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I grew up understanding the difference between ‘everyday coffee’ brewed in the stainless steel percolator and ‘real coffee’. My grandmother made the first for my mother and her friends. It was, to quote my mother, an acquired taste. I know now that it was an acquired taste because, frankly, percolators make terrible coffee. When we were at home alone, my grandmother made real coffee on top of the stove with a moka pot. I never had to acquire a taste for this coffee. It was rich and dark and flavorful, a symphony on the tongue. As a little girl, one of my favorite breakfast treats was Nana’s moka pot coffee poured over my cornflakes with the milk.
A moka pot is a three part metal pot that you use to make coffee on top of your stove. Fully assembled, it is shaped like an hourglass. The bottom part holds the water for your coffee. The middle part is a metal filter that fits between the top and the bottom pieces and holds ground coffee. When the water in the bottom part of the moka pot heats, the steam is forced up through the grounds in the filter into the top pot, where it condenses into a liquid again. You can find moka pots in nearly any department store or supermarket for far less than you’ll pay for them through a specialty coffee shop. If you want the best, though, Bialetti makes several different models in 100% culinary grade stainless steel. Most moka pots that you’ll find in supermarkets are made with aluminum, which can affect the taste of the coffee.
Coffee brewed in a moka pot can be a heavenly experience – or it can be a huge disappointment. There is an art to making coffee in a moka pot that includes the amount of water, the amount and grind of the coffee, the compactness of the coffee grounds in the filter and the heat of the water used to brew it. It is possible, however, to make excellent coffee without any acidity or bitterness in a moka pot if you follow a simple procedure.
First, keep your moka pot scrupulously clean. Coffee flavor is the result of extracting oils naturally found in coffee beans. Those oils cling to any surface that they touch. Disassemble the moka pot after every use and clean the filter and top pot, being sure that you clean the underside of the top pot. Every few weeks, run some vinegar through the moka pot as if you were brewing coffee to get rid of any mineral deposits left behind by hard water.
Before you use your moka pot for the first time:
Follow the directions below using spent coffee grounds or inexpensive coffee that you don’t mind wasting. The first pot of coffee you brew in this should be thrown away. The intent is just to clean the machine out before using it for the first time.
To Make Coffee in a Moka Pot
Unscrew the top part of the moka pot and set it aside. Take out the filter basket.
Fill the bottom part of the moka pot with water to the pressure gauge line.
Drop the filter basket into place and add a heaping tablespoon of finely ground coffee for every three ounces of water in the pot. Do not tamp the coffee. The coffee will expand when the steam is forced through it, effectively producing its own tamp.
Screw the top part of the moka pot into place.
Put the pot over low heat and wait. It will take about five minutes for the coffee to finish. You’ll know that it’s done by the throaty sound of the coffee sputtering.
Pour into an espresso cup and enjoy.