When in Italy, use a moka express

How To, Living Abroad, Roma, Study Abroad

The morning after my arrival in Rome I found myself staring at this small metal object thinking to myself, what is this contraption and how do I use it?

That contraption turned out to be a stovetop coffee maker called a Moka Express. Although originally created and patented by Alfonso Bialetti in 1933, it was actually his son Renato Bialetti who mass-produced and marketed the Moka Express coffee pots to a success.


Bialetti Moka Express coffeemakers in the Campo de’ Fiori

Renato Bialetti recently passed away at 93 on February 11, 2016 in Switzerland. His funeral was held in Bialetti’s hometown of Montebuglio, Italy. According to The Telegraph, “His three grown-up children – Alfonso, Antonella and Alessandra – decided to honour his life’s work by placing their father’s ashes in a giant version of the coffee pot.”  Strange, but oddly fitting right?

The giant Moka Express that contained Bialetti’s ashes was then placed in the family tomb in the neighboring town of Omegna.

His father, Alfonso Bialetti, designed the Moka Express to be an aluminum, octagonal-shaped coffee maker that consists of three main parts. The bottom part is used for the water to boil. The middle part is the strainer for coffee grounds to be placed in. The top section is where the coffee flows into after enough pressure has built up to push the water through the coffee grounds and into the top.

I stared blankly at this eight-sided hunk of metal for a solid two minutes in my groggy, still-trying-to-wake-up state. After unscrewing and examining the different pieces, I realized that preparing the coffee was actually quite simple.

So without further ado, here’s how to make your coffee using your Bialetti Moka Express.

Step 1) Make sure you actually have a Moka Express. If you don’t, go out and find one or order one here. Coffee grounds are also important to have.

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Step 2) Unscrew the top section from the bottom. You should end up with 3 parts.

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Step 3) Fill the bottom with water up to the line or just slightly below.

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Step 4) Place the strainer (the middle part,) into the pot you just filled with water. If you see water leak through the holes into the strainer, you have too much water.

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Step 5) Fill the strainer all the way up with your coffee grounds, but don’t pack it down. (You can also alternatively switch steps 4 and 5 and fill the strainer up with coffee first before placing it into the pot.)

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Step 6) Screw the top section on all the way and place the Moka Express onto the stovetop. Turn the stove on to medium-to-low heat. (You don’t want the coffee to burn or boil over!) Wait until the coffee starts to bubble up to the top and give it another 1 or 2 minutes. (You should be able to hear it.)

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Step 7) Pour your coffee out into a cup and voila! Milk and/or sugar are optional.

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Renato Bialetti took over the Bialetti company in 1947. According to The Local, Renato “launched a huge marketing campaign, renting billboards in major Italian cities and became a mascot for the brand, printing a caricature of himself ordering a coffee on each pot.” Moka Express pots can now be seen in most households within Italy and are sold worldwide.

Gaia Coltorti, 24, is an intern at the University of Washington Rome Center who shares the same coffee habits as me. I’ve been using my Bialetti Moka Express every morning and I asked her how often she uses hers. “Almost every day, every morning,” Gaia stated.


You can get a Moka Express in a variety of colors and sizes

I came across Masin Bathan, a vendor who sells a variety of Bialetti products in the Campo de’ Fiori. When asked how long he has been selling these products for, Masin told me, “a very long time.”

In my apartment, I only have the one cup Moka Express. “One and two cup is the most popular,” Masin said.

The coffeemakers are made up to a 12 cup serving size. Sometimes I think I could use a larger one because the “cups” are really just espressos and honestly, that’s just not enough for me. You can call me a basic American girl but I’m not ashamed to admit that I miss my grande vanilla lattes.

Bialetti claimed that the Moka Express allowed anyone to make “in casa un espresso come al bar,” or, an “espresso in the home just like one in the bar.”

Here’s to Renato Bialetti, who changed the world of modern coffee-making in the Italian household. May he rest in peace.