Moka Pot - A Crema MONSTER. Wait What??

Coffee preparation techniques besides espresso like pourover.

#1: Post by cari66ean »

Preface 1: This is my first post here. So hello there! To move on, I am not sure "Tips and Techniques" is the right category to post in, as I'm not even sure yet where this will be going. Is it a rant? Is it a cry for help? Whatever it ends up being, there is going to be some info on how I use my Bialetti Brikka moka pot, which is contradicting pretty much all the information found on moka pot usage you generally find on the internet. What I get this way is a creamy, full-bodied, sweet but pleasantly acidic ristretto/espresso like shot with heaps of crema.

Preface 2: Wait, so why a rant? Well, I bought manual espresso machine (and I might actually follow up with a review on it, because it is actually a cool device). But me starting a thread about a damn old moka pot a week after getting a new espresso machine explains a lot. Don't get me wrong, I'm getting decent espresso shots by now. But they are not better than what I'm getting from the Brikka. And I doubt they will ever be. Maybe on par some day. I hope.

So I'd like to start with the result of my Bialetti Brikka brew. Sorry for the crappy video:

Maybe I haven't searched enough but it looks vastly different to what I've usually seen being produced on a Brikka. Which isn't very surprising because if I apply all the usual settings, I'm getting less crema and a worse taste as well. So here is how I am using the Brikka with explanations where necessary:
  • This is the 2 cup Brikka and I'm using around 14-15g of coffee in, nothing special here. This method works on the 4 cup Brikka as well, however I don't know the exact dose needed at the moment.
  • I'm using a fairly good grinder which certainly makes a huge difference (Malwani Livi with 83mm Mazzer conical burrs) with a rather fine setting but it ends up a bit coarser than for espresso. Much coarser and the coffee starts getting thinner, more acidic and with less crema. Much finer and I'm choking the Brikka. In fact sometimes I'm dialing in the Brikka by grinding just a tad coarser as to make it choke.
  • I'm actually tamping the coffee. Yes. I do so and roughly as hard as I do on espresso at that. Yes, I've heard people saying not to do so as the moka pot will explode. But seriously, people argue that when tamping the water can't get through the puck, because the pot cannot produce high enough pressures to do so. So it will then blow up. Wait what? Which one is it now? That it can't produce high enough pressures to get water through the tamped puck or that it creates high enough pressures to explode a screwed together aluminum pot? Rest assured that I had no explosions happening so far and that I haven't been able to even get the valve to let out steam. On the other hand the question would arise as to why do it in the first place? The moka pot works by pushing water from the bottom through the puck. In fact the moka pot actually "tamps" the coffee lightly by itself by pushing the coffee up towards the shower screen. So why tamp the puck down then? Well to tell you the truth I have no definitive answer to that. Maybe it simply offers more resistance and thus more pressure build-up during the infusion phase than it could do by its own "tamping". Maybe the water pressure pushes the tamped/compressed puck up towards the shower screen right away. Whatever really happens in there, the result speaks for itself. After you finish brewing and discard the puck it is similar to an espresso puck - compressed, dry and flies out of the filter as a whole.
  • I fill water up to quite a bit below the marker. On the 2 cup Brikka the marker indicates around 80g of water. I fill it up with around 50g. I've seen this recommendation to underfill 1mm or 2mm under the line quite often actually. I've reduced this even further. The reason is simple: With more water you get a) more over-extraction causing that typical more burnt/bitter moka taste and b) causing even more over-extraction due to the longer brew time and c) causing EVEN more over-extraction by the longer brew time also increasing water temperature along the way. I cannot stress the importance of this enough, as it has such a huge impact. Now if your beans are more acidic or harder to extract you may actually wish to push the water level up by 5 or maybe even 10g, but still stay far away from the 80g if you want a sweet tasting coffee and not a more burnt and bitter one.
  • While I'm on the topic of water level and I've been talking about coffee in and tamping already as well: What I said above is actually only half true. I noticed that when I actually overfill the basket and tamp it (though I don't know exactly how many grams of coffee I used when trying this but I guess around 18g) I could indeed also use more water without over-extracting the coffee. Therefore 14-15g coffee in, 50g water in is one possibility. 18g coffee in... maybe 70g water in another one? I did get similar results with obviously more coffee out. So feel free to experiment.
  • I prefer cold tap water. Yes... not warm, not hot, not boiling as some recommend but cold. Many have the misconception that the hotter the water, the quicker it will boil and thus speed up the process and not over-extract the coffee. The idea is sound, however it is actually the steam creating pressure and pushing up the water into the coffee. Therefore the water doesn't even have to reach boiling temperature to create steam and thus pressure. Now I assume if you want to actually increase your extraction, you could indeed use room temperature or even warm water. The same goes for temperature of the end product. If you'd like your coffee hotter, do indeed use a little warmer water, but be aware of the possible over-extraction if you do so.
  • Another brain twister: crank the heat on the stove up to the max! I honestly don't understand why many recommend low to medium heat. Well actually I do, because many fear that higher heat will heat up the water more, thus the coffee will over-extract and taste burnt and bitter. But the opposite is true... the hotter you turn the stove, the more steam and thus pressure will be created quicker, resulting in faster brew times with actually cooler temperatures. But once again: if you actually intend to extend your brew time, increase temperature and thus extract more coffee, feel free to lower the heat a little. Much lower heat however will increase the brew time and temperature considerably and thus produce over-extracted, bitter coffee with little to no crema. This all however doesn't matter for a gas stove. There you just set the flame so it covers the bottom of the pot. Having the flames go around the pot is probably not productive.
  • When the coffee starts gushing out of the Brikka wait for a few more seconds, then lift it off the heat. This is nothing new, but also don't take it off too early or you'll not be getting out all the coffee/crema you could as the pressure to push it out may subside too early. Then however, don't pour the coffee right away but continue to hold the pot in your hand and listen for the bubbling/fizzing sound. It will continue producing crema until the fizzing slowly subsides and then your shot is going to be ready. If the fizzing suddenly stops mid-way through (which indicates a bit too fine of a grind), give it a gentle shake to re-open the valve and continue doing so when it happens until the fizzing slowly subsides completely. For me this ends up producing a shot of around 25g. So essentially 14-15g coffee in, 50g water into the tank, ~25g out. Something like ~18g coffee in, ~60-70g water into the tank, ~30g out should also work, as mentioned above but requires overfilling the basket and makes filling and tamping a bit more messy.
People often say that the product of a moka pot is - obviously - a moka and not a a real espresso. A subpar experience maybe even. But yet here I sit, being a little disappointed in my new manual espresso machine, trying to replicate a similar experience with it and me giving you my procedure for a creamy, full-bodied, sweet shot with heaps of crema out of a cheap moka pot. Sure it's bubbly "fake" crema... but look at it. It's so creamy, it's hard to even pour out sometimes.

And before I forget, this is not even freshly roasted coffee either and it's pure Arabica as well. Here a pic of the same exact coffee being extracted on the espresso machine:

Edit: this all may have sounded a bit crema-chasing. It is impressive for a moka pot and I'd say even for the Brikka. But I know it works rather similar to a pressurized filter basket to produce crema. While it's cool nonetheless, it really is the taste that's absolutely magical about this thing when done "right" and I should've emphasized this more throughout the post. I don't remember ever having such sweet, chocolaty and aromatic espresso or ristretto in "normal" cafes ever before. That's why I was hoping I'd get something better from a decent espresso machine and using good techniques and equipment. But every time I'm getting a good result and I'm pulling a Brikka shot for comparison I'm once again blown away.
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#2: Post by big_mack »

I watched the video and had to stop there. while watching it I felt an uncontrollable urge to head to the mens room and release my bowels. Looks like a drink that will cure constipation. :lol:

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#3: Post by Firemission »

cari66ean wrote:it is actually the steam creating pressure and pushing up the water into the coffee
Basically, a Moka pot is just a metal pressured "Vacuum/siphon" coffee maker. It based on the same idea of one. The pressure difference forces water up(along with steam) through the coffee basket.
In other words:
Most of the Crema being formed is from the steam that is whipping with the oils/lipids of the coffee.

As for the tamping of the coffee basket/funnel:
Most people advise against it for two main reasons: The Moka pot is rated at 1 to 2 bar and people don't want to be sued for "negligent advice" even if it isn't actually a problem.

In my opinion (and feel free to disagree)
Technically tamping isn't a problem...The problem comes from (what I suspect) the water draw time. You used cold water which allowed for more time for the coffee to go through at a colder temperature for longer and thus not over-extracting as much(it may even be under-extracted in the beginning). As time goes on, however, two things tend to happen: channeling occurs(due to the high-pressure steam that is pushing up over time), and burning coffee(as the water gets hotter). Luckily, the Moka pot baskets aren't IMS/VST baskets!

If anything it might be a little under-extracted.

I'll put my coffee where my mouth is and give it a shot as you described, I do not personality have high hopes for the taste and although I don't particularly like the taste of crema much, but hey, don't knock it till you try it I guess.

If this is how you like to drink your Moka pot shot, who am I to tell you any different?

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#4: Post by TomC »

Great first post! And welcome to HB Jules!

All the moka pot brewing discussions tend to happen in our Brewing sub-forum, so I'll move it there.


#5: Post by jpender »

That video is kind of like the last few seconds of a magic trick, where a rabbit comes out of a hat. It would be more convincing to see the whole brew process, unedited. Is it real? I've never seen crema look so sticky like that from an espresso machine, never mind from a Brikka. It will greatly surprise me if anyone can replicate it. I'd love to see that.

I regularly used a Brikka for five years and despite a lot of experimentation never got the big crema thing to happen. I like a little crema both for the visual appeal and the counterpoint of bitterness to the (hopefully) sweet liquid underneath. But a whole cup full of meringue wouldn't please me. It seems weird to me to focus on that. It's almost Napoleonic. Why can't it just be moka?

What I loved about my Brikka was that it was so forgiving, so reliable a way to make a little cup of strong, tasty coffee. It's design results in an improved temperature profile as compared to a standard moka pot. I virtually never had overheated/burnt coffee from it. That said, the temperature profile is quite different from any espresso machine. And it simply isn't designed to achieve very much pressure. The top hat valve is quirky and pops open well below 2 bar; it can release as low as 0.5 bar. If you hold the top hat down to build pressure the safety valve lets loose at about 3 bar. The only way to get into espresso pressure range would be to defeat the safety valve while grinding fine or holding down the top hat -- kind of a dangerous game.

I loved my Brikka. But when I got an espresso machine it was crystal clear on day one what I already knew in my heart. It made me a little sad to put my trusty friend, my little Brikka, away in the cupboard. I've used it since and I still like the coffee it produces. But it mostly sits quietly, gathering dust, on my shelf of unloved coffee toys.

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#6: Post by Firemission »

Update: I tried doing it this morning after my La Pavoni routine as I had leftover coffee. While I didn't have a 2 cup Moka, I did have a Single-cup so I just used about 7-9ish grams of coffee. Followed your Directions and ground a fair bit coarser than my la Pavoni likes to be roughly in line with Moka pots. I tamped it pretty hard and underfilled the chamber as you described with cold water with the hob at full blast.

And promptly waited for a good two minutes before I noticed the steam coming out the top. I thought OK, should be water coming up in about a minute or three. Waited a full 7 minutes after that and I just noped out. I don't want crema that bad.

I waited for my pot to cool down a little before checking out the basket.

Bone Dry. Pretty much completely dry except for the edges which were clearly where the steam steeped out and channeled hardcore. There was a tiny bit of water steeped in the edge.

I figured it could have been three main things: I didn't grind coarse enough and/or I tamped too hard. Or I just did not wait long enough.

Pressure vessels make people nervous for a reason and while my Pavoni is pressured, I can see the pressure in mine. My Pavoni is older and tends to be around 1.4 bar which isn't ideal, but I'm happy with it for the moment.

Braver people might try it but that certainly Isnt me!

While written directions are great and all, maybe film your routine for future reference as a baseline for grind and timing, I think that would aid the experiment better.


#7: Post by bialettibarista »

jpender wrote:I loved my Brikka. But when I got an espresso machine it was crystal clear on day one what I already knew in my heart.
Me too! We still use our Brikkas but they don't compare with even the underestimated Rok. While the video was interesting the coffee looks pretty unappealing. Still, It would be interesting to taste it. Tomorrow will be some new Brikka experiments! Thanks for the post

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#8: Post by jpender »

Firemission wrote:I figured it could have been three main things: I didn't grind coarse enough and/or I tamped too hard. Or I just did not wait long enough.
You can choke a Brikka. Doesn't everybody at some point while experimenting with grind? Keep grinding finer (and/or tamping) and eventually it will choke and air and steam will start coming out the safety valve. At that point you're at around 3 bar and the water is too hot.

Firemission wrote:While written directions are great and all, Maybe film your routine for future reference as a baseline for grind and timing, I think that would aid the experiment better.
That would help, wouldn't it? But you'd still have to experiment with grind.


#9: Post by slow1911s »

I don't remember where I saw it recommended, but I kettle boil my water before putting it into the Moka vessel. You have to use oven gloves to then screw the top on. The idea being that you limit the overall time/heat exposure the grounds are subject to (I believe that's it). I've had better tasking experiences doing that then starting with cold water on the stove.


#10: Post by jpender »

slow1911s wrote:I don't remember where I saw it recommended, but I kettle boil my water before putting it into the Moka vessel. You have to use oven gloves to then screw the top on. The idea being that you limit the overall time/heat exposure the grounds are subject to (I believe that's it).
There is debate about whether hot water is better than cold. And why. There isn't a consensus.

But in any case the Brikka is different than a regular moka pot because of the valve. The flow of water is arrested early in the process and then released later. At least one person who tried this with a Brikka (and made temperature measurements) found that starting with hot water resulted in too high a brew temperature.

All else being equal, starting with off-the-boil water will result in a higher temperature brew because there will be less air in the bottom chamber. But all else needn't necessarily be equal. Clearly some people, like you, get good results this way. It just points out the fact that there are multiple parameters that can be adjusted: grind, heating rate, water quantity, dose, finishing strategy (e.g. arresting the brew early), and starting water temperature. It's possible to compensate for adjusting one by adjusting another.