How to make the perfect stove-top Espresso

The stove-top coffee maker delivers a short intense kick of coffee that can be enjoyed black or used as a base to make a whole array of popular cup styles.
Though technically not an espresso – as it is not made with 9 bars of pressure – the stove-top coffer pot has been marketed as a home-espresso kit since the 1930’s, when Alfonso Bialetti’s iconic octagonal Moka pot became a mass-market sensation in Italy.

It was a pot for the times. The Moka allowed Italy’s growing middle classes to enjoy coffee at home and was made from the then-modern material of aluminium. The Gadget’s rise was helped by Mussolini who imposed tariffs on stainless steel to boost Italy’s aluminium industry and invaded coffee-growing Ethiopia, making beans cheaper and more readily available than ever before.

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To date more than 330 million Moka pots have been sold worldwide and there are hundreds of similar stove-top pots on the market.
The brewing technique is still especially popular in Italy and southern Europe. But given the rapidly evolving sophistication of coffee lovers, can it still produce a cup to delight even the most discerning drinkers?

The answer is an unequivocal yes, but care and precision are needed in order to make a top-quality cuppa. Here’s how to do it right.

Scrub up well

One of the most pernicious – and downright ridiculous – myths about stove-top espresso pots is that they should never be cleaned. The opposite is true. They should be cleaned thoroughly after every single use.

If your filter and seal are clogged with ancient coffee sediment, and the inside of the upper chamber is encrusted with years of hardened brown coffee-plaque, each cup you make will taste like stale coffee.

The ‘never clean it’ myth likely arose due to the fact that, for aluminium pots at least, you should not was them with soap as it will react with the metal.
Instead simply use a cloth, sponge and water to remove all old coffee remnants. Remove the seal and clean it. Remove the metal filter plate and clean this too – as well as the siphon behind it.

You can use soap on a stainless steel pot but it is still probably not needed. If using a detergent rinse thoroughly before using again.
Aluminium pots can over time become pitted with black and white marks, especially in the water chamber. This is not mould but oxides. It should not affect the flavour of the coffee, but you can remove them by running a mix of hot water and bicarbonate of soda through the pot a couple of times.

Hot and steamy

A metal pot placed on a stove is going to get very hot. If the bottom chamber is filled with cold water the coffee will overheat before the water boils and develop a bitter and acrid flavour. Instead, fill your chamber with water that has been heated to 60-70 degrees. This will shorten the brewing process somewhat and mellow out the final product.

As ever, use filtered water as it has less impurities that will impact the flavour of the finished article.

Basket case

Place the metal filter basket over the bottom chamber and fill it with freshly ground coffee for best results. The stove-top pot may be marketed as an ‘espresso’ maker, but it should not be filled with the extra fine, powdery grinds that you would use to make an actual shot of espresso.
These grinds will pack down too tight and the pot will struggle to generate the pressure needed to push the water through the grounds. The result of this will be twofold – firstly, your coffee will burn before water can be forced through the fine ground and secondly the water will stay in contact with the coffee for much longer, giving you a tangy-sour brew.

Grind your coffee like coarse sand and you will be golden and fill the basket so that it is full and level.
Don’t heap a giant mountain of coffee in it and then force the machine to lock down. Don’t tamp the coffee down into the basket and keep filling it either. The coffee will tamp automatically as you screw the lid on. If you over fill the chamber the result will be the same as if you use too finer a grind: coffee that is over extracted and likely burnt.

Turn the heat down

Place the pot on a low heat and wait for the magic to happen. Keep an eye on the coffee spout in the upper chamber. After a short while coffee will begin to trickle out and the pace will increase as you move towards the tail end of the brewing process.

Remove the pot from the heat a couple of moments before the spout begins spluttering bursts of water and air. Close the lid and run the base of the pot and the mid section under a cold tap for a moment to kill the brewing process.

Pour your coffee into cups. Drink it neat as espresso, add water for an Americano or add frothed and warmed milk if going for cappuccino/cortado type thing.
Enjoy the coffee – and don’t forget to clean the pot thoroughly afterwards. Makke sure everything is nice and dry before reassembling the gizmo and putting it away to avoid issues with mould and corrosion.

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