I get my espresso fix in one of two ways ordinarily. The stovetop espresso maker in my kitchen and the machine espresso maker at my coffee shop down the street.
For a while I considered buying an inexpensive steam driven espresso machine for my home coffee bar but I figured it would be best to wait until I could afford a good pump machine because the quality can be much better if you know what you are doing.
I didn’t use that reasoning however when I was decided to buy a stovetop espresso maker and here’s why.
A stovetop maker (frequently called a moka pot) is not really espresso. It’s similar but not exact.
Espresso is finely ground coffee beans saturated with water under high amounts of pressure. It is brewed extremely fast and as a result produces a very rich liquid full of aromatics, oils, and plenty of crema. The espresso tends to have a bit less caffeine per serving than other forms of coffee due to the super short brewing process too.
Although stovetop espresso is similar it is different in that the pressure created in the moka pot is nowhere near as high as even steam machines. The best moka pots achieve pressure in the vicinity of 2-bar compared to most high end pump machines which pulls shots in the 16-bar zone.
Lower end steam machines even blow moka pots out of the water. The lower end machines pulling between 7 to 10-bar greatly outperform the pressure created in a moka pot.
In a moka pot if can take a few minutes just to generate enough steam pressure to get the coffee to erupt out of the top into the final chamber.
What’s the difference then?
The brewing process is a bit longer so the grind can’t be quite as fine. This results in less surface area coming in contact with water and less oil and aromatic extraction. The lower pressure results in less crema and in most cases none at all.
Although the stovetop espresso maker does produce extremely potent and rich coffee it’s not really espresso at all.
One can hardly call it fake however. Italians have been famous for their espresso for generations however most of their espresso is actually made in moka pots pushing only 2-bar.
Personally when I head down to my local coffee shop and ask for an espresso I tend to find it a bit brighter. This is likely due to the faster brew, higher acidity, and more greater aromatics. Having said that though we’re talking about comparing a great beverage to an amazing beverage. And where does French press coffee fit into the “best” lineup? Who knows. I love it just as much. You can see my comparison between stovetop and French press here for more on that.
For the home I can’t even think of a reason not to have a moka pot on hand. They are so inexpensive and the better models are built very tough; many pots will easily last a decade or more… not to mention the fact that they don’t have moving parts and are so simple anyone can make great coffee with little to no experience in the slightest bit.
For me I love true espresso but I’m still perfectly fine with running down the street to grab a shot whenever the mood strikes. They are far more expensive to have in the home and the learning curve to make good espresso is a lot higher.