Tales from the Coffee Front

Come on, we’ve all seen them. You know what I’m talking about. Those chic little aluminum Italian coffee machines? The ones that go on the stovetop and make your home look decidedly “international”? I’m talking about Moka machines. That’s what they’re called in case you didn’t know, and they happen to be the most popular method of brewing coffee in Italy. And you thought it was all about espresso!

The Moka, or Moka Express as it’s officially known, was invented by one Alfonso Bialetti way back in 1933. The originals were made of sturdy die-cast aluminum and featured bakelite black handles. Bialetti still makes Mokas and their version is still considered by many purists to be the only model to consider. Still, there are Mokas now that are made of highly polished stainless steel for those that demand a “fancier” machine. Remember, Moka is not espresso because there is no pump to push the water through the grounds. The water, or steam rather, is pushed through by its own built up pressure. Just because it’s not espresso, doesn’t mean that it can’t be delicious in its own right.

The Moka is one of those inventions that is beautiful in its utter simplicity. There are only really five parts total to the Moka. You’ve got the bottom chamber, the filter basket, a rubber gasket, a removable secondary filter, and the top chamber. The parts come apart easily to allow for quick and painless cleaning and maintenance.

Operating the Moka is very simple, especially in comparison with operating more complicated espresso machines. You simply fill the bottom chamber with cold fresh water up to the release valve, and then you put the filter basket in. Next you fill the basket with medium-fine ground coffee (pre-ground Lavazza is the Italian coffee of choice as it is perfectly ground for the Moka). Get the basket just full of coffee-don’t overfill it! Coffee grounds expand as they get wet, and if you overfill the basket, you’ll end up with a bitter brew. Finally, you screw the top chamber onto the bottom chamber, and set the Moka on a medium-low heat (electric or gas). Within five to ten minutes your Moka will start sputtering; that means it’s done. Turn off the heat, remove the Moka from the burner, and let it sit for a minute or two to make sure that it’s finished doing its thing.

Enjoying Moka is perhaps the easiest step. Remember, this is an espresso-like drink, i.e. it’s very strong! Italians only drink Moka in two to four ounce portions per person. Try it in a demitasse for a little elegance. If you want to, you can heat up some milk on the stove, whisking it to a froth so that you can have a homemade “old school” latte. I guarantee it will be better than the one you get at your local McStarbucks!

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