Like all caffeine hungry people, my search for the best coffee machine has been a long one. When Freud spoke about the ‘paradox of choice’ I have no doubt that he was talking about this very thing. The eternal question of how to make a good coffee from the comfort of your own kitchen without compromising on taste, price or usability remained a tough nut (or bean) to crack. So when a friend bought me a Bialetti Moka Pot a few years back I was, admittedly, sceptical but ready to give anything a try.
Based on the original Moka Express model created in Italy in 1933, the Bialetti is strictly
speaking a percolator although is seen as closer to an espresso maker because of the strength of the coffee it makes. Its three components include a thick-bottomed ‘water reservoir’ which sits on the heat, a ‘filter’ which holds the ground coffee and draws the water upwards and the ‘coffee basket’ where, after 4-5 minutes , the finished product comes flowing forth. This hob-top machine works with electric or gas and preferably in combination with a Bialetti diffuser which ensures even heating and prevents tarnishing of your pot.
A Design Classic
Owning a Bialetti has much to recommend it. Its well-made, strong frame means it runs rings around the competition in terms of longevity and durability (much to the consternation of my inferior brand owning friends). Multiple London moves, numerous camping trips and not just a few kitchen incidents later and my Bialetti is still going strong.
It is also simple, straightforward and quick to use. First fill the reservoir with water to just below the valve, add your favourite grind to the filter then screw the coffee basket on top before placing on a gentle heat. It’s low maintenance (simply remove coffee and rinse), very low investment (RRP around £20) and is infinitely portable (nothing like a fire-side brew).
It Packs A Punch
But most importantly, and after a few practice runs, it produces a rich, dark, strong flavour which is utterly customisable depending on your chosen roast and bean. My Italian friend still delights in his morning ritual of preparing his Moka pot and manually piecing the components together, then waiting for the first scent of the coffee to come.
However the Bialetti, like all coffee machines, does have its dark side too. Its flavour can be unpredictable and sometimes downright unpalatable. At it’s worst the Moka Pot produces bitter, metallic tasting coffee that makes you wonder why you didn’t just trump for the instant (heaven forbid). The reason for this is usually down to using too thick a grind in the filter, tamping down the coffee too tightly so the holes are blocked and most importantly heating the pot too quickly so all the water evaporates before boiling point has been reached.
But with a little experimentation when making your coffee it is possible to improve results. Grinding the bean more finely (or choosing a different coffee), tamping it down gently in the filter and removing the pot at just the right moment (you’ll soon learn when) will all help to produce a more consistent and smoother cup.
If you had to choose…
So how does the Bialetti compare to other coffee machines both in its class and otherwise? Well this is of course a question of taste and expense. The French Press is a close neighbour which is similarly low cost and low maintenance (filter papers aside), however for espresso drinkers looking for that strong flavour the higher water content of the cafetiere will not compete favourably with the Moka pot.
Then there’s the auto-drip option which I have in my time enjoyed many a good coffee from. Against these machines the Moka pot, understandably, does less well. The Cuisinart Grind and Brew filter and auto-drip coffee maker is a great all-rounder producing a freshly ground, full-bodied cup with the option to choose the strength (something you miss on the Bialetti) and cup size (up to 12). Its thermal plate also ensures that leftovers are kept warm for hours.
The Low-Fi Choice
But when counter space and budgets are tight, the filter papers have been left unordered and the grinder uncleaned and blocked, the footloose and fancy-free Bialetti is still on my shelf waiting morning after morning to deliver the low-fi hit I need.
Review by Claire Moran