June 9, 2008

Making coffee the Italian way

Everybody in Italy loves espresso. In fact, if you ask for a coffee, you get an espresso by default. However, nobody in Italy has an espresso machine at home – unless you have a lot of money. One of the reasons is that good espresso machines are really expensive. Another reason is that people in Italy really love to go to a bar – that’s where you drink coffee in Italy (and that's why someone who prepares coffee is called a barista). In Italy, it’s part of the culture to take a break from the hassle of the day and drink a tiny shot of espresso at the local bar.

So, Italians don’t drink coffee at home? Of course they do. Every Italian has a moka pot (in Italian we simply say “moka”), which produces stovetop espresso coffee. How do you use a moka? Well, it’s really simple. Roughly speaking, the moka has three parts: the boiler (bottom part), the funnel and the container (the upper part which has the filter and where the coffee will be collected when ready).

Just fill the boiler with fresh water. Some moka pots show you the fill level, but others don’t. If yours doesn’t, the rule is simple: don’t pass the level of the valve!

Then insert the funnel in the boiler, and fill it with ground (espresso) coffee. Never press the coffee! Some Italians will tell you that you have to shape a kind of dome with the coffee, but again the really important thing is not to press the coffee. Attach the upper part and the boiler together screwing it on firmly.

Put your moka over low heat, leave the lid open, and wait until the coffee begins to appear. Turn the heat off once more than half of the coffee has already come out. Never leave the heat on after the coffee has come out: by boiling your coffee you will destroy it.

Before serving, mix the coffee directly in the moka container using a spoon. Serve on heated espresso cups. Moka produces stovetop espresso, and not real espresso. So, you won’t have the characteristic hazelnut crema foam. It’s not your fault; you simply can’t get it when using your moka.

Finally, you have to wash the moka using water only. No, no detergents. And simply forget the idea of putting your moka into the dishwasher. In fact, if you wash your moka with only water, every next coffee will taste better than the previous one!


Some people in English speaking countries use the word macchinetta. Macchinetta means tiny machine in Italian, and even though it’s true that the moka is a macchinetta which produces coffee, it’s a generic word that you can use for any little machine. What I’m saying is that if you use the word macchinetta, an Italian won’t think of a moka pot. You could be specific and say “macchinetta da caffè” (little machine that makes coffee), but if you simply use the word moka, every Italian will understand what are you talking about.

Italians love their moka pots. They are present in every Italian kitchen, I have mine in my kitchen, and some Italians even travel with their moka to make Italian coffee overseas (my friend Elisabetta is one of those Italians).

Posted by Daziano at 10:17 PM |  


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