No, it’s not the same thing although a moka pot and a percolator both make make very strong cups of coffee both do it in very different ways.
For instance, a moka pot uses a small amount of pressurized water flowing through fine coffee grind to create a potent cup of stovetop espresso.
The brewing process of moka doesn’t generate as much pressure as a true espresso machine but the final product is very similar for a fraction of the price.
Here is an example of a traditional and best selling moka pot.
Almost all moka pots look similar to this because they have the same internal funnel that brews coffee. There may be some style differences and some made from alternative materials like stainless steel but generally they are all the same except for build quality.
How a Moka Pot Works Compared to a Percolator
In a moka pot (stovetop espresso maker) the water is pressurized by steam building up in the lower chamber. As steam forms the liquid water is forced up the device through the grounds cup where it is then squeezed into another small upside down funnel leading to the upper chamber.
As the pressurized steam and water pass through the grind in the middle a very rich coffee is produced. It is so potent it is dosed in sizes akin to espresso and it tastes similar as well.
The only main difference between moka and espresso is the body moka has and the lack of crema.
On the other hand a good coffee percolator like this one also brews a potent cup of coffee but this is generally due to the high heat and lengthy steeping process.
Ironically the percolator is the only other major coffee maker than uses an internal funnel or “straw” to “move water around”.
A stovetop espresso maker funnels hot water through the grind as it rises whereas a percolator funnels the rising water to the top before dropping it down over the grind as it falls back to the bottom. If you think it’s hard to know when a moka pot is finished then you have obviously never used a percolator before!
Steeping of the grind in a percolator may not be the perfect term either however.
A percolator boils water in the bottom chamber of the pot. The steam rises to the top condenses and then falls back through the grind producing coffee on the bottom of the pot. In some ways it’s kind of like a drip coffee maker except the water continuously circulates through the process over and over until a much stronger coffee is produced.
During this process the coffee on the bottom of the pot starts out very weak and slowly strengthens as the coffee “percolates”. The longer you brew coffee in a percolator the stronger it gets.
Of course this means you can easily manipulate the taste of your coffee in a percolator just be adjusting the brew time.
Short brew times make a lighter coffee while longer times produce a much stronger flavor that some people like a lot.
Is Stovetop Espresso Better then Percolator Coffee?
Many people find the flavor of percolator coffee to be much to harsh, bitter, and burnt although some others prefer it.
There is no doubt the percolator creates far more aromatics than alternative forms of coffee making and for that reason many people have find memories attached tot he use of percolators as the nose is well known to jog memory.
The coffee produced from a percolator is potent for different reasons than it is for a Moka pot.
In the coffee snob world almost no coffee (or espresso) drinker would opt for a percolator over a moka pot but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing – it’s just different.
Moka is basically a more precise method for making super strong coffee.
Assuming you don’t leave it on the burner too long or brew it over too high of heat the stovetop espresso will usually be a preferred beverage because it never seems over done despite it’s extreme strength.
I would not call it better however, instead I would call it more versatile.
You could take freshly brewed moka and add hot water to it and call it an Americano. Most people wouldn’t bat an eye at that. Add your milk and froth and you can make any number of espresso based drinks and hardly anyone would be able to tell the difference.
You could also drink it like I do most of the time.
I brew a 3-cup moka pot and pour all of it into one coffee mug and drink it black… like the strongest cup of coffee possible. Basically you can mix it up and drink moka just about anyway you like.
It’s not better… but I sure to do prefer it.
To summarize – You would use the espresso from a moka pot to drink in small quantities or to mix with water, milk, and other ingredients to make specialty coffee drinks.
The Percolator would simply be used as straight coffee much like the coffee produced by a basic drip coffee maker.
If you are thinking about getting a moka pot I would wholeheartedly endorse the purchase. They are worth owning and they can be used just as easily over an open fire as they can be used in the kitchen. You can always go for the standard Bialetti moka pots but there are some cheaper models too from companies like Primula and others.
Moka Pot Alternatives
We’ve already covered the main differences between a moka pot and a percolator but there are a few other brewing methods that are solid alternatives to using a stovetop espresso pot.
The most obvious method to compare moka to is real espresso from a traditional espresso machine. In fact I have an entire article dedicated to the comparison of moka to espresso here which you can read… but to summarize that article I’ll say that everything you can use espresso for you can also substitute in moka coffee in it’s place.
You will lose the crema and some of the deeper fruit-notes in the coffee that can only be extracted in a highly pressurized espresso machine but especially in espresso drinks it is extremely hard to tell the difference in flavor.
Another common alternative to using a moka pot is a french press. It’s another way to increase the quality of your coffee over drip coffee maker but for a fraction of the cost of buying a fancy espresso maker.
French press coffee will not taste nearly as strong as moka coffee and it won’t be the base for espresso drinks but it is a great way to get unfiltered coffee into your routine. Just like a moka pot french press coffee will have more body and texture than drip coffee and you will get the oils too.
Here is my full article dissecting the differences between stovetop espresso and french press coffee.
How Big of a Moka Pot Should You Buy
If you are considering buying a moka pot to make stovetop espresso at home then I would recommend you buy a bigger one. I find myself using at least a 6-cup moka pot almost every time because I like to pour a bigger cup and drink it black. I also tend to make moka for two people at a time meaning the 6-cup is usually the one I reach for.
In the home having a larger model is helpful because after dinner espresso is commonly served in our home… especially when we have guests. We’ve got a good selection of large moka pots reviewed right here for you to look at.
Now, if you go camping or RVing frequently – or if you like to top off your espresso with water or milk a smaller model would be best. Not only are they cheaper but they are easier to store when not in use.
When camping I usually bring a 3-cup or even a 1-cup moka pot. They brew much faster and I can easily top off my moka shots with water to make full cups over a camp fire. Here are a few of our favorite small stovetop espresso makers for you to review.