How to Use an Italian Stovetop Espresso Pot (Moka Pot)

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There's nothing like a good cup of espresso. The ideal, of course, is from a proper espresso machine, but most of us can't afford to have a professional-quality espresso machine at home, and unfortunately, some of the lower-end espresso machines made expressly for home use turn out really inferior coffee.

But most Italians make their morning espresso with a stovetop coffeemaker called a mokafirst produced by the Bialetti company in 1933.

These stovetop kettles use steam pressure to force water up through coffee grounds and into a separate serving chamber. They are inexpensive, lightweight, and quickly turn out a great cup of coffee. Technically, it is not the same as espresso, as it is made using a much lower pressure than a professional espresso machine, but, if you use a good-quality coffee at the proper grind for moka pots (a medium grind, not as fine as for an espresso machine), it will give quite good results and even with a bit of crema on top -- the coveted layer of light foam on top of a well-made cup of espresso. 

To make a caffè macchiato (espresso shot with a touch of foamed milk) or a cappuccino out of the coffee from my moka pot, I use a milk-foaming mug by Frabosk. They make both ceramic versions (for use in a microwave) or metal ones (for stovetop use). You simply heat the milk (for about 45 seconds in a microwave on high for the ceramic version, and over low heat just until the milk is hot with the stovetop version) and then pump the milk-foaming attachment vigorously for about 20 seconds until it forms a thick and velvety foam.

I usually the give the bottom of the mug a sharp tap on the counter to break up any larger bubbles, and then let it sit for 1 minute before adding it to the coffee, to let the foam grow denser and smoother. You can also use a French-press coffee maker to foam milk in the same way!

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: 10 minutes

Here's How:

  1. Unscrew the top half of the moka pot, remove the filter basket, and fill the lower section with water just to the level of the bottom of the round safety valve that you will be able to see inside of the water chamber.
  2. Replace the filter basket on top of the bottom half of the pot.
  3. Fill the filter basket with medium-grind coffee. The coffee should be level with the top of the filter. You can gently pan it with the back of a spoon or your fingers to make the surface level, but do not tamp it down tightly (that would create too much pressure and could cause hot coffee to spray everywhere -- definitely not what you want to happen!).
  4. Run the tip of a finger around the edge of the filter basket to remove any stray coffee grinds, so that you'll be able to screw the top half on without any obstructions.
  5. Screw the upper section on tightly, making sure it is straight. 
  6. Set it on the stove, over a brisk flame that is not larger than the diameter of the bottom of the pot. If you do not have a small-enough burner, you might need to use a stovetop heat diffuser to tame the flame. (This type of pot works best with a gas stovetop -- the aluminum pots don't work on induction stoves and an electric burner is too difficult to regulate.)
  1. As soon as coffee begins to emerge (you will hear it starting to gurgle and bubble out), turn off the flame and let the rest of the coffee slowly percolate through.
  2. The coffee is done when the upper section is full and just steam emerges from the spout.

Tips and Tidbits:

  1. You must use coffee that's roasted for making espresso and of a medium grind. Standard American/Northern European drip coffee (even "espresso blends") won't work because they are not ground to the proper consistency and contain too many bitter oils. I use Illy medium-grind espresso, which is designed for use in moka pots. It comes in silver-and-red cylinders. It is also sold as whole beans that you can grind yourself.
  2. Though espresso coffee tastes stronger than drip coffee, it has about the same amount of caffeine, or sometimes even less.
  1. If your coffee is bitter, just a few grains of salt can balance out the flavor.

What You Need:

  • A moka espresso pot


NOTE: A Neapolitan-style stovetop coffee pot is different from a moka. For instructions on how to use one of those, see this page.

[Edited by Danette St. Onge]