Bialetti created the first Moka pot in the 1930s. It was named for the city of Mocha in Yemeni which grew one of the most popular coffee beans sold at the time. This stovetop brewing method quickly gained ground in Italy and from there, its popularity spread to Europe, North America, North Africa, and the Near East. Coffee consumers were excited about this pot because of its ability to make an espresso-like coffee at home. The Moka pot’s advertising slogan was: “Espresso in the home, just like in the bar.”
Since it was first made from aluminum, the lower price tag for a Moka pot also made it a much more accessible coffee brewing option for the population at large. For many years, coffee drinkers had relied on baristas to brew their favorite cuppa from commercial-grade espresso machines. The Moka pot was an affordable way for the common man to brew a cup at home. This post was part of a shift in coffee drinking trends, moving away from the social coffee drinking at cafes and coffee bars toward home brewing methods.
The Best Grind Size for the Moka Pot
The Moka pot often gets a bad rap for producing a strong and bitter cup of coffee. Many blame the pot, but it could have to more to do with our short attention span in a fast-paced society. For those who don’t give up on the Moka pot after those first few failed attempts, a sweet surprise awaits in this small, unpretentious wonder-worker.
As with other brewing methods, time, temperature, and quality coffee beans will play an important role in the final product. But another important factor that is too often overlooked is grind size.
Your coffee grind size plays a valuable part in the brewing process and contributes to the overall flavor and smoothness of the final cup.
The best grind size for a Moka pot is a fine grind. A fine coffee grind has particle sizes of around 1/32” (0.8mm).
In this article, we will see why grind size is so important and we’ll tuck in some more tips and tricks for brewing the best coffee using a Moka pot.
What is a Moka Pot
The Moka pot has gained the nickname “stovetop espresso maker,” because, like an espresso maker, it uses pressure to brew coffee. Whereas an espresso maker uses a minimum of 9 bars of pressure, a Moka pot generally reaches only one or two bars.
Although in technical terms the Moka pot may not quite make a true espresso, the Moka pot is still able to achieve a small amount of satisfying “crema” on top. The final result of this brew is a strong, quality cup of coffee that lands on the spectrum between an espresso and drip coffee.
Many confuse a Moka pot with a percolator, but there are some key differences. Both methods generally use a stovetop for heat and shoot water upward through the coffee grounds. The Moka pot has an entirely separate chamber for the final coffee product. In this method, water is placed under higher pressure to go through the grounds and arrive in the top chamber. On the other hand, a percolator brews by circulating water through the grounds continuously until the coffee completely replaces the water in the bottom section. A Moka pot makes a coffee closely resembling an espresso, whereas a percolator is more similar to drip coffee.
A Moka pot is designed to completely saturate the coffee grounds while building pressure to arrive in the top chamber. This saturation gives the brew its rich taste.
How to Use a Moka Pot
In today’s fast-paced society we often forget to slow down enough to enjoy the journey. While a drip machine is handy for when you need to rush out the door, using a Moka pot forces you to slow down a bit and enjoy a worthwhile coffee experience.
Putting the Pieces Together
The Moka pot comes with a bottom chamber for water. This has a safety valve to keep excess pressure from building in the pot. The coffee basket has a funnel that fits down into the bottom chamber. The filter plate and gasket will go between the bottom and top chamber to prevent coffee grounds from entering your final coffee. The top chamber with its handle and lid screws on last to seal all the pieces together.
The Moka set-up is pretty straightforward.
- To brew coffee using a Moka pot, fill the bottom compartment with water until just below the safety valve.
- Next, add your finely ground coffee to the filter basket.
- Fill the basket until it mounds slightly over the filter. The grounds shouldn’t be tamped down firmly, instead just use your fingers to gently pat the grounds in place and level the coffee.
- Screw on the top and place on your stovetop at medium heat.
Tip: Coffee experts suggest starting out your pot with preheated water rather than cold. This can keep your coffee from “cooking” while your pot heats up and also prevents that metallic, bitter taste from entering your brew.
The Brewing Process
The saying goes, “A watched pot never boils,” and this is precisely why it is so important to watch your Moka pot as it brews so you can avoid a rolling boil! Boiling water temperatures in a Moka pot can quickly cause the quality of your brew to deteriorate leaving you with a bitter mess instead.
You can leave the lid open as it brews and watches the coffee burble out slowly as it heats. Not only is this a mesmerizing and fascinating process to watch, but it will also allow you to control the brewing process.
If you notice the coffee is coming out too slowly, you may want to bump the heat up. If it begins to spurt up or starts making hissing noises, you will want to turn the heat down or off.
Tip: When the coffee is done, you can take it off the stove and run the bottom under cold water to stop the extraction process. This will prevent your coffee from over-extracting and give it that perfect, smooth finish.
The Importance of Grind Size
Grind size may not seem like it should play a crucial role in your cup of coffee, but it is more central than you might think. So, if you’ve been tinkering with your Moka pot and still can’t seem to get the taste you are looking for, finding the right grind size may be your turning point!
The right grind size for your brewing method is determined by the method’s extraction rate, contact time, and flow rate.
The extraction rate has to do with how fast the flavors leave the coffee bean. The rate of extraction is relative to the surface area of the grounds. Finer grinds equal more surface area and a higher extraction rate. Coarser grounds will have a slower extraction rate. With a higher extraction rate, you will need less contact time.
Contact time is how long the grounds remain in contact with hot water. The longer the water remains in contact with the grounds, the more extraction will take place. The shorter the amount of contact time, the less coffee will be extracted from the beans.
Flow rate is related to how fast or slow water passes through the coffee puck during extraction and in the pre-infusion stage. Controlling the flow rate of water will allow you to extract all the flavors possible from your coffee beans. Generally, the finer the grind is, the slower the flow rate will be as the water must pass through more densely packed coffee grounds.
Simply put, finer grinds mean your coffee will extract faster, so they are a good choice for coffee-making methods with shorter brew times. Coarser grinds are better for immersion brewers which will steep a coffee for several minutes.
Tip: Using a coarser grind than your brew method requires can give you weak, watery, or sour tasting coffee that is highly acidic. If your grind is too fine, your coffee will taste burnt and bitter from over-extraction.
A Moka pot has a shorter brew time than many other methods. This is why it is so important to use a fine grind for this brew method so the water is able to extract as much flavor as possible from the beans in its short contact time.
Speaking from personal experience, you can follow all the right steps, but miss out on the great taste of a Moka brew because your pre-ground coffee was too coarse for your brew. Matching your grind size to your brew method will let you get the most flavor and body out of your coffee beans.
The Best Grind Size for Other Brews
For pour-overs, you should use a medium-coarse to medium-fine grind. Cone-shaped pour-over will generally use a medium-fine grind. You can adjust the grind size based on the taste of the finished product. If the brew is watery and acidic, you can grind it finer next time; if bitter, try a medium-coarse grind.
A french press steeps over several minutes. Since this method has a longer contact time, a coarse grind will ensure that you won’t end up with a bitter cup of coffee at the end! Also, the coarse grind will keep the coffee grounds from blocking your filter or sifting through the mesh and into your coffee!
The AeroPress brew method uses less contact time than many brew methods. Fine grind coffee to medium grind coffee will allow you to get the most flavor from this method! An AeroPress is a great choice for tasting all the flavors in single-origin and specialty coffees.
A cold brew coffee will need an extra-coarse grind. Since a cold brew steeps for a long time (often overnight), and uses cold water instead of hot, it will have plenty of time to extract all the flavors. Also, finer grinds will tend to clump and block the flow of the water around the granules of coffee.
Investing in a Coffee Grinder
If you enjoy using different brew methods to make your daily cup of coffee, a conical burr grinder such as the Baratza Encore can be a great investment. A burr grinder will always beat a blade grinder hands down. A burr grinder allows you to control the size of your grind, whereas a blade grinder does not.
Instead of having to buy and store bags of coffee in different grind sizes, you can buy whole coffee beans and grind them to the ideal size for different brew methods.
Each brew method may have some slight variations in its extraction time. A grinder gives you the opportunity to play trial and error with different grind settings until you find the perfect match for your brew. When you grind your own coffee you can drink fresh, flavorful coffee every day!
Moka pot fans enjoy the portability, compact size, price of this coffee maker. While it is true that Moka pot coffee can quickly transform into a dark and over-steeped brew, if done correctly, you can achieve a rich, smooth coffee similar to an espresso! With attention to grind size and some fresh tips under your belt, we hope you pull out your Moka pot and try it again for a successful, high-quality brew!