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America’s most underrated espresso maker

July 20, 2014

IMG_3542So, my new friend Marisa, who, along with her husband, owns Sapori, an award-winning Italian restaurant in Collingswood, came over yesterday to teach me how to make the perfect cup of espresso. Well, sort of.

I had been researching espresso makers since my return from Spain and France, determined to improve my morning (and now late afternoon) coffee experience (addiction). I had spent hours on Whole Lotta Love, reviewing coffee makers, cringing from sticker shock at how much a so-called “good” automatic espresso maker goes for. The Gazzia Academia, for example, retails for a little over $1,600.00, and despite the fact that it can do everything–steam milk, grind the beans, make tea, I couldn’t imagine shelling out that kind of cash, even for my addiction.

And so, when I reached out to Marisa, expecting that she would recommend some high end thousand dollar espresso maker, I was in pleasant disbelief when she told me, Go out and get the Bialetti stove top Moka express.  Really? 

But I already had one. And what’s more, when I tried to make coffee in it last year during a storm when we lost electricity, it was horrible. I had stored it away with the camping equipment and thought nothing more of it.

Apparently, I was doing it all wrong. And while the Moka express doesn’t make actual espresso (quality is slightly different because you’re not exactly brewing the coffee), it comes closer than you’d expect AND you can achieve espresso-quality coffee for the cost of about $25 bucks. So, here’s how Marisa taught me to use it…


  1. First off, I had bought a very big 12-cup pot (although Marisa says it’s more like 16 cups, as you never want to serve anything bigger than an ounce or two “shot.”) So, if you want to make espresso every morning, buy the 3 or the 2-4 cup pots, which are very tiny.
  2. Do a dry run (or a wet one, rather). Separate top from bottom by unscrewing it. Fill the bottom of the pot with water, up to the bottom of the little hole you see on the inside wall of the pot (the valve). Boil just water and then dump.
  3. Cool the pot down by running it under cold water and then pat dry. Separate top from bottom again.
  4. Again, fill bottom of pot with water to fill line–actually, there is no “line.” You just want to fill it to right below the valve). You can never make less than the recommended pot size, so that is why it’s essential to get a small pot if only you and a friend might be having a coffee.
  5. In the coffee grounds cup (the one with little holes in it) use a little demi-tasse spoon to fill the cup to a heap. Do not tamp down.  Simply fill until it is heaped in the cup (not level to the cup but has a rounded mound of grounds). Be sure to use coffee ground specifically for espresso or in between an espresso grind and a regular coffee grind. Lavazza or Illy make a great espresso ground or whole-bean coffee. 
  6. Screw the top back on tightly and place on your burner.
  7. Try to avoid putting the burner too high. While you want your coffee to percolate up into the top portion of the pot, you don’t want it to boil too rapidly. That will change the taste.
  8. Feel free to open the lid (quickly, so nothing splashes out) to check its progress. You’re  done brewing the coffee once nothing more comes out of the top spout.
  9. Serve an espresso “shot” in a small espresso cup. Two-ounce espresso cups are the perfect size. Anything bigger doesn’t really look or feel right. And feel free to add warmed milk or water to lighten it up a bit. A little sugar might be nice too.
  10. Taste the pure joy! Depending on what coffee you choose that will determine the taste, but the rich espresso strength and boldness comes from the process of the what this little pot can do!

For a video blog on making great coffee with a Moka express watch the Moveable Chef.

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