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Coffee: A Manual

The third and final instalment of Dom’s Treatise on Coffee: The Manual – your guide to becoming a moka pot pro. 

moka pot and coffee

Last time I shared some of the reasons why I often reach for the moka pot when making coffee at home. Done right, it can get you damn close to a shot pulled for you in an a bar, and open up a world of delicious espresso-based drinks right in your own home. Done wrong it can end up a disappointedly bitter affair.

Here are some tips for achieving a consistently delicious shot:

For god’s sake keep it clean – I can understand why so many people believe the myth that you don’t need to clean a moka pot. It fits with that logic that you have to season cast iron, or that you should purchase a second hand wok if you can. You don’t want a seasoned moka pot.

No soap needed, and you shouldn’t need to scrub it. But you do need to take it apart completely after each use, that means removing the rubber gasket and the filter, and getting out all the grounds and oils that have accumulated up there. If you have been using a Moka Pot for a while without doing this, you might be a little shocked by how grimey it looks.

No tamping – You may have noticed baristas tamping down the ground coffee before they insert the filter holder into the machine. This is designed to ensure the even distribution of the coffee, and get a proper extraction. But because of the lower pressures used in the moka, compacting the grounds will make it harder for the water to pass through, and your cup of coffee will suffer. Just spoon in enough coffee to reach the rim of the basket.

espresso and tartine

Watch your grind size – Current dogma dictates that everyone should be grinding your own coffee right before you brew. And of course you should be. But I rarely do, and I would guess that you probably don’t either. So long as you’re using good quality coffee you’ll get a perfectly good cup out of a moka pot using the pre-ground stuff. What you do need to watch out for is your grind size. The proper grind size for a moka is somewhere in between the fine grind you would use in a traditional espresso machine and the much coarser one that you use with a french press.

Boil your water first – This one has been the cause of more than a little controversy between me and Alice, who is adamant that the right and proper way of making moka coffee involves filling the reservoir with cold water – something that I’m dubious about. While using boiling water does make the process a little more fraught with danger (as you’re now forced to introduce a kitchen towel to the process of screwing the machine together or scald yourself on 100 degree aluminium), it dramatically cuts the amount of time it takes for the moka to do its thing. The logic behind this is that you want to expose the coffee to heat and pressure for the shortest amount of time necessary. The longer you heat it, the more bitter the drink.

Cool it down (if you feel like it) – I picked up this little tip relatively recently and have come to the conclusion that it is good to know. But I must admit that I don’t follow it religiously. Essentially, when you hear the pot start to gurgle, immediately take it off the heat and carefully run the base under a cold tap for a few seconds. By reducing the temperature of the remaining water and dropping the pressure, you’re helping to avoid any unwanted bitterness. It does work, but in my experience, it’s only really necessary if you are planning on letting the coffee sit in the pot for any length of time while you get any other elements of your drink ready. If you’re ready to pour straight away, it probably won’t have that much of an impact.

Maintenance tip
If you want to maximise the amount of time your pot goes between gasket changes, then be sure not to leave the two halves screwed together tightly in between uses. This pressure will speed up the degradation of the rubber, and mean that you’ll be replacing your gasket far more regularly than you should.

Bonus tip
I am willing to bet that if you own, or are in the market for, a moka pot, you’ll already have a french press. If that’s the case then great news! You have all you need to to make all those wonderfully frothy espresso based beverages. I don’t own a milk frother, which can run you anywhere from £5 to £55, because my french press does a perfectly good job. Just fill the press with the amount of milk you want to froth. Make sure its cold, and then pump away. Stop when you got it light enough (I usually go a bit past that point, the next step will knock a little air out of it) then heat it up on the stove. If you have a proper metal milk warmer then great, but if not, a pan will work just fine. Once it’s nice and hot, but not too hot, pour it over your espresso and spoon out the correct amount of foam.

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