For the true coffee fan, the brewing process is just as important as the ground beans used or the temperature of the water, that's the reason why choosing the correct device that adapts to your particular taste and needs is just as important as choosing the beans themselves.
In this article, we will discuss two very under rated coffee brewing devices: the stove-top coffee maker (also known as moka pot) and the Chemex pour over coffee maker. Typically, they both produce very strong beverages, but they have their differences and, as everything, their pros and cons.
The Moka PotFirstly, we have the stove-top coffee maker. The coffee it brews is known as Stovetop Espresso, but it is important to clarify that it is not espresso at all. This resulting drink is, like traditional Italian Espresso, very strong and often carries a little sediment, but unlike the European style, has no crema on top. Like every other coffee brewer available, the strength and amount of flavor present in a stove-top brewed cup greatly depends on bean variety, roast level, grind size and level of heat used, but as a general rule, this type of coffee will be stronger than that obtained by drip brewing.
This pot works by passing boiling water pressurized by steam through ground coffee beans. Because of how this particular brewing process works, the resulting beverage will be very strong, highly caffeinated and will leave some sediment in the cup. Because the pressure used is not as high as that of an espresso machine, crema is most often than not, not there.
Design wise, the pot has a very iconic look, and while they come in various sizes, most of them are made of aluminum with bakelite handles. Moka pots are also sometimes made by high end designers to be both functional and attractive. This pot for instance was designed by Richard Sapper. It could easily be left on the counter even when not in use as it is gorgeous.
The moka pot is most popular in Europe and Latin America and the bigger brands are Italy based. Italian manufacturer Bialetti makes the most popular model to date, the Moka Express in a few different sizes.
The main disadvantage of this device is that its complicated and complex design is often found hard to maintain, since hygiene is primordial both health and taste wise. The rubber seals and the filters must be replaced periodically, and the valve must be checked for blockage every once in a while.
The Chemex Coffee DripperOn the other hand, we encounter the Chemex. It is a brand name, since it was created in the early ‘40s by the Chemex Corporation, based in Massachusetts and they have continued to do so ever since. This device has been praised as being one of the best designed products of our time, but that’s not the only good thing about the Chemex. The coffee it brews is very distinctive and has many advocates among coffee aficionados.
The peculiarity of the Chemex lies, in my opinion, in the filters it uses. They are made of paper, but they have a thickness to them that prevents coffee oils from filtering into the beverage itself, hence separating Chemex-brewed coffee from standard drip-method coffee makers. Also because of the filters, no sediment is found in this particular type of coffee. The flask is made of glass, which not only makes for a pretty object but also prevents the liquid to absorb any metallic flavors, like it can happen with a moka pot.
While the stove-top coffee is achieved by applying pressure to the mixture, the Chemex is a drip based system. The filter and the ground beans are placed in the neck of the flask and water must be heated separately. Afterwards comes what is known as “blooming”, or the process of moistening the beans before pouring the desired amount of water on top of the mix. All it is left to do is to wait until the dripping ends or the wanted amount of coffee is reached before removing the filter with all its contents. It is advised to keep another vessel at hand, simply to be able to place the used filter there and avoid making a mess.
Which Is BetterAs always is when it comes to coffee, the key is being aware of what you are looking for and knowing your personal tastes. Both devices produce a strong beverage that can stand on its own, but there are subtle characteristics that set them apart that can make a whole difference.
When it comes to maintenance, the Chemex definitely wins. It is only a glass flask, so it is much easier to keep clean and in good shape than the moka pot, with its sophisticated valve system. On the other hand, the stove-top does everything on its own: heats the water and filters the beans, while on the Chemex water must be heated separately and there is a need to add a disposable filter. Not only that but the filter is Chemex exclusive, meaning regular, store-bought filters will not work the same.
If it comes down to it and the beverage each of them produces must be compared, the main difference resides in the filtering: the moka pot allows sediment and oils to reach the final liquid, while the Chemex does not. It has been said that coffee oils are what makes a batch of coffee go sour so quickly, since they go rancid within four hours of being brewed, so if you brew your coffee in the morning but still enjoy a cup in the afternoon, maybe the Chemex is what you are looking for. On the other hand, coffee oils and sediment add taste and a special bite to your morning cup of Joe, so if you appreciate this characteristics and a more complex beverage, you may be after a moka pot.
As we always say, when it comes to brewing the perfect cup of coffee the main secret is to make an informed decision and be aware of what the shortcomings of your chosen device are, as well as the areas where it shines the most.
Both of these contraptions are great and as we were able to observe here, have arguments for and against them. If you would like a piece of advice, here’s one: do not close yourself. Open your mind and allow yourself to be amazed by how versatile, different and rich coffee can be when given the chance and under the right circumstances.
Also, have you even considered the Aeropress? It's also a great filtered alternative to the stovetop espresso maker. You can see our comparison of the two devices here.