The moka pot is an Italian staple that brews extremely strong moka pot coffee that falls somewhere between a really strong cup of joe and a shot of espresso. They are extremely minimalist in nature and almost resemble a miniature, simple percolator. Although it is not technically espresso, some refer to the moka pot as a stovetop espresso maker or an Italian espresso maker. Whatever the case, this little stovetop device is one of our favorites!
But it's pretty darn close. Typically, espresso machines use 9 or more bars of pressure to pull an espresso shot. That is a lot of pressure. With a moka pot, you will likely get more in the 1-2 bars of pressure range, so you likely won't get much creme on the top and you may sacrifice some sweetness. However, for all its simplicity, the moka pot is about as close as it gets to a stovetop espresso maker, and it results in some amazing moka pot coffee. Even better, while a good espresso machine can easily run you hundreds or thousands of dollars, the moka pot, including our favorite Bialetti Moka Express, should run you $50 or less.
According to Serious Eats, the Moka Pot was invented in 1933 by Luigi di Ponti, and was made famous by the engineer Alfonson Bialetti. Perhaps it is no surprise that the most famous and well-known Moka Pot today is made by Bialetti (see also: Bialetti Moka Express)! The Moka Pot quickly gained popularity in Italy, where it is still found in almost every home today and is even used widely throughout other countries in Europe. Although the Bialetti is the original, there are now dozens of alternatives to chose from.
From a high level, the moka pot functions similarly to a percolator. First, water is placed into the bottom container. Then, coffee grounds are placed into the filter, and finally the empty "pitcher" container is screwed onto the top. After the moka pot is placed onto the stove, the water will begin to heat up, and eventually enough pressure will build to force the water up through the grounds and into the top container. Let's go through those steps in more detail:
Make sure you do NOT fill the water line above the pressure valve. Although the moka pot is very safe and pressue issues are rare, this pressure valve adds an extra safety precaution to the brewing process. If you do not want to brew a full pot, simply add less water to the chamber. However, note that many moka pots come in a variety of sizes depending on your needs. A 3-cup moka pot might work well for just one person, but couples or families might consider the 6-cup or even the 12-cup versions.
Because the moka pot is not meant for a ton of pressure, you do not want to tightly tamper the coffee grounds down. Instead, simply fill the filter, gently level off as needed, and clean any grounds off the top rim. You want to use coffee grounds that are slightly more coarsely ground than espresso if possible to avoid getting them stuck in unwanted places. Check out our coffee beans page for some suggestions.
Make sure the moka pot is tightly screwed together and that the gasket is sealed so that you don't lose any pressure. Also, make sure there are no coffee grounds on the rim of the filter prior to screwing the pieces together.
Be careful not to go too hot here. Too much heat and you'll risk burning the coffee, which will lead to some off flavors. The trick here is to be just hot enough for the coffee to brew, but not too hot that you are scorching it. After about 5 minutes, the coffee will begin to seep out into the top chamber, as shown in the below video. You want a slow and steady stream. If the coffee starts sputtering or making noise, then either the heat is too high, or the moka pot is done brewing. Once brewing is complete, remove the moka pot from the stove immediately to avoid burning the coffee.
Did you find this how-to useful and are interested in picking up a moka pot? The Bialetti Moka Express is the original and by far the most popular. It's our favorite too! You can find it on Amazon here.