Everything you always wanted to know about the Bialetti Moka Express: a deep dive into Italy’s most popular coffee machine

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Which coffee maker is most deeply entrenched in American culture? I would recommend the humble Mr. Nominate Coffee, a device referenced on cheers like Seinfeld, both in the work of Raymond Carver and that of the Bloodhound Gang (not to mention the 1970s mass media phenomenon that was the commercials starring Joe DiMaggio). But I would also urge my fellow Americans to ask themselves when they last used one, or at least one with satisfactory results. Italy, on the other hand, knows what it’s like to take a coffee machine to heart. A survey found that nine out of ten Italian households own the same basic model in one form or another: the Bialetti Moka Express.

As Ted Mills confidently wrote here last month, “many Open Culture readers have a Bialetti Moka Express in their kitchen. I know I do, but I should add that I knew little about its history and apparently even less about it.” its proper use.” Enter coffee Youtuber and The world atlas of coffee author James Hoffmann, whose introductory video proved popular enough to launch a miniseries that takes a deep dive into the mechanics and variations of the nearly 90-year-old “moka pot.”

In the second episode, just above, Hoffman runs a series of experiments using different elements of the simple device — starting temperature, grinding degree, heat power — to determine how it makes the best cup of coffee.

In episode three, Hoffman (who clearly knows a thing or two about not just coffee, but naming a YouTube video with algorithmic advantage) refines “the ultimate moka pot technique.” Much, of course, depends on factors such as what type of beans you buy, as well as subjective considerations such as how you want your coffee to taste — your preferred “flavor profile,” as they say now. The longtime user of moka pots will inevitably find their way into their own idiosyncratic procedure and set of accessories, and will most likely build up a formidable collection of moka pots of their own as well. Here Hoffman lists ten, half of which are simply different sizes of the classic Moka Express, whose silhouette is recognizable on every scale.

Lesser-known models take center stage in the fourth installment, “The Moka Pot Variations.” In it, Hoffman puts the Bialetti’s double-cream espresso-making Brikka to the test; their cappuccino-appropriate Mukka; the small, discontinued Cuor di Moka, with its correspondingly enthusiastic fan base; and finally something called the Kamira, which looks less like a coffee machine than a piece of recycled industrial art. Aside from that, several companies now make a variety of moka pots, no doubt at least some serious coffee drinkers swear by them. I myself have a soft spot for Bialetti’s Moka Alpina; whether it is a superior brew I cannot say, but the perkyness of that Tyrolean feather is hardly in question.

Related content:

The Bialetti Moka Express: the history of Italy’s iconic coffee maker and how to use it properly

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How to make the world’s smallest cup of coffee, from just one coffee bean

The birth of espresso: how coffee fuels our modern lives

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Colin Marshall, based in Seoul, writes and broadcasts about cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: A Walk Through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The city in the cinema. Follow him on Twitter @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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