How to Use a Moka Pot
This video features a quick how-to guide with instructions on how to easily make Moka Pot coffee at home.
Moka pot coffee is known for its dark, complex flavor, which works great as a substitute for espresso when making lattes and other coffee drinks at home.
With as common as moka pots are in Europe, it’s unusual that they carry such an intimidating quality here in the states. But it’s easy to understand why, since there’s so much conflicting information available on how to use them.
But before we get started on what has worked for me, let’s cover some basics.
What a Moka Pot Is, and What It Isn’t
No matter what anyone tells you, moka pot coffee is not espresso.
Moka pots are stovetop coffee makers that produce a distinctly strong brew. The stovetop’s heat creates pressurized steam, that eventually forces boiling water upward through the grounds. You’ll frequently hear moka pots referred to as “stovetop espresso makers” by their manufactures, but this is technically inaccurate.
Espresso is a method of brewing, not a type of bean or a strength of coffee, and by definition it requires ~9 bars of pressure to create. Moka pots, on the other hand, use approximately 1 – 1.5 bars of pressure. Which means you’ll get a robust and extremely strong cup of coffee from them, but it’s technically not espresso.
That being said, if you love lattes and sweetened coffee drinks at home, moka pots are the next best thing to a full-blown espresso machine. (And for most of us, you’ll barely tell the difference in flavor).
How Does a Moka Pot Work?
Moka pots work by passing hot water through coffee grounds, forced through steam pressure. Because the water is stored in a (mostly) enclosed space, pressure builds as heat is applied. This pressure forces the water upward through a filter basket (aka funnel), which holds the coffee grounds. The brew then continues to travel upward and eventually outward through the top of a small column, and gentle oozes into a holding chamber.
The Pros and Cons of Using a Moka Pot
The bottom line is that moka pots can produce a delicious, espresso-like brew with minimal expense, but they can also be fussy to master. The most common complaint is that moka pot coffee tastes over-extracted and results in a bitter brew. There’s also safety to consider — since the pot is a pressurized system, some common-sense precautions must be used to ensure an ‘explosion’ doesn’t occur.
How to Use a Moka Pot – The Basics
If you’re the kinda person that doesn’t need the hows or whys of coffee-making, here’s the basic steps I use to make great moka pot coffee. I’ll dig into the reasons for each of these steps in further sections below.
- Fill the bottom reservoir of the moka pot with hot water up to the bottom collar of the pressure release valve.
- Fill the filter basket with ground coffee. I like a grind consistency about half-way between espresso and drip grind. Not too fine, not too coarse. Do not overfill or tamp.
- Replace the filter and run your finger around the lip to remove any stray grounds. Screw the moka pot together tightly.
- Place the moka pot on a stovetop at medium-low heat (lower if using a gas stove.)
- After 5-10 minutes, the brew should start oozing into the upper chamber. Sputtering or spitting means the heat is too high.
- When the brew is about 80% complete, remove it from the heat. You can optionally wrap the bottom with a chilled bar towel to halt the brewing process.
- Pour and serve immediately. Moka pot coffee is quite strong, so many enjoy it diluted 50/50 with hot water, Americano-style.
The Hows and Whys of Making Great Moka Pot Coffee
To be direct, the best way to make moka pot coffee isn’t necessarily the way your grandmother made it. Recommended methods for moka pots have changed over the years as coffee aficionados have experimented with different variables. After playing with the tips available, I made the tutorial video above which covers a couple basic how-tos to get you started. (I recommend watching the video before reading any further.)
- Water Temperature: Starting with hot, filtered water will shave several minutes off your brew time, which helps prevent over-extraction and burnt flavor.
- Water Level: When filling the bottom reservoir, never, ever fill above the pressure release valve (that’s the little nub on the side.) That valve is designed to release extra pressure in the event that your pot doesn’t brew properly while on the heat. Covering this valve with water renders it useless, and increases your risk of a dangerous blow-out.
- Adjust Your Grind: Using too fine of a grind can result in the filter getting clogged, which will slow or stop your brew process and cause over-extracted coffee. (It’s also a safety hazard). Moka pots work well with grounds just slightly finer than standard drip coffee.
- Do Not Tamp or Overfill: This is probably the most contentious point among moka pot users. Many Italian grandmothers will testify to the “volcano” method of overfilling the filter with grounds, then tamping the grounds down when assembling the pot. This may have worked successfully on pots made 40 years ago (which were built like tanks), but is not recommended for today’s mass-produced, often aluminum-built pots. Tamping increases the pressure required for your brew to reach the surface, which can result in a bitter cup and increases your risk of a safety hazard. Even Bialetti, the original creator of the moka pot, recommends against overfilling and tamping.
- Ensure the “Lip” of your Filter is Clean: As shown in the video, be sure to run your finger around the “lip” of your filter after filling it with grinds. This will remove any loose grinds and ensure your moka pot seals properly.
- Use Low Heat: If your brew is spewing from the top of the pot, it’s a good sign that your heat is too high. Moka brew, at proper temperatures, will generally surface to the top gently and without much force.
- Positioning the Pot on the Stove: For safety reasons, When placing the pot on the stove, ensure the release valve is pointed away from you. It also helps to use the smallest burner that’ll suit your needs, to minimize the handle being exposed to unnecessary heat. (I’m using a larger burner in my video because I needed easy access for filming.)
- Pull it Off the Heat Early: The last 10% of your moka pot brew is usually the most extracted and most bitter. You can help prevent burnt flavor by pulling it off the heat early, about 80% through the process. Optionally, you can immediately wrap the bottom with a chilled bar towel to help stop the brewing process.
How to Serve Moka Pot Coffee:
Moka Pot coffee is extremely strong, so the final brew is often mixed 50/50 with water “Americano-style” to tone down the flavor. But if you’re using moka pot coffee as a replacement for espresso in milk-based or sweetened drinks (such as a latte or mocha), straight-up moka brew works best.
- Water or Steam is Leaking from the Side Seam: Remove from heat immediately. Ensure that the pot is tightly sealed, including ensuring that grinds on the filter lip aren’t allowing you to make a complete seal. Also ensure that your grind isn’t too fine, which can block the filter and prevent the water from travelling upward. Leaking can also be common with brand-new pots equipped with new seals, so give it an extra squeeze when sealing it. If you have an older pot, the seal may need to be replaced.
- Steam is Spewing from the Release Valve: Remove from heat immediately. Ensure that your grind isn’t too fine. Do not tamp the grounds, which can block the filter. Use lower heat.
- Coffee Sputters from the Top: This is a good sign that your heat is too high. Use a low to medium-low heat.
- Coffee is Bitter: Use a lower heat and use preheated water, if possible. Also try a coarser grind and pull the unit off the heat early.
- Coffee is Weak: Your water might be “channeling” to the top through air pockets. When filling your filter with grinds, give the basket a couple taps along the side to settle the grounds. Do not tamp, though.
Finding the Right Moka Pot for You:
The most important thing to note when buying a moka pot is that “1 cup” actually means “1 shot” of coffee, not a full cup. I use a 1 cup model in my video, which produces a single shot of coffee. A “6 cup” model would produce 6 shots.
What size should you get? Moka pots come in so many sizes because they’re designed to only brew a specific amount. (For example, you don’t want to buy a 6-cup moka pot, then make only 3-cups with it.) The larger the pot, the fussier it is to use, so I recommend buying the smallest pot that will suit your needs. A 3-cup pot is a good place to start.
There’s a lot of brands out there, and to be honest, I haven’t used them all so I can’t offer a solid opinion on which is best. However I can tell you that Bialetti is the original and most common brand, and is therefore the easiest to find replacement parts for.
Aluminum pots are cheaper and more common, but stainless steel ones tend to function better and distribute heat more evenly. I use an aluminum one without issue. If you have an induction stove, you’ll need a pot specifically labelled for induction use.