If you enjoy the rich, bold flavor of espresso but don't want to invest in an expensive espresso maker, a moka pot is an excellent choice. Available as a stovetop or electric model, this small, eight-sided pot brews coffee by passing pressurized boiling water through the grounds. The level of pressurization is not nearly as high as an espresso machine, so the brew does have different flavor characteristics than espresso, though a moka pot produces a strong brew with no sediment.
Moka pots were invented in the 1930s by Italian designer Alfonso Bialetti and quickly became popular throughout Europe and South America. The original pots were made of aluminum, but today you can find them in either aluminum or stainless steel in sizes that produce a range of two to 12 espresso shot cups.
As with any coffee maker, from a French press to one that uses a K-cup, a clean pot is going to produce better-tasting coffee. Coffee contains oils and even micro-grounds that will build up over time on the inside of the pot. If they are not cleaned away regularly, the grounds turn bitter and the oils can go rancid, ruining the flavor of your coffee.
Fortunately, it takes only a couple of pantry items and a few minutes of your time to keep your moka pot in great working order.
How a Moka Pot Works
A moka pot has three chambers: one for the water, one for the ground coffee, and one for the finished brew. When heat is applied to the water chamber, steam is generated, increasing the pressure in the chamber and forcing water up through the ground coffee to brew the coffee. Finally, the liquid is forced into the top chamber where it is ready to be served.
The key to using a moka pot is keeping the valves between the chambers clean and the gaskets pliable.
How Often to Clean a Moka Pot
You should plan to give your moka pot a light cleaning every day, or after every use. You absolutely need to remove the grounds after each use. You should descale your moka pot—or give it a more thorough cleaning—twice a year, or monthly if you live in a region with exceptionally hard water and you use your pot every day.
- Distilled white vinegar
- Paper towels or white cotton dishcloth
How to Clean a Moka Pot Daily
Disassemble the Pot and Empty the Grounds
Once the pot is cool enough to handle, disassemble all of the components. Empty the grounds into a trash can or compost bin. Leaving the grounds sitting in the pot for hours leads to more oil build-up inside the pot and possibly mold growth.
Coffee grounds are great for acid-loving plants and help enrich the soil. Never pour coffee grounds down a sink drain or garbage disposal, unless you enjoy a clogged sink!
Rinse each component under a faucet stream of hot water. It is especially important to rinse all of the grounds from the grounds filter basket and the area around the safety valve.
Use a paper towel or cotton dishtowel to thoroughly dry each component before reassembling the pot.
- Do not place any of the components in an automatic dishwasher. The detergents are too abrasive for the aluminum material.
- Never scrub the inside of the pot with a scouring sponge or pad. Even small scratches can trap rancid oils and micro-grounds.
How to Descale a Moka Pot
Water contains minerals that affect its flavor. Those minerals can also build up on the interior of a moka pot and interfere with its operation and affect the flavor of the brew.
A good time to descale a moka pot is after dinner or when the pot will not be used for several hours.
Start With an Empty Pot
Fill the lower chamber of the moka pot with enough water to completely cover the safety valve and touch the bottom of the filter basket. This will be more water than you would normally use when brewing coffee.
Add Distilled White Vinegar
Add two tablespoons of distilled white vinegar to the water. If you don't have distilled vinegar, apple cider vinegar or strained lemon juice can be substituted.
Assemble the Pot and Allow It to Sit
Assemble the pot and allow it to sit for two to four hours (overnight is fine). The mild acid in the vinegar will slowly cut through the mineral build-up and any oils that are clinging to the inside of the pot without harming the metal.
Brew a Cycle
After several hours, pour out a bit of the water and run the acidic water in the pot through a regular brew cycle. (No coffee grounds, of course!)
Cool, Disassemble, Rinse, and Dry
Once the pot is cool enough to handle, pour out the vinegar water and disassemble the pot. Rinse each component under hot running water and dry with a paper towel or cotton dishtowel.
Tips to Keep a Moka Pot in Good Working Order
- Never tamp the coffee grounds as you would in an espresso maker. Excess pressure on the grounds can cause too many micro-grounds in your pot.
- Check the safety valve regularly while you are cleaning to make sure there is no evidence of mineral build-up around the valve or coffee grounds stuck in the interior valve opening.
- Never overfill the moka pot with water covering the safety valve. There must be a bit of space between the water level and the valve so excess steam pressure can escape.