Monday, August 13, 2012

Moka Pot by Bialetti

The little man with the mustache is the Bialetti macot

The "caffettiera", "macchinetta del caffé", "Italian coffee pot" or "moka pot" is a stove top coffee maker, that produces excellent coffee by passing hot water pressurized by steam though ground coffee. During the 1920s Bialetti noticed the laundry methods used by local woman - the wash was boiled in tubs with a central pipe in the middle, this pipe would draw the soapy water up and redistribute it over the laundry. Bialettis creative mind brought him to the conclusion that a simple coffee machine could be fashioned on this model and could produce almost espresso coffee in private homes.

At this particular time, other Italian coffee firms were busy trying to create new and better ways to brew coffee - using pressure rather than steam to extract the best from the coffee beans. Nevertheless the high pressure - lower than boiling water solutions of companies like Gaggia were to take years of developing.

These modern "true" espresso machines would remain fairly large and costly, using complex systems to attain their superior results. Italians were still used to the steam pressured "espresso" machines that dominated the coffeehouse scene and were therefore open to simpler solutions that would give them the same style coffee at home.

The Bialetti moka pot, model Elegance

In 1933, after some years of tinkering and solving technical problems Alfonso Bialetto invented the Moka Express. Bialett´s coffee machine, made of Aluminum, was similar in shape and design to silver coffee services popular in well to do homes. Thus he combined modern technology with the Italian tradition for elegance and craftsmanship. The Stovetop "espresso" machine was simple and compact, yet capable of making the power packed brew associated with the large espresso machine of the espresso bar. The express claim of Bialetti was that "without requiring any ability whatsoever" yet one could enjoy "in casa in espresso come al bar" (an espresso in the home just like one in the bar).

It hereby first patented by Luigi De Ponti for the Italian firm Bialetti in 1933, that today still produce this specific model under the name - Moka Express.

The Moka pot has become very popular in Europe, but also in Latin American countries and has also become an iconic design, which is displayed in modern industrial art museums, such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Cooper-HewittNational Design Museum, the Design Museum and the London Science Museum.

Moka pots have been design in many shapes since its patent in 1933 and come in different sizes - mostly of the current models incl. the original design are made from aluminum.

Water chamber and coffee basket

Seeking espresso
If you are seeking true espresso, then be prepared to spend several hundred dollars on a high-quality espresso machine, like you see in restaurants or cappuccino bars. These machine use high-pressure water to produce the espresso versus some home machines (even the $100 models found at ex. Wal Mart and other places), do not produce enough pressure to create espresso like you find in a coffee bar.

A very reasonable alternative for home use is an "espresso pot", called a moka in Italy. The moka is a simple device that uses steam pressure to force water through a strainer to make espresso. It won´t be exactly like the espresso you find in bars, but it can come close. The moka pot is an inexpensive alternative of making good caffe.

"Be aware of this brewing method, because a 2-ounce shot holds the same caffeine level as an 8-ounce cup of drip coffee." 

Ground coffee filled into the filter

How to brew
The moka pot is a very simple device, but nevertheless is including a full step-by-step brewing guide below;

1. Fill the espresso pot with cold water. The inside of the pot is usually marked with a line to show the fill level. If not, then fill it up to the relief valve on the side (the water should not seep wrought the strainer when you insert it). This will waterlog the coffee and possibly affect the flavor.

2. Insert the strainer assembly into the base. (alternately, you can fill the assembly first, then insert it - it´s a personal preference)

3. Fill the strainer with ground espresso coffee. Ensure that you do not get any ground on the outside rim of the container. There must be a perfect seal at this point or else the water will spew out once it begins to boil. Simply wipe any excess grounds off before assembling the pot. This is one reason why some people fill the strainer first then insert it.

Warning: Do not pack the espresso down! This could possibly clog the system and generate too much pressure. Although acceptable for commercial machines, packing the espresso in this type of pot can be dangerous.

4. Assemble the pot. Once again, ensure that no grounds are on the outside rim. Screw the pot onto the base by holding the pot itself, not the handle. The handles can break easily - depending on the model (but is also replaceable).

5. Place the pot over a low flame. A low flame increases the brew time, which enhances the flavor - at a later step, you´ll want a slow trickle of espresso instead of a full-force fountain.

In some of the below pictures, you´ll notice a small metal piece under the pot. This piece is common for Italian stoves and is available at any hardware store.

6. You should see some coffee begin to emerge and then suddenly see a cough or perhaps sneeze of coffee with a puffing sound that goes along with it. Soon after this, coffee will begin to come out int a steam. The steam should begin as a rich red-brown and progressively get lighter in color. Once the steam has become the color of yellow honey the brewer should be removed from the heat source and the lid closed. Use hot pads to avoid getting burned.

7. Wrap the bottom of the pot in a chilled bar towel or run it under cold tap water. This will stop the extraction, resulting in coffee that is sweeter and more full-bodied. It will also decrease the odds of the coffee developing a metallic taste. The idea is to get a relatively small amount of coffee, which has very concentrated and rich flavors.

8. Wait until there is no more coffee coming out, then pour into cups. If you have more than you are going to drink at once, pour the excess into a thermal carafe, because leaving it in the brewer will result in a bitter and harsh tasting coffee.

Assembly the moka pot for brewing
Moka pot on heating source

After every use: Empty the spent grounds from the coffee basket, wash out the base and run water out the collecting chamber. Dry everything with a rag and let the three pieces dry separately. This will avoid having a dank, odorous smell later - after an hour, everything should be dried enough to assemble it back together.

After two-three weeks: Time to disassemble and wipe everything down, including the coffee oils that we have tried to eliminate after each use. This cleaning includes popping off the O-ring and the metal filter. Take a blunt, flat knife and slowly work it under the O-ring, while trying carefully not to damage it - use a lifting motion to pop if off. Remove the metal filter, which should come off right away as the O-ring was the only piece keeping it in place.

Now that everything is disassembled, use a paper towel and wipe every inch of the pot. I advocate using a paper towel than a rag, because a paper towel seems to absorb more coffee oils. Additionally, you can see how dirty the moka pot really was. The only tricky part is getting the paper towel inside the spout of the moka pot - I use a small pencil of thermometer and wrap the paper towel around it, then inserting it into the grimy, small place.

Moka starts showing after five min. brew time
The brew is almost finish
The final brew

The stovetop moka pots make dark, dense coffee. Tasty (millions of Italians can´t be wrong) but it ain´t espresso and the crema will be minimal. The taste is in general more sweet, sirupy tasting - more of the light flavors can´t be achieved using this brewing method, but will produce a drinkable black moka.

// Hendrup

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