminum, the answer seems obvious. Besides, stainless steel moka pots can live even longer than their aluminum counterparts and are simply more versatile.
The only problem is that stainless steel is not fundamentally the better choice. Much depends on the alloy and even more on the design. Take the widely used Cilio moka pot, for example. Some criticize the Cilio stainless steel moka pot for being too thin, with a finish too sharp.
High-quality Italian versions from Giannini, Alessi or even the German Groenenberg moka pots have a very different feel and inspire more confidence.
So, how much should a good stainless steel stovetop coffee maker cost? I find that price doesn’t necessarily make the comparison any easier. After all, using the buzzword “induction” or talking up stainless steel is a great way to cash in.
If you’re looking for a sensible middle ground, you’ll find most moka pots in the $25 – $50 range. Paying less than that means you run the risk of getting inferior stainless steel not evenly finished on the bottom. And an induction stovetop won’t recognize a bumpy bottom!
Electric Moka Pots: Who Needs a Stove?
If you take away the espresso, moka pots work just like kettles. So, it stands to reason that both appliance worlds would evolve in similar ways. Hence, the kettle became a water boiler, and the espresso pot became an electric espresso maker with a built-in heating element.
The advantages (which are obvious): you don’t have to worry about the stove type, and you can look forward to an automatic shutoff.
The disadvantages: a stainless steel espresso maker still can’t go in the dishwasher, and you’ll have to be careful when cleaning it. Basically, it’s an appliance that can only do one thing, taking up a wall outlet (even if you could repurpose it as a kettle).
A long time ago, I reviewed the Cloer espresso maker, which is still only available in Europe. As a representative of the entire electric subcategory, this moka pot had me pretty excited.
However, recently, I had another look and found that the Cloer is almost an ideal specimen, both in terms of price and features. It’s important to me that the electric espresso maker is as slim as possible, which this one is.
DeLonghi (and others) also provide offerings built like a Bialetti but which stand on a detachable base. This is not only bulky, but it never looks particularly high-quality, either. Plus, some of these representatives obviously don’t use stainless steel.
Interesting Espresso Makers & Related Principles
As soon as a product idea gains momentum, someone comes around the corner and invents new versions. Some are pretty and clever, while others just seem average. Yet, they all attract fans.
Take the Bellman Stovetop Espresso Maker for example. When I reviewed this thing for my best portable espresso maker guide, I described it as a moka pot on steroids.
Thanks to the Bellman’s pressure gauge, you have a lot more control over your stovetop espresso. Sure, you still won’t achieve 9 bars of pressure, but I’ve heard that the results are pretty darn tasty.
Even better, the Bellman Stovetop Espresso Maker includes a built-in milk streamer and you can use leftover pressure from brewing to froth milk. I have to say I’m a little dubious about how well that would work, but it’s a good idea.
The downside to all this fancy-pants moka pot innovation? The Bellman will set you back whopping $309.99 on Amazon. Yeah, I think I’ll stick with my trusty Bialetti!
Moka Pot Operating Instructions: Now Don't Be So Strict!
The beauty of using a moka pot is that you can be pretty relaxed with the preparation. So, we don’t have to be too strict with the instructions, either — right?
I think that in order to learn how to use it properly, you need to familiarize yourself fully with your stovetop espresso maker. Then, you can loosen up a little and experiment.
After all, we’re miles away from the precision of an espresso machine or the complicated operation of a super-automatic coffee machine.
However, it’s often the case that your fake espresso tastes terrible. Most of the time, this is less to do with the brewing method and more about incorrect preparatory work:
- The coffee beans need to be freshly roasted (as always) and ground immediately before use.
- The optimal grind for stovetop espresso makers is medium-fine — slightly coarser than espresso and slightly finer than filter. Try different intermediate steps.
- Fill the lower chamber of the moka pot with water — preferably warm or hot to shorten the brewing process. If there’s no fill line indicated, always stay below the safety valve.
- Insert the funnel and fill it to the brim with ground coffee. The grounds should be evenly distributed and not forming a pile. You can experiment with different amounts once you’ve got the hang of it.
- You can lightly (really lightly!) tamp the coffee powder to achieve an even surface. Careful, though, if you press it too hard, you may increase the pressure to the point where the espresso maker becomes a coffee bomb.
- Check that the rubber gasket is in place and screw on the top of the moka pot straight tight.
- Place the whole thing on the induction, electric or gas stovetop to start the brewing process.
- The time it takes before you hear the coffee bubbling up from the bottom chamber will vary, depending on which type of stove you’re using. Be sure to stay close by and listen carefully!
- The brewing process is complete when no more liquid bubbles out of the valve into the upper chamber of the moka pot.
- When the brewing process ends, immediately take the pot off the stove and pour the contents directly into cups.
I think it’s the crude imprecision of this boiling method that causes baristas to turn up their noses. The only thing that’s (reasonably) precise here is the grind, while the rest is almost a free-for-all.
Of course, this is at the expense of the elegance of espresso or coffee. Still, in some respects, it’s great when we don’t always have to do everything with such precision. Heck, we can leave the coffee scale in the cupboard for a change!
Another tip from the community (from David): “The safety valve is used to relieve excess pressure if the funnel is clogged — e.g. by coffee that’s too finely ground! So, if steam escapes from the valve, remove the moka pot from the stove immediately.” Amen to that.
Supplemental: the faster the brewing process, the less chance your espresso will taste bitter. I didn’t make that clear in the previous article.
Which Coffee for the Italian Coffee Maker?
Before getting into choosing coffee beans for a moka pot, I’d like to note that many of you don’t make your fake stovetop espresso to drink straight. Instead, you consider it the perfect base for all coffee drinks with milk foam.
I’m happy to go along with that. Still, I’d still always select and prepare the beans so that the resulting coffee tastes great unadorned. After all, we owe that much to coffee and espresso — at least that’s how we feel at Coffeeness.
It stands to reason that an Italian roast should be paired with an espresso maker bearing the names Alessi, San Fabio or Cucina di Modena. However, coffee beans with a super-dark (Southern Italian-inspired) roast profile have a habit of tasting bitter and burnt if something goes wrong.
That may not matter for a quick caffeine kick. Still, if you want flavor in your cup, you’ll have to be almost as careful when brewing stovetop espresso with these beans as you would when using them with an espresso machine. As I said earlier, that’s not the point of using a moka pot.
The beverage from a stovetop pot will be very strong and aromatic when prepared correctly, but it will have less body than coffee from a French press. Incidentally, both of these preparation methods are two sides of the same coin for me.
Just like a moka pot, the French press — as a full immersion method for filter coffee — is similarly open to experimentation and is just as forgiving of inaccuracies. The main differences are in the contact time between the water and ground coffee and in the preparation temperature.
Conversely, these elementary differences give us important clues about the perfect coffee beans for the stovetop espresso maker:
- Acidity should play a minimal role. For acidity to work well in an espresso-related coffee, all preparation parameters need to be neatly matched, along with the addition of more pressure.
- The roast level should be below Italian. For example, medium to medium-dark espresso beans (which can also compensate for the inaccuracies of a super-automatic machine) inherently provide better results in a moka pot.
- Go for classic dessert notes and avoid too many bitter attributes. Just as a coffee from an espresso maker can turn sour too quickly, stovetop espresso will turn bitter in a hurry. When taking tasting notes, look for descriptions that fit a dessert buffet (chocolate, nougat, pralines, almond cake, sugar, etc.). Flavors that have a lot of naturally bitter associations (pure cocoa, many types of nuts, amaretto, etc.) should be minimal or nonexistent.
- Use 100% Arabica instead of a Robusta blend. Robusta or canephora is notorious for producing bitter attributes and crema buzz. This is difficult to achieve in a moka pot. That’s why, for your own sake, you should choose 100% Arabica if you can.
Troubleshooting Moka Pot Coffee
If your moka pot coffee still doesn’t taste good, despite careful bean selection, it’s not the fault of the machine at all (for once). Rather, it’s the accompanying circumstances:
- If the coffee is sour, you should adjust the grind to a coarser setting.
- If the coffee tastes burnt or bitter, take the pot off the stove faster, check the dosage and see if a coarser grind helps.
- If you don’t remove the espresso maker from the stove really quick enough, the high brewing temperature and continuous heat supply can cause a lightning-fast, double-boil effect that’ll result in a burnt brew in your cup.
Some roasters indiscriminately lump super-automatic coffee makers, espresso machines and moka pots together in the preparation recommendations for their beans. It’s often the case that the AeroPress is in there, too.
Even though there are exceptions to every rule, certain roasts and bean varieties that are guaranteed to work in a portafilter, certainly in an automatic coffee maker and possibly in an AeroPress, quickly fall flat in a stovetop espresso maker.
On the other hand, this “all-in-one espresso promise” works smoothly when the espresso pot isn’t explicitly mentioned, and filter methods are given equal footing with espresso in the preparation tips. In this case, we’re dealing with an omni roast that doesn’t carry this name for nothing.
Cleaning the Moka Pot: What to Put in the Dishwasher?
If you follow a few essential rules when preparing and cleaning your espresso maker, the parts will not only last years but sometimes decades. The only thing you’ll have to buy after a certain time is a new gasket — but that’s usually super-cheap.
We’ve already touched on the differences between aluminum and stainless steel when it comes to the dishwasher. Aluminum espresso pots should not go in, while stainless steel pots have no problems (as long as the gasket is removable!).
One exception: if the espresso maker is electric, it mustn’t ever go into the dishwasher, even if it’s stainless steel. That’s logical, though. After all, you’d also only clean the top of an electric kettle by hand, right?
However, the question remains as to whether moka pots really need to go in the dishwasher. With a few simple steps, some water and detergent, you can get all the components clean in seconds and then just let them dry.
As always, when tap water and heat are involved, every espresso maker will need a round of descaling at some point. You should also avoid using citric acid with aluminum versions, as I mentioned earlier as well. I don’t see any problems arising with stainless steel versions.
Simply let 2 – 3 tablespoons of descaler per liter of water (more like a teaspoon per espresso maker) run through the assembled vessel, repeat with clear water, dry off, and that’s it.
If it becomes necessary, you can put the funnel and strainer into the acid solution again after boiling through. As always, rinsing is super important!
Caution: do not put the rubber gasket in citric acid! It’s even less tolerant of acid than the aluminum.
Moka Pot Conclusion: A Chance for Love?
I continue to see no reason for relying on the stovetop espresso maker. At home, I have enough super-automatic espresso machines and semi-automatics, all of which excel in producing what a moka pot can only approximate in the cup. And when traveling, I bring my trusty pour-over dripper.
However, after this review and comparison, I think I’m doing the espresso maker an injustice, despite everything. Particularly when it’s made of stainless steel, the $20 moka pot is virtually indestructible, uncomplicated and so beautifully unpretentious. So, the question is: how much fuss do you really have to make about espresso (or a version of it) in everyday life?
What’s your take on it? Is the moka pot the right form of simple or just plain gross? I look forward to your comments.