The Bialetti Moka Express is a stove top espresso machine that uses steam forced from a lower to an upper chamber to brew coffee. It is an iconic design that has been popular since its invention in 1933 but really took off after World War II when the son of the inventor advertised the little machine widely throughout Italy. The "moka" is simple to use but a really great pot of brew takes some tinkering.
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First Things First
Break in a new pot by brewing several pots of espresso to "season" the aluminum before attempting to drink the coffee. That way you never get any metallic flavor from your first experiments with a moka. To preserve the good flavor, never wash the pot with soap and never put it in the dishwasher. Soap will leave a residue and the dishwasher will degrade the seal that keeps the pot from leaking while it is forcing steam through the chambers. Rinse the pot after use with plain water.
It's All About the Flavor
Use good coffee. Get first-rate espresso beans and have them ground slightly less than fine. Too fine and you risk coffee bean powder in the water---and the coarser grind seems to yield a richer flavor. You do need to stick pretty close to a fine grind to get the right espresso taste. If you have no source of great coffee beans and fresh grinds, buy a good brand made for a stove top pot, like Illy. And if you want café cubano, try Bustelo. Keep ground coffee in the refrigerator to preserve its flavor and aroma.
Even More Flavor
For flavor enhancement, try a dash of cocoa in the pot with the ground coffee. It makes a rich mocha taste. If your water is "hard," put just a grain or two of salt in the moka pot. And brew over a medium-low flame. The water moves through the coffee more slowly and absorbs more flavor---a few extra brewing minutes can produce a lot of flavor. Never boil the coffee and do watch the pot--remove it from the heat when finished brewing and drink immediately.
Letting Off Steam
Some people like to keep the top off the pot while brewing so the steam escapes and the coffee flavor is intensified. This is debatable---there are caps you can place in the moka to keep coffee from spritzing out the opening if you leave the top off.
Some Like It Hot
Use hot cups to keep the coffee warm longer. Pour boiling water in your espresso cups and dry them off just before using them for the fresh-brewed coffee. That's one way to avoid lukewarm espresso. Another way to avoid cooling coffee is to drink it in one or two shots, like you would at a coffee bar in Italy.
A trick successfully used by people who like the foam or "cream" that a commercial espresso machine produces is adding a bit of sugar to the brewing water.
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