My Moka Coffee Pots

The Moka Coffee Pot was first patented by Luigi De Ponti, an Italian inventor, for Alfonso Bialetti in 1933.

My new coffee pots.

A moka pot is a type of coffee maker ubiquitous in Italy, but not very popular in the U.S.. Mostly called a macchinetta (little machine) by Italians, this stovetop device makes a very strong brew somewhat akin to espresso. A moka pot works by the same principle as an espresso machine – pressure builds up to push water through a compact “puck” of coffee – the resulting coffee has its own distinctive qualities.

A few months ago I purchased my first moka pot. It’s a nice 6 cup size that I found at Marshall’s on clearance for $7.50. For an aluminum pot the casting and finishing is very good. It says “Hotel Diamond Collection” on a band around the middle.

It took me a little practice to make good coffee with it, but now I know how to control the heat toward the end of the brew so I don’t have it spitting clear boiling water (and ruining it). Aside from the need to maintain a patina of coffee residue in the upper chamber, the big drawback of aluminum pots is the deterioration of the surface of the inside of the lower chamber because it’s so hard to keep that part dry. Many of the knock-off Bialetti types have really rough casting pits in the bottom chamber. The major benefit of the stainless pots is that they don’t get so cruddy from moisture left in them between uses. It probably makes sense to get an aluminum pot if you know you’re going to use it every day. They are so much cheaper. But if the pot will see more infrequent use, then it would be better to spring for a stainless model.

A couple of weeks ago I found a vintage stainless Guido Bergna 6 cup pot on ebay that I scooped up for $13.25 (+ $6.70 s&h). One of the photos of the pot on ebay gave the impression that there was serious heat-related damage to the bottom. But when I received the item it was actually in pristine condition, and a little Bar Keepers Friend polished it up like new. What a find!

The pot also makes good coffee. With this pot, since there is only one little opening on the stem for the coffee to exit, it is important that I turn the pot around so I can watch the progress as the coffee dribbles out.

There was a time (almost twenty years ago) that I routinely roasted my own green coffee beans. I used an old hot-air popcorn popper, and rigged up an exhaust fan system to cool the beans, and vent most of the smoke. I did my coffee roasting in my woodworking workshop so that the acrid smoke wouldn’t stink up our home. In recent years I have been able to get freshly roasted coffee so I haven’t bothered roasting.

My stomach is pretty sensitive to stale coffee. I can tell immediately that I’m drinking canned coffee; it begins to burn even as I drink it. There is a kind of dull thud that lets me know I better get out the Rolaids. Coffee that’s been roasted within a couple of weeks doesn’t bother me at all. And good freshly brewed coffee from say, Costa Rican beans roasted in the past couple of days, almost rings a bell as it goes down.

Now that I have the moka pots I’ve begun roasting again. I have a small Precision brand roaster, which I take out on the back porch.

Mostly I roast just enough to carry me through to when I can buy more freshly roasted coffee.

Back in the days when I was roasting coffee in my hot-air popper, I had a Gran Gaggia espresso machine. This was a pretty low end device, and it took forever to produce even a couple of espresso drinks of middling quality. Right now I am quite satisfied with my moka pot coffee. My wife drinks her coffee black also, but she prefers drip coffee. She finds the coffee from a moka pot too strong. It works out fine actually. I have one moka pot at my office and the other at home. A 6 cup moka pot really only produces one big U.S. mug-full anyway. So, in the morning I make coffee for myself in my pot, and my wife has auto-drip for herself.

Some people – usually espresso snobs – turn their noses up at moka pot coffee. I have developed a taste for it; mostly because I can’t afford good espresso. Decent home espresso machines cost over 600 dollars, with commercial models costing over 10K. These machines easily maintain a constant pressure of 9 bars (or nine times earth’s atmosphere) during the twenty-five seconds it takes to “pull” a shot of espresso. In order to pay for the machine, good quality coffee, and a competent barista, coffee bars need to charge upwards of $3 for a demitasse of espresso.

A good cup of espresso is covered with a light brown layer of emulsified oils called “crema.” This is a feature of true espresso that can’t be produced by any other brewing method. Now, I like good espresso. I really do. But it’s not something I can have on a daily basis. A single shot isn’t enough for me, so I want a double. That’s going to cost $5 easy. Instead, almost all of the time I order a cup of auto-drip house blend. But then I have a grilled muffin with it. And that will run me something like $6. I’ve decided to cut way down on going out for coffee, and instead enjoy moka pot coffee, and without the muffins!

In the past, when in an expansive mood I’d impulsively order an espresso. That is, if I was sitting in a real coffee bar with a barista, and I can see the shots (s)he’s pulling. Even so, I’ve been disappointed. I never have espresso in a restaurant. There are just too many things that go into making good espresso: The expensive espresso machine. The freshly roasted coffee. The heavy conical burr grinder adjusted properly. The correct amount of coffee tamped down and “polished” with the right amount of pressure. And on and on.

The whole thing is too much like fine wine. I do appreciate the cultivation of a high level of connoisseurship, but at a certain point I just throw up my hands and say it’s not worth all the trouble and expense. I’m just a moka pot kind of guy.



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