Bitterness is the peculiar sensory characteristic of coffee. But why is coffee bitter and why do we like this typically unpleasant taste in our favorite drink?
Talk to an Italian grandmother and she will argue that the best coffee is made on the stove with a Moka Pot.
Talk to a professional barista and he will tell you that the only way to make true coffee is via an espresso machine.
They both are coffee brewing methods using pressure.
The word “espresso” may spring to mind when we talk about pressure brewed coffee. However, there’s more ways to brew with pressure than the stock standard espresso machine.
The three most common ways to brew coffee with a little pressure are: the espresso machine, the Moka Pot and the AeroPress brewer.
Pressure brewed coffee merely describes a cup of coffee that is extracted using (you guessed it) pressure, resulting in fast extraction times and a more intense brew, when compared with other brewing methods.
Which coffee brewing method makes the better coffee?
So who are you going to listen to? The grandmother or the barista?
Head to head “the Moka pot vs the espresso machine”, which brewing method is the one for you?
There is no easy answer to this question.
The verdict: It’s up to you. Both the Moka Pot and the espresso machine brew an Italian tasting cup of coffee.
Still deciding to side with your Italian grandmother? That’s cool and that will keep your nonna smiling.
Even though coffee machines are more ubiquitous, the joys of brewing a perfect cup of coffee the old fashioned way, over a stove top, have not faded.
The Moka Pot
Let’s take a look at this pressure brewing method in terms of the Moka (with a “k”) Pot.
The name “Moka” refers to the city of Mocha, Yemen which served for many centuries as a center of coffee excellence.
The stovetop espresso maker (AKA “the Moka Pot”) was invented in 1930s Italy.
Starting from the iconic Bialetti of 1933, several models have been produced enabling the spread of traditional Italian coffee in the world.
The Moka Pot is probably the most common kitchen utensil in Italian homes indicating it is the traditional Italian method of brewing coffee on the stovetop. Over time, it has become synonymous with “made in Italy” coffee.
The Moka Pot is still used to brew coffee in many homes all over the world but most commonly in Latin America and other parts of Europe. Why? Because it’s an easy and quick way to brew a full-bodied cup of coffee that is rich in aroma. This particular method of coffee brewing produces an intensely-flavored brew with exceptional body and richness reminiscent of espresso. Moka coffee can be enjoyed any time of the day.
Its mechanics are simple and perfect for home use yet there are some small but fundamental tricks to use it and keep it at its best. The temperature of the water, the type of coffee, the amount of coffee, the grind, the intensity of the flame?
What’s the secret to brewing a perfect cup of coffee using a Moka Pot? Is there more to brewing that perfect cup of coffee using your stove top coffee maker?
It’s so simple to achieve a perfectly brewed Moka Pot even if it does take some practice and a careful eye.
Everyone has their own style and methodology which inevitably are handed down from generation to generatio.
What makes the Moka Pot?
Before we answer that, it would help to understand the design of a Moka Pot and how it works. Using that knowledge will help you to understand how you can achieve the best results when using one of these devices.
What’s it made of?
Many have an hourglass shape but you can find Moka Pots in a variety of styles.
However, all are based on the same operating principle of water being heated in the lower chamber.
The Moka Pot has these main components:
- A boiler/base/cylinder (bottom chamber) containing water to be heated
- A filter funnel holding the ground coffee
- A collector (top chamber) with a removable filter held in place with a rubber gasket. The top chamber collects the coffee once it’s brewed.
Moka Pots incorporate a pressure regulator that functions similarly to a pressure cooker. When combined together, these three pieces of aluminum have magically provided comfort to coffee breaks in Italian homes for decades.
Did you know that the aluminum body helps to retain heat?
How does it work?
The magic behind the Moka Pot is in its 3 chambered brewing process.
Put over an open heating element, the Moka Pot places (fresh) water in a bottom compartment. Above that, ground coffee is inserted in the filter funnel between the water and serving vessel.
As water in the bottom chamber boils, the powerful steam causes pressure (approaching 2 atmospheres for the Moka Pot vs. 9 atmospheres for the espresso machine) that pushes water up through the coffee grounds in the filter and into the top chamber, creating smooth, aromatic brewed coffee.
Since they utilize steam pressure, Moka Pots can appear intimidating. However, you can be assured that they’re much simpler to use than they look!
By comparison, an espresso machine is a much more complex coffee apparatus. Whereas the Moka Pot uses nothing but the fire (a stovetop) to heat water, an espresso machine uses motors, heating elements and electronics to brew espresso properly.
How to use it?
- Fill the base chamber with cold water up to the level of the valve.
- Insert the filter.
- Completely fill the filter with ground coffee, but don’t pack it down.
- Make sure the filter and rubber gasket are in place.
Warning: the seal and removable filter should be changed periodically.
- Screw the two chambers tightly together.
- Place the Moka Pot on the stove.
Warning: keep the heat low. Use a low flame.
- Remove Pot from heat just as the coffee starts to gurgle and before it starts to rise and bubble.
Warning: do not overheat the coffee (remove the Pot from heat as soon as brewing is complete so over-extraction is avoided). The gurgling of the Moka tells us that the water is over. This ensures you’ll extract only the best parts of the coffee.
- Mix the coffee with a spoon before pouring into cups.
- Rinse the coffee maker with hot water and let dry thoroughly before screwing
Skill level required?
You don’t need to be a barista, obtain special skills or attend barista school.
Once you have the right grind, which is the hardest part, it’s a relatively simple process: just fill the chambers, turn on the heat and keep a close eye on it.
What To Expect?
Not quite an espresso shot, but close to it if you use the right grind and the right technique.
Expect a sharp and strong tasting coffee with an intensely-flavored brew of exceptional body and richness reminiscent of espresso. The coffee that comes out from the Moka Pot is very concentrated, thick and delicious. However, it’s very easy to under or over extract.
The Moka Pot comes nowhere near to the espresso machine in consistency, quality or control. It’s difficult to control quality from brew to brew. The Moka Pot has no pressure consistency which can result in bad coffee that is bitter or watery tasting. There is not much to work with to fix any problems from brew to brew.
However, in the espresso machine the grouphead valve allows for a consistent and steady stream of pressure that flows over and through the grounds. This helps produce an even extraction and a full flavor. Moreover the espresso machine has mechanics that aid in ensuring consistency from cup to cup.
Although there is a steep learning curve (depending on your machine, of course) the espresso machine allows you to manipulate and change multiple variables including water temperature, extraction time and the total amount of coffee brewed. This control will help you create a routine and allow you to explore the flavors of the coffee that best suit your particular taste.
Time (from bean to brew):
Super veloce! Una volta che abbiamo scaldato l’acqua, non dovremmo impiegare più di 5 minuti (un po’ di più se usiamo un piano a induzione). Per questo motivo, la Moka è l’opzione perfetta per chi la mattina, di corsa, ha bisogno di caffeina.
Super fast! Once you’ve heated your water it should take no more than 5 minutes (a little longer if you use an induction stove). For that reason, the Moka Pot is the go-to option for caffeine deprived people when in a morning rush.
For that reason, the Moka Pot is the go-to option for caffeine deprived people when in a morning rush.
With the espresso machine, you’ll have your fix in 20-30 seconds but only once the machine has warmed up! It depends on your machine.
A professional machine may need 15-40 minutes to warm up, and a home-based machine may take only 3 minutes.
And what about coffee? What’s the best one for your moka pot?
A large part of the Moka success lies in the art of choosing the right type of coffee and the perfect grind.
Moka Pot coffee-making is not an exact science, so you will need to go through a “discovery” process.
Start with already ground coffees (packed in 250 grams) and then experiment from there.
Regardless of the Moka Pot you’re using, if you don’t use the most appropriate coffee achieving the perfect grind, your efforts to brew that perfect cup of coffee will fail!
For this reason, a professional grinder is required to produce a fine texture. This is why it is often better to rely on coffee already ground with professional coffee grinders.
The SpecialCoffee ground coffees are the culmination of methodically selecting beans while utilizing innovative methods to roast, grind and package the products in a protective atmosphere.
Experiencing SpecialCoffee’s signature aroma and taste at home is possible while maintaining the same excellent quality synonymous with our brand.
Even at home, SpecialCoffee’s coffee is unmistakably SpecialCoffee.
What type of coffee grind is best for brewing a great cup of coffee on a stovetop coffee maker?
The coffee grind is the tricky part.
The rule of thumb for having the right Moka grind is to make use of grinds that are relatively fine (slightly finer than that used by a drip coffee maker) but not too fine. It should be slightly coarser than what’s used for espresso.
If that doesn’t help, the best way to achieve the right grind is through trial and error: start coarse, and go finer until the texture and the taste is right for you.
If your brew is too weak/watery, you’ve gone too course (under-extracted).
It it’s too bitter, you’ve gone too fine (over-extracted).
Closing thoughts about Moka…
Best suited for you if:
- You prefer a subtle tasting brew.
- You’re on a budget: the Moka Pot is a super cheap “coffee maker”.
- Want something super portable: the Moka Pot is perfect for traveling, quick to brew and easy to clean.
Not so great for you if:
- No other brew can replicate a nice espresso shot! You love the taste and texture of a shot of espresso. In fact, the Moka Pot does not create authentic espresso that is super concentrated coffee with crema and complex flavors.
- You’re the type that likes a quick and sharp hit of caffeine.
Closing thoughts about what you don’t have to do…
What you don’t want to do is use a ground coffee that’s been sitting around on your kitchen shelf too long. If you are aiming for that perfect cup, then make sure your coffee is not open for too long before it gets into the Moka Pot.
Ideally, use coffee that’s been ground immediately before using it. That’ll give your brew a fresh and flavourful taste. You’ll even salivate with the aroma of freshly ground coffee as you wait patiently for the Moka Pot to do its thing.
Tips for freshness: once opened, store the ground coffee in the refrigerator or in a cool, dark place. It’s better to use a moisture-proof, air-tight container. Otherwise, your Moka coffee will have a stale, bitter taste.
These secrets will help you prepare Moka coffee the right way.
The hardest part now? Convincing Italian grandmothers that you do not need to do the famous “mound”!
Have you thought about or taken the plunge and bought a Moka Pot?
What was your experience? Any recommendations?
If you are feeling adventurous and are ready to start learning the “coffee world” beyond the espresso, the Moka Pot is a great and economical first step.
If you consider yourself a little more advanced/hipster, you can venture into other coffee brew methods out there!
Photo credit: thanks to http://www.pastaeveryday.co.il