Invented to allow the common person to make espresso-style coffee at home without investing in a giant brass boiler system, the moka pot has been a staple in Italian households for nearly 100 years. Taking the premise of traditional espresso percolation and miniaturising it; the moka pot uses the heat of a hob to bring the water temperature to 100 degrees, causing the steam to rise through the coffee
bed and condensing in the top of compartment. Whilst modern Specialty Coffee has all but disregarded moka pots due to the excessive heat, with the right choice in coffee and brewing technique you will be able to produce a beautifully bittersweet and deliciously rich Italian-style coffee.
1. The power of the dark side – One of the reasons we have pulled away from moka’s in modern specialty is purely down the roasting. Traditional coffee roasting that was the main staple when the moka was invented was dark roasted coffee, very low acidity with lots of caramelized sugars. Modern Specialty for the past 20 years has leaned towards medium to light roasting, building up lots of volatile acids and fruit sugars without burning them off. When used it a moka pot, the acids that are still present within medium to light roast coffee will naturally burn when they are exposed to such high heats. Imagine cutting a lemon and putting
in a frying pan, that sharp shock is the flavour of the fruit acids being burnt. Dark roasted coffee has burnt off much of the fruiter acids already, so that extra few degrees will give the sugars extra caramelization, giving you more of that unctuous bittersweet quality we have come to expect from moka’s. In the Brew Bar, we find that our Legacy Blend absolutely sings when brewed in a moka.
2. The fine line – To extract well, moka pots require a finely ground coffee. However, do not presume that espresso ground coffee from the supermarket or a coffee roaster will be the right size. As espresso machines use mechanical pressure to force the water through the coffee, too finely ground coffee will be stopping any water being able to get through the bed. Imagine taking all the time and effort to set up your moka, going back 5 minutes later and finding it hasn’t even brewed! Whilst it may still be able to percolate through the coffee bed,
too fine a grind will allow result in much more extraction of the coffee, bringing more plant matter and bitterness into your drink.
3. Temperature – One of the most common pitfalls that people have when brewing with a moka pot is knowing how much heat to use in their brew. Too much will result a brew that begins to run away from you, causing lots of spitting and boiling coffee flying everywhere, too little and it will not build enough pressure to force through the coffee. In the Brew Bar we have found that the best way to maximise your brewing is to start with a high temperature on your hob, when the coffee begins to come through the central spout to reduce the temperature, allowing the
temperature to stay consistent rather than ramping up exponentially. You can experiment with how much you reduce your temperature to see where your sweet spot is, here we tend to reduce it by about 30-40%. Once the top part of your moka is halfway full, we remove the pot from the hob entirely, allowing the residual internal heat to finish the extraction. We have found this allows us to control the brew more effectively, enhancing all the rich caramelized sugars without burning it to oblivion.
4. No half measures – With whatever moka pot you use, there is no real way to brew smaller than what it was built for. If you try to put less coffee and water in the pot and brew, you will find it will not be able to build the right level of pressure require to have a decent moka extraction. In the Brew Bar, we use 300ml with 25 grams of coffee which fills both the coffee basket and the water barrel to maximum. Weighing out how much your moka uses will help you get it right every time.
Taking temperature, coffee, and grind size into account, a moka pot does not have to be the secret shame in a coffee lovers’ arsenal, have a play with these tips and tricks to see what you can do with YOUR moka. Maybe you’ll discover something that will change the game entirely!