This is my moka pot. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. My moka pot is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my moka pot is useless. Without my moka pot, I am useless. I must maintain my moka pot thoroughly. I must grind better than the epsresso machine, who is trying to put us down. I must brew before he brews me. I will. Before God I swear this creed: my moka pot and myself are defenders of the love for coffee, we are the masters of espresso, we are the saviors of my tastebuds. So be it, until there is no tea, but coffee. Amen.
I have always been attracted to simple, robust and portable things I can bring on the trip and use anywhere. My Macbook is one of those things, so is my Victorinox knife, Hagor bag, and Certina wrist watch. There is something with these kind of objects — you get quite attached to them in a special way. Is it because of their history or function, or is it because of the simple philosophy behind their design?
I received a moka pot from my uncle for Christmas two years ago. On the card it said: “Sometime you’ve got to learn” (to drink coffee, that is). I wasn’t into coffee back then, but during my year in Canada I worked at Starbucks. Funny, huh? Now I’m really a coffee enthusiast and started using my moka pot for real. I can’t love it more than I do.
With only three essential parts, the moka pot is very easy to clean and maintain. Image from Wikipedia.
First, it’s the construction of the pot. Its almost-symmetric hour glass design with iconic octagonal shapes is a joy to study, and even nicer to use. When it’s finished brewing and you’re pouring the coffee, a thin, elegant stream of pitch black wonder is coming out of the pipe. By pitch black, I mean pitch black, as coffee should be. The figure to the left describes the different parts of a moka pot. Essentially, we’ve got the water chamber (A), the coffee filter (B), and the coffee chamber (C). Three is a magic number. If you watch the figure you really notice the pot’s symetrical beauty — even on the inside. On the bottom of the coffee chamber (C) there’s another filter with a rubber seal around it, so no steam can get in the chamber but through the grinded coffee. On one of the water chamber’s walls there’s a safety valve, which should not be blocked. Because we’re dealing with pressure and steam here, we need a safety valve to release some steam if the pressure would be too much inside the water chamber. One other thing that really appeals to me is the material. Mine is made in aluminium with an ABS plastic handle. It’s elegant without being to shiny and uber-modern. To me it speaks sturdiness and “trust me”-ness (very much alike Apple’s line of Macbooks).
How it works
The principal behind the moka brewing process is quite similar in theory to the espresso machine. It’s not like drip coffee or the french press, where the coffee is sort of steeping in water — moka pots and espresso machines are working with steam, baby. When the water in the lower chamber is heated, it’ll eventually start boiling. Steam is produced. After a while there will be a lot of steam in the chamber, and it’ll push the remaining water down. The water is forced to go somewhere – up through the filter pipe, through the coffee and out through the small chimney in the coffee chamber. It’s sort of a simplified espresso machine, but doesn’t deal with as high water pressure though. Thanks to the quick process and pressure involved, more caffeine and flavour is extracted out of the coffee grounds than with regular drip coffee.
The moka pot is simply constructed, cheap, easy to use and bring with you — everything an espresso machine isn’t. I’m so fascinated by the simplistic design and I love my moka because of the robust construction — it’s just raw metal with very few small, movable parts. Compare it to an old Volvo car, or a kalashnikov rifle: both works almost anywhere and has a very rough construction, a very straight-forward design which is easy to maintain. After usage, just screw it apart and rinse the parts in warm water, then let dry. The only thing you need with this moka pot (and other coffee making pots as well) is water, grinded coffee and a heat source.
How to make it
It’s dead simple to make moka coffee. Start with using great dark roast, espresso grinded coffee. You can buy it anywhere, even your local grocery store. However, to get the best quality, consider a visit to a coffee or speciality shop.
- Put the coffee in the filter (B). Be quite generous, but do not tamp it! Just shake the filter a bit so the coffee is evenly distributed. I can highly recommend mixing some crushed cardamom seeds in it. Just a couple is needed. It’ll produce a little more tasting coffee, and with some cinnamon on the top you’re in nirvana.
- Fill the water chamber (A) with cold water up to the security valve
- Put the filter on top of the water chamber (make sure the coffee grounds are where they should be — inside the filter) and screw the coffee chamber (C) on top. You don’t want any steam to leak, so make sure the coffee chamber is really tight.
- Put the moka pot on the stove. It usually takes around 4 minutes for the water to start boiling and produce steam. When you’re starting to hear the water boiling it’s time to pay a bit of attention. If you lift the top lid you’ll see when the coffee is coming up (like a volcano, it’s actually quite cool). With my moka pot it usually takes around 30 seconds for the coffee to fill the top chamber, but I remove the pot from the heat source before that happens. That’s because you don’t want your coffee diluted with regular water or steam which will start to come out of the chimney in the end of the process.
- All done! Enjoy the coffee in small espresso sized cups, in larger cappuccino cups with some milk (to really bring out the underlying flavours), or together with steamed milk — latte or cappuccino style.
The moka pot is often called “poor man’s espresso”, because it’s way more affordable than a real espresso machine. However, the coffee you get out of a moka is very similar in strength and taste to “real” espresso coffee. Almost every home in Italy got a moka pot. An unfair statement would be that espresso machines are in higher regard becasuse of the skill involved in the process of pulling the perfect shot of espresso — that these machines only are intended for an elite. Personally, I actually prefer my moka pot before my father’s espresso machine. Even though I’ve worked in a coffee shop I find the machine quite tedious to work with, and if you don’t pay attention, you might get really bad tasting espresso (which ruins the whole drink).
The ultimate thing would be to make the whole process “by hand”. Getting whole espresso beans and grinding them yourself, heat the water on a wood stove and then steam fresh cow or goat milk. That’s handmade stuff you don’t see too much of nowadays, in our fast-paced society. We tend to forget the quality and freshness of our food. Everything should be able to do anything. The moka pot does one thing, and it does it well: making great coffee.