Moka Pot Brewing

The Moka Pot doesn’t get mentioned too often as a brewing method of choice for quality coffee. It’s not in the same company as V60 pour-overs, Chemexs, French Presses, Aeropresses, or other single serve approaches for those of us obsessed with finding fun quality brewing methods. But, I’ve found there’s some very interesting tastes to be found with Moka Pots.

Many times, people call Moka Pots “Stovetop Espresso Machines,” which isn’t strictly true. The steam pressure only creates a bar or two of pressure, whereas espresso machines extract at 9 bars. So, Moka Pots are really their own category of extraction at medium pressure.

I believe I might have a slight advantage in using Moka Pots – I live in Colorado at about 5400 ft. where the boiling temperature is 204 ºF. Moka Pots use steam pressure created by boiling water in a pressurized lower container to force water up through a pipe into a bed of grounds above. Many times, this water is super-heated above boiling and extracts a scalded, bitter taste: a result of extraction at too high a temperature. Here at altitude, though, I suspect the lower boiling temperature might make Moka Pots extract in the range of good coffee brewing – typically pegged at 195 – 205 ºF.

In case anyone wants to give the method I use a try, here’s what I do. I jump through a few hoops to avoid heating the grounds for a long time, and also shoot for a relatively slow extraction. I also take pains to only extract about 2 oz., and not let super-heated steam go through the Moka Pot at the end. Finally, I’ve settled on one drink that I make with the Moka Pot, that for me creates a really interesting drink with origin flavors.

Here’s my sequence:

1. I boil water in the bottom half of the Moka Pot without the top half not connected. Ie, I’m avoiding heating up the grounds for a long time while the water boils.

2. While the water is boiling, I put 1-2 Tbsp of half and half or cream in the upper half of the chamber. I’m making a sort of very short breve I suppose with this if you use espresso terms. I have a friend that calls this drink a “Breve Macchiato.” By putting it in the top half of the chamber, it lets the cream or 1/2 and 1/2 heat up during the extraction.

3. When the water boils, I turn off the heat, and use pot holders to assemble the Moka Pot, putting the grounds into the holder. This isn’t the most elegant process and requires some practice, but I think it’s worth it.

4. I then start the extraction on the tiny “simmer burner” on my stove. Am I the only one who pretty much never uses this burner? It doesn’t produce any heat and it’s way in the back, almost as if it’s embarrassed to be a stove burner. But, it’s perfect for a Moka Pot. I keep the heat pretty low: only about to 6 on my burner (which goes up to 10).

5. It takes about 30s-60s before any “espresso” comes out, and it bubbles out slowly. I keep the heat low, and sometimes back off just a tad. When about 1.5-2 oz have come out in about 30-45s, I turn off the heat and immediately pour into my cup. I usually judge the amount of extraction by the color as it comes out and mixes with the cream or 1/2 and 1/2.

The result is an espresso-looking creamy drink that doesn’t taste like espresso. I’ve been focusing on single origins with this lately, and different interesting origin notes come out of this method than pour-overs or French Presses. This year, I’ve been on a Honduras kick, which has yielded some really interesting fruity tastes. In the past, Yirgacheffe’s have yielded amazing flavor combinations.

Can the Moka Pot keep company with the V60s and Chemexs of the quality coffee brewing world? I’d say that it’s worth a look and taste.

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