by Know Your Grinder
People spend so much time debating the quality, consistency, and convenience of high-end coffee makers and espresso machines, but for my money, there is no better coffee maker than the moka pot – an elegantly simple engineering feat.
The moka pot looks cool, works well, and produces the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.
With the right ingredients and a little practice, you can be making coffee drinks at home that bring shame to anything you could buy from your favorite coffee shop.
All you need is a moka pot.
About 85 years ago, a genius – and my personal hero – named Alfonso Bialetti created the moka pot.
His moka pot was a shiny aluminum vessel with a black handle to prevent any coffee lover from burning their hand on the hot metal.
This straightforward design was so successful that, all of these years later, the same basic blueprint is sold and used around the world.
In fact, the brand Bialetti is synonymous with moka pots, even though other manufacturers have come along offering different styles, shapes, and colors of their pots.
In 2018, the design of Bialetti’s moka pot is considered iconic by many. Personally, the image is forever linked to the notion of delicious beverages from my own kitchen.
Adding a moka pot to your home brewing arsenal is a no-brainer.
Finding a moka pot at Target, buying a moka pot from Walmart, or simply ordering a moka pot from Amazon will shift your life towards a more caffeinated state. And that’s really the ultimate goal, isn’t it?
When you bring your pot home, you’ll see what I mean by the elegance of the simple design. The moka pot parts are only a few, rock solid pieces. They include:
The bottom chamber.
As you may have guessed, the bottom chamber is the bottom of the moka pot. It holds the water needed to brew the coffee, and it is the section that comes in contact with your stove or other heat source.
Part of the iconic design of Bialetti’s pot is the octagonal shape of the bottom chamber compete with eight sides and eight angles that taper slightly from the wider bottom and narrower top.
The final notable feature on the bottom chamber is the pressure valve. Little but valuable, this tiny opening regulates the pressure inside the pot and avoids danger from moka pot explosions.
In the middle of the moka pot is the basket that holds the coffee. The basket acts as a filter and contains dozens of pin-sized holes that let water in without letting the beans out.
When holding the basket upright, there is a funnel shape below the area for the grounds, which allows the water to contact the coffee. The basket sits nicely upon the bottom chamber.
The collecting chamber.
With the basket in place, the collecting chamber screws on the threads of the bottom chamber. There is a ton of ingenuity happening in the collecting chamber.
The black handle blocks the heat, the hinged lid offers easy open and close operation, and elevated middle section permits the coffee to vertically travel from the bottom chamber, through the basket, and arrive at in the collecting chamber.
Potentially the best feature is the little Bialetti mascot in his striped-pant tuxedo, hat, and moustache raising his pointer finger in the air as a smug declaration of superiority.
An under-appreciated facet of the collecting chamber is the gasket. This rubber o-ring secures a seal between the chambers to ensure the needed pressure levels are maintained during the brewing process.
Everything on the moka pot is aluminum or very hard plastic. Everything, that is, except for the ever-important moka pot rubber gasket.
Now, in my years of making coffees with my pot, I have never had to replace this piece, but I know other people have and replacements are found easily with a simple web search of “moka pot Amazon” or “moka pot Walmart.”
Yes. The coffee drink produced by a moka pot is deep, rich, and loaded with caffeine. It shares many qualities with espresso, but it is not true espresso. The difference is the pressure.
A major part of what makes espresso true espresso is the pressure with which the hot water is pushed through the coffee to pull a shot of espresso.
In coffee circles, pressure is measured by a unit called a bar with more bars equaling more pressure.
Typical espresso machines create huge amounts of pressure and regularly top out over 9 bars. The moka pot can only muster between 1 and 2 bars of pressure – far short of the espresso standard.
So, coffee made with a moka pot is not espresso, so what is it? Well, it’s really a completely different beast.
Surely, people new to coffee or those that don’t care about their caffeine will not care about the subtleties separating espresso from a moka pot brew. But I do, and I assume you do, too.
We live in a world of individual brewing methods that produce individual taste profiles.
Moka pots make something like espresso just like the aeropress makes something completely different.
What I can say is that the moka pot creates something very similar to espresso, and it pairs really well with some warm milk to make lattes, Americanos or macchiatos.
If you are planning your moka pot purchase, one of the biggest decisions you’ll need to consider is the size.
Walking in to your local Target or Bed, Bath & Beyond will only give you a few choices, but the online world will offer seemingly endless options.
For example, Target offers the 3, 6, and 9-cup options online and in many stores. Bed, Bath, & Beyond lists a whooping 50-cup model on their website.
A staggering amount of coffee comes with an equally staggering price of $500. Fortunately, affordability is a major selling point of the moka pot with an average retail price of between $25 and $45 for the most popular sizes.
With moka pots, size definitely does matter because you cannot make partial pots. Again, can you make a half moka pot? No.
If you get a 9-cup model, you must make 9 cups each and every time, and sorry friends, that 50-cup model must be used to capacity.
The issue is the balance of coffee, water, and pressure needed to accurately brew the beans. Adding only enough coffee beans for 2 cups to a 9-cup machine will produce zero cups of drinkable coffee.
So, you want to buy the model that makes the most sense for your home, and your needs. I live in a single-drinker home as my wife and kids despise the sight and smell of coffee.
More for me I suppose. I own the 3-cup model, since I could not envision a world where I drink 6 servings of coffee in one sitting.
Here is a great moka pot tip: the cup sizing is a bit misleading. The 3-cup model can only hold about 5.5 ounces of water in the bottom chamber.
Assuming you perfectly brew that, you’ll only yield about 5 ounces of coffee because some is inevitably lost to steam.
Most of the time, though, you will have some un-utilized water left over, so you may only get about 4 ounces of drinkable coffee.
Bialetti considers just 2 ounces to be one serving, but this is small for the standard American espresso-style drinks.
Just about all coffee houses will use double shots of espresso in drinks that are medium or larger.
At the end, a 3-cup model gets you one drink, which is perfect for me, but it might not be ideal for you.
Be honest with yourself to consider the moka pot size that is best for you. Still, moka pot costs are relatively low.
Treat yourself to several models for every day, weekend use, and a big boy for the dinner parties.
The moka pot is a superior coffee contraption because there are excessive benefits to this timeless classic and very few limitations.
The benefits to the moka pot are:
At about 3.5 inches wide and around 7 inches tall, my 3-cup pot takes up hardly any space at all. Of course, my wife insists I tuck it away into my coffee drawer, which works out splendidly due to its diminutive size.
It could really find a home anywhere, though. In drawers, cabinets, on the fridge if storage is an issue. Again, with the moka pot, you have a treasured design.
Feel free to leave that bad boy right out on the counter or in the center of the stove. A moka pot is something to show off.
No moving parts.
I see my moka pot as an indestructible coffee maker. Toss it off the roof or out of a moving car, and it won’t be any worse for the wear.
Much of its resilience comes from the complete lack of moving parts. Nothing wears out. Nothing grinds away. It just keeps brewing.
Only requires heat.
No plugs, no replacement filters, no electricity, and no mice on spinning wheels. If you have water, beans, and heat, you can make a cup of joe from a moka pot.
Go camping with a moka pot. Use your moka pot on the beach or at your favorite music festival. Very few coffee makers can rival this ability.
Moka pots are cheap. The small price tag becomes even more appealing when you consider you can disperse the minor investment over the course of a lifetime, because once you have a moka pot, you could pass it down for generations in your family.
Of course, your kids won’t want to wait for your moka pot. They will just go get their own.
Allows you to use any beans you like. If you buy a pod machine, you are forever locked into their ecosystem.
I know what your retort is going to be: “I use my own beans and a refillable pod.”
People always make this claim but rarely follow through on this long-term. It’s too inconvenient. Whether you like whole beans or already ground – single origin or blends, moka pots let you customize the brewing with the beans you prefer.
Plus, this ability helps you keep your local roasters and bean supplies in business.
It’s fun coffee science.
Making a drink with a moka pot is always a science experiment. I know the coffee is going to come shooting up to the top compartment, but it still amazes me every time.
What kind of magic can make water defy gravity to push through coffee and make a drink? It never ceases to please, and I don’t imagine the novelty will ever fade.
Okay. Okay. I did say that there were some moka pot limitations, and I’m a man of my word. I suppose if I had to come up with one, it would be the time and attention needed to brew a cup.
From grinding your beans to heating the water on the stone, the process can take a few minutes, and your attention is needed throughout.
If you get distracted and step away for a moment, you could end up with a stove covered in coffee or a finished product that is bitter and burnt.
Moka pots are not a “set it and forget” kind of coffee maker, but that is specifically what I like about it.
Making a coffee drink with a moka pot is easy and exciting. The process takes some time, but I love going through the steps of making my mean mokas.
The time is a great opportunity to practice some mindfulness, think about your day ahead, or just annoy the family with the sights and sounds of coffee grinding.
Here are the steps for making the best moka pot coffee:
Measure and grind the beans.
I know that freshly ground beans always taste better than beans that were ground last week. Pour your whole beans into the basket of the moka pot to get a good estimate of how much you need then transfer into your grinder. I use a hand crank burr grinder for ultimate consistency and control.
Warm and fill the bottom chamber.
The bottom chamber of your pot holds the brew water, so you want that water to be as hot as possible. I fill and dump the bottom several times with steaming tap water to warm the chamber and get the water closer to boil.
Check your valve and gasket.
Once the chamber is warmed, I fill it right below the valve and double check that it looks clean and is functioning well.
While I’m in the mood to check things, I look at the rubber ring on the top chamber. Any old coffee or issues with the gasket will lead to moka pot leaks at the seal. This poor seal will also stop the pressure from building up to the needed levels to properly make the coffee.
Fill the basket.
With the chamber warmed and filled, I load the basket with ground coffee.
I never overfill the basket because the excess coffee will spill onto the gasket and interfere with the seal and pressure. I don’t tamp the coffee only a tap is needed to settle and evenly distribute the grounds.
Assemble the pot and heat.
We are loaded with water and coffee. It’s time to screw on the collecting chamber and place on the heat source. I make moka pot on an electric stove and crank the heat up to high. This system seems to give the best results for me.
Life is busy, and I often get distracted and start walking away, but I need to remind myself to be patient and stick to the plan. Watch your moka pot. It is going to make some sounds, and you need to pay attention and interpret what is happening.
Focus on the honey color.
Once the brew begins to flow, I start adjusting the temperature, but since my electric stove is slow to react, I lift the pot off of the burner an inch or two to control the heat.
The goal? The goal is a steady flow of coffee that is a golden or honey color. Too dark means too much heat and a bitter moka pot.
Lift early, not late.
That coffee in your upper chamber is hot and every second you leave it on the heat, there is a chance of it burning. It’s like popcorn. Too much focus on popping the final kernel risks burning the already-popped-kernels. Lift early for best taste.
Empty and rinse.
After you pour your cup, rinse your moka pot under some cold water to cool it down, disassemble, empty your basket, and rinse the inside with water. That’s it. No soap needed.
In fact, seasoning a moka pot leads to better taste, and that soap could kill the flavor of your next cup. Cleaning a moka pot is not necessary.
Are moka pots safe? Are moka pots dangerous? Can moka pots explode? It seems that moka pot explosions are an unfortunate reality. To me, though, they come in two significantly different varieties.
The first is the standard moka pot explosion.
This explosion is one I have experienced many times, and it involves any instance of the hot water or coffee shooting out of the spout on the collection chamber and landing on the countertop or stove.
Even though this is an explosion, it is actually one that is encouraged at my house.
Anytime I get out the moka pot, my kids excitedly ask if I am making exploding coffee and if they can watch the process. It’s like they are hoping my quest for the perfect cup is unsuccessful. These kids are weirdos.
The standard moka pot explosion is mostly just annoying and always unavoidable.
In my experience, there are two main issues that cause these explosions.
The first is failing to put coffee in the basket. I know it seems like the most basic part of making a moka pot, but it still happens.
Without the coffee there to slow the progress of the water, it comes spurting out with high heat and higher velocity.
The second way to create a standard explosion is to leave your pot unattended.
If you walk away with the heat on high or simply let your pot stay on the heat too long, you will end up with coffee squirting over the top.
Again, that’s your counters, stove, or floors that are going to get wet. Worst case scenario, you or your loved ones get pretty burned from the boiling liquid.
The standard moka pot explosions are cause for concern, but they cannot match the danger of the extreme moka pot explosions.
These explosions are somewhat controversial, because like bigfoot, they are often discussed with reported sightings, but no one has ever captured the event on video.
I have seen some interested footage of the alleged aftermath of an explosion, and it looks pretty serious.
But what would make a moka pot explode? It’s a good question, but one that is pretty simple to answer.
The heat makes pressure, and the pressure can make things explode.
But how can this happen? What about the pressure release on the bottom chamber?
So many questions, and I have the answers. I suppose the pressure valve is not a surefire way to prevent all explosion as it could get clogged with old coffee or a collection of scaling from your water.
Without a functioning valve, the pressure will build to a dangerous level until the pot fails.
Other issues could be heat that is too high or coffee that is tamped.
If you remember from earlier, there is no need to tamp the coffee in the basket. Simply fill to the top.
Tamping the coffee in the moka pot can make it difficult or impossible for the water to move through the coffee to the collecting chamber.
Having the heat too high can create steam at a rate higher than what the pressure valve can keep up with, leading to too much pressure and not enough release.
The damage caused by the moka pot explosions can be pretty frightening with broken stoves, boiling liquids launched across the room, and shattered glass around the kitchen. To avoid moka pot explosions always:
The moka pot produces a deep, rich, and strong cup of coffee. As mentioned, it is not espresso, but it lends itself very well to all of the standard espresso drink recipes, with a few modifications of course.
My very favorite moka pot recipe is my moka pot cortado.
The cortado is an under-appreciated espresso drink that you can’t even get in many coffeehouses, but I’m always pleasantly surprised to see one on the menu board.
They are super easy to make at home because they only require warmed milk and espresso. No foam or other fanciness.
For a moka pot cortado, I prepare my moka pot following the how-to guidelines above. I always prefer single-origin beans, but since this is your drink, you can choose whatever variety and variation you like.
Once you get your pot on the stove, grab some milk from the fridge and pour about 4 or 5 ounces of it into a larger mug – something capable of holding at least 12 ounces.
Pop that mug in the microwave for about 45 seconds or until it is warm but not hot. I do not like a scalding hot cup of coffee, so I want the milk to be a bit cooler than drinking temperature.
By the time your milk is warm, you should shift your focus back to the coffee to avoid any unwanted explosions. As soon as you reach the desired point for your coffee, pour the contents directly into the mug containing the milk, which brings the temperature up to the ideal level.
I really like chocolate cortados, so I add a bit of chocolate syrup to the milk, but just a few grains of raw sugar can add the right amount of sweetness to a drink that might seem boring. You cannot go wrong with a moka pot cortado.
Maybe you’re looking for something else for your morning caffeine. I would recommend a moka pot latte, moka pot macchiato, or another favorite, a moka pot mocha.
These drinks all follow the same basic procedure of the moka pot cortado, you just have to vary the amount and preparation of the milk and add syrups to suit your personal preferences.
Drinking moka pot espresso straight from the pot is a delicious option, but since I like the sweetness in my drinks, I love a splash of syrup to the cup.
Americano fans will need to add a smaller amount of water to create a moka pot Americano compared to an Americano using standard espresso.
With moka pot recipes for hot drinks, you really need to be open to experimentation. Play with the syrup flavors and varieties of milks to dial in your favorite taste.
Making cold drink moka pot recipes takes more work and more steps than hot drinks, but a hot coffee drink on a 90-degree summer day isn’t happening in my kitchen. The extra effort is worth the chilled payoff.
Please keep in mind that I have played around and experimented numerous times with this recipe. I believe I have discovered the best order of operations to yield the best drinks.
Start by preparing your moka pot and get it on the stove. In a smaller mug, add some chocolate or caramel syrup. Meanwhile, grab a tall glass and fill it about half way with cold milk straight from the fridge.
As the pot makes its coffee, pour the contents of the upper chamber into the mug with the syrup. The cool mug and the cold syrup help to begin the chilling process of the coffee, which is the biggest focus at this point. Too much heat in the milk ruins the drink before it starts.
Let the coffee rest in the mug for a minute or two while giving it a stir to continue the cooling process. When you are comfortable with the heat coming from the coffee, add it to the milk then add cubed ice to the top of the glass. I like to leave this drink unstirred because it gives off a nice layer look like an iced macchiato.
Like I said, I think this method offers the best taste without watering down the coffee, which sometimes leads to the bitter moka pot taste some people complain about. This way, you get the full flavor of the moka pot in a cold drink recipe.
Although the moka pot is pretty versatile with hot drinks, the above is pretty much the only moka pot cold recipe I use. I hope you find some more with your experiments.
Did I mention the moka pot can do more than coffee? Some inventive and ambitious folks are now using moka pots for tea. You can make moka pot tea? Who are these geniuses?
Called teapressa, you add tea leaves to the basket of a moka pot and prepare the drink as you normally would with coffee. The result is a shot of high-powered tea.
You can enjoy this alone in its natural state, or you can choose to add in some water, milk, or other flavorings to spice up your creation.
I have not yet had the thrill of moka pot tea, but the drink has developed quite a following. These people must be onto something!
This is easy: The moka pot is one of the best, cheapest, most convenient, and most fun coffee maker there is or ever will be. You need one.
About Know Your Grinder