Today, we’re going deep and explaining everything you need to know about how to use a moka pot.
Moka pot coffee deserves a better place in the coffee pantheon because of how it truly showcases quality fresh coffee beans and a good grind.
The infusion and extraction rate, the pressures involved, the oils released, and the temperatures used all combine with some cool physics and fun techniques to make a style of coffee that fills a void in today’s coffee world.
Very much a ‘modern’ style of strong coffee, moka is synonymous with busy urbanites in big cities and dispels the image of languid hours in cafes that came before.
Moka coffee is the drink for coffee drinkers headed off for a big day as designers, mountain guides, and industrialists and would be a fine substitute for the boring drip stuff many make part of their morning.
The Moka Pot Experience
These stovetop coffee makers are examples of Italian coffee maker design at its finest, with clean lines, a slightly exotic profile, a beautiful grasp of the physics involved, and a simplicity that hasn’t abandoned craftmanship. From the shape of the reservoir to the angle of the handle, the fusion of function and style also stunningly combines utilitarianism with chique.
Moka pots work by forcing hot water under pressure upward through a puck of coffee grounds set in a filter basket to release out of the spout and collect in the pot. It is an elegant process, and the pot’s design captures it well, though it requires practice and some technique to get it right.
Can You Make an Espresso With a Moka Pot?
A moka coffee pot brews at around 1.5 bars of pressure, but an espresso machine uses more than 9 bars, so you can’t make an espresso with a moka pot any more than you can make an espresso in a French press. But you can make delicious espresso-like coffee with similar qualities. By its nature, moka pot coffee brews in greater volume, so it can resemble a red eye in strength but will have a more balanced flavor.
A moka pot won’t create as much crema as an espresso machine, but you can get enough oil extraction for the taste. The extraction entirely depends on the right grind and puck density, as well as finishing the extraction before it ‘blondes out’ and is mostly heated water.
The Right Beans
The best coffee for a moka pot is the best coffee you can get because the extraction method brings out a broad spectrum of rich flavors. Moka pots work well with dark roast coffee because they keep away from the sour end of the spectrum, but espresso-roasted coffee beans do not fare well in a moka pot because the extraction leaves out too much sweetness to balance the bitterness.
The Right Grind
Choose a grind size between drip and espresso, usually a little more toward espresso, but the fine tuning is up to your tastes and setup. Always use a burr coffee grinder for moka pot coffee. The time and type of extraction a moka pot uses amplifies inconsistencies in your grind and will affect the taste.
A moka pot has just enough pressure to produce enough crema that the oil-bound flavors will suffer from the uneven grind that a blade grinder makes.
How Much Coffee Should You Use in a Moka Pot?
Moka pots are classified by basket size and sized according to ‘cups,’ meaning demitasse cups of coffee. So, a 4- or 6-cup moka pot is about the same volume as you’ll get in a café, but the intense coffee is considerably stronger.
The coffee basket needs to be filled regardless of how much coffee you want to drink. Companies like Pezzetti and Bialetti produce a wide range of sizes to suit your coffee consumption. Moka pots are also cheap, far cheaper than any regular espresso machine, making owning several of them not quite the sign of an otaku as it first appears.
How Much Water Should You Put in a Moka Pot?
The short and simple answer is to fill the pot with water up to just below the safety valve. The long answer is that the physics involved means the amount of coffee you get is proportionate to the amount of air expanding, not the water.
Adding too little water matters just as much, which is why the original design uses a tapered base chamber. Filling your moka pot just below the valve isn’t just for safety. It’s to regulate the pressure; too much or too little will affect the final taste.
When you use your pot for the first time, check that the water level of the full pot isn’t above the bottom of the basket. Overfilling will wet some of your puck before the pressurized water gets to it, leading to uneven extraction. Find the perfect level and, if needed, scratch a small mark on the inside of the chamber.
How Long Should You Extract Coffee in Moka Pot?
Along with the correct amount of water and coffee and the right grind size for the job, the other variable is the brew time. Your brew time is governed chiefly by the heat source you use, which depends on your stove. The proper gas stove flame is the one that causes your Moka pot to reach extraction pressure quickly but without overheating the metal pot itself and scorching the coffee.
When extraction starts, remove the pot from the flame and let the pressure carry itself through the end of your brew time. Removing the heat source means no further heating, so the chance of burning the coffee is also removed.
How to Brew Coffee in a Moka Pot
With a clean device, the right stove top, and the right coffee, the process is easy when you know where to focus. Have a heat-resistant surface ready to receive the pot immediately from the stove.
Fill the bottom chamber to just below the safety valve level. Use the best-filtered room temperature water you can get. The old idea about filling with hot water makes a negligible difference if you get everything else right.
Fill the basket with coffee grounds. Fill it generously to the top, tap on the funnel base a few times to settle the coffee grounds, pat and level them off with dry fingers, then drop the basket into the chamber. Carefully wipe off the rim and edges to remove any loose grounds that may break the seal. There is no tamping involved.
Screw the top onto the water chamber, keeping it level. The best practice is to do it with the bottom section held securely on the countertop. Screw it on securely, compressing the gasket, but not enough to be hard to remove.
Place the pot on the stove with the flame set to low to prevent excess heat from flowing up the sides of the device. Keep the lid flipped open and, if the situation allows, listen for the sounds of pressure building. You may hear a slight shift in pressure as the water leaves the puck and starts to surge up the fountain.
After a few minutes, watch the fountain’s outlets for signs the coffee is brewing. It should flow smoothly and slowly.
When it flows over, let it run until it evenly pours from all available outlets. It should be beautifully opaque, thicker than water, and have a thin trail of crema spiraling and collecting on the top.
Once a pool about half a centimeter deep has collected, remove the pot from the heat and place it on the heat-resistant surface to finish the brewing process. Don’t just turn off the stove, as this doesn’t drop the heat fast enough. Timing is critical to avoid spluttering.
It will extract by itself as the steam pressure releases, ending with a short blonding flow and dissipating bubbles. A film of crema should cover the top and, if timed perfectly, there won’t be any gurgling, which is a sign it was extracting too hot.
Pour out the delicious coffee, pouring gently and using the geometry of the handle as Moka pots are notorious for spilling if poured too quickly. No residual water should come out of the fountain.
Let the pot cool in water, then unscrew it so you can shake out the puck before it expands further and gets stuck. Expect to see some water left in the chamber. This is normal. The real problem will come if you let the pot boil dry.
How to Best Serve Moka Pot Coffee
Moka is strong and rich enough to drink as a shot or use to make a passable latte. It is also perfectly suitable for Viennas, with just enough crema to form a layer the cream can rest on. Or, you can dilute it and drink it black as an Americano. Moka pot coffee even has a few of its own serving specialties.
In the days of butter coffee – something that pre-dates the ‘Keto’ trend and actually goes back to the Tirol of the 1930s – a knob of fresh butter dropped into the pot as it started to fill was the ‘mountaineers breakfast’ to be carried in a flask for early starts.
Nothing makes affogato like moka pot coffee. The amount brewed, the extraction strength, and the flavor profile are perfect complements to a good gelato.
Moka pot coffee is ideal for cooking and other desserts, combining the perfect amount of extraction with full coffee flavor. Where most coffee desserts have only the most superficial of flavors and little intensity, moka pot coffee has the strength and oils to carry other flavors when cooked with and has been a trick of the best restaurants for years.
It is vital to maintain your Moka pot for the best-tasting coffee and safety.
Moka pot valves have a little spring pin that sits in a chamber, and corrosion, gunk, and dings to the soft metal can prevent it from working properly, so regular maintenance is needed to avoid the pot becoming a bomb.
The thread can get a bit sticky, so it must be kept clean of corrosion deposits and grinds to hold pressure. Keep the thread smooth with a strong wipe and dry it thoroughly. Avoid dinging it as it can’t be fixed.
Most gasket seals today are silicone and last for a long time, but if your pot’s been in the back of the cupboard since the 70s, it will have a rubber gasket seal that will have degraded. So, replace it if it’s gone hard or discolored.
Is Moka Coffee as Strong as Espresso?
Coffee strength is measured by Total Dissolved Solids, or TDS. Moka pot coffee comes in at around 2.5, compared to true espresso, which is around 8.5 for the same amount, making it weaker per shot, but if you consider that moka pot coffee is usually drunk in larger amounts, you get the same strength.
Also, consider that most espresso-based drinks are diluted with water and milk, something moka pot coffee doesn’t need, so when it comes to your latte, be prepared for a hit you may not be expecting.
How Long Do You Leave a Moka Pot on the Stove?
As briefly as possible. The aim is to get the pressure up to extraction levels as quickly as possible without overheating the pot itself. Then, once it’s brewing, remove it from the stove and let it follow through. Too much heat will only boil the water, creating bubbles that produce uncontrollable spluttering.
What Should You Not Do With a Moka Pot?
Never overfill the water chamber. If it’s working, the steam release valve will handle slight overfilling, though you will have hot water ejecting rather than steam. But, if it’s not working properly or if you overfilled your pot too far, you risk a catastrophic explosion that basically makes the pot a pipe bomb on your stove.
You don’t need to use the old trick of an iced cloth to supercool the pot once it is off the stove because once removed, no more heat is imparted to the pot, and unless it’s actually frozen, the loss of heat won’t be enough to do much in the time given. However, it will make the pot easier to handle to dump the coffee out.
Never tamp the grind because too dense a puck will create more pressure than the mechanism can handle; at best, over-extraction and spluttering will occur, and at worst, it will clog the outlet and over-pressurize the device.
Ignore the myth that moka pots should not be cleaned because the residue contains fats that will oxidize, i.e., go rancid, and corrupt the taste. Clean them with warm water but never use abrasives or detergents on aluminum, and never leave them damp, especially classic pots that are not anodized.
Are Moka Pots Easy to Use?
Moka pots get easier to use if you don’t think of them as espresso machines. With the right grind and puck preparation, understanding the (simple) mechanism and what should be produced makes them easy to use.
Your pot, the stove, the altitude, and the climate will all be variables you need to work around. But, once you figure them out, they are suitable for everyday use, as millions of people worldwide, including coffee shops and street vendors, will attest.
What Happens if You Overfill a Moka Pot?
Overfilling the basket causes either too much pressure and some spluttering or too little pressure from errant grinds getting stuck in the threads and against the gasket and blowing steam out before it can push upward through the puck.
Overfilling the water chamber can result in too little air, resulting in steam or water spurting out of the safety valve and a sputtering, over-extracted coffee coming out. At worst, it won’t purge out of the safety valve, builds dangerous pressure inside the chamber if the puck becomes too dense, and could explode.
Can You Make One Cup of Coffee in a Moka Pot?
Making a single cup of coffee means several things with a moka pot. A ‘1-Cup’ pot is a very small coffee brewer and will produce around a demitasse-full of coffee (unlike an espresso, which only fills about half a demitasse cup). These 1-Cup moka pots are cool, but take some extra practice to get right and need a small heat source.
Moka pots labeled as 3-, 4-, and 6-Cup pots make what most people think of as ‘a cup,’ ranging from a Vienna or cappuccino, which isn’t all coffee, through to the big mugs of black coffee that keep truck drivers and security guards awake.
What you can’t do is make a single cup by putting less coffee and/or water into a pot made for larger amounts. You have to add the full amount the pot is designed for and discard any extra that you don’t drink.
Can You Use an Espresso Grind for a Moka Pot?
No. Espresso grounds are too fine for a moka pot and, combined with the amount used (about twice as much per extraction as an espresso machine), become so dense when infused that the steam pressure won’t push through them. You might get a few angry splutters of very bitter extract that will burn on the pot. Then it will stop extracting and probably start venting steam from the safety valve.
Can You Use Regular Ground Coffee for Moka?
Regular, meaning pre-ground coffee, will be fine so long as it is used before it degrades and the grind is suitable for a moka pot, which is rare unless you have a supplier that understands this. The combination of old coffee and an incorrect grind size will give you the dubious and random results that have unfairly given the moka pot a bad reputation.
Regular, meaning drip grind, produces a thin, weak, and astringent coffee no matter the freshness and bean because it won’t generate the pressure needed, so it will extract too fast and not pick up the oils.
Why Does My Moka pot Coffee Taste Bitter?
Moka pot coffee tastes bitter for the same reasons that any coffee tastes bitter – it is over-extracted and possibly scorched. Too fine a grind, too dark a roast, too dense a puck, and too long an extraction time can all conspire to make a bitter profile.
Over-heating the pot’s metal can also scorch the coffee via either too slow an extraction or too large a flame. This can happen to the puck with the metal heating around it or the stream of coffee as it spills into an overheated upper chamber.
How Do I Make My Moka Pot Coffee Better?
Moka pot coffee can be improved the way any coffee can, with better beans, grind, and puck preparation, especially tapping for a stable density. A good stovetop arrangement with a small, even, and steady flame that doesn’t heat the outside of the pot makes a big difference and may need an adapter. Or, you can hold the pot up, just touching the burner until you find the heat’s sweet spot.
You can get the best results from this brewing method through practice and finding your pot’s individual quirks. A moka pot works at its best for the ‘in between’ brew volume between three shots and a large cup, where the strength and flavor profile are the best.
Pots of this size have the most reliable results on home stove tops and are easy to wrangle with the heat source and puck to pick up the darker, sweeter, and more robust front end of the extraction.
Leaving the pot lid up while extracting is a good practice so you can watch it pull and work with any variables. Some extractions benefit from being lifted to ease off the heat to get the brew into full swing, while others need the lid open to avoid too much heat in the pot, resulting in burnt coffee.