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).

Moka Crema

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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11 thoughts on “Moka Crema! *Updated*

  1. Does the crema last? I typically get crema to form during brewing by turning down the heat, but it quickly dissipates and never makes it into the cup.

    Is there an Illy Café in ATL?

  2. The crema does seem to last in the pot. I typically pour into a cup with hot water already in it, so it dissipates quickly then. Not sure if it will stick around in frothed milk….

    As for Illy – I don’t think they have a shop in Atlanta – you have to brew your own. They used to have a kiosk in the gate area at McCarren Airport in Las Vegas. That was my excuse to get to the airport early. Clients loved getting an expense for $20 worth of coffee…

  3. Love Americanos from Moka pots. I favor Lavazza if using pre-ground (from Whole Foods or Toscano & Sons, http://www.toscanoandsons.com). Just upgraded to a grinder that will allow me to grind my own. Previous grinder didn’t get grounds fine enough to slow the brewing in the Moka. By the way, got mine (6-cup Bialleti) for about $15 at BrandsMart (of all places!).

  4. I have the Zojirushi water boiler as well – set at 195 – but, I’ll take the Melitta one cup drip system (also very cheap) with quality fresh ground beans by the cup. I’ve been buying the Papua New Guinea beans from Whole Foods @ 11.99/lb for awhile. It’s a smooth medium bodied roast. To each his own.

  5. I have a one cup filter (I believe it’s Melitta as well). I do enjoy it on occasion. Have you tried cold brewing? It makes for a decent, if a bit unusual cup of coffee.

  6. Heating the water prior to screwing on the top is not necessary in my experience. The most important things are:

    1) Freshness of the roast and grind.
    2) How tight you get with your grind.
    3) Temperature management. You can start with a really high heat to increase the rate of gain on pressure in the chamber as long as you don’t let the water boil. Like BuHi says it will not make much noise and will seep out. You can make temp management easier by counting up to about 8-10 seconds once it starts extracting and then take it off the burner. If it starts to slow down you can place it back on the burner for a second or two to finish extraction.

    I’ve also found that the 1-cup moka express and 2-cup brikka tend to produce better results than the large volume versions. Only reason I can think of for that is the increased quantity of water makes temp management a little different duration-wise.

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