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Make Mine Moka!


As a teenager, I never understood it's appeal. My father's dependence on it first thing in the morning seemed at odds with my flower child persona I was indulging at the time. I learned to like coffee on my first trip to Amsterdam. I reinvented myself as a sophisticated European mistakenly born in California and good coffee with a cheese toast in cafes over the canals affected me deeply. Then I went to Italy and my indulgence became a happy habit.


For me, coffee means Italy. Obviously a good barista in a bar is what it's all about but at home, I keep coming back to the stovetop Moka. I believe I bought my first one in about 1980 and have mostly stuck with the instructions given by Marcella Hazan in her seminal The Classic Italian Cookbook (now best enjoyed as The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.)

The trend now seems to be for lighter, less bold coffee but I'm in the Italian and French roast camp and so far nothing has inspired me to change sides. I have been reading a lot about different techniques lately and I have read numerous times to preheat the water before adding it to the water chamber. I have trouble wrapping my head around this concept. From start to finish, this is a quick process. For the record, I will now document my morning routine.

I'm going to state the obvious just in case this is all new to you. I mean no offense but I've heard some doozy stories over the years.

Start by filling the bottom chamber with fresh water up to the point of the escape valve. Don't go over. Have the water just meet the bottom.


Now add the filter that holds the coffee. You want a finer grind but not as fine as espresso. At my local coffee merchant, I have to ask them to grind it at "5". At one particularly particular place, they insist on knowing what my technique will be. If I say Moka or stovetop espresso, they always seem to grind it too fine and this seems to clog up the works and not all the liquid comes out and sooner than later I have to replace the rubber rings.

Following Marcella's advice, I gently fill it up with coffee, one very small spoonful at a time. There's a gentle mound when I'm finished. You screw the top on but it's very important that you place it from directly above the pot. It's easy to kind of slide it in from the side and take out the mound and make a mess of things. Top down. Screw into place.


Now I have always closed the lid, added medium heat and then waited for the noises that let me know we are done. Marcella suggests that as soon as the coffee starts coming out of the spout, you turn the heat down to very low. I do this if I'm thinking about it but after all these years, I'm just happy to have coffee in the morning without a lot of fuss. I have been reading that you should make the coffee with the lid open as the closed lid can create diluting steam. All of my Mokas seem to be fine with this but I have had models in the past that sputtered so much that it would make a mess. I can't really tell any difference but I do enjoy the view of the coffee streaming out that I've adopted it at home.

Once you hear the noise, you cut the heat and wait for gurgling to end.


Meanwhile, I have a trusty $16 milk frother. You fill it about a quarter full of milk and very low heat at the same time you're making the coffee and the timing is perfect. I add some of the hot milk to the mug with some sugar and mix. This probably isn't needed but I think it keeps the coffee warmer, longer. Romans say, Life is too bitter not to take sugar with your coffee. I, of course, use our piloncillo. Then I add the contents of the Moka.


Finally I froth the milk and add it to the mug. In Italy, this would be three servings. I'm not in Italy and I'm rather needy so the whole pot works for me.


If you don't want to invest in the milk frother, you can whisk the hot milk or you can just heat up some milk in a pan and call it a day. Cold milk will chill the drink too much and the flavor is better if the milk is slightly scalded.

A new pot is a sad thing. It take about 2 weeks to really be fabulous. Such is life. Once suggestion I read on the internet is to reuse the coffee grounds and keep making pots until you're happy.

I went through a period where I loved the idea of big mugs of drip coffee (which oddly, I prefer black with no sugar) but I found myself too wired and getting dependent on the brew. I tried the French press and it wasn't for me. I did once dip my toes into the countertop espresso maker pool but it was so expensive, fussy and for me, inconsistent that when it broke about a year after I got it, I wasn't sorry to return to the Moka.

I have no idea but I have about 6 different pots. I love their vintage look and the more you use them, the better they look and taste. The pot in the photos is an Alessi and it's very beautiful and after about two weeks, it's making good coffee.

One more piece of advice is to buy several gasket rings and maybe even a spare filter when you buy your pot. They do wear out after awhile and you'll have the devil of a time trying to remember what size you have.

And just for laughs, so you can put life among the foodies here in the Bay Area in context:

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