How the Moka works: lift the lid and discover all its secrets
Understanding how the Moka works is a journey of discovery for a unique object.
But also of an Italian ritual, that of coffee, that has no time or borders.
- The Moka pot has facilitated the preparation of coffee at home, creating a real daily ritual.
Not everyone, however, knows how the Moka works.
- Unlike the Neapolitan and Milanese coffee makers, the Moka uses pressure rather than gravity.
Its revolution lies (also) in this technique.
- The right water makes a difference for the correct functioning of the Moka.
It is better to opt for water that is not too hard, that should be placed in the heating vessel at room temperature.
- The right blend, slow and controlled roasting, specially calibrated grinding:
these elements contribute to making a good coffee.
- Have you heard the typical sputtering of the Moka pot? It is the steam that rises from the coffee maker as it escapes into the upper chamber.
Simplicity and identity
There is a before and an after Moka in the history of coffee. Since the Moka Express was invented, making coffee at home has gotten a lot easier. Indeed, it set the tone for a real daily ritual, made up of natural gestures. So natural, that not everyone understands how the Moka actually works - despite the fact that, every day, thousands and thousands of coffees are prepared in Italy and beyond. To help you understand how the Moka works, let us take you on a journey to discover the symbolic element of a good morning, the Italian way.
What came before the Moka?
Before illustrating how the Moka works, let us rewind history up to almost a century ago. In the 1930s, coffee was already a pleasant tradition in Italy. Both at home and in cafes, where large machines were in use. They were able to pass hot water at high pressure through the ground coffee, thus obtaining espresso. Things were different at home though, where the most commonly used coffee pots were the Neapolitan and Milanese.
- The Neapolitan coffee maker works through inversion. Part of it is filled with water and placed on the stove. When it comes to a boil, the machine is turned upside down. The boiling water passes by gravity through a filter containing the coffee, which is then collected in the other half of the coffee pot.
- In the Milanese coffee maker, the water is boiled until it passes through the ground coffee, which is placed in a colander at the top of the coffee pot.
The coffee obtained by these two different coffee makers does not, therefore, pass through the pressure filter as in the espresso machines. That is why the Neapolitan and Milanese appliances produce a very different type of coffee.
The Moka revolution
The innovation introduced by the Moka Express Bialetti in 1933 lies precisely in the pressure filter. The goal was to bring into Italians’ homes a kind of coffee only experienced in cafes or restaurants up until then. A little innovation, but a big revolution. This is why it is no exaggeration to say that, in the history of coffee, there is a before and after Moka. Not only is it made from different materials, but it also represents a different philosophy. While other coffee makers use gravity, as previously seen, the Moka pot is all about pressure. That is similar to espresso machines. More specifically, the standard pressure of modern espresso machines is at least 9 bars. On the other hand, the Moka uses a pressure of about 1.5 bars.
Here is how the Moka works
The mechanism of the Moka is linked to its structure and its components. These are:
- the bottom chamber, a boiler that acts as a base;
- a funnel filter with a plate;
- an upper chamber where the coffee is collected.
These are the essential elements. There are other important components such as the valve and the gasket. To understand how the Moka works, we need to start from the bottom chamber, which is filled with water up to the valve. It may seem like a minor aspect, but using the right type of water can make a difference. It is better to avoid “hard” water, that is water rich in minerals such as calcium and magnesium. When those minerals heat up, they tend to produce limescale. Instead of tap water, usually considered “hard”, one can prefer natural bottled mineral water. When placed in the bottom chamber, the water must be at room temperature. This allows for a regular, gradual and optimal extraction of the coffee.
How the right coffee blend makes the difference
Once the bottom chamber is filled with water, the funnel filter must be positioned inside it and filled with ground coffee. Be aware though, not all blends are the same. In order to prepare an exquisite espresso, coffee grounds must be of good quality. First of all, one must consider the choice of the blend. Roasting is then an important phase: this is the moment in which the coffee’s aroma flourishes. A long and controlled roasting process enhances the entire aromatic spectrum of the coffee. Finally, pay attention to the type of coffee bought. It may seem obvious, but it is important to make sure that you actually buy coffee for Moka pots. Unlike for espresso machines, coffee for the Moka is a coarser grind. While analyzing how the Moka works, the size of the coffee grounds deserves a special mention. A calibrated grinding, carried out specifically for the Moka allows you to make a full-bodied, creamy coffee, characterized by its aromatic intensity.
The Moka’s sputtering unleashes the coffee’s scent
We have come to the moment to put our Moka on the stove. After having firmly screwed the bottom chamber and collector, the coffee maker is placed on the stove or on the induction plate. It is best to prepare coffee on low heat, allowing for all the time necessary.
When the water boils (or a moment before, to be precise), the steam increases the pressure inside the heating vessel. This pushes the water through the filter and the ground coffee in it. The infusion continues its ascent through the little column until it reaches the upper collector. When the water inside the bottom chamber is almost gone, the steam goes up the coffee maker to escape into the upper chamber. It is at that moment that we can hear the characteristic sputtering of the Moka pot. Some even define it as the soundtrack to the perfect morning routine. The final sound, combined with the aroma that is unleashed, warns us that the coffee is ready to be poured into the cup. This is the beginning of another journey, one of taste and pleasure. For the Moka, however, it is time to rest, but ready to go back to work when needed. After all, the Moka pot is specially designed to withstand the pressure well...