Do you love espresso in the morning? If so, an espresso machine may be your first choice, but there is another option… the moka pot. This is a handy little percolator that creates a great cup of espresso right there on your stovetop and it’s very easy to use.
There are a few advantages to using a moka pot:
- It’s small. The 3 cup moka pot I use is about 3×5 inches and eliminates the need for another small appliance that will clutter the kitchen or valuable counter space. This size is perfect for a double shot of espresso for one person.
- It’s quiet. The last thing I want in the morning is the noise of pulling a shot of espresso from a machine because it not only wakes everyone in the house, but disrupts the peace of the morning.
- It’s mobile. I take my moka pot on vacation so I can have espresso every morning – it is often difficult to find a decent cup of coffee on the road. It also works great on a propane camp stove, so you can literally have espresso everywhere you go.
- It’s easy to clean. There are just three pieces to the pot and they can each be rinsed out after use – allow the pot to cool first. Unlike the machine, you don’t have to maintain or clean the various hoses, burners, drip trays, steamers, etc. and there is no build-up from less than perfect water. Do not use soap or detergent or place the pot in the dishwasher, simply rinse and wipe out, always ensuring the threads are cleaned well. You will find that your espresso gets better as the pot becomes seasoned.
- It makes a great espresso in under 5 minutes. Even if you’re making espresso for two or three people, it is easy to keep everyone caffeinated. Also, if you share coffee with many people regularly, there are larger moka pots – up to around 12 cups.
- It creates no waste. In a world of one-cup coffee machines (think K-Cups and the like), there has been much debate about their environmental impact. Even many drip machines require paper filters, though the moka pot creates no waste. It is also easy to collect the grounds for adding to your garden compost.
As with all things, there are also a few disadvantages to the moka pot:
- It’s not the most efficient on coffee. Espresso never is, though, and you will use more coffee per cup than you would with a drip machine, though no more than you would with an espresso machine. Besides, espresso is a more concentrated coffee and you will not want to drink the same volume as you would of American coffee (the standard watered-down drip coffee).
- It doesn’t produce a defined crema. The thin foam you get from an espresso machine will not be the same in a moka pot. The pot is more of a percolator – the water is pushed up through the grounds and into a holding chamber – as opposed to the machine’s pressurized drip that creates the fine crema.
- It needs to be cleaned every time. It’s really not a hassle – dump the used grounds, rinse out the three pieces, and you’re done.
- It only works on gas and electric stoves. As of writing this, I am not aware that there is a moka pot that will work on an induction or ceramic stovetop. I do not own one myself, but am aware that only certain materials should be used on these surfaces and the standard moka pot is not one of them. If you know of a workaround or option, please let me know.
- It does not include a milk steamer. If you want a cappuccino or latte, you will need to foam or steam your milk the old-fashioned way, with a saucepan and a whisk. It’s actually quite easy, though, and I’ve found that the timing of the moka pot and foamed milk are perfect so both are ready simultaneously. Another option is to purchase a milk frother.
I love my moka pot and when my first one took a tragic end (see below the tutorial), I was devastated that I had to wait a week for my new one to arrive. Once you learn the benefits of this little device, it is hard to go back to the French press and I cannot imagine my kitchen with another drip machine.
With that, here is a step-by-step tutorial for using a moka pot:
1. The Parts of a Moka Pot
The moka pot has three parts: the water reserve, the ground filter, and the top, which includes the handle, lid, and spout. You will also need to purchase a tamper to flatten your grounds.
2. Fill with Water
The water tank has steam valve built into the side. You want to fill it with distilled water up to, but not over the valve. Many moka pots also are marked with a line that will indicate the perfect depth.
3. Add Ground Filter and Coffee
The middle section of the moka pot is your filter for the coffee grounds. It fits perfectly into the water tank and is where you will place your ground espresso – not completely filled, but a nice mound. Remember, espresso grinds are finer than drip coffee and you can either have your coffee shop grind it for you or buy a coffee grinder (recommended for efficiency).
Grinding coffee is an art unto itself, though there are grinders with predetermined settings for different methods of making coffee – the Hamilton Beach Custom Grind is one that I use. After awhile, you will naturally know when you have the perfect grind and in my non-programmed grinder I go until I hear no more particles. At first, you may want to have an example of a perfect espresso grind available for comparison.
4. Tamp Your Grounds
The tamper is a flat dumbbell-shaped tool that is essential to making espresso. Most machines have one built in, but when using a moka pot you will need to purchase this accessory separately – they’re cheap and virtually indestructible. The two heads of the tamper are different sizes and one of them should fit perfectly into your pot’s ground filter.
The trick to tamping is to not use force or pack the grounds tightly, simply place the tamper onto the pile of grounds to flatten it out as seen in the image above. Also, at this stage you will want to wipe away any stray grounds that are clinging to the edges of the moka pot or in the threads so you have a clean surface to screw the lid onto.
5. Screw on the Top
The pot’s water reservoir is threaded and the top pieces screws perfectly onto this. Tighten it firmly, though there is no point in cranking it tight. In the end, your moka pot looks like the image above and is ready for the stove.
6. Medium Heat
Heat your moka pot over medium heat. My gas stove has a small burner that is perfectly sized for the pot I use and I make sure to keep the flame within the bounds of the pot’s base so as not to melt or heat the handle.
6. Wait for the Steam
Your espresso will be ready in about 4-5 minutes. You can hear the percolation and will know that it’s done when the first real burst of steam is released from the spout. You can also check on the progress by lifting the lid, it’s kind of neat to watch – for a second – the coffee pouring out of the inner spout. When you see the steam, turn off the burner, pour, and enjoy.
Moka Pot Gone Bad
As I said above, my first moka pot recently went to the kitchen tool graveyard and it was a simple, really dumb mistake… I forgot to add water. Now, if I had forgotten the coffee, that would be no big deal, but by forgetting the water and not paying attention, I managed to melt the two pieces of plastic down in fine fashion. Typically, I can do all of my morning chores and tasks while brewing, but on this morning I was so absentminded that I didn’t notice the lack of percolation sounds, the subtle aroma (and growing pungency of) of burnt plastic, and the fact that 10 minutes had elapsed and I still had no coffee in my cup. Lesson learned.