I don’t talk about it here much but I’m a bit of a coffee nerd. I’m also a coffee nerd on a budget. I love espresso but can’t afford a machine, so I use a Moka Pot, a contraption invented in Italy in the 30s designed to save people money whilst still making a nice drink.
This is a simple device. You put your water in the bottom, then place the coffee in a ‘basket’ in the middle, screw the lid on and put it on the stove. Water that is hot enough will be forced through the coffee and come out of a spout on top.
Back in the Pyrenees this is how we used to make coffee every day, so I am sort of biased towards the method since it comes attached with fond memories of being in the mountains at New Year’s.
Like all the best Italian design it’s shaped like a woman. You can get fancy ones (I have a lovely 1-cup one from Alessi) or you can get plain ones, like the one I use every day from Bialetti. These are very cheap at around £20 for an average 6-cup one, mine is a huge 12-cup one and still only set me back £34. Compare that to the £600 or so a decent espresso machine might cost you and you can see why I’m writing this guide…
Things to bear in mind
This is not real espresso
I don’t want a deluge of emails from pedants. The pressure isn’t high enough for it to be ‘real’ espresso, and the finished product tends not to have a lot of crema (the foam on top).
It’s still delicious though.
Grind your own beans
It’s the one thing that makes a massive difference, enough to make people who say they don’t like coffee think twice.
That means you have to think about your grinder
Get a burr grinder, it actually grinds rather than chops through coffee. If you don’t have much cash get a good hand grinder like a Hario Skerton or a Hario Mini Mill. I used one for years.
Eventually I saved up and splurged on a really nice electric one, it just saves so much time, but there’s no hurry especially if you are just starting out.
Use fresh coffee
This is another factor that has a noticable impact even on people with terrible palettes such as myself. It’s not quite as important as grinding, but almost. I get sent a bag every week from HasBean - it’s a little pricery but it makes life a little sweeter.
You want a fairly fine grind, not as fine as it goes but not far off. With my old Hario hand grinder I’d tighten it all the way, then work back about four or five clicks. Too fine and not only will you be grinding all day, but the water won’t get through the pot properly. Now I’ve got an electric one, it’s set to about 75% from maximum.
You know you have it when you get a nice steady stream of coffee for as long as possible. If it comes shooting out as soon as you hit the heat you’ve gone too coarse. If it takes ages then sputters and spurts you’ve gone too fine, and you’ll have burnt coffee.
Boil some water in the kettle. Pour it into the lower half of the pot up to the valve/whatever marker is in there. I also get the hob warmed up as high as it goes when the kettle is on.
Off the heat, but the basket in, and pour your coffee into said basket. Fill it so it’s a little mound that goes over the top of the edge, then gently press it down so it fills out all the gaps and is level. Do not ‘tamp’, the pressure isn’t high enough for that to work and you just get clogged.
Screw the top on, making sure you’ve got a nice tight seal.
Put the pot on the super hot hob. As soon as I put it on there, I wait for the water to make a boiling noise (10/20 seconds) then turn the hob down to med/low (40% in my case, your mileage may vary).
Wait. The coffee should start to flow out in a nice stream, clinging to the side of the funnel. I always get bubbles first, that’s a sign it’s going well. I don’t know why but I love it when the foam comes out.
- When the coffee starts to turn clearer watch out, because the water is about to come shooting out the top. This is an optional step, but as soon as the coffee starts to speed up and turn lighter, I take the whole thing off the heat and dump it in a sink full of cold water. This kills the whole process quickly - that clear-ish liquid at the end tastes nasty. See below.
If you did stop the flow before the excess water came through, you will have much stronger coffee, good to know if you’re making it for people with different tastes. If you let it go through, you will have more in the pot, but it’ll be generally weaker.
If water starts fizzing out the side then you either need a new rubber seal (cheap, I replaced mine and it changed everything…), or you have too much coffee in the basket!
People ask about cleaning. Elbow grease is the key! I should say that although I give mine a once over every morning, it always looks like it has residue. The few times I sit down and get a real shine on it, I can never tell the difference in taste.