November 9, 2020

How To Brew Great Coffee With A Moka Pot

The moka pot is an instantly recognisable symbol of Italian coffee culture, and one of the world’s most famous brewing devices. Its iconic design, ease of use, and wide availability make it an accessible entry point for specialty coffee.

While it is often used to create an intense, heavy coffee at home, the moka pot is actually very versatile. With a little experimentation, home brewers can use it to explore specialty coffee and even recreate popular coffee shop beverages.

So, whether you’ve just picked up a moka pot or have had one for years, read on to learn how to brew great coffee with it.

You may also like How The Moka Pot Influenced Coffee Consumption

Breaking Down The Moka Pot

Before we look at how to improve brewing coffee with a moka pot, let’s look at its components. 

Most moka pots are made from aluminium or stainless steel, and consist of three parts: a lower chamber, a filter basket (where to put the ground coffee), and an upper collection chamber. 

They should ideally be used on a gas or induction stove. If you have an electric stove, you may need to look for a different model to make sure you reach optimal brewing temperatures.

How Does It Brew Coffee?

To brew coffee using a moka pot, start by adding hot water to the bottom chamber. There is usually a safety valve around three-quarters of the way up – pour water in until it is just touching the bottom of the valve.

Fill the filter basket with coffee grounds until level, but do not tamp them down. After that, drop it into the bottom chamber (it should sit perfectly in the slot) and screw the upper chamber into place. Place the fully assembled pot onto your stove.

As the water starts boiling in the lower chamber, the resulting steam creates pressure and forces water up through the filter. The gurgling noises you hear during brewing are caused by water vapour pockets moving into the upper chamber. 

The moka pot, in theory, functions similarly to espresso machines. Both use pressure to push heated water through ground coffee. The difference, however, is that the moka pot pushes the brew upwards, and does not use high-pressure water to achieve the shorter brew times of an espresso machine. This means that while the moka pot does not produce espresso, it still creates a rich, heavy, and intense cup.

Tips For Brewing With A Moka Pot

For more insight into how a person can improve the way they brew with a moka pot, I spoke to Nadia Bachur. Nadia is a barista at Athanasiou, a Greek coffee shop in Panama. 

Nadia says the most common errors that people make involve the water, not the coffee. “Most moka pots have a safety valve in the bottom chamber,” she says. “If you fill water past this level, too much pressure will build up.” 

She adds that the other most common mistakes are brewers using cold water, tamping down their grounds in the filter basket, and brewing on a high heat setting.

Nadia recommends starting with a medium to fine grind size; finer than you would for pour over, but not as fine as espresso. Using a grind size that is fine enough for espresso will lead to over-extraction and a bitter cup.

She adds that while tamping the coffee grounds is important for espresso, with a moka pot, it causes channelling. Channelling occurs where the water passes through gaps or “channels” in the ground coffee bed, rather than saturating the puck evenly. This causes under-extraction.

Finally, Nadia says that filling the lower chamber with hot water (freshly boiled, ideally) will speed up extraction, prevent the coffee from burning, and keep the brew from developing a metallic taste. 

After you’ve done all of this, place your moka pot on the stove on a medium-low heat setting. As it brews, leave the lid open so you can keep an eye on it.

Once it starts making bubbling noises, take it off the heat immediately and close the lid, then leave it for a minute or so to allow it to finish brewing. 

Making Café Beverages With Your Moka Pot

Coffee made in a moka pot is often rich and intense with a heavy and thick mouthfeel. Most moka pots will also, by default, use a coffee to water ratio of around 1:7. As a result, this creates a brew that is somewhere between two and three times as concentrated as normal filter coffee. 

As a result, coffee brewed with the moka pot can be used to recreate espresso-based beverages at home if you don’t have an espresso machine. Andrés Zuluaga, the head barista at Dos Cucharas in Panama. He suggests frothing warm milk in a French press by quickly raising and lowering the plunger repeatedly for about 15 seconds.

You can then combine this with coffee brewed in a moka pot to make a homemade cappuccino or latte. Adding drinking chocolate and milk will make something similar to a mochaccino, and you can also dilute it with hot water to create a homemade americano.

Experimenting With Your Brewing 

Valentina Palange and Luca Rinaldi are two content creators who operate Specialty Pal in Milan, Italy. They tell me that their mission is to develop specialty coffee culture in Italy, and they have tried to get local coffee drinkers to experiment with the moka pot.

Valentina says that even though the moka pot is traditionally associated with darker roasts (similar to espresso), it can actually be used to brew a variety of different coffees with surprising success.

She says: “You can brew high-quality coffee in a moka pot [no matter the origin], all with similar roast profiles to filter coffee.”

Valentina also tells me that she adjusts her recipe slightly depending on the coffee’s origin. While Nadia recommends against using cold water in a moka pot, Valentina says she uses it when brewing a coffee from Brazil, for instance, to bring out some of the more chocolatey flavours.

Conversely, she uses hot water for coffees from East Africa (such as Ethiopia and Kenya) to speed up extraction. She says that this helps to highlight their floral, fruity flavours.

Finally, Valentina recommends keeping a thermometer on hand to monitor and record water temperature, as it can have a significant impact on the flavour profile of the final cup.

Luca takes a slightly different approach. For starters, he tells me that he often uses a recipe designed by Lorenzo Baffi, the current Professional Moka Challenge champion. This recipe uses 11g of coffee per 100ml of water – a slightly higher ratio than usual.

He brews the coffee as normal on medium-low heat, but once the coffee starts collecting in the upper chamber, he stirs it to ensure it is well-mixed for a balanced flavour. Luca also tells me that he uses an AeroPress filter with smaller moka pots to retain more of the oils from the coffee. This leads to brighter acidity, reduces bitterness, and creates an overall cleaner cup. 

To avoid burning the coffee, Luca adds that you can bypass or dilute the coffee while it’s still in the upper chamber by adding water or ice cubes. You can also stop extraction more quickly by placing the base of the pot into a bowl of ice.

However, like Nadia, he recommends just taking it off the heat while it is still making bubbling noises; leaving it on the stove until extraction ends is a sure-fire way to burn your coffee and ruin your cup.

Today, there are dozens of different ways to brew coffee at home. It has been almost 100 years since the moka pot was invented, but it remains popular among consumers for a reason. The moka pot’s markings and ease of use make it a great option for home brewers who want a brew that’s easy to replicate.

Despite this repeatability, however, there are still plenty of ways to experiment with the moka pot. If you’ve been drinking filter coffee for a while and want a switch to something different yet versatile, it might be time to give it a try. 

Enjoyed this? Then read Green Home Brewing: Four Ways To Make “Paperless” Coffee

Photo credits: Manuel Otero, Andrés Zuluaga, Specialty Pal

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