Brew Method: The Bialetti Moka Express

09/02/2011

There are many ways to brew coffee at home—as many bad methods as good methods. Aside from auto-drip, instant and K-cup machines, I personally think the worst cup of coffee one can make at home comes from a Bialetti. There are a few techniques to improve the coffee from a moka pot—like pouring pre-heated water into the lower chamber—but I still think the outcome is on par with burnt metallic sludge.

Coffee taste aside, the object itself is a beautiful and iconic part of design history, with a place in several major museums around the world. Which is why it looks great on posters, sitting on a kitchen shelf, or even oddly contorted into a ceramic mug.

Yesterday, The New York Times ran an article about the invention of the Moka Express that says 9 in 10 Italian homes own one—which is an incredible saturation of the home brewing market. But just like Italian espresso, ignoring progression in the name of tradition can limit the quality that good coffee can produce.

The moka pot is often referred to as a stove-top espresso maker, but it doesn’t actually make espresso. While, it does use pressure to push water through the coffee grounds, it’s a substantially less amount than what’s required for a proper shot (1-2 bars of pressure instead of the required 9 bars). In many ways it’s just a well designed percolator.

However, if you love using a moka pot as much as looking at one, atleast give the tips in this video a try to see if you can improve the taste. If you’re buying fresh roasted coffee, you shouldn’t sacrifice flavor for the sake of romanticizing an inferior brew method.

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7 Comments

  • Reply Enrico 09/03/2011 at 1:02 pm

    CMIIW, but…

    “In many ways it’s just a well designed percolator.”
    AFAIK, the “sin” of the percolator is that it uses the extracted coffee+water components to again-and-again flush the coffee ground, thereby creating a quasi-endless cycle of coffee extraction.
    (mind you I never used percolator though, I just see from videos and old infomercials and documentaries)

    But the water that pumps upward in the Moka Pot only goes ONCE, thereby extracting only ONCE. Not cyclic. Unrepeated.

    Ergo, Moka Pot IS NOT THE SAME AS a percolator. And I think you have made a mistake in your line above.

    But once again, CMIIW. Just 2 cents from a non-espresso drinker.

    • Reply bwj 09/03/2011 at 3:41 pm

      Not all percolators cycle water, but the process of using steam pressure to push water through the grounds into an upper chamber is the same, which is why I said they are similar. The moka pot also does not make espresso.

  • Reply Enrico 09/04/2011 at 12:59 am

    Oh ok, then it’s my knowledge about the percolator that’s limited. My bad, thanks for the explanation. Sometimes I went on business trips and even the 2-3 stars hotels serve terrible coffee in a huge percolator “contraption”. Great breakfast, bad coffee. Not a good way to start your work.

    And yes I agree that using moka pot doesn’t result in espresso. Maybe stronger coffee, or as you put it “burnt metallic sludge”.

  • Reply Alan 02/15/2012 at 1:13 pm

    Just tried this method with my Bialetti. The cold towel at the end really did the trick! Thanks for the tip.

  • Reply eve 10/09/2012 at 2:36 pm

    I love the coffee that comes from my moka (I have a stainless steel one, which might help). Anyway, if you’re getting burnt sludge, you’re probably using it wrong. Make sure to use medium heat. You don’t want to burn the grounds!

  • Reply Brian 01/11/2013 at 10:16 am

    I have an aluminum one, and I think the key to getting rid of the metallic taste is to brew several “throwaway” cups – with stale beans, say – to flavor the pot. Then don’t scrub it or clean it with soap once the pot is flavored, just rinse it thoroughly after use and let it dry. You don’t generally have to worry about things growing in it if you use it regularly and keep it dry otherwise – it superheats the water, bacteria don’t stand a chance in that environment. Flavoring the pot keeps it from picking up the metallic flavors.

    • Reply bwj 01/11/2013 at 10:37 am

      “Seasoning the pot” is a misconception and ultimately bad advice. Coffee oils go bad when exposed to oxygen. You may cover up the metallic taste, but its doing to with bad coffee. Neither of which is appealing. Cleaning your coffee brewing equipment is always recommended.

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