I’ve always been somewhat of a purist. I’m not opposed to change or progress — it’s just that I value quality, simplicity and design. I don’t need to have every new technology that comes out, just the ones that will enhance my life. When it comes to coffee, there are hundreds of different machines and ways to brew at home, yet I still use a machine first introduced 80 years ago.
Anyone who’s ever been to an Italian grandma’s house should recognize this coffee pot. It’s estimated that 9/10 of Italian households own this device and it’s also very popular throughout the rest of Europe and Latin America. The craftsmanship and design is simple, efficient and affordable. I’m talking about the Bialetti Moka Express.
The “Moka Pot” (sometimes called a percolator — which has nothing to do with this) was invented by Luigi De Ponte for Alfonso Bialetti in 1933 and is recognized as the first coffee pot to bring coffee brewing into the home. Before then, huge pieces of industrial machinery were required to make a decent cup of coffee, and it was therefore reserved only for restaurants and coffee shops. Once introduced to the public, this eight sided stove-top aluminum pot quickly became an Italian icon that still sits in design museums and kitchens throughout the world.
Let’s discuss the design. There are basically five pieces that all fit together pretty easily. The base is the part that holds the water and comes in contact with your stove. There are two different schools of thought here. The directions instruct using cold filtered water to start the process, but many people believe using warm or even pre-heated water produces better tasting coffee. I usually start with warm water and turn the stove to medium-low heat.
The next piece is the funnel. This is the compartment you fill with coffee and place into the base. You aren’t supposed to pack the grounds down as you would in a restaurant-style machine. Just fill up the basket without overflowing it. Although this machine is considered an espresso maker and requires dark roasted fine (espresso) grind coffee beans, the final product you’ll be drinking is actually less concentrated than your typical restaurant style espresso. It lands somewhere in between that little frothy shot and a really dark roast coffeeshop brew. This taste and viscosity actually produce some of the best iced coffee you’ll ever have when you pour it over ice and a little bit of milk.
Once your water tank is full and your coffee funnel is inserted, you’ll screw on the actual coffee pot, which is the piece with a lid and handle. There is a screen filter and rubber gasket at the base of this piece, but it always remains intact so you don’t have to ever worry about it. Once you screw the pot on and lift the cap you’ll notice a stem or “tower” in there. Your coffee will begin to percolate when the water is boiled and the pressure forces it to pass through the coffee grains and filter and into the pot through this stem.
Avoid opening the lid of the pot until coffee is done brewing, because it has a tendency to spray out a little bit. Once your coffee is brewed and bubbling in the upper pot, turn off the stove and enjoy. Whether you want to shoot it straight, combine with milk, or pour over ice, the Moka Express will produce an easy and consistent cup of coffee for you every time.
The cleanup and maintenance of this machine is pretty easy. After you have finished your coffee, unscrew the components, discard used coffee grinds and clean all pieces. The base is easy since it only had water in it, but the upper pot and coffee funnel take a few minutes to clean. Rinse the inside of the pot under very hot water to remove all sediment. Clean the filter on the underside of the pot, and do the same for your coffee funnel that you just removed the grinds from. This can be achieved by running warm water over it and rubbing with your fingers.
You can thoroughly clean this machine every other month by simply repeating the coffee making process, without using any coffee. Fill the base with 50% white vinegar and 50% water and no coffee in the basket. Then put it on the stove just like you’re preparing a regular pot. Once the process is complete, pour out the water and vinegar collected up top, and repeat process using only water this time. This will flush out all the machine’s components and keep your Bialetti clean and producing delicious coffee for years.
There are so many sophisticated ways to brew coffee these days (a few are found here), but I like to keep it classic. No pods or electricity required, just fire and water. The Bialetti Moka Express comes in several sizes, which also make it a perfect holiday gift for any coffee lover in your family. Price tag ranges from around $20 for the one-cup model to near $50 for the 12-cup version.