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.


I should’ve listened to my mom

Disasters, Living Abroad, Roma

Last week I made the mistake of forgetting my wallet in a foreign country and in that moment, I recalled my mom’s wise words of always keeping emergency cash on me.

As I transition into real adulthood, I’ve come to the realization that my mom really is wonderful. So why is it always so hard for me to (begrudgingly) acknowledge when my mom is right?

When I left for college three and a half years ago, my mom told me to always have cash stashed away somewhere, just in case of an emergency. And every time I visit home, she always reminds me of this very thing.

So on the advice of those wiser than me, please make sure to:

  1. Have emergency cash tucked away somewhere in your purse, jacket, shoe, anything.

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    Mom, I should’ve listened to you earlier. Emergency cash is a must.

  2.  Check that you have enough cash before ordering. Or check if the place takes card. – Natalie Kennedy, blogger of An American In Rome

Many places in Italy are cash only and you really don’t want to be in the situation I was in. Gif created by HenryK788 on Imgur..

Let me be clear. Liz and I were not trying to dine-and-dash. I don’t know if it was the exhaustion, forgetfulness, or both, but we somehow both managed to forget our wallets on that fateful Wednesday. So here we were, sitting outside at a corner table of a café in Monti, unable to pay a €6 bill.


Our coffees that totaled out to 6 euro

Liz nervously laughed at our unfortunate predicament. I was terrified of what would happen to us. Would we have to wash dishes in the back? There wasn’t enough time for us to go back to our apartments and come back to Monti to pay our bill before class.

The older Italian woman with the red hair stood behind the register, menacingly communicating to us in Italian. She did not speak English and we had no clue what she was saying. She pointed to my phone and I proceeded to hand it over. Her intent was to keep my phone until we came back with the money, preventing us dining and dashing.

A few days later, I was sitting at a different café, Er Baretto. I asked George Eskindar, the waiter, about situations like these. “How do you know if they [the customers] are lying?

“From the eyes. The eyes say everything.”

Luckily for us, the other waiters talked the red haired woman into letting us go. They were extremely kind and told us not to worry about it. To this day, I still wonder if it was the terror in our eyes or our distressed demeanor that softened their hearts to let us go.

Nonetheless, I have managed to learn from this horrifying experience. After talking to expert traveler Natalie, I’ve come up with a checklist of what to always carry with you.

Before you leave the house, please double-check that you have:

1. Cash and/or a bank card

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I know it’s rare to carry cash on ourselves back in the States, but it’s crucial to have cash here in Europe

2. Various forms of ID

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This means a passport or passport copy, your license and/or student ID (being a student comes in handy in many places,) and your approved documentation that states you’re legally allowed to be here.


3. Your keys

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“Locksmiths are ridiculously expensive. I mean, 300 euro to come on a weekend? The one time this happened to me, I waited around until Monday to pay just 50 euro. I also never forgot my keys again.” – Natalie

4. Your phone


Self-explanatory really. I can’t even count the number of times where I absolutely needed to get in contact with my parents and they didn’t have their phones on them.

5. A metro/bus pass

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Because minimal walking. Also please make sure to have the receipt for the bus pass with you.

Now that you have this list and the wisdom of the more experienced, go forth and hope that you don’t repeat my mistake. Remember to actually apply your mom’s advice to your life and give her a call soon. I know I’ll be calling mine this weekend.