Craving espresso? This coffee gadget can help
Everything you need to know about moka pots.
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If you’ve been eyeing an espresso machine to replace your coffee shop runs but aren’t sold on its hefty price tag, I have some good news for you: You can use a moka pot to brew espresso-like coffee right at home. They're small, convenient, and affordable—and if you end up upgrading to a real espresso machine, you can still keep your moka pot on hand for travel or camping trips.
What is a moka pot?
This slick, inexpensive gadget is what I used to brew coffee through my college years when I moved from one place to another. For just about $30, it has all the features a caffeine-deprived, cash-strapped student needs—it’s inexpensive yet durable, with a stainless steel or aluminum construction that makes it almost impossible to destroy.
The moka pot has three main parts: the water chamber (base), the coffee basket with a funnel, and the upper chamber, where the fresh coffee gets pushed out through a spout in the center. Fill the water in the bottom chamber, add the coffee grounds in the middle basket, and assemble all three parts together. Then, place the pot over a stovetop to heat up until fresh coffee starts to come out.
Note that moka pots may not work on induction cooktops, depending on the material—aluminum moka pots won’t work. To avoid this issue, you can shop for an automatic moka pot, which has its own heating system.
What’s the difference between a moka pot and an espresso machine?
The moka pot was first developed in Italy, when espresso had become widely popular, which fueled the demand for at-home brewing options. This is partly why people in Europe call the moka pot coffee “espresso” when technically, it’s not true espresso. In 1933, when the first moka pot came to the market, commercial-grade espresso wasn’t as strong as today’s advanced espresso machines—therefore, moka pot espresso was comparable and became popular among consumers.
Though what you get from a moka pot isn’t technically espresso, the mechanism is similar. A moka pot uses pressurized water to extract coffee from grounds, but the pressure (2 bar) is much lower than that of an espresso machine, which on average goes to 10 bar or higher.
The difference in pressure can be noticed in the coffee. A shot of moka pot espresso doesn’t have the characteristically smooth crema that a standard espresso shot does. In terms of the taste, a moka pot espresso shot is similar to a true espresso shot. It brews rich and strong coffee, but can be bitter if you’re not careful during the brewing process.
It may not be a true espresso machine, but make no mistake, a moka pot is also different from a percolator, which makes brewed coffee. A percolator heats up water to create steam that ascends to the top of the pot, condenses, and then falls back through the grounds, making coffee at the bottom of the pot, whose strength increases as the brewing cycle continues. The whole percolation process involves heating the grounds too hot and for too long, which results in coffee being overly bitter.
Do moka pots work better than espresso machines?
The short answer is no. There’s almost no customization in terms of the volume—if you only drink one cup of coffee per day but use a 6-cup moka pot, you’ll end up wasting a significant amount of coffee because you can’t half-fill the coffee basket. Fortunately, there are one-cup, three-cup, and up to 12-cup versions available.
However, if you’re interested in making coffee drinks but don't want to commit to a massive espresso machine that requires a learning curve, then a moka pot may be right for you. It may seem finicky at first, but rest assured, you can get a hang of it within a short period of time.
Even if you do end up with an espresso machine, you can still make good use of a moka pot when you take a road trip or go camping in the woods. Unlike an espresso machine that can be a headache when it breaks, a moka pot can last a lifetime.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.