Italian coffee is so special it even has its own machine. Unless you’re some kind of cultural genius, you probably don’t have any idea what it is or how the heck it works.
1. Know what a Moka is. The strange metal teapot in the kitchen cupboard of your Italian apartment? That’s a Moka.
2. Understand the parts of a Moka. Mokas have three parts: 1) the base (for the water), the middle funnel/filter (for the coffee grounds), 3) the top chamber (for the brewed espresso).
3. Fill the base with water. Hot! Cold! Filtered! I’ve read that different types of water change the flavor of your Moka brewed coffee, but unless you’re a real conesseuir, I don’t think you’ll notice a difference. Italians generally use tap water without paying a great deal of attention what the temperature is. As for how much water, there’s a fill line inside the base (about even with the pressure releif valve – the thing that looks like a little nut and bolt sticking out of the side).
4. Set the funnel on top and fill with coffee grounds. The funnel fits nicely into the open end of the base. It’s like a metal coffee filter. Spoon coffee grounds inside until it’s full, but don’t pack them or the water might not be able to get through.
For Americans: Do you miss coffee in the U.S. and want to brew weaker espresso in your Moka? Shhh! Don’t tell the Italians! Just quietly add less grounds and the same amount of water. It will still be stronger than what you’re used to back home, but is definitely a nice compromise.
5. Screw the top chamber on to the base. Tightly! Or, you’ll end up with a big lake on your stove.
6. Put it on the stove and brew. It’ll be ready in five minutes. The key to making the perfect-tasting espresso is using medium-low to low heat. If the flame is too hot, the water will be pushed through the coffee very fast, picking up less flavor. If a few minutes have passed and you’re wondering if you’re doing it right, quickly lift the Moka lid. You should see two foamy lines of coffee running down the sides of the interior metal protrusion, and the bottom of the pot should be filling with heavenly espresso. (If it’s not, see #10)
7. Listen to your Moka, it tells you when it’s done. As soon as your the Moka starts making a rumbling sound, take it off the burner immediately. At this point, it’s best to not open the lid, as hot coffee will bubble and spurt all over you. Just trust the noises. If you leave (or forget) your Moka on the stove after it starts sputtering, it will either 1) Burn the coffee, making it bitter or undrinkable 2) Push all the brewed coffee out of the pot and onto your stove, and then burn it there. As a person whose morning getting-ready-in-front-of-the-mirror time is often interrupted by the scent of charred espresso drifting into the room, I can tell you it’s a good idea dedicate five minutes to staying near your Moka.
8. (Add sugar and) drink your Italian espresso! You can add sugar directly into the top chamber of the Moka if everyone you’re making coffee for takes it. Keep in mind that Italian espresso is much stronger than coffee in other parts of the world, so reach for the tiny cup, not the mug.
9. Wash the Moka. No, no, no not with soap! Mokas really pick up the flavor of what you put in them. It’s enough to rinse yours with hot water, using your finger to rub any coffee grounds away. If you see a dark, shiny film inside the top chamber, that’s actually a good sign. It’s accumulated coffee oils that not only shield your espresso from absorbing a metallic taste, but are said to actually increase it’s flavor.
10. Tame your Moka if it acts up.
If, after 5 minutes, no (or very little) coffee has come out….
a. Find the little hole on the base (the pressure relief valve) and run water over it for a few seconds before putting the Moka back on the stove and trying again. I don’t exactly know what this does, but it works. (Thanks, Italian roommate, for letting me secretly watch and copy your Moka tricks!)
b. Ask yourself, “Did I fill the base of the Moka with water? Or am I so tired that I left it empty and am currently just roasting coffee grounds? (It happens.)
c. Unscrew and rescrew the base to the top chamber.
d. Check the rubber seal (the gasket) on the bottom of the top chamber. Is it old and brittle or full of holes? If so, you can buy a new one at bigger grocery stores (in Italy), or order a new one online (search: Moka coffee pot gaskets).
e. Try using coarser coffee grounds. Some of the finer blends compact themselves so much when wet that the water gets trapped (You’ll probably only run into this problem if you’re buying grounds outside of Italy, as what’s sold here is usually made especially for Moka use).
If you want a real Italian Moka, order the classic Bialetti brand, here.
What do you love about your Moka? I love that it’s easy to clean, because I’m lazy 🙂