The Moka Pot was invented by the Italian engineer Alfonso Bialetti in the 1930s. It was named after the Yemeni city of Mocha, one of the early centres of coffee trade and a town that also gave its name to the mochaccino, a popular chocolate-flavoured coffee drink. Almost a century after its invention, the Moka Pot is still one of the most effective and elegant ways of brewing a rich, intense coffee in minutes. Although it won’t produce a crema like an espresso machine, it yields a very espresso-like shot of coffee.
The Moka Pot has three main components: a bottom chamber, a top chamber and a coffee basket in between. The method is superficially straightforward: you add water to the bottom chamber, add ground coffee to the coffee basket, screw on the top chamber and place it on a stove. The boiling water is then pressurised by steam so that it flows up through the ground coffee. This pressure builds until the liquid is forced through the funnel into the top chamber. A trademark gurgling, sputtering sound tells you when the coffee is ready. (For the truly nerdy amongst us, here’s an eerie video capturing the inside of a Moka Pot in action.)
During our tests in the Malgudi Days kitchen, we’ve discovered that there are 6 factors that you need to keep in mind when making stovetop coffee. This article is written so complete novices can understand it, but you might find something of use here even if you’ve been making stovetop coffee for years. Elsewhere on our website, you can find a brew guide that’ll teach you the bare-bones basics. Here, though, we aim to hone our technique: these are the things you need to keep in mind when brewing, because they can make or break your brew. The good news is that once you’ve got the hang of it, the Moka Pot is an efficient tool with great repeatability.
The kind of stovetop you have matters
The Moka Pot was designed for use on a gas stove and although Bialetti’s official website mentions that it works just as well on electric and ceramic hobs, a basic internet search yields anecdotal evidence to the contrary. Some people have said that they turn on their electric or ceramic stove before beginning the process of making coffee, a preheating of sorts. If you have an induction cooktop, which is not uncommon these days, make sure you buy a steel Moka Pot, as the original aluminium model will not be compatible with this method of heating. Keep in mind that everyone’s stove will be different, so it may take you a few tries to get the temperature right. During our tests, we’ve used a gas stove on low to medium heat.
Always use hot water
A very common mistake is using cold water. You’ll want to fill the bottom chamber with freshly-boiled water until it’s just below the small safety valve on the pot. If you go beyond the valve, too much pressure will build up in the pot.
Grind size is king
The size of your grind is a critical factor when it comes to coffee brewing, and the stovetop method is no different. Use a grind that is fine like salt, but slightly coarser than espresso. Using finer grind will result in over-extraction and an unpleasantly bitter flavour. We’ve put together a grind chart to help you with this.
Never tamp or compress the coffee
Once you’ve put the coffee basket in place, very gently pack the coffee so it is even and level, but do not compress it. Tamping will lead to channelling, which is when the hot water finds pathways of least resistance to flow through your ground coffee. This results in under-extraction.
Leave the lid up during brewing
Remember, you are aiming to slowly increase the pressure within the pot. Coffee should slowly start to appear in the top chamber. When you hear a sputtering sound, it is time to turn off the heat and close the lid.
Run the bottom chamber under cold water
The last step may be the most crucial. You’ll need to stop the coffee from brewing further by holding the base of the stovetop under cold, running water, otherwise the resultant coffee will be burnt and unpleasant. Alternatively you can place the base of the pot into a bowl of ice.
We recommend you enjoy this coffee with a milk of your choice (although we are partial to oat milk). By frothing warm milk in a French press, you can make your own cappuccino or latte at home. If your first few tries don’t turn out the way you want, don’t lose hope. The Moka Pot might be a tricky beast to tame in the beginning, but with practice and experimentation, it has the power to completely change your coffee game for the better.