Per day, early afternoon, Louie Chiaino looks forward to his caffeinated drink. He makes it himself from a one-cup moka pot; he savours the ritual of mounding the coffee, adding literally the right amount of water, and waiting for it to brew: “The journey is the destination.”
Moka pots, or stovetop espresso coffee makers, work by forcing steam-pressurized boiling water although ground coffee (more extensively known as espresso). The moka pot was invented by an Italian engineer, Alfonso Bialetti, in the early ’30s, and it’s named after Mocha, a city in Yemen. Italians embraced this cool coffee maker, and now in Italy, every household has a moka pot or two, and Italians who emigrated to Canada brought them along with them.
For Chiaino, his passion for mokas is tied to memories, the ritual and the esthetic. He started collecting moka pots about 12 years ago. He had three or four at home, his mom gave him a few of hers and his neighbour was selling a bunch of them for five bucks apiece, so he bought them all.
“I started accumulating them and then, well, it turned into a collection,” he says, a collection going 200-strong. Chiaino has accumulated all types of different ones brewed with different materials too – everything from the original aluminum ones to pretty ceramic ones, which became popular in the ’70s.
But in his vast collection, he does have a favourite: La Signora. Named for its rounded edges, it reminds him of Sophia Loren. And he’s not alone in this love, either. A few years ago, Nigella Lawson posted a image of this particular pot on Instagram, with the caption, “La Signora – the most beautiful coffee maker…”
So, why moka pots?
“I collect them because it’s a way to reminisce about the best memories of my life,” says Chiaino. For him, the mokas are interwined with consuming espressos with his family and friends, and the a number of visits to Italy over the years, living there for a few months at a time.
As a young man, he loved nothing more than going to the bustling city of Naples, sitting around a kitchen table for an afternoon with his older cousins, talking and listening to their stories, always with a coffee cup in hand. Chiaino is still trying to capture flavours of the magical elixir he enjoyed in espresso cups in Italy.
“And I’ve been chasing them all my life…. I’m unsure if it was basically the ambience that I’m looking for or the flavour or both,” he says. However the experience was all centred around the romance of the coffee pot, he adds.
Things are different now, of course. True, you can just push a button for a great-tasting cup of java, but, Chiaino says the flavour has become homogenized. In a moka pot, every coffee cup aromas slightly different, depending on the pot, the coffee, the water and even the country it’s brewed in. Sometimes his parents would just buy the coffee that was on sale, or mix and match different ones. It was about the experience, and you would get used to the different flavours in different packages of coffee, he says.
Today, you have high-end companies like Alessi, for instance, designing these pots, and you can pay hundreds of dollars for the iconic coffee maker. “They’re fine design and industrial art,” says Chiaino.
“My love for these moka pots began with these excellent memories, then it kind of morphed into this world of the arts, and I’m a big fan of visual arts,” he says. “It’s a natural extension of my enjoy affair with these moka pots.”
Want to see more? Follow Chiaino at @louie_the_mokaman
This article firstly appeared here.