Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Bialetti Moka Express: A Deep Dive Into Italy’s Most Popular Coffee Maker

Which coffee maker is most deeply embedded in American culture? I would nominate the humble Mr. Coffee, a device referenced on Cheers as well as Seinfeld, in the work of Raymond Carver as well as that of the Bloodhound Gang (to say nothing of the 1970s mass-media phenomenon that was its commercials starring Joe DiMaggio). But I would also urge my fellow Americans to ask themselves when last they actually used one, or at least used one to satisfying results. Italy, by contrast, knows what it is to take a coffee maker to heart. As one study found, nine out of ten Italian households possesses, in one form or another, the same basic model: the Bialetti Moka Express.

As Ted Mills wrote here with confidence last month, “many an Open Culture reader has a Bialetti Moka Express in their kitchen. I know I do, but I must add that I knew little about its history and apparently even less about how to properly use one.” Enter coffee Youtuber and The World Atlas of Coffee author James Hoffmann, whose introductory video proved popular enough to launch a mini-series that takes a deep dive into the mechanics and variations on the nearly 90-year-old “moka pot.”

In the second episode, just above, Hoffman performs a series of experiments varying elements of the simple device — starting temperature, grind size, heat power — in order to determine how it makes the best cup of coffee.

In episode three, Hoffman (who clearly knows a thing or two about not just coffee, but how to name a Youtube video to algorithmic advantage) refines “the ultimate moka pot technique.” Much depends, of course, on factors like what sort of beans you buy, as well as subjective considerations like how you want your coffee to taste — your preferred “flavor profile,” as they now say. The longtime moka pot user will inevitably feel his/her way to his/her own idiosyncratic procedure and set of accessories, and will more than likely also accrue a formidable collection of moka pots themselves. Here Hoffman lines up ten of them, half of which are just different sizes of the classic Moka Express, its silhouette recognizable at any scale.

Less familiar models take center stage in the fourth episode, “The Moka Pot Variations.” In it Hoffman puts to the test the Bialetti’s double-cream espresso-making Brikka; their cappuccino-capable Mukka; the tiny, discontinued Cuor di Moka, with its correspondingly avid fan base; and finally something called the Kamira, which looks less like a coffee maker than a piece of recycled industrial art. Even apart from these, a variety of companies now make a variety of moka pots, every single one of which has no doubt at least a few serious coffee drinkers swearing by it. I myself have a weakness for Bialetti’s Moka Alpina; whether it makes a superior brew I couldn’t say, but the jauntiness of that Tyrolean feather is hardly debatable.

Related content:

The Bialetti Moka Express: The History of Italy’s Iconic Coffee Maker, and How to Use It the Right Way

Life and Death of an Espresso Shot in Super Slow Motion

How to Make the World’s Smallest Cup of Coffee, from Just One Coffee Bean

The Birth of Espresso: How the Coffee Shots The Fuel Our Modern Life Were Invented

An Espresso Maker Made in Le Corbusier’s Brutalist Architectural Style: Raw Concrete on the Outside, High-End Parts on the Inside

The Hertella Coffee Machine Mounted on a Volkswagen Dashboard (1959): The Most European Car Accessory Ever Made

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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  • Pope Brock says:

    This is the second time we’ve been presented with the glories of the Bialetti company in the space of a few weeks. In between was the feature on Taschen’s book sale. These are advertisements being passed off as editorial. You should separate the two.

  • Kellen says:

    We’ll give the series a try, but alas we’re not one for Hoffman’s “expertise” in this realm – he does remind one of a classic wine afficianato – full of ripe opinions on terroir and provanance, yet when tested blindly unable to pick out good wine from the two-buck chuck. Were I to exercise the amount of pedanticism that he does, my wife would divorce me.

  • Marie says:

    You spelled aficianado and provenance wrong. I think I spelled af wrong too. Haha

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