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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.

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 Clean A Stovetop Espresso Maker

How To Clean A Stovetop Espresso MakerTraditionally the generally accepted method for cleaning a stovetop espresso maker is as simple as rinsing the pot out with warm water right after brewing.

Over time small amounts of residual coffee oils will buildup on the aluminum walls of the pot thereby sealing it. This leaves you with a perfect tasting cup every time free from metallic flavors.

The oils hinder metallic tastes from ever getting into your coffee and the routine use of the pot ensures the buildup of coffee oil is sanitary.

Now, having said that, I understand that periodically these pots get an excessive amount of buildup in them and if you only use your moka pot every now and then then it may be worth while doing a little hand cleaning with a special pad between uses.

When used frequently the oil that seals the aluminum stays fresh and is churned with new oils but if you haven’t used your moka pot in a long time then the oils simply go bad just like any other oil in your kitchen cabinet.

You’ll have to scour the pot clean and then reseal it with a pot or two of throw away coffee.

How to Keep an Aluminum Moka Pot Clean

Most stovetop espresso pots are made from aluminum. Bialetti makes the best selling Moka Express which is made from aluminum.

In fact if you want a stainless steel moka pot you have to look for them specifically – they are not the norm. See this page for some hand selected stainless steel moka pots if you are in the market.

Aluminum is not dishwasher safe and you won’t want to scrub it with abrasive pads either which is why you should only use super fine steel wool or soft scrub pads.

You can get away with more when using stainless steel but even still the best practice is to hand wash only with a cloth – or even the tip of your finger unless your pot is truly disgusting!

If you haven’t ever used your aluminum espresso pot before then the first few uses some of the aluminum will leech out into acidic coffee causing a metallic taste.

The amount of aluminum in your coffee isn’t a health hazard, it just doesn’t taste good.

You might wonder then why they are made from aluminum anyway!

Aluminum conducts heat better, faster, and more evenly than steel so it’s better for making stovetop espresso… you just have to seal the aluminum pores so that your coffee tastes like coffee and not a metal pot.

To do that you never wash the oils off after you make coffee. Just rinse the pot off under cold water and then pat dry with a clean cloth. The water will rinse away the coffee residue but leave behind the oil to slowly seal the metal.

Don’t use soap either! The soap will help slightly with cleaning but will also remove more of the oil that seals the pot!

The only thing that I would take some soap to is the rubber gasket on the inside of the pot. It’s the only part of the device that doesn’t need oil to seal it. Every now and then just peel it off and give it a good washing in the dishwasher, or in a soapy sink basin.

You can use this time to inspect it for damage and reorder replacement gaskets if it is getting too beat up.

When to Scrub Your Moka Pot Clean

I’ve found that when I go for a while without using my espresso pot I like to clean it a little by just rubbing my thumb across it while rinsing it under warm water. This eliminates most of the excess residue that may have been going rancid without stripping it completely. I then sometimes brew an extra pot of moka after the light hand scrubbing for the purpose of throwing it away.

The scrubbing gets rid of the bulk of older oils and the throwaway pot help replace the old oils with new fresh oil. By washing it this way I ensure that I get the perfect taste I’m looking while removing the worst offending grime.

Of course at times your trusty Bialetti may need a complete overhaul. That’s when it makes sense to scrub it down under soapy water and then rough it up with steel wool to get down to clean, unsealed aluminum. Once you get to this point you can then run a pot or two of throwaway coffee to reseal it and essentially start fresh.

This is necessary only every now and then and only if you’ve neglected the pot. If it has corroded due to acidic coffee sitting in it or for some other reason or maybe you forgot to empty the pot and the grind in the filter basket started to mold! Yeah, it happens to the best of us sometimes.

How to Care for a Moka Pot’s Gasket & Filter

As is always the case the preceding only applies to the upper and lower chambers of a moka pot including the filter basket. The gasket however should be cleaned well each time and with both soap and water. The gasket can easily pickup little bits of coffee grind and if not cleaned off the grind can “burn” into place and degrade the rubber faster than heat alone. If you go a few days between use these little bits of left behind coffee stay wet and can even develop mold or other rancid goodies.

If the gasket starts going bad so too does the quality of the moka coffee it makes.

The gasket produces a seal between the upper and lower chambers and if it’s not a perfect seal then pressure is lost resulting in leftover (unused) water and a brew that was created with below standard pressure. In short, the coffee just won’t come out right and you may end up getting little bits of grime in your moka from last week! Not good.

Best Practice

I always remove the gasket after each use and rinse it down well ensuring nothing is left on it for the next pot. Once every few uses I’ll even wash this rubber part down with soapy water. While doing this I give myself a perfect opportunity to rinse the upper filter screen which doesn’t get touched or cleaned as often–although I do not ever use soap on this screen either. The screen can’t be clogged very easily and this periodic rinsing ensures that never happens.

All metal parts should be regularly rinsed but not scrubbed with abrasive brushes or soaps.

Cleaning the moka pot is not hard. It is mostly as simple as disassembling the pot after each use and rinsing everything independently of each other. To this day I’ve never had to use soap on mine and it’s not recommended either… although you could use soap on your moka pot it if you wanted. If you choose to just expect it to negatively affect the taste of the pot for a few uses each time you do so.

What Grind Do You Use With A Stovetop Espresso Maker?

What Grind Do You Use With A Stovetop Espresso MakerI’ve been making stovetop espresso long enough to know the difference between the different grind sizes.

When making regular espresso you need to use a really fine grind but with stovetop espresso the grind needs to be slightly larger.

The smaller the grind the more resistance it has on the steam pressure and the slower it takes to brew. If you use actually espresso sized grind then the resistance can get a little too high resulting in a lengthy brew process and a an extraction that is a little over done.

The vast majority of pre-ground coffee is medium, perfect for a drip coffee maker. Taking these coffee’s out of the picture it’s also easy to fine espresso grind which I think is to fine for a moka pot.

Of all the pre-ground coffee’s I’ve ever tried Levazza is the one that I would best classify as medium-fine. It’s the only one I actually use out of the bag in my moka pot because I just don’t want to use something ground any finer for speed and taste reasons.

Additionally the speed is a concern because when you use a smaller grind size you will be tempted to turn the heat up slightly to get enough pressure built inside the moka pot to push the water through the grind… but there’s another issue that in my opinion is greater.

Fine espresso grind will sometimes push through the screen and rise to the upper chamber with the coffee resulting in a bit of fine grit in your drink, similar to what you’d find in the bottom of your french press coffee.

Moka pots are a lot like French press coffee in that there is always sediment in your cup. Everyone is OK with this until too much gets in the cup. Use a slightly coarser grind size and the moka coffee will be palatable instead of murky. 🙂

How Fine Should The Grind Be?

By increasing the grind size slightly from espresso grind this minimizes the particles that make it to your cup and decreases bitterness that comes from over-extraction. You will still want to use particles that are smaller than you’d use for drip coffee though – I’d label medium fine as best for moka pots.

In fact there are some “top shelf” companies that market moka coffee for sale – most notably Illy has a really awesome preground moka coffee for sale that is just like it’s espresso product but just slightly more coarse.

I’ve experimented with regular drip coffee maker “medium” grind and coarse grind but I’ve consistently found the best results with a medium-fine grind, almost halfway in between that with which you would use in a drip coffee maker and that which you would use in a proper espresso machine. The reason being the final coffee product is supposed to approximate espresso and you need the finer particles to get that level of intensity.

To each his own. You can make perfectly fine moka with almost any grind size but you will see a difference in volume of mud and the flavor depending on the grind size you use.

I recommend starting at medium-fine and then experimenting from there. You’ll soon find your preferred grind size.

What’s the Best Coffee for Stovetop Espresso Makers Then?

stovetop espresso coffee beansSo if you settle on the medium fine (almost espresso grind) then I find it’s best to use any coffee suitable for espresso.

If you buy coffee beans directly from a roastery or in whole bean form online then buy anything roasted for use in an espresso machine and then use your own grinder to grind then to size.

If you don’t have a good grinder already and don’t want to buy pre-ground moka coffee then give serious consideration to buying a really good grinder like this model from Breville. There are better grinders out there for sure but you get diminishing returns as the price climbs.

You should absolutely not be stingy with your wallet however. Inexpensive burr grinders just don’t make very good fine grind. You have to shell out a bit more to get consistent high quality grounds to use in your moka pot.

How to Use Your Italian Coffee Maker to Get Perfect Moka

Now that you have selected the best coffee and grind size for your espresso pot it’s now time to look at the best practices for making moka.

It’s actually pretty easy from this point on to make espresso in an espresso pot like those made by Bialetti, DeLonghi, Primula, Alessi, and other top brands.

  1. First, use filtered water,
  2. next, fill the water to the pressure release valve. Never try to make any less than a full moka pot – it won’t come out right.
  3. brew your coffee over medium-low heat
  4. fill your grounds cup to the top and level it off. Do not tamp down but feel free to lightly press the grounds into the chamber.
  5. Lastly, make sure to remove the completed moke from the heat source immediately upon completion. See this post for more on when moka pots are done brewing.

Final Thoughts to Curb Your Expectations

Is moka coffee as strong as espresso?

Moka coffee grind will get you a final product that is nearly as strong as espresso. Making the switch from medium grind to medium fine will make a big difference. If you lightly pack the grind holder then that will help increase the resistance on water flow resulting in a stronger brew. Also brewing your moka over lower heat will also result in slightly stronger coffee because the water will pass through the grind just a little bit slower.

Overall nothing you do will replicate true espresso but the steps taken to “try” to replicate true espresso will give you the best moka possible.

You will also find that stovetop espresso will always have a slightly grittier texture than espresso made in a pump machine. The texture will remind you a bit of French press coffee but shouldn’t be so extreme. In some cases if your grind gets too small then you’ll get too much sediment in your cup resulting in coffee that’s not as strong as espresso but more bitter. That is something you want to avoid.

Lastly, to make good moka you need to use good equipment. Make sure you use one of the top moka pots on the market – we have reviewed our favorite stovetop espresso makers here – and always check your gaskets for failure. Gaskets are a cheap and easy fix and part of regular maintenance of your device.

What are the Best Alternatives to Stovetop Espresso?

As I’ve said repeatedly I love stovetop moka but it’s not the only brewing method I like. There is definitely a place for drip coffee – I use mine mostly for brewing large batches for parties or house guests. There is also however a place for French press coffee too.

French press coffee as you probably know is an alternative to drip coffee in that it is not espresso and is served in normal sized coffee cups. As a fan of stovetop espresso I like it because it gives me a way to drink coffee in larger portions but it still gives me that unfiltered taste that is to be expected in moka and pump espresso.

If you want to read more about this I’ve got a few articles where I compare moka to many of the common alternatives. Click through to read about:

One final note – are you using a Bialetti moka pot?

Are you using an aluminum moka pot instead of a stainless steel version?

If so there are probably a few maintenance and cleaning tips you need to know – you’ve probably been doing it all wrong! Click here to find out what you need to know!