I like coffee. I should clarify – I really like coffee. I’m not a coffee geek or snob, but I do know what I like. I don’t like Starbucks, but I drink their coffee occasionally because it’s convenient. I do like Illy Café, but I don’t drink it very often because it’s expensive. I don’t have a $400 burr grinder or a $2000 espresso machine. I don’t roast my own beans (I might like to try it, but it really seems like a pain in the ass). I have a small Italian moka pot that I picked up at Marshalls (and it’s not a Bialetti – I paid $6 for it).
The common criticisms from coffee geeks are that moka pots don’t make true espresso (true – moka pots only create about 1 bar of pressure vs. the roughly 8 bar that an espresso machine will put out) and that you can’t get crema (that’s the brown foam on top of espresso – it’s really oils and proteins and CO 2 bubbles) in your coffee.
Well, it may not be true espresso, but after 3 years of daily screwing around with this pot, what you see in the above picture is crema. The coffee from my moka pot is finally consistent and smooth and makes an Americano (espresso diluted with hot water) that beats the hell out of Starbuck any day. I am master of my $6 coffee pot!
If anyone is interested in how to do this with a simple moka pot, leave a comment and I’ll update the post with instructions. Otherwise, it will be my secret…
OK, you asked – it’s simple.
- Make sure you have a proper espresso grind. If it’s too coarse, you won’t be able to build enough pressure in the chamber.
- Fill the lower chamber with HOT water. This helps the pot get up to temperature quickly and reduces the chance of burning the coffee. (I have a Zojirushi water boiler that keeps water at 204°. Be sure to wrap a towel or something around the base while you’re screwing the top on or you will burn the crap out of yourself.)
- Fill the basket with espresso and tamp it lightly. If you tamp too little, you won’t extract properly – your coffee will be weak and you won’t get crema. If you tamp too much, you risk building up too much pressure and bad things will begin to happen: over-extraction (bitter, burned tasting coffee) is the least of your worries – explosions and aluminum shrapnel are the other end of the “bad” spectrum.
- Place the pot on MEDIUM heat. The idea here is a slow extraction. You don’t want the noisy, rocket engine that most people associate with moka pots. You shouldn’t really hear anything.
- After a seemingly interminable wait, the coffee will begin SEEPING out (see the picture above). I leave the top open during brewing – since it’s not sputtering and spitting, you won’t get coffee everywhere. If you’ve tamped properly and brewed slow enough, you should have a rich, reddish-brown crema at this point.
- I’ll usually extract about 2/3 – 3/4 of a pot. This is about the point that my pot begins to sputter and I’ll remove it from the heat.