Moka Pots

From America's Test Kitchen Season 13: Breakfast Standbys

Overview:

Often referred to as poor-man’s espresso machines, Italian moka pots are small, inexpensive (under $100) coffee makers that use steam pressure to force hot water from a bottom chamber up through coffee grounds. That pressure isn’t high enough for true espresso extraction, but the coffee they make is stronger and more complex than anything brewed in a drip machine.            

Of the eight pots we tested—three traditional 3-cup stovetop designs and five electric models with capacities twice as large—the electric mokas were universally disappointing, as they failed to deliver enough power and produced flat, characterless coffee. Conversely, two out of three of the stovetop devices, including our favorite, brewed rich, full-bodied coffee—once we mastered subtle techniques like gently tamping the grinds and immediately removing the pot from the heat.

Often referred to as poor-man’s espresso machines, Italian moka pots are small, inexpensive (under $100) coffee makers that use steam pressure to force hot water from a bottom chamber up through coffee grounds. That pressure isn’t high enough for true espresso extraction, but the coffee they make is stronger and more complex than anything brewed in a drip machine.            

Of the eight pots we tested—three traditional 3-cup stovetop designs and five electric models with capacities twice as large—the electric mokas were universally disappointing, as they failed to deliver enough power and produced flat, characterless coffee. Conversely, two out of three of the stovetop devices, including our favorite, brewed rich, full-bodied coffee—once we mastered subtle techniques like gently tamping the grinds and immediately removing the pot from the heat.

Methodology:

Moka pots are simple to use, but getting great coffee from them takes some finesse. After some trial and error, here’s what we learned.

• Use a medium grind coffee (slightly coarser than espresso grind).

• Fill the bottom chamber with room-temperature water until the water barely touches the bottom of the safety valve. (Some recommend using hot water to brew faster, but when the two halves of the pot are at different temperatures, the metal expands or contracts; this can lead to worn threads and leaking.)

• Tamp the coffee gently. It’s not necessary to firmly pack the grounds as with an espresso machine, but gentle tamping helps to produce a full-bodied brew. Fill filter basket until coffee is slightly mounded and then lightly tamp it until flat and even with the rim.

• Keep the chamber threads and rim of the filter basket clear of coffee grounds. This ensures a tight, leak-free seal.

• Use the highest possible heat and the shortest possible brew time. If the heat is too low, the coffee tastes flat; too hot, and it burns. On a gas burner, the flame should be as high as possible without extending beyond the diameter of the pot. (This also prevents the bottom from scorching and the handle from melting.)

• Watch the pot. Do not allow the coffee to boil (the extraction will be bitter) and take the pot off the flame as soon as about two-thirds of the coffee is in the upper chamber. The spout will start to gurgle and bubble when the last of the coffee is emerging. Brewing should take no more than about 5 minutes.

• Do not use detergents to wash the pot. A paste made from water and baking soda will clean without stripping or damaging the finish.

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