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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