People often say “first is the worst.” And there may be some truth to that; as new products come out, they tend to be improved on my subsequent products. In the case of the stovetop espresso maker, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The original is certainly the best.
Bialetti created the stovetop espresso maker, known as the Moka Express, in 1933. It was the first of its kind and ushered in a new era of home brewing. We’ve outlined below why we think it’s the best stovetop espresso maker on the market.
Multiple Sizes – This device comes in a variety of sizes ranging from 1- to 12-cup brewers. Keep in mind that these are 2 oz. demitasse cups, not standard 8 oz. cups.
Reusable Filter – Featuring a reusable filter, you’ll never have to worry about replenishing your supply of paper filters again
Crema – This device brews coffee at high enough pressure to yield crema. Don’t hold your breath though; it may take a few tries!
Design – The moka pot has become a hallmark of Italian design. It will look beautiful sitting on your stove, whether it’s in use or not.
Volume – If you’re looking for a brewer that can make large amounts of coffee at once, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. Even the largest Bialetti moka pot only holds 24 fluid ounces of coffee.
Cleaning – Cleaning the pot can be cumbersome, especially if you let it sit after brewing. We recommend cleaning shortly after you brew.
Leaking – Since the seal is created by a rubber gasket, over time this device can be prone to leaking. Luckily, Bialetti offers replacement gaskets.
About the Moka Express
Bialetti invented the stovetop espresso maker in 1933. It is no coincidence that it was released amid the turmoil of the Great Depression. The moka pot was a means of making coffee at home for less money than it would cost at a local cafe.
The moka pot became a symbol of home coffee brewing and remains immensely popular in European and South American countries. To this day, the vast majority of Italian residences own a moka pot.
What’s with the name?
It’s surprising, but the moka pot doesn’t get its name from the mocha drink. Instead, the Moka Express is named after the city of Mocha in Yemen, paying homage to the coffee trading capital of the world.
Typically, moka pots are made of aluminum. The handle is made of a plastic called Bakelite, which was a newly developed plastic in the early 1900s.
The moka pot sports pronounced curves and sharp edges and has grown to embody the interweaving of Italian coffee culture and design. It has even been on display at the Museum of Modern Art.
Functionally, the moka pot works similarly to a percolator. The bottom chamber is filled and heated until it begins to produce steam. The steam is trapped within the reservoir and has nowhere to go, so it begins to take up more volume. As the steam occupies more space, the water that has not yet turned to steam is forced up a small tube into the middle of the moka pot.
The middle of the moka pot is where the coffee grounds reside. Once the water makes contact with the grounds, extraction begins. When the basket with the grounds fills up with coffee, the steam in the base of the pot forces the brewed coffee up another tube to a spout in the top of the moka pot.
At this point, gravity does its thing, and the fresh coffee spouting from the top of the tube showers down into a reservoir in the top chamber of the moka pot.
This brewing method differs from a percolator in that percolators continue the cycle of boiling, brewing, and spouting, whereas the moka pot stops after the first extraction.
One neat design element that has been on the moka pot since 1953 is the mustache man on the side of the pot. While many have thought that it is a cartoon of the inventor himself, Bialetti claims that it’s actually his oldest child, Renato.
The company refers to this sketch as “l’omino coi baffi” which means “the little man with mustache”. Although silly, we love this design accent, as it looks like Bialetti himself is saying: “One coffee, coming right up!”.
The grind coarseness should be very fine, similar to how fine you would grind for espresso. This is especially important so that you can perfectly extract the coffee. The best way to get the coffee this fine is to invest in a burr grinder. You don’t need a fancy, expensive one; a hand crank burr grinder will do.
If the grounds are too coarse, the system will not have enough internal pressure to keep extraction slow. This will result in a very sour, under-extracted cup of coffee with no crema.
If the grounds are too fine, you may be able to achieve some crema, but the coffee will be over-extracted and taste rather bitter.
You’ll want to play around with your grind coarseness to achieve your desired cup.
Brewing coffee in the moka pot is very simple. After you’ve dialed in the proper grind settings, you’ll want to fill the bottom chamber of the pot with water. We recommend using filtered water to reduce scale buildup over time. This will increase the lifetime of your moka pot.
To speed things up, we like to bring water to a boil in another kettle, then transfer that nearly boiling water to the bottom chamber of the moka pot. That way, you can decrease the time that your freshly ground coffee is sitting and waiting for the water to boil.
After filling the bottom chamber with boiling water, fill the grounds basket with finely ground coffee. We recommend around 20 grams of coffee for the 3-cup Moka Express, but you’ll want to adjust the amount depending on the moka pot capacity.
Make sure you shake the basket a bit to level out the grounds. This will help avoid over-extracting in some areas of the basket and under-extracting in others. When you’ve prepped the grounds, you can insert the basket into the bottom chamber.
With the grounds basket securely in place, twist the top portion of the moka pot onto the bottom chamber. Be careful, though! The base will be hot from the boiling water.
Now that the moka pot is fully assembled, place it on a burner and set the heat to medium.
You’ll know your coffee is done when it begins to make a soft hissing and bubbling sound. Once it’s finished brewing, remove from the heat and enjoy!
Cleaning the moka pot is not very difficult, but you’ll want to make sure you do so shortly after brewing. If you leave the pot to sit with coffee in it, over time the water will evaporate and make the dried coffee hard to remove.
After you’ve rinsed the coffee grounds out of the apparatus and disassembled it, be sure not to toss it in the dishwasher. Bialetti suggests using warm soapy water to clean the device. After you’ve clean it, dry it thoroughly with a towel. Keep the pot disassembled until it is completely dry to avoid oxidation.
Over time, the rubber gasket around the reusable filter may begin to fail, which will cause leaking and jeopardize your delicious coffee. Luckily, Bialetti offers an affordable replacement filter. You shouldn’t have to replace this often, but it’s a good idea to check the integrity of the gasket every so often.
If you take care to follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions, this device will last you many years.
Overall, we love the Bialetti Moka Express. It is easily our favorite stovetop espresso maker. As long as you grind your coffee to the proper coarseness and clean the device thoroughly after each use, your coffee will be delicious and easily repeatable.
We highly recommend this device for brewing espresso-style coffee for larger groups of people. However, keep in mind that the cup size rating for each moka pot is based on a demitasse cup (2 fluid ounces). If you’re planning to make espresso for a large dinner party, you may want to consider upsizing to the 12-cup Moka Express. That’ll give you a solid 25 fluid ounces of espresso-style coffee to serve to your guests.
We also love the Bialetti Moka Express because it is a rather inexpensive way try your hand at espresso-based beverages, such as lattes, cappuccinos, or mochas. After working with the moka pot for awhile, you can decide if you’re ready to take your love of coffee to the next level and purchase a semi-automatic espresso machine.