The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Moka Pot Coffee

Written by: Garrett Oden

Moka pots have a bit of a bad reputation in the specialty coffee world. It’s an earned reputation, but it’s also mistaken.

Historically, moka pot coffee has been very bitter, which puts it at odds with the goals of specialty coffee. However, we’re discovering new and better ways to brew this style of coffee, and we’re learning to love it again.

Whether you’re just beginning to learn about moka pots or you’re a seasoned veteran, this Ultimate Guide To Moka Pot Coffee is going to be packed full of valuable information from a specialty coffee perspective.

Read: What Makes Specialty Coffee Special?

My goal is to empower you to brew the best moka pot coffee you possibly can, so if that sounds good to you, let’s jump in!

What Is A Moka Pot?

The Moka Pot is a stovetop coffee maker that was created by inventor Luigi De Ponti for Alfonso Bialetti in 1933. This new, art deco coffee maker was adopted very quickly all over Italy.

People loved its ability to bring commercial espresso-like coffee to the average home (you have to remember that espresso was weaker during this time).

By the late 50’s, the Moka Pot could be found all over Europe, and North America, North Africa, and the Near East were beginning to take notice of the brewer as well.

Read: The Difference Between Light, Medium, And Dark Roast Coffee

Now, there are dozens of Moka Pot companies and many styles of this brewer, but Bialetti, the original moka pot company, still stands strong. Their original and iconic Bialetti Express is still one of their best sellers.

Let’s walk through the basic construction of moka pots:

The stainless steel or aluminum body is designed to withstand the heat of hot stoves and resist damaging rust. A water chamber at the bottom of the device holds the water while it’s heated.

Directly above the water chamber is a coffee basket. This basket holds the grounds and features tiny holes on the bottom, allowing steam to rise and extract things (like oils, acids, flavors) from the coffee grounds.

Directly above the basket is the filter screen that allows the brewed coffee to rise (but not the grounds), via pressure, through a funnel, out a spout, and into the upper chamber.

Read: Should You Store Your Coffee Beans In The Freezer?

The Results Of Pressurized Brewing

Here’s the magic of the moka pot.

Since the water is heated in a (mostly) sealed environment, a lot of pressure is created. This pressure shoots up water vapor to the grounds, which initiates the brewing.

And it doesn’t stop there. The pressure still forces the liquid coffee up through the funnel. When it spills out into the upper chamber, it’s no longer pressurized, so it just fills the chamber calmly.

This pressurized brewing technique brews very strong coffee. In fact, it’s typically a bit more than twice as strong as normal coffee, made at a 1:7 coffee to water ratio or so (normally, coffee is made at around a 1:16 ratio).

how to make moka pot coffee

It’s strong enough to sip on lightly like espresso, enjoy with steamed milk, or cut with hot water for a bigger, less intense drink.

However, this element of pressure has generated a huge misunderstanding.

The Stovetop Espresso Misunderstanding

Despite being known as “stovetop espresso makers”, moka pots do not make true espresso.

Read: What Is Espresso?

Espresso is created when hot water is forced through fine coffee grounds at an incredible 8-10 bars of pressure. This intense pressure can only be generated by real espresso machines.

The moka pot generally creates 1-2 bars of pressure. That’s more than humans can generate manually, but nowhere close to a real espresso machine.

So, while it’s still very concentrated coffee, it’s not quite espresso. It doesn't pass the crema test (it’s not enough pressure to form very fine crema).

Still, flavor-wise, it’s pretty close. Many people probably wouldn’t know that it’s not espresso, and you can still use it to make espresso-like drinks.

Top with steamed milk for a cappuccino or latte or mix with hot water for an americano. Even if it’s not 100% authentic, if you enjoy how it tastes, who cares?

Read: Can The Aeropress Make Espresso?

Strengths And Weaknesses Of The Moka Pot

Moka Pots are fairly straightforward to use and brew a rich and intense espresso-like coffee. The aluminum or stainless steel construction is sturdy, durable, and easy to clean.

They all come with a safety release valve that will release if too much pressure builds, and can easily be used on most stoves. The construction is fairly simple as well, making them affordable.

However, there are a few weaknesses to consider. They can be a bit finicky and difficult to figure out at first. Also, the coffee can easily become very bitter if you’re not very careful.

Let's Find Out If This Is The Brewer For You

Do you want an affordable way to make espresso-like coffee? Then get yourself a moka pot and save yourself several hundred dollars by not buying a big espresso machine.

Do you want to brew actual espresso? You’ll need to look into more expensive espresso machines. There’s no shame, though, in going the less expensive route with a moka pot.

Read: Blades VS Burrs: What Is the Best Type of Coffee Grinder?

Do you enjoy rich, intense coffee that you can use a variety of ways? Great! Go ahead and get yourself a moka pot.

Do you want a no-learning curve brewer? Eh. This one’s not super hard, but it takes a bit of time to learn. It’s probably the easiest way to get espresso-like coffee, but there is a learning curve.

If you think the Moka Pot is a right fit for you, let’s move onto some pre-brewing considerations.

Pre-Steps and Thoughts

Fresh Coffee is a no-brainer. Coffee beans, when at peak freshness, can have fascinating and rich flavors that blow minds - like blueberries, pine, or cane sugar. 

Sadly, those flavors decay after only 2 weeks after being roasted. Ground coffee only has 30 minutes - sad!

Buy freshly roasted coffee and grind it just moments before you brew. There’s no other way to preserve the fresh flavors of your beans.

Read: Why Fresh Coffee Is The Best Coffee

Choose the right size moka pot. They are sized so that a 1-cup pot will produce roughly 1 shot (1-2 ounces of intense coffee), a 2-cup will make 2 shots, and so on.

Keep in mind: you can’t half-fill a moka pot, so don’t buy a 6-cup thinking you can only make 3-cups worth every now and then. They really only work well when filled appropriately.

Use a consistent fine to medium-fine grind size. You shouldn’t go all out and use espresso-fine grinds. Those could clog the filter screen and generate a dangerous amount of pressure. Go for coffee that’s just a little finer than your average drip coffee grounds.

moka pot coffee guide

Remember that consistency is everything here. Inconsistent grounds will brew imbalanced coffee - and you’ll be sad. Only use a burr coffee grinder (skip past the blade grinders) for the best results.

Use delicious water that doesn’t have a very high calcium content. Your coffee is 99.9% water, so if you don’t like the taste of your water, you won’t like the taste of your coffee.

Read: Is Hard Water Destroying Your Coffee’s Flavor?

Pre-heat your water to reduce the amount of time the moka pot has to sit on the stove. This also reduces the risk of accidentally “cooking” the grounds while the pot warms up, which would damage the flavor and create a lot of bitterness.

What about the coffee scale? Normally, I suggest using a gram scale to measure your coffee and water. In this scenario, it’s not as important.

You want to fill the coffee basket with grounds and level it off with a knife. Then you want to fill the water chamber to the bottom of the release valve.  It’s a pretty streamlined measuring process, so you don’t really need a scale to be consistent with Moka Pots.

Though, technically, bean mass will change between bags of beans, so if you really want to be precise (or only grind the exact amount of beans you need), go ahead and use a scale for the coffee beans.

Read: The Golden Coffee To Water Ratios

Now that you’ve considered these things, let’s move to the actual brewing (AKA, the fun part).

A Step-By-Step Moka Pot Coffee Guide

Collect your tools and ingredients before you begin.

  • Freshly Roasted Coffee
  • Moka Pot
  • Hot Water
  • Burr Coffee Grinder
  • Cold Towel

For the purpose of this guide, we’re going to brew with a 2-Cup Moka Pot.

Grind enough coffee to fill the coffee basket all the way up at a fine to medium-fine setting. Take a knife and level the grounds with it. Do not tamp the grounds.

Fill the water chamber with boiling water up to the very bottom of the release valve. Do not cover the valve, or it won’t work in case of a pressure emergency.

Go ahead and throw a damp kitchen towel in the freezer.

Assemble the Moka Pot, making sure no grounds are on the ridges where the pieces screw together. Rogue grounds stuck here will prevent a full seal, which will damage flavor and balance.

Set it on your stove and turn it on to medium-low heat. If you can, place it on the edge of the burner to avoid the handle getting too hot.

Start a timer and relax. It could take 5-10 minutes before anything happens. If nothing happens after 10 minutes, turn up the heat slightly.

Eventually, coffee should start oozing into the upper chamber. This means the pressure is working and that the coffee is brewing. If it’s spurting and spewing, the heat is too high - turn that baby down!

When the coffee is about 80% of the way up to the spout (or it looks like golden honey), take it off the burner and put it directly onto the cold towel. Cooling the pot rapidly helps keep over extracted, bitter liquid from funneling to your coffee.

Pour and serve immediately. Enjoy!

guide to moka pot coffee

Troubleshooting

If the coffee is too bitter, it means you over extracted from the grounds. Here are a few things you can try to extract less next time for more balance and better flavor:

  • Use a slightly coarser grind setting
  • Stop the brewing a few seconds earlier
  • Use a lower heat setting

Read: How To Taste Coffee Bitterness

If the coffee is too weak, it’s likely that the water vapor is forming channels in the grounds. So instead of extracting yummy stuff from all the grounds evenly, it’s only pulling stuff from a small section.

  • Try tapping the filter basket to distribute the grounds more evenly next time
  • If that doesn’t work, you may just need to use a finer grind to boost extraction

If water or steam leaks from the side, remove from heat immediately. You don’t want to take any chances with wonky pressure. When the pot cools, make sure it’s clean and tightly sealed.

Your grounds could also be too fine, creating a clog. Try a slightly coarser grind next time if the pot checks out.

If steam leaks from the release valve, you’ve got a little too much pressure and need to remove the pot from heat. Try one of these:

  • Make sure you didn’t overfill with grounds
  • Make sure you didn’t tamp the grounds
  • If you can check off the two above, use a lower heat

Cleaning

Giving your Moka Pot a good clean isn’t difficult at all. When the pot has cooled down (be careful, the metal will be very hot after brewing), disassemble the brewer and dump out excess water or grounds.

Give the brewer a thorough rinse with hot water. Use your finger to dislodge and grounds that may be stuck. Then, hand dry everything and set aside to further air dry.

Read: The Easy Guide to Coffee Bean Storage

Do not use soap or other chemicals. The metal body, as long as you let it dry completely before reassembling, doesn’t need soap. The dishwasher will strip it of its shiny surface permanently.

Final Thoughts

The Moka Pot is a fascinating and powerful coffee brewer. Despite the learning curve and the misunderstood mechanics, it’s worth exploring and learning to tame.

With one at your side, you’ll be able to make rich, balanced espresso-like coffee that you can enjoy on its own or paired with other ingredients.

And, of course, the best results always come when you’re using freshly roasted, specialty-grade coffee beans. If you’re not going to use the best beans you can find, you’re cutting yourself short before you even begin the brewing.

Happy brewing!