I am an English-speaking, freelance food writer based in Rome. I love writing articles on various aspects of Italian culture.
Today coffee in capsule form is used by many Italians for thier first cup of the day, it’s ease of use is attractive to those early morning risers who wish to skip the chaos of the local coffee bar and a cheap way to make fast cups of espresso during the morning routine.
However in the past, previous generations relied on small handy Moka stovetop coffee makers at home and even today seventy percent of Italian kitchens still have Moka of various sizes ready to brew fresh cups for all the family. These items still make great standby appliances and giving these as a gift is still common as one is often rewarded with a gleeful look and a happy but curious smile.
For anyone with access to a gas cooker this many sided utensil is a great tool if one takes time to learn to use this device with skill, being especially careful for example not to allow the extract to over boil and being aware of grind size. Read on for ten pro tips that will take you to the next level of coffee brewing with your little portable travel companion.
Ten pro tips
1) Getting Setup
3) Mineral Water
5) Tamp and Grind
6) Carry Spares
7) Dark Roast
1) Getting Set Up
First one needs to buy a Moka Pot the one or three cup options work well for the beginner and are super portable. A few companies now make this item but the Italian company Bialetti (since 1919) invented the iconic eight or ten sided version used most widely. They do a size range from the adorable one cup right up to a monstrous eighteen cup coffee capacity.
Before buying new or second hand you need to decide if you want to use an Aluminium or Stainless Steel pot. Buying second hand will give one a Moka that is already coated with coffee oils that help shape the beverage flavour and most replacement items can be bought online for refurbishment at a reasonable cost.
Giant 18 cup!
You will need to do a simple clean. Take the Moka apart and loosen the rubber gasket, next lightly clean all over with a soft cloth and a dab of water and vinegar mix. The silver or brass valves are the most tricky part but carefully loosen and remove any calcium deposit or buildup that has covered the mechanism on the inside of the lower reservoir. You can source fresh valves in 8mm/15mm and 20mm sizes online and replace them with a small spanner wrench if they are beyond repair.
While these little cooking utensils are almost indestructible, like a new car they need some "running in" for the first few brews or if they have been in storage for a long time.
To do this take some stale coffee and put in the funnel, put water in the reservoir and screw the lid on, start the burner being careful to keep the handle away from the flame and brew. Throw away the coffee and cool under the tap and repeat this process three times then allow everything to air dry.
By this stage, the Moka should have developed a patina of burn on the outside and the coffee oils should have lightly covered the inside. Ideally you now never need to wash it with soap instead just rinse with water and a use a stiff brush to remove stale stubborn coffee grounds.
3) Mineral Water
Starting your first brew it is important to realise that while the choice of coffee is important so is the water. Mineral water is a rich blend of calcium and trace minerals that add to the flavour. In the capital city of Rome in Italy the supply of water comes from a blend of springs that come from a number of deep natural wells. If you are brewing cups in Europe you could use mineral water to get that mineral mix in the coffee. If you are lucky and find a bottle of Egeria mineral water you will in fact have the same mineral rich water as the eternal city. It seems obvious but fill the reservoir and choose you water wisely, to get the best flavour use mineral water.
6) Carry Spares
It is always useful to have a pack of some spare gaskets, these are the flat halo shaped rubber discs that provide a seal between the reservoir and upper chamber, they often come with a fresh metal filter that slides into place on the top reservoir space. A new side handle, top lid handle and spare funnel will turn your worn Moka into a usable almost new item.
When traveling a useful option is to have some pre-packed coffee capsules, that you put directly into the funnel of the Moka that contain pre ground and pressed coffee that are great for when you want an authentic flavour without the longer preparation time and can use foil packed vacuum fresh items.
7) The Dark Roast
Use a dark roasted coffee from Ethiopia. The beans tend to be on the cheaper side quality wise but roasted till they turn almost black. During World War Two, Italy invaded North Africa, where coffee grows even in the wild and these characteristic beans became available across Italy. It is now cultivated commercially so that today the most widely used beans in Italy still tend to be sourced from this area.
If you can find a local roaster ask for a dark roast, one that's been heated to 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 17 -18 minutes or ask for -high intensity- a coffee known in Italy as Intenso.
When buying blended coffee note that Arabica has a sweeter and more mellow and softer taste, with higher acidity, while Robusta has a harsher and stronger taste. The two combined are what give Italian coffee it’s unique flavour.
Augment what you have already got with accessories for your model to increase its ease of use.
Anti-splash: or Paraspruzzi in Italian is a little metal top that fits over the reservoir spout within the Moka pot and stops the coffee spraying out if the lid has been left open.
A gas reducer: a star shaped metal brace that sits on top of the gas hob and allows one to position the appliance directly over the gas flame accurately without burning the fragile plastic side handle.
Kafferino: a rare item to find that is a plastic funnel that allows one to fill the coffee funnel with a packed "puck" accurately without spilling coffee grinds over the side wall. available from Pusher.
Hand Grinder: a small hand grinder that will allow one to accurately set ones grind size for mocha coffee and ensure you are using the freshest coffee possible. The size of the grind needs to be medium like the size of sugar. Be aware of any oils on the beans that can interfere with the teeth within the grinding mechanism.
Hand protector silicone kitchen oven mitt: it’s surprisingly easy to burn ones fingers if you lift the Moka pot up with the gas flame still alight, these will keep your fingers safe no matter what.
Cups: buy the correct small cups, the thick base and sides keep the coffee warm and help any sugar to melt into the liquid.
Who is making Breakfast?
And Finally, Start Young
Most children in Italy have numerous rites of passage the most crucial perhaps is learning how to cling on tightly to their parents while riding on the back of a Motorino or scooter but safely at home in the kitchen, from an early age, watched carefully by grandmother or Nonna, kids prepare their first espresso brew. Its a short but important lesson where the young ones learn to always remember to put water into the Moka pot's reservoir chamber before starting the boil. A simple but important lesson.
Advanced level training involves carrying a tray of cups across the room before laying the beverage tray down without spilling a precious drop. So to repeat it’s really crucial to remember water, no water means the delicate rubber seals melt and fuse around the coffee maker: a difficult task to clean up.
Bialetti Moka Express.
© 2018 Adele Barattelli