Whether you love thick, rich espresso enjoyed as a shot or mixed with luxurious foamy milk to give a latte or cappuccino, there’s no denying that this concentrated shot of coffee has to be brewed correctly.
If you don’t have space in your kitchen, time in your schedule, or barista skills at hand to make a ‘real’ espresso at home then a stovetop espresso is the next best thing.
You can make a stovetop espresso with nothing more than the traditional Moka pot and some fresh ground coffee beans. It’s an easy device to use and can make a really delicious and bold cup of joe without a lot of know-how. This article includes a step-by-step guide to making a really tasty balanced coffee using your Moka pot and this can be enjoyed as an espresso or topped up with milk to make any specialty coffee you like.
Before we jump right into how we use the Moka pot let’s first look into the espresso itself as a drink and what qualifies coffee to allow it the title of ‘Espresso’.
What Is Espresso?
Espresso is a very intense, concentrated shot of black coffee. It is a lot stronger than your drip or french press cup of joe in both taste and caffeine. It’s an Italian method of brewing coffee and it originated in the late 1800/early 1900s, so it’s been around for a while. It’s typically served in ‘shots’ at coffee shops or can be topped up with hot water to make an ‘Americano’.
How Is It Made?
To make espresso you need 3 things. The first is finely ground, fresh coffee that has a powder-like consistency. The next thing you need is hot water (around 90C/190F) and finally, you need a way to pressurize this and force it through the ground coffee.
The espresso is brewed in a very short space of time; usually, around 25 seconds as a small volume of hot water is forced through the coffee at 9-10 bars of pressure. The short contact time of water to coffee is the reason why the coffee needs to be so finely ground as this increase in surface area allows for full flavor extraction.
How Should It Look?
The espresso shot should be around 1 ounce (28g) and should have a very thick consistency like warm syrup or honey. It should be a rich, deep brown in color and should have a light-colored, dense foam layer on top called the ‘crema’. This crema should span the entire surface of the espresso and if its surface is lightly broken with a teaspoon, it should rejoin and cover the gap.
What Should It Taste Like?
A well-made espresso should have a very rich, bitter-sweet flavor that will vary depending on the type of coffee used. Dark chocolate and burnt caramel notes are common throughout and the espresso should never taste sour. It should have a thick, fairly creamy mouthfeel and the intense flavors will linger on your tongue for long after you’ve finished the shot.
The Moka Pot
There’s only one reasonable way to make espresso on the stovetop and this is by using a Moka pot. Invented by the Italian engineer Alfonso Bialetti in 1933, this coffee brewer has fast earned its place in Italian coffee culture.
The Moka pot is a small metal device that brews coffee using three internal compartments. The lower compartment holds the water and this heats up when it contacts the stovetop or flame. The middle portion is the basket that holds the coffee grounds and this has a funnel-like lower portion that sits contacting the water in the base. The upper portion is a separate compartment where the brewed coffee ends up.
When it gets hot enough, the water in the lower portion boils and the pressure this creates then forces it up through the coffee. This pressure helps extract the coffee flavors and the thick, dark coffee spurts and bubbles up into the top chamber ready to serve.
How To Use A Moka Pot
As with all fresh coffee brewing methods, there’s a right and a wrong way to get the best out of your beans. The Moka pot does require a bit of skill to get your coffee game on point and here’s how you achieve it.
Start by pre-heating the water in your kettle. This stops the Moka pot from getting too hot and burning your coffee.
Next, grind your coffee to a medium-fine grind. It should be as powdery as an espresso grind but not as coarse as a drip coffee.
Add hot water to the lower portion of the Moka pot and fill it up to the indicator line or just below the ait inlet (depends on which type of Moka pot you have).
Place the basket on top of the lower chamber and add your fresh coffee. You want to fill the basket completely and use your finger to level it but don’t press the coffee in or compact it.
Ensure there is no loose coffee on the edge of the pot and then screw in place the top portion. It’s best to use a towel to hold the bottom part as the hot water quickly heats up the metal. Make sure the pot is securely screwed into place but don’t overtighten it.
Open the lid and place the pot on the stove over medium heat. Make sure the handle of the pot is not over the heat source.
The pot will start to steam and coffee will begin to seep into the upper chamber. When it starts hissing and spurting thick, brown coffee out of the spout close the lid and remove it from the heat source.
Now you want to either wrap a cool damp towel over the lower portion or gently run it under cold water to stop the brewing stage.
This results in a much smoother, espresso-like cup of coffee that’s sweet and dark. The main difference between this and actual espresso is that there’s no crema on top.
Is It Truly Espresso?
The pressure produced by the Moka pot is never able to reach that required to make a true espresso. The Moka pot will top out at 1.5 bars rather than managing the 9 bars usually used. It also uses steam above 100C so is a hotter extraction than an espresso machine.
This can result in the Moka pot coffee tasting burnt and more bitter. You can avoid this issue by following my step-by-step guide above and making sure you pre-heat the water and cool it down quickly after brewing.
Other Ways To Make Espresso
Super Automatic Espresso Machine
A super-automatic espresso machine does all the hard work for you. All you need to do is add coffee and water and it spits out a delicious espresso shot whenever you fancy one. The downside with these machines is the upfront cost and the fact that they do require a fair amount of maintenance to keep them in good working order.
Semi/Automatic Espresso Machine
With the automatic or semi-automatic espresso makers, you get a bit more hands-on with the coffee making. You grind the beans, load the portafilter, tamp it and start the water flowing. You can adjust a lot of coffee variables by using these machines and they can make an art out of espresso making.
The automatic machines will turn the water off when it’s time and the semi-automated ones you turn it off yourself. This gives you a bit more control over the brewing process.
Manual Espresso Machine
These old-fashioned machines use pressure created by manually pulling a lever. These espresso makers have long gone out of fashion as the electric ones steadily replaced them but if you love keeping it old school then they are still available to purchase online.
Similar to the Moka pot, the Aeropress produces an espresso-like coffee but isn’t actually a real espresso. The Aeropress is a syringe-like device that uses a combination of submerging the coffee in hot water and physical pressure to brew it. It’s a kind of hybrid brewer as it uses filter papers like a drip machine yet pressure as well to extract fuller flavor.
These devices are lightweight, easy to use, and very portable so make a good travel or work coffee maker. The coffee they produce is sweet and rich like an espresso but not as bold and no crema.
Making espresso on the stovetop is straightforward if you have a Moka pot to hand. Although the brew isn’t technically an espresso, the taste and richness make it similar enough to satisfy me. It’s important to take a bit of care when brewing with the Moka pot to avoid excessive bitterness but if you follow the steps listed here you’ll not go wrong.
Best of luck with your stovetop espresso-making journey and I wish you a rich and delightful cup of java every time!