Tuesday, December 22, 2015


A few weeks ago, I thought to myself, "Should I work on a new holiday gift guide?" My answer was resounding "Nah" (as resounding as a "nah" can be), because I thought the 2014 holiday gift guide covered pretty much everything, especially with the suggestion of a labor-free staycation for mothers that I hope Mr Bee is considering.

Then I remembered there's a product so pretty, so Italian, so dear to me, and so reasonably priced that I have to recommend it to you for this holiday season. I'm talking about the caffettiera, or moka pot, the wonderful contraption that gives you a wonderful, strong coffee in minutes right from your stovetop. Coffee made with a moka pot is similar to espresso in its dosage (roughly) and instantaneous kick, and it is served in an espresso cup, sometimes with one or two teaspoons of sugar and/or a dash of milk. I believe every Italian household owns a few moka pots in various sizes, and drinks moka coffee first thing in the morning, after lunch, and with friends when they drop in for a visit.

There are many beautiful moka designs from different brands, but my favorite is the aluminum Bialetti pot patented in 1933 by Alfonso Bialetti and carrying the classic logo of the "little guy with a mustache" that you can see on the right. (Now that I think about it, they could have found a more inventive name for an Italian mascot.)

Here is everything you need to know about your moka pot once you decide to gift it or in case you become a lucky giftee. Read on.


You can find Bialetti pots online and at many Italian specialty stores. For a beginner, I'd recommend to start small with a 1- or 3-cup moka pot (around $25 for the latter) and a packet of replacement gaskets ($3.80 on Amazon). I'd also recommend enriching your gift with a bag of ground coffee, ideally from Lavazza or Illy moka or espresso ground (but once you get addicted, Café Bustelo at CVS purchased at dawn will also do). If you're dealing with a coffee lover, I would visit your local coffee roaster and ask for a dark or medium roast ground a little finer than drip coffee but a little coarser than espresso. And in case you're dealing with someone very special, you could gift a set of espresso cups, too.


A moka pot needs to be thoroughly cleaned before it can produce proper coffee. Wash the three main parts (see diagram below) with warm water ONLY, then run the pot with only water for 3-4 times to remove any protective residue. I know you don't know how to use it yet, but I guess you'll have to read the entire post.


1. Fill the bottom container with filtered water up to the internal valve.

2. Insert the funnel and fill it with ground coffee. You can make a small pyramid here, but in any case, NEVER press the coffee. Remove any ground coffee on the filter rim.

3. Screw on the top container. No need to apply a ton of strength here, but do a decent job so your coffee doesn't come out from the sides.

4. Place the moka on a low heat until the coffee emerges and fills the top container. If you're in another room, you'll be alerted by your moka's happy gurgling. DO NOT leave the coffee boiling any longer: It will taste burnt and awful, and you run the risk of ruining the gasket.

5. Pour your coffee, doctor with sugar and/or milk (or sambuca, or grappa) if this is what you're into, and drink.


Maintenance for a moka pot is very easy. Wash the three main parts of the moka pot after each use with warm water, never with soap or detergent. You can use a stiff plastic brush to remove stubborn residue. Leave the parts to dry on a rack. Done!

Every six months, or whenever necessary, disassemble the moka and wash each part thoroughly making sure the filter is clean and the gasket is clean AND still soft. Run water through the moka chimney and make sure the valve is clean. If the small metal piece sticking out from the valve doesn't pop in when pressed, it means that there's coffee residue that needs to be cleaned. To remove limescale buildup, fill the bottom container with water and a little vinegar or lemon juice and let it boil for 10 minutes or more.

Replace gasket and filter as necessary, usually when they have become irreparably dirty, hard, or when coffee starts to sputter or comes out in only in part.

To read a poignant reflection on the diverging attitudes towards coffee for Italians and Americans, read Slow Food/Fast Coffee.


  1. The only thing I'd add is to pre-boil the water before adding. As this makes the infusion happen quicker without spoiling the water.

    1. Yes, that works, and many people recommend it. I will need to create a guide for coffee purists, but first I need to become one myself (that would also involve scratching the CVS coffee suggestion). Thank you!

  2. I'm a pre-boiler myself. Well noted on the tamping of coffee; it took me a little while to figure out that I shouldn't pack in the coffee...only exploded a few gaskets. Not a recommended way to start your day.