Bialetti Moka Express
This moka pot—which, of the four models we tested, comes closest to Alfonso Bialetti’s original design—has a classic look, is dead humble to utilize, and steeps coffee as rich and flavorful as that of any model we tested.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $36.
Like a lot of the moka pots we tested, the Moka Express is modest yet effective, lightweight yet sturdy, affordable yet stylish. It’s uncomplicated to use, unlike traditional espresso coffee machines (which require some practice and know-how and cost hundreds of dollars or more). It’s also forgiving; other than leaving it on the stovetop too long and burning your coffee, there are very few ways to mess up. The flavor of the drink it produces is richer than the impacts from most of the other moka pots we tested, and much more so than coffee from a Press pot or a filter coffee maker. And with the sleepy-lidded eyes of l’Omino con i baffi staring at you from the side of the pot, you’re always keenly aware that you’re using a time-tested piece of Italian gadgetry.
Even though some of the people who might have once used a Moka Express to brew their morning coffee are eschewing it for newer innovations—such as the plastic-tube AeroPress, which can make a similarly bold caffeinated drink with more clarity—Blue Bottle’s Jessie Washburn says it provides a ritualistic simplicity and nostalgia that are unmatched by other coffee makers.
“Early on in my coffee life, it was my first regular brewing tool. I felt downright cosmopolitan leaving the plug-in coffee maker of my youth behind,” Washburn says, recalling how her grandparents would work with a Moka Express to make post-lunch pots of coffee in their tiny New York City kitchen. “The coffee would gurgle and hiss as my grandmother warmed a little milk for herself. My grandfather would take his black, with a splash of boiling water to open up the flavors and stretch the coffee.”
Outside of Europe, moka pots are especially popular in Cuban communities for creating café cubano—a hot, sweet consume brewed by whisking sugar into the first few drops of coffee before adding the rest of the pot. Lourdes Castro, a Cuban-American nutritionist and director of New York University’s Food Lab, says everyone in Cuba has a moka pot at home—though they call it a cafetera—and it’s the majority of commonly the classic Moka Express.
“If you go into someone’s kitchen to make coffee and they don’t have the silver-and-black one, you might think they don’t learn what they’re doing,” she says. And it’s not literally for a morning cup of joe—café cubano is an all-day affair.
“In the morning, you can mix it with some milk, and that will make it café con leche. And then in the afternoon, you can have it after lunch, and definitely again around three or four—coffee hour,” says Castro, adding that it’s also regular for some Cubans to ingest a thimble-sized cup on the hour every hour.
In my own kitchen in St. Louis, I conducted a taste test with four 6-cup moka pots: my Bialetti Moka Express, the Alessi Moka, the Grosche Milano Red, and the stainless steel Ilsa Turbo Express. Dozens of variations are available—from IKEA’s Scandinavian spin on the classic moka pot to the MoMA Design Store’s cute and colorful Cocca Moka to innumerable knockoffs on Amazon—but we concluded that the four models we chose represented the range of options well.
Over about a week, I made 16 pots of coffee for my taste test. I crafted café con leche with each moka pot using Café Bustelo, piloncillo (a compact cone of brown sugar), and whole milk. I also made black coffee with Intelligentsia Black Cat Classic Espresso beans, Intelligentsia House Blend coffee beans, and Starbucks House Blend coffee beans in each one—using the Baratza Encore to grind the beans, the Escali Primo digital scale to weigh them, and the Bonavita BV382510V 1-liter gooseneck electric kettle to heat up the water (you don’t have to pre-boil the water, however I think doing so produces better effects, as I explain below). I also timed how long each pot took to brew 20 grams of grounds from start to finish. For each round of testing, I had my boyfriend pour about an ounce of coffee from each moka pot into teacups so that I could compare them blind.
I am by no suggests a coffee expert (as I said, I basically started guzzling it regularly in the past year), however I did find some obvious differences between the pots’ makes. The Bialetti Moka Express performed the perfect overall, producing a smooth, full-bodied flavor profile—chocolatey, smoky, and basically a bit acidic—compared with the rest of the bunch. The Alessi Moka’s brews were a bit more acidic and mildly less rich, nevertheless they were otherwise almost indistinguishable from the Bialetti’s. Impacts from the stainless steel Ilsa Turbo Express were drinkable, if somewhat hollow and flat, and makes from the Grosche Milano Red were the worst—watery and flavorless.
The Bialetti pot that I’ve had for years—which my boyfriend and now I have put through some serious wear and tear—seems mostly infallible. Other than a hairline crack on the hinge (which is a worry point if you try to screw the top on one-handed, as I have), it hasn’t sustained any major damage. The cast-aluminum pieces fit together smoothly and are fairly easy to clean. When the pot is not in use, it fits into my mid-century modern decor as a piece of functional art.
This article firstly appeared here.