How Does A Stovetop Espresso Maker Work?

How Does A Stovetop Espresso Maker WorkWhen I was first introduced to stovetop espresso made from moka pots the very first thing I was confused about was how it worked.

The process seems so opposite of other brewing methods, kind of like an Aeropress.

Turns out it is actually one of the simplest of them all because there are no moving parts, no extra steps to take, and once heat is applied to the moka pot it is entirely hands off.

How do stovetop espresso makers make coffee anyway?

The process is about is simple as can be. These pots have no moving parts and they use the basic laws of physics to make coffee. In short they are foolproof and virtually indestructible.

When you put water in the bottom of the pot and coffee grind in the middle chamber the heat source (be it a stovetop electric, gas, or an open flame) slowly turns the water into steam.

The steam fills the lower water chamber building pressure inside.

That pressure build enough to eventually start pushing the remaining water up the funnel in the center of the pot.

The water (that has not turned to steam yet) is then forced by the increased pressure through the grind which is sitting in the basket in the middle resulting in the creation of moka espresso/coffee.

Because of the pressure involved coffee brews more like espresso than drip coffee.

The pressure from the steam keeps pushing the brewed coffee up the funnel until it finally makes it through the second filter screen (a preventative screen to keep grind out of your cup) and it then enters the upper chamber through the top of the funnel.

When all the water is forced through the funnel via steam pressure the trapped steam then escapes through the funnel resulting in that distinctive hissing and gurgling sound that you hear at the very end of the brewing cycle.

In the long run these pots don’t fail however the rubber gasket in the middle may need replacing every few years as the heat can slowly damage it. These gaskets are extremely affordable and easy to find.

Here are some FAQs that we see all the time from people new to the stovetop espresso scene:

Do you have to make a whole moka pot every time?

The typical stovetop espresso maker is designed to work based on the water you put in the bottom chamber. If you don’t fill the chamber to the safety release valve then inadequate pressure will build in the pot and you won’t brew a good batch of espresso. If you use a lot less water then it may not brew at all.

How much water do you put into a moka pot?

Each moka pot is designed for a very specific amount of water. You need to use the exact amount every time otherwise things just wont brew correctly.

Luckily we don’t have to measure water out every time we want to use a stovetop espresso maker because they all come with a safety valve installed on the lower water chamber.

If you simply fill water into the chamber up to the valve without covering it then your moka pot will work just fine. This is the reason why it’s common to find households owning two or three different moka pots. Much like a sauce pan you just use the size moka pot you need for the amount of servings you want to brew.

Here are a collection of large moka pots which are harder to find in stores locally.

How Does a Moka Pot Filter the Coffee Grind

As I mentioned briefly above coffee grind is initially placed in the middle chamber of the device with water in the chamber below it. When water flows up through the grind it is reasonable to assume grind would rise with the water.

Above the grind cup however there is a filter screen that presses down ever-so-slightly on the grind kind of like you would tamp a portafilter on an espresso machine.

The screen stays pressed against the grind much like a French press does during the plunging process and it ends up holding the vast majority of the grind down, except of course for the very fine particulate that is always present in coffee grind.

Coffee from a french press is similar to that of stovetop espresso because it has body but the extraction potency of moka resembles that of the Aeropress or that of true espresso.

Why do Moka Pots Make Coffee All at Once at the Very End?

This is something else covered briefly above.

The stovetop heat source (or campfire) slowly takes cold water and brings it up to a boil.

This takes time and only when the temperature gets hot enough to start creating steam does the water start actually moving upwards through the funnel.

A stovetop espresso maker is actually a lot like a geyser that you might see at Yellowstone. As pressure builds it eventually gets to a tipping point where the liquid is forced upwards at great speed.

The entire time a moka pot is on the stove may be 3-10 minutes depending on the temperature of the heat source but the brew time is actually very quick, only 10 to 30 seconds or so at the very end.

A Few More Questions on How to Use a Moka Pot

Here are some more specific questions many people have regarding the inner workings of a moka pot and how to use one correctly. Unlick the questions fielded above we have taken more time and space to fully address the question on a dedicated page here on Stovpreso.

Click any link below to jump to the page covering that topic.

  • What kind of coffee goes into the moka pot basket?
  • Ever wonder why the vast majority of moka pots are made from aluminum? I did too when I bought my first unit. There are cool companies like Alessi making sweet stainless steel models but they do cost more. Click through to this post to read up on why aluminum moka pots are more common than stainless steel.
  • How often do you replace the gasket on a moka pot?
  • You don’t have to clean your moka pot if you use it regularly but there are very strict procedures for doing it the right way. Click through to learn how to clean a moka pot correctly.

How To Use A Stovetop Espresso Maker

How To Use A Stovetop Espresso MakerUsing a stovetop espresso maker really more simple than you might think.

Follow these simple instructions and your cup will be just fine:

  1. Fill the lower water chamber to the fill line.
  2. Fill the coffee grounds basket to the top with a slightly fine ground coffee, just smaller than you might regularly use for drip coffee.
  3. Lastly, after screwing the top chamber on, you place the entire pot on low/medium heat until the moka or stove top espresso fills the upper chamber.

Each moka pot will act a little differently and there are lots of details that I will cover lower on this page and in linked pages dedicated to specific brewing questions but the basics are all the same.

Without going into too much detail here are a few tips on getting better stovetop moka (stovetop espresso).

Don’t tamp the coffee down and make sure to use the full amount of water. You can’t expect to make a big or small batch at any given time. Each moka pot is designed to make a single amount of coffee per batch which cannot be adjusted.

Also, this is very important, make sure to keep an eye on the espresso pot while it’s on the stove. It’s not like a kettle that whistles at you when it’s done — the burner won’t turn itself off either.

You have to be there to turn off the heat right as it finishes brewing otherwise you may ruin your batch of coffee or even the rubber gasket that makes the pot work.

Stovetop espresso is very easy to make but you have to be attentive. It’s not the same as using an automatic coffee maker but the coffee on the other side will be much better so it’s worth it.

Really, everything stated above is all you really need to know about making coffee in a moka pot but I also know there are tons of people out there with burning questions on every conceivable detail of the brewing process so stick with me and I’ll cover as many of the main questions beginners to stovetop espresso have.

The Detailed Guide to Making Coffee in a Moka Pot

Just like every other method of brewing coffee there are details that if followed can make your cup of coffee taste so much better.

The following tips are relevant to all forms of coffee making and are universal to all brewing devices.

  • When you use filtered water your coffee will taste it’s best. Unfiltered water contains many minerals and additives that can subtly change the flavor of your coffee.
  • Do not let your coffee stay on the burner any longer than necessary as this will “burn” the coffee and quickly deteriorate the pleasant flavors you want to extract.
  • Do not brew your coffee with water that is too hot! The optimal brewing temp is typically under boiling levels, between 190-205 degrees depending on brewing method and personal preference.
  • Brew your coffee with beans that were roasted between 3 and 14 days prior and with beans that were ground minutes prior to brewing. As a rule of thumb roasted beans release CO2 quickly over the first few days after roasting. Beans typically make better coffee after this initial release of CO2 but start losing optimal freshness after a couple of weeks time. Once coffee beans are ground then the freshness wanes extremely fast which is why most coffee snobs grind coffee at the time they go to brew it.

And now, with those generic tips out of the way, lets look at some of the most common moka pot brewing questions that many people frequently have in greater detail.

How Does a Stovetop Espresso Maker Work?

To better understand how to make good coffee in a moka pot you should know exactly how they work. The pot itself uses three chambers and a central funnel that water and steam pass through to brew coffee. Water is heated in the lower chamber and as it turns to steam it expands and pushes the hot water up through the funnel where it comes in contact with the grind. Slowly the pressurized steam forces the coffee out of the top of the funnel where it collects in the upper chamber.

To make good stove top moka you need to use the right amount of water to achieve the correct steam pressure and extraction and your grind particle size shouldn’t be to restrictive otherwise it will take too long to brew and can result in burnt flavors in your overly extracted bitter coffee.

Make sure to see this full post on the inner workings of the moka pot for more detail.

What Grind do You Use in a Moka Pot?

You can see this post for more details on proper moka pot grind size.

How to Tell When a Moka Pot is Done Brewing

This post goes into much greater depth on the end of the moka pots brew cycle.

Do You Tamp the Coffee in a Moka Pot

Please check out this post for a lot more information on what happens when and if you tamp your coffee grind in a moka pot.

How to Clean a Moka Pot

Make sure to see this post for a full tutorial on keeping your moka pot clean and in great shape.

Did You Know That There are Electric Moka Pots Too?

One of the biggest complaints people have with the moka pot is that there are so many manual aspects to making stovetop espresso and that if you aren’t careful you can not only burn your coffee but damage the handles and gaskets on your pot.

In recent years there have been a few decent electric moka pots introduced that automate and add safety features to moka pots that can’t be duplicated on a stove’s burner.

Electric moka pots brew exactly the same way but they brew at the same temp every time and they turn themselves off automatically making sure that the pot itself isn’t damaged and that the coffee inside doesn’t burn if you walk away for an extra few minutes in the morning.

Electric models cost a bit more than classic versions but they can be a better for for some people. The best reviewed electric model is the Delonghi Alicia (EMK6) but there are a few other options to choose from too.

In future posts on this site I will be listing the best options in this space and reviewing them all individually.

How To Tell When A Moka Pot Is Done Brewing

How To Tell When A Moka Pot Is Done BrewingAre you new to moka pots? If so then a common question has to do with the finish.

When is the moka pot done brewing anyway?

This question is more common than you think.

First of all let me start by saying this: A typical aluminum moka pot is prepared and placed on a heat source. In the home this is usually a gas or electric burner.

If you have an induction stove then be sure to buy a stainless steel moka pot as aluminum doesn’t work on induction burners. I’ve got a list of my favorite stainless steel moka pots here.

After that there is no magic number of minutes to keep the moka pot on the burner either – the time it takes to brew has everything to do with how hot you set the burner to.

If you’re still a little unfamiliar with using moka pots then make sure to see this awesome post over at Top Off My Coofee on how to use a moka pot or just see my guide here but I’ll get to brew time expectations a little further down this page.

You’ve Got to Get the Timing Right to Make Good Coffee in a Moka Pot

The trick to getting good moka is actually simple.

You have to wait and listen to the moka pot.

You really only know it’s done by the sound and smell of the pot.

Depending on how low you have your burner set to after 2-15 minutes your moka pot will all of a sudden start making gurgling and bubbling noises and the smell of coffee will be strong.

This is when the coffee is done.

Unless you buy a fancy electric moka pot then you just have to be near it to know to take the pot off the heat.

How Long Does a Moka Pot Take to Make Coffee

People who have watched a moka pot in action know that it is like watching paint dry for a few minutes followed by a slow release of moka into the upper chamber of the pot (as shown in the picture above). If you use a higher temperature heat source however the coffee can almost explode out the top so keep that lid closed!

If you set the heat to high then it may only take a couple minutes to brew. For the low setting on your stove your moka will probably taste better but the brew time might get as high as 15 minutes.

Another point to consider is the size of your coffee maker. Small moka pots may brew in half the time as large moka pots just because it’s easier to heat a small amount of water compared to a larger portion.

After the slow release of coffee into the upper chamber there is usually a much faster release of the last bit of moka espresso.

This last release sometimes sprays out of the inner funnel. If the lid is not on I have actually had my moka spray onto my stovetop before!

After the pot fills you can usually hear a gurgling sound coming from the pot. This is the last bit of water and steam and it is an indicator that the pot is done.

The gurgling happens seconds after the last bit of espresso enters the top chamber.

This is the best indicator that your moka pot is finished brewing so you have to be present to hear it otherwise your coffee might slowly burn before you get to taking it off the heat.

If you leave the pot on the heat after the gurgle nothing major will happen at first but eventually the espresso will start to boil and burn and the rubber gasket sealing the upper and lower chambers will may start to compromise.

Over time this gasket can wear out early if the pot is left on the heat too long and too often.

Of course you do need to replace the gasket every now and then to keep the airtight seal intact but no one wants to buy even a cheap replacement part more often than they need to.

So Should You Use High or Low Heat with a Moka Pot

Now that you know a little bit more about how moka pots work the question of low heat vs high heat is a tough one to overcome.

Since you have to be near the pot to know that it’s done and the best moka comes from low heat it would make sense to brew on low but no one has the time to stand around their kitchen for 10-15 minutes every morning.

Personally I have experimented enough to know that if I set my stovetop dial to medium low my coffee will be done in about 8-9 minutes. That’s usually how much time it takes me to do a few chores in the morning like take the dog outside and go to the bathroom.

Usually I set the pot on medium low and then come back after five minutes or so. I then make a bowl of cereal and then pour my finished moka when its done a minute or two later.

I also have learned that in the unlikely event of me forgetting that the moka pot is on the stove this temperature isn’t a danger to the pot itself. The handle won’t melt, the gaskets won’t get damaged as easily, and the coffee doesn’t burn so much if it stays at this temperature for a long time.

Overall I think brewing on low is a much better route because high heat may give you drinkable coffee sooner but it won’t be as good and the risks are higher.

What About Strength?

No matter how high or low the temp, I make my moka strength about the same every time. It all has to do with:

  • grind size,
  • the amount of grind used,
  • and using the correct amount of water.

High heat (too high) can sometimes makes your stovetop espresso taste burnt but the coffee itself is always just as strong.

Moka for the most part is always going to be a lot stronger than drip coffee, a little stronger than percolator coffee, and slightly less strong as espresso.

Lots of people call moka stovetop espresso because it’s pretty similar.

Espresso is brewed under greater pressure so the strength is increased and crema forms.

Moka isn’t quite as strong. It’s serving size however is similar to espresso shots and I’ve never made substantial crema in any stovetop espresso.

Having said that the strength can be increased or decreased a little bit by altering grind size.

What Grind to Use for a Moka Pot

Normally I use a regular drip coffee or pour over grind when I make moka. This is not because it’s better though, I do it because it’s easier.

I frequently make espresso and pour over coffee so I’m regularly switching between the two grind sizes.

A lot of the time I just use a regular medium coarse grind for my moka because it does just fine.

If however I’m trying to make the best moka possible for a guest then I’ll dial in the grinder settings to a medium fine grind. I don’t get to a fine espresso grind but a small particle size does produce a bit more pressure while brewing and a slightly better extraction.

Dropping the particle size down will slow the brewing time a bit but not substantially.

If you want to learn more about moka grind size then see this post: Getting the Right Grind for a Moka Pot.

So What’s Best?

If you read this article carefully you probably noticed that I regularly make drip coffee, espresso, moka, and pour over. Well I also make french press coffee too!

That’s the great thing about coffee – it can be made in many different ways and they all have their own advantages. After you experiment with brewing coffee in many different ways you’ll start to understand what you like and what you don’t and when you like one brewing method over another.

For complete newbies to alternative coffee brewing methods I do have a few articles on this site that you might be interested in reading.

Please check them out and then have fun with your coffee.

Primula Stovetop Espresso Makers

Primula Stovetop Espresso MakersOne of the most budget friendly brands in the Italian coffee space is Primula. They make high end moka pots for far less than many of their competitors. Although the quality and design is not quite as high the low prices make these items worth every penny you spend on them.

For the most part the Primula has three main espresso pots, Two are made of aluminum and a more expensive model is made from stainless steel. In all cases buyers of Primula products can expect great moka at a low price.

You can see the stove top espresso makers Primula makes below.

Primula Aluminum
Primula Emporio Aluminum
Primula 18/10 Stainless Steel

You can also see my dedicated page for links to the best stovetop espresso makers sold today by any and all any brands.

And lastly, make sure to see my guides to making moka and understanding what happens when it is done brewing.

Alessi Stovetop Espresso Makers

Alessi Stovetop Espresso Makers
Alessi has been making fine household metal products since the 20’s and has roots with Alfonso Bialetti, the original inventor of the traditional moka pot.

Alessi has a wide array of stylish moka pots made of both Aluminum and stainless steel. This gives their product line greater versatility and broad appeal.

The Alessi brand carries greater style and generally more durable products that other brand and they tend to be a bit higher in price. Their quality however is top of the line. They are yet another highly regarded Italian brand.

You can see their in-production stovetop espresso makers below.

Alessi Moka Pot model names include:

Alessi Moka
9090 by Richard Sapper
Alessi Pina
Alessi La Cupola
Alessi La Conica
Richard Sapper Stainless Steel

Also, make sure to see this page where we’ve featured the best stovetop espresso pots from all makers in one place.

And Lastly, make sure to see my guides to making moka and understanding what happens when it is done brewing.

Stovetop Espresso Maker Reviews

People shopping for stovetop espresso makers are faced with a couple of main questions right off the bat.

Should you buy an aluminum pot or a stainless steel pot?

Should you buy an inexpensive model or one of the best stovetop espresso makers on the market?

Other main questions have to do with size. Moka pots make a specific amount of espresso each time you use them. You don’t ever make a small pot or a large pot. This means you need to take use into consideration. Should you get as espresso pot that makes a few cups at a time to minimize waste or should you get a large stovetop espresso pot so that you can serve everyone at once?

I can’t pretend to believe that any one stove top espresso maker is perfect for everyone but I can help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of popular moka makers so that you can make better decisions. See below for my reviews of top stovetop espresso makers.

Reviews to follow in the near future. Check back for updates!

In the mean time make sure to see my guides to making moka and understanding what happens when it is done brewing.

Bialetti Stovetop Espresso Makers

Bialetti Stovetop Espresso MakersBialetti consistently makes the best espresso makers on the market today. They have been making them for generations and are the premier Italian stove top espresso maker brand in the world.

These days Bialetti has a number of high quality moka pots on the market. Below you’ll find links to the major in production models.

bialetti moka expressThe Bialetti Moka Express – This is the most common Moka pot of them all. From all the brands and all the models there are more of these sold and used every day than any other.

The moka Express is made in many different sizes. You can get a 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 12, and 18-cup versions of this and the gaskets and filter screens are super easy to find replacements for too.

The Moka Express is a traditional Aluminum body moka pot and it carries the traditional design.

It’s price is very affordable but you do pay a little more for these than you would for a similar mokas pot from lesser known brands. Primula moka pots for instance are very similar to the Moka Express and they are priced lower.

Within the Bialetti line however the Moka Express is just one of a few options. The other models Bialetti makes are listed below.

For direct comparisons make sure to click the links in this article because the Moka Express isn’t going to be for everyone… just most people. 🙂

Bialetti Venus
Bialetti Musa
Bialetti Brikka
Bialetti Easy Cafe
Bialetti Moka Crem

You can click through to see any of these in closer detail above or simply see our short list of the best stovetop espresso makers for sale right here.

Lastly, make sure to see my guides to making moka and understanding what happens when it is done brewing.

How To Brew Espresso Without A Machine

How To Brew Espresso Without A MachineDid you know that you can easily and affordably brew espresso at home even if you don’t have a big expensive espresso maker or machine? It’s so simple and cheap and most coffee drinkers haven’t even heard about the technique before.

It’s called a Moka pot. It’s the way Italians have been making espresso for generations and all it takes is a small aluminum pot (or stainless steel) that can be purchased for $10-$60 on average.

I got mine for around $25 and it consistently makes espresso that tastes just as good or better than that of my local coffee kiosk. If I head over to my local coffee roaster they’ve got more talented hands in the helm and better equipment too. Their espresso is really the only stuff I find tastier than what I make of my kitchen stove.

The crazy thing is that using a stovetop espresso maker takes not talent at all. So long as you have access to quality beans that are fresh and grind it somewhat fine you can have top shelf espresso in about 4-6 minutes depending on how high heat you brew your espresso with.

I tend to brew mine with really low heat and have waited up to 10 minutes for my stovetop espresso but by jacking the heat up a bit it’s easy to get your morning cup in about 4 minutes without burning the stuff.

As with anything on a stove you can’t program it or set it up and walk away but so long as you are willing to make that sacrifice this is the best way to do it other than shelling out $1000 or more on a quality espresso machine.

You can see my big list of stovetop espresso makers below to see what they all look like and which one’s are better than others.

Check out this post to learn more about how they work, this post to learn how to use one properly, and this post to learn how they finish brewing.