I imagine the way I feel about the Moka Pot is how my parents feel about me: fair bit of interest, but pretty consistently disappointed.
Haha no, just kidding.
I honestly really like the Moka Pot. I like that folks have ancient Bialetti’s - just absolutely filthy with the stains of ten thousand brews - and they can make a coffee without even thinking about it. Just popping it on the element and lettin’ er rip. Chaos. If that sounds like you: you know what you’re doing and there’s probably no need to read on.
But if like me, you’re interested in more particularity and a lot less bitterness: let’s get into it. This tutorial might be a little more mathematical (read: dry) than my previous tutorials so… maybe have a coffee before you attempt this. The end result of this process will preserve the simplicity of a moka pot, but to get there we’re going to be diving into specifics of weight and temperature so bust out your scale and thermometer.
The difficulty of the Moka Pot is tied to the way it functions. It uses pressure to produce a coffee that is strong, short and punchy - which could be a description of espresso. But despite the Moka Pot's alternate name ‘stove-top espresso machine’, I think chasing the elements of an espresso is the source of a lot of dissatisfaction. For one thing, the pressure that a Moka Pot is under is considerably less than what an actual espresso machine generates. Furthermore, the ratio of water to coffee is higher in the Moka Pot. Anywho, let’s set aside the misnomer ‘espresso’ for now and make sure we go after a coffee wholly unique to this brewer.
A typical espresso recipe lives in a 1:2 territory (dry grounds: liquid output). But a Moka Pot, mine for instance, is closer to 1:6. This is governed by the size of the pot - you don’t really have the option to use more/less water or coffee, you kinda gotta roll with what it gives you, which I think is a good thing. If you have a scale, try working out what the ratio will be specifically in your Moka Pot. Place the bottom chamber on your scale and fill it with water to just under the safety valve. This is the amount of water you should always use to brew (X). To work out the coffee weight - fill the ‘filter basket’ with coffee and tap the side (a bunch) to distribute and totally settle the grounds. You want it to be full - but not compacted. Try using a straight edge of some kind for tapping and levelling. (Y)
Okay, let’s Moka coffee! Moka coffee. Get it? Like ‘make a coffee’. Oh, you got that? Okay ...because you didn’t really laugh and I thought - no you know what, forget it, it’s fine.
- Boil some water in a kettle. You’re aiming for less than a boil when it comes to brewing - in fact we want to avoid a boil throughout this whole process. I have success with water around 170f, which conveniently is about the temperature of boiling water once it’s added to a room temperature Moka Pot (maybe this will work for you as well?). If the water is too hot the brew process will happen too fast, so don’t preheat your Moka Pot. (Cold water will take too long to brew, duh.)
- Grind your Xg coffee in a burr grinder. Go coarser than espresso. Grinders vary, Moka Pots vary, so this part you’ll need to experiment with. I’ll circle back on this later.
- Add your hot water to the bottom chamber up to the safety valve (Yg) and your grounds to the filter basket, tapping the side to settle and distribute the coffee, but don’t actively compact it. When that’s done, place the filter basket into the bottom chamber.
- Using an oven mitt to hold the now hot bottom chamber, screw down the top chamber until it’s tight and place the whole thing on your element. This is another variable that will take a little trial and error to figure out, but you don’t want the element to be as hot as it can go. A medium-high heat is better.
- With the lid open, keep an eye on things, and try taking note of how long it takes for coffee to start flowing from the funnel. This will be vital information for informing water and element temp.
- As the coffee flows out, the water left in the bottom chamber will become depleted and both steam and boiling water will force its way through the coffee bed. This bit of coffee will be over-extracted and should be avoided! The moment you hear/see sputtering, put that lid down, remove the Moka Pot from the element, and run the bottom under a stream of cold water to stop the brewing process. (I sometimes have a little bowl of cold water ready to plunge the Moka Pot into. Whatever is easier.)
- Pour that dark, strong, unique brew and enjoy!
If you enjoyed your coffee then the nice thing about this method is you technically won’t need a scale or thermometer again.
If it didn’t come out quite right – then there are a few things to consider changing - and I would recommend experimenting with them in this listed order. Each will have an effect on time, which is what we are trying to alter. If your coffee tastes sour, or salty, or thin in some way, it’s likely the brewing process happened too fast, and will need to be slowed down. If the coffee is overly bitter (remember that Moka Pots yield a bitter brew to a degree, that’s part of the charm) or even burnt tasting, then you might have over-extracted, and you will want to speed things up.
- Grind - a finer grind will create a longer brew time. Coarser will go faster.
- Starting temperature of water - a hotter starting temperature will create a shorter brew time. If you need to go hotter, try preheating the chamber. If you need things cooler, and to take a longer time, don’t add water right off a boil - let it cool down first.
- Temperature of element - a hotter element will create a shorter brew time. Pretty self explanatory.
I will admit that you might also try adding more or less coffee, but a full filter basket is ideal, and shouldn’t leave much room for fluctuation if your tap game is thorough. Afterall, we don’t use a Moka Pot because we want to pay THAT much attention.
Okay see ya next time!