May 10, 2020

Moka Notes

3 minute read


Over the winter, with some prodding from a friend in the neighborhood, I decided to get into making coffee from scratch. And I decided to jump into the deep end with Moka Pot (sometimes known as a “stove-top espresso maker”).

Moka Pot Brewing Coffee

Coffee brewing with a Moka pot.

Moka pots are more popular in Europe, but can be found all over the world; they’ve been around since the 1930’s. The Moka pot is a stove-top coffee pot which approximates espresso while not costing a small fortune (as opposed to espresso makers which can be pricey). They come in a variety of sizes; and size does matter when it comes to Moka pot. Moka pots are sold in increments of “cup” sizes, where each “cup” corresponds with a single-shot of Moka “espresso”; exactly that much “espresso” must be brewed every time for consistent (or even decent) results.

The only reason I got the Moka pot is to be able to make espresso-style drinks at home. Like its namesake, “espresso” from a Moka pot is strong enough to make drinks like “lattes” and “cappuccinos”. (Coffee from pretty much any other method is too weak to survive adding milk – they just become coffee with milk.)

And, as anyone who’s used a Moka knows, when they work, they work fairly well; but when they go off, the results can be… well… disastrous. Therefore, I’ve decided to tabulate some of my notes on how I’ve improved my Moka preparation. These notes have been compiled by consulting my coffee mentor quite a bit, watching YouTube videos, and hanging out on reddit.com/r/coffee.


Moka Notes

The best introduction to making Moka can be found be watching (and re-watching) James Hoffman’s YouTube guide for Moka. Watch that before you proceed:

Even after watching this video, though, I ran into a couple of technical difficulties. Here are my supplemental notes on Moka preparation and troubleshooting:

  • Use coffee grinds that works well for Moka. Many “espresso” grinds are actually too fine and can jam the pot (and risk a steam explosion). But regular coffee grinds can be too coarse and result in sour coffee. I grind my own coffee (or get it ground at a local shop), but you can buy coffee pre-ground to Moka consistency as well.
  • Screw the pot together tightly. When I first started out and my Moka was brand-new, the top of the pot didn’t want to screw on very tightly, too much steam leaked out, and my coffee would burn badly. I solved this by grabbing an oven mitt and tightening as hard as I could. I worried I’d “break” the pot, but I shouldn’t have, because the aluminum is very thick.
  • Use very hot or nearly-boiling water in the bottom of the chamber (as Hoffman notes). Starting with hot water not only reduces the total time involved, it’s also crucial to avoid burning the coffee.
  • Don’t “tamp” the grinds into the basket, whether by hand, or using an espresso tamping tool. Tamping the coffee risks clogging the machine or introducing uneven coffee brewing to the pot. The former can cause a dangerous steam explosion, and the latter can result in a mixture of bitter and sour flavors in the pot.
  • Evenly distributed the grinds by “leveling” the coffee at the top of the basket is okay, but don’t overload the basket, and don’t push the grinds down.
  • When loading freshly-ground coffee into the Moka’s basket, I “tap” the bottom of the basket on the counter to help release the trapped air and get the grounds to settle. In my experience this helps obtain more consistent results.

© Jeff Rabinowitz, 2020