Italian in origin, the moka pot is a far cry from the chocolate-flavored coffee drink that most people associate with the word “mocha.” There is no chocolate involved — the moka pot is a semi-obscure (to Americans) form of brewing capable of extracting flavor from coffee that a French press, vacuum pot, or pour over brewer cannot. Known in some parts of the world as a stove top espresso machine, the moka pot is a steam-driven brewing device that produces a bold, rich, and concentrated coffee that is reminiscent of espresso.
The moka pot has an upper chamber and a lower chamber with a basket held between them. While the water in the lower chamber is heated, steam is created and forced up and through the coffee. When the water boils, it pushes up through the basket holding the pod of coffee, extracting flavor and pouring out into the upper chamber. This is similar to the espresso-making process, where pumps are used to push water at nine bars of pressure through a packed pod of coffee.
As with other brewing devices, the key variables for moka pot brewing are coffee quality, grind, water, and time. But with the moka pot, dosing — or choosing the amount of coffee to use — is an added element.
A moka pot will twist apart; the bottom half houses the funnel-shaped basket that holds the ground coffee. The amount of coffee placed in the basket will vary based upon taste. Coffee should be finely ground and placed in the basket without tamping (packing the grounds). Coffee that is too finely ground or too tightly packed will not allow for the water to move up and through the coffee into the upper chamber.
The amount of water in a moka pot will change based on size, so the amount of coffee will also change. The standard, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, is 14.5 grams (about 2 tbsp) for every 8 oz, so that should be the starting point for dosing as you get to know your moka pot. The amount of water a moka pot will hold is based on the placement of the air valve located on the side of the lower chamber. Water needs to be filled up to this valve, but not above it — this allows air to enter the lower chamber as the water moves up through the coffee and into the upper chamber.
When the moka pot has been filled with water and coffee, it should be reassembled and put on the stove at a medium heat. If the water is heated too quickly it will not create enough consistent steam to cause the grounds to swell and create a pod in the basket. If the water is heated too slowly the coffee will begin to stale.
The moka pot has completed the brewing cycle when the upper chamber is filled and the spouts sputter and begin blowing steam. The coffee should be stirred to blend together all of the flavors and should be immediately poured into cups. Coffee that is left in the upper chamber will burn.
The taste of coffee from a moka pot should be rich, bold, and concentrated — similar to espresso. Coffee that is too bitter can mean that there are too many grounds or that the coffee has been ground too finely. Coffee that is weak or sour can mean that the coffee is ground too coarsely or not enough grounds are being used. As you become familiar with your moka pot, the grind and the amount of coffee dosed will need to be adjusted until you find a balance.
The moka pot is a brewing method that is as temperamental and rewarding as espresso. Every brew feels and tastes different, pushing the skills and palate of the brewer.