Renato Bialetti, the the inventor of the Moka, the iconic Italian coffee maker, passed away on February 11th at the age of 93 in Ascona. His father Alonso started the business in 1933, with Renato taking over in 1946. Renato's desire was to make the Moka "the" ultimate coffee maker in the whole world--not just Italy. He started by designing a logo of Omino coi Baffi (Little Man with a Mustache), imprinted on each and every Moka manufactured. Of course, as all Italians know, the man with the mustache was none other than Renato himself.
In 1933, babbo Alfonso designed the first aluminum stovetop espresso coffee maker. Still today, it has a decidedly Art Deco, mechanical design which suited the turbulent times of change that rocked Italy at the time. This coffee machine, The Moka Express, would find itself in 90% of all Italian homes--forever changing the culture of Italian coffee. This little coffee pot changed the fabric of Italian society and culture...
Before the Moka, coffee (typically, espresso) was generally consumed in public coffee bars. These bars sold the vast majority of all coffee consumed in Italy. They were also places of political talk and revolution. But, public coffee bars were typically a place only for men... their home away from home. Once women got their hands on the Moka, they too could have their cup of espresso and discuss worldly affairs with their neighbors and friends. The Moka could be seen as helping women in their emancipation.
Nowadays, virtually every household in Italy has at least one Moka pot, but when we voyaged through Italy, we noticed that people seem to have more than one--Even Lisa now has three... a large Papa Moka, Moma Moka and a tiny baby Moka. She loves the flavor she gets out of them, even though I think they are a bit of a pain to keep clean.
How to Use a Moka
First, unscrew and separate the upper pot from the bottom. Fill the boiler (the bottom compartment of the pot) with water almost up to the safety release valve. Next, insert the funnel shaped metal filter and add fine ground coffee. The finer the ground, the more authentic the espresso taste... but you might have some fine grounds at the bottom of your cup. Lisa suggests experimenting with different brands and grinds to decide which gives you the best flavor. Lisa prefers Cafe Verona from Starbucks.
After adding coffee grounds, tightly screw the upper part onto the base. Then place the pot on a small burner on medium flame. If you use a large burner, you'll overheat or melt the handle. The water is brought up to a boil with steam created and sent from the boiler up through the funnel. The steam eventually reaches a high enough pressure to gradually force the surrounding boiling water up the funnel through the coffee powder and into the upper chamber, where the coffee is collected.
Here's the important part... knowing when the espresso is finished. When the lower chamber is almost empty, bubbles and steam combine and make a characteristic gurgling noise. This "strombolian phase" (name for the famous Sicilian volcano) allows a mixture of superheated steam and water to pass through the coffee, which leads to bitter, overdone espresso. So don't leave your Moka alone and stop the brewing as soon as you hear this gurgling.
Moka pots include a pressure release valve in case the filter area gets clogged--a rare occurrence, as long as you keep your pot clean. require periodic replacement of the rubber seal and the filters, and a check that the safety release valve is not blocked.
You might want to consider one accessory for your Moka pot to help with an awkward gas cooktop grate design that might not create a solid base when you put your pot on top. Here is a link to a 5 inch Ilsa Gas Ring Reducer for around $9 on Amazon. You place this over the existing grate and creates a stable platform that won't let your Moka tip over. And if you ever do need parts (handle, filter, rubber gaskets, etc.) Amazon carries just about everything you need to keep your Moka running up to par.