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.

FullSizeRender (13)

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

FullSizeRender (8)

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

FullSizeRender (9)

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.

FullSizeRender (10)

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.)

FullSizeRender (11)

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.)

FullSizeRender (12)

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

FullSizeRender (6)

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.


I just want to breathe in fresh air

Living Abroad, Roma, Study Abroad, Travel

Having fresh air to breathe was never something I fully appreciated until I was trapped in the corner of a plastic box full of cigarette smoke.

One of the most distinctive differences between Italy and the United States is the abundance of smoking here. Italy has recently implemented some new smoking laws, but I haven’t seen any immediate behavioral changes.

According to ISTAT, the number of smokers in Italy for 2013 was 21.1 for every 100 people, aged 14 and older. That’s about 12,624,130 smokers in a population of 59.83 million.

My eyes felt dry and heavy. My hair and clothes were absorbing the smoke. I was choking on the polluted air and I actually thought that asphyxiation was a possibility. There I was, sitting in the corner of the plastic covered outdoor seating of Blanc Caffé in the town of La Spezia.

The raindrops couldn’t be heard over the blasting pop music, but I could see the rain pouring down onto the ground just outside the clear plastic. My companions and I still had 2.5 more hours until our train departure. There was nowhere for us to go.

I have never had a huge problem with breathing in small amounts of cigarette smoke. Most of the time when I’m just passing by a smoker, it doesn’t bother me. But being stuck in a small enclosed space with at least half of the customers lighting up their cigarettes and essentially creating a hot box made me realize that I was not okay with this.

Most of the customers looked young; it seemed like this café was a popular after school hang out spot. In Italy, there is no minimum smoking age, but it is illegal for tobacco to be sold to anyone under 18. Prior to 2013, the age limit was 16.

Albert Hessler, a man I met on the night of the Superbowl at Scholar’s Lounge has lived his life in both Italy and the States. He started smoking at age 16 and continued to smoke for 10 years. He had quit smoking for 4 months but started up again recently “for social reasons mainly.” Albert is 26 now.

“I think you should be 21 to smoke,” Albert said.

I asked him why he thought that.

“Because it’s a very dangerous choice and 18 isn’t old enough,” said Albert.

New smoking laws for Italy came into effect three weeks ago on Feb 2, 2016. These new laws come with some sizable fines. If you get caught grounding a cigarette, that’ll be €300. It’ll cost you €650 if you get caught smoking in a car with children or pregnant women and another €500 for smoking around a hospital. So unless you’re made of cash, don’t do it.

But if you’re interested in the new laws, here is a comprehensive list that The Local has created for your viewing pleasure.

Will these new laws really change anything? I don’t know. I’ve seen at least a dozen people within the past few days toss their cigarette butts onto the ground and one of them could not have been older than 15.


8 cigarette remains on the ground. Photo courtesy of Jennifer McGinty. You can check out her blog here

Albert’s girlfriend, Ilaria Nucci, is a 26-year-old Italian native who first moved to Rome to attend university. Ilaria estimated that the average age to start smoking cigarettes is 16.

I asked her about why she thought kids started to smoke at such an early age. “To be cool. Peer pressure,” Ilaria said.

30 minutes after leaving the café, I was still able to pat down my jacket sleeves and visibly watch the cigarette smoke float up into the air. I’m looking forward breathing in some crisp, clean air.