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.
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.