What, coffee for real men? Do real men drink espresso? Apparently, in Italy they do. However, the charming little Bialetti Moka Express is not going to make a "true espresso". It brews a very rich, very strong coffee that is reminiscent of the espresso that we have all become accustomed to in this country. But in Italy, this little aluminum wonder really was intended as the man's espresso maker for the home, and nearly every home has one.
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Designed over 60 years ago, the Bialetti was intended as an alternative for the family man who would otherwise have to go out to the local espresso bar for his caffe'. The stovetop moka pot was a way for the husband and father to have his espresso in the comfort of his own home; no need to upset the family routine by going out for the evening. The early literature even stated this. And the world reknown symbol of the little mustachioed gentleman depicts this very idea; espresso for the common everyday man.
Let me be frank; I love the Bialetti Moka Express. I have two of them, a six cup and a three cup. I do believe that using the 3 cup version actually makes something closer to espresso. However, for that cup of Neapolitan style coffee, or latte and cappucino, the 6 cup is fine. I can use a little 8 oz. stainless steel frothing pitcher to heat the milk over the gas range, and then use a battery operated frother to whip up a nice, creamy froth. I have friends who frequent all types of coffee shops who cannot distinguish between my cappucinos and those served in most of the haunts they frequent.
The stovetop moka pot brews coffee with steam pressure, but not nearly the amount of pressure as an espresso machine. There are three major components; the water tank, the metal filter basket, and the coffee pot. The filter basket is inserted into the water tank, and the pot is screwed onto the tank. There is a rubber gasket between the pot and the tank to create an airtight seal, so the steam and water have to travel up the tube of the filter basket, through the finely ground coffee, and into the coffee pot; sort of the reverse way a percolator works.
Using one of these really is easy. First off, you really should buy a can of Illy coffee ground for 'machinetta', so you can get a good idea of the proper grind to use. You don't want to use as fine a grind as for an espresso machine. If you look inside the water tank, you will see a marking just below the pressure valve; this is the level of water you use. Never use more, nor less water than indicated by the water level mark. Fill the filter basket with finely ground coffee, piling it a little higher than the top of the basket, but being sure NOT to pack it or tamp it. Screw the coffee pot tightly onto the water tank, and place on your stovetop with the lid up so as to not allow condensation to mix with the coffee. These really work better on a gas range, as you can adjust the flame to the optimum level. The key is to not let the water actually boil, so you want to use a low setting.
After about 4 to 5 minutes, you should hear a low gurgling sound. If you look down into the pot, you will see a thick brown stream of liquid slowly streaming down from the center pipe to fill the bottom of the pot. As pressure continues to build, the coffee rushes into the pot faster and faster. If you are doing it right, you won't hear the moka pot brewing until just at the end when it makes a kind of a dry hacking cough like gurgle. The pot won't appear 'full', but that's the way it's designed.
Now, a very important thing to note; never attempt to unscrew the assembly while it is hot. Just don't do it. And never screw it back together while it is wet, and don't ever store it with the whole thing screwed together tightly. All the advice I have ever read states emphatically that you should not clean your moka pot too thoroughly. My experience has been that this is true to a degree. You want to use a mild dish soap to wash out the water tank and coffee basket. A tip for cleaning the filter basket is to hold your finger over the tube on the bottom, allow warm soapy water to half fill the basket, cover tightly with the palm of your other hand, and shake like crazy. This agitation will help break up the coffee gunk inside the basket that you cannot get to.
The coffe pot itself you may want to only wipe out with a damp sponge that has been dipped in mildly soapy water.
According to most people, you want the coffee oils to build up so that you get a richer brew. I've heard that 'old' moka pots make better coffee. While I would strongly disagree that you should leave all the coffee residue on the inside of the pot, I have found that the coffee oils do something beneficial. I believe that the aluminum, when it is new, imparts a slightly off taste to the brew. Over time the coffee oils seep into the metal and season it, neutralizing the off flavor of the aluminum.
So keep it clean, but not too clean. Over time, the inside of your moka pot should develop slight bronze hue inside; this indicates proper seasoning.
Now, for what I like most about the Bialetti Moka Express; the "manly" factor. Even though it was originally designed
to resemble the elegant little coffee services found in upper class Italian homes at the time, I think the process of using it is just very masculine. You have to measure, grind, tighten, and not clean up too thoroughly; things men like to do. And using one of these is more akin to using a campfire coffee maker, which is another use for it.
But most importantly, it isn't some big humongous espresso machine that will cause your buddies to think you've become "one of those uppity latte drinking elitists".
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