This time-tried and venerable brewing style has become part of the morning routine of millions of coffee lovers around the world. The moka pot or stovetop coffee maker is relatively straight-forward to use, easy to clean, and most importantly able to produce a very strong and enjoyable cup of coffee.
The durability and general hardiness of these coffee makers also makes them perhaps the brewing method of choice among hikers and travellers. This article will first walk through the distinctives of this brewing method before reviewing what we believe to be the five best stovetop coffee makers.
What Sets Apart The Moka Pot?
The Moka pot is really the younger brother of espresso in both brewing method and flavour profile. In fact when it was first created in Italy by Alfonso Bialetti in 1933 it was marketed as “an espresso in the home just like one in the bar.”
Like an espresso machine a stovetop coffee maker uses pressure to force the water through the coffee grinds. As water is heated up in the bottom chamber it produces steam which in turn provides the pressure to push the water through the coffee grinds in the filter basket. This extracts the flavour from the grinds and then pours the brewed coffee into the top chamber. However, where an espresso machine ideally uses 9 bars of pressure, a stovetop only uses 1.5 bars.
Taste and Texture
Because Stovetops use pressure to extract the coffee it produces a flavour that is very concentrated and espresso-ish. Because of the smaller amount of pressure used, a moka pot can’t truly produce espresso or the rich layer of crema which sets espresso apart. However, the flavour profile is that same strong and heavy shot of coffee and if brewed correctly can even achieve a little bit of crema.
What many people have come to love about this brewing method is that it does just produce a very strong mug of coffee that is richer and heavier than some other methods like pour over. It is also able to brew dark roasted beans and a more bitter brew than some other methods which many coffee lovers appreciate. All this makes for a great way to start that cold winter morning with strong coffee at minimal effort!
Ease of Use
This leads to another real advantage of Moka Pots; while there is a learning curve involved it is relatively easy to produce a delicious and consistent cup of coffee. The steps for brewing, while taking time to perfect, are as simple as filling the bottom chamber with pre-boiled water, adding the filter basket with ground coffee, constructing the moka pot, and then placing it over a low heat until the coffee has finished brewing.
The biggest factor in producing the perfect brew is not technique (ie tamp pressure in espresso or pouring technique in pour over), but tweaking the water to coffee ratio and the other parameters such as brew time and fineness of the grind. All this makes it a very user friendly brewing method which can produce very consistent and enjoyable results (which may be the reason that reportedly more than 90% of Italian homes own one of these brewers!).
Here is a really helpful video on brewing Moka Pot with James Hoffman- one of our favourite coffee commentators!
Moka Pot Reviews
The Bialetti Moka Express is the father of moka pots and its unique octagonal shape was designed by Alfonso Bialetti in 1933! This Italian company (Bialetti) has without a doubt the greatest market share of moka pots in the world and this particular model is their signature model, convinced yet? And the Moka Express is more than just a pretty face…
These coffee makers are made of high quality aluminium in Italy (which really does count for something!) and retain the classic octagonal shape as this allows for optimal heat distribution. Because they are made of aluminium they tend to brew quicker than stainless steel resulting in a great cup of brew in a short length of time. And this model has a good track record for precisely that, a great cup of brew which highlights everything that the moka pot is known and loved for.
It is worth noting however, as many customers have found the hard way, that heating too hot or too long can damage this model as can putting it through the dishwasher. The model also comes in various sizes and colours although most people go for the 6 cup model (which is really 1-2 cups). Finally it really is just cheap as chips for the quality you get, quality that has been almost a century in the making!
The Venus is effectively the modernized and ‘elegant’ version of the Moka express. Where the aesthetic appeal of the Moka Express was in its rugged design, the Venus is all about refined elegance and soft curves. This model from Bialetti shares in an excellent capacity for high quality coffee as well as some great new features. These features include a high-quality stainless steel body, the ability to be used on any stovetop (including induction!), an insulated handle, and a wide bottom for stability.
The Venus comes in both 4 and 6 cup sizes (which is really 1 or 2 cups), is highly durable, and is simply beautiful. This is a great option for those who love the idea of the Moka Express but are put off by some of its limitations. Or simply those who love good coffee, love quality, and love elegance!
Speaking of elegance, the Cuisinox Roma is like the queen of elegance and of just about everything for that matter! This is what could be classified as a high end moka pot or stovetop coffee maker. And you would jolly well hope so at almost twice the price of the Venus!
The Roma is all about unquestionable quality and elegance to take your stovetop experience to the next level. Like the Venus it is made of high quality stainless steel, and the makers are so sure of its quality that it comes with a 25-year warranty! If that doesn’t convince you of quality then I don’t know what will. It has an induction base which means it can be used on every type of stovetop, and is ideally suited for brewing large batches of coffee with 4, 6, and 10 cup sizes available. We also feel that the mirror-like finish on this Moka Pot does just simply look beautiful. This is the sort of coffee maker that you invest in for the long term knowing that it may well be the last coffee maker you will ever need.
The De’Longhi Alicia is a bit of an exception on this list as the only electric stovetop coffee maker. This makes it ideal for settings like travelling where there is no access to stovetops. All you need for a cup of brew with this model is a plug and you are away laughing. While many traditionalists may find this very concept offensive it does actually come with some great advantages. Perhaps the biggest of these is that it is the only model on this list that you can walk away from, do some errands or read that article, and come back without fear of bitter over-extracted coffee everywhere. The Alicia has an automatic shutoff when the coffee is brewed and will even keep your brew hot for up to 30 minutes after brewing time. This is a great option for those who love this brewing style but also love convenience.
However, while many users have bought and loved this coffee maker, there have also been some recurring criticisms. The top chamber where the brewed coffee comes out is made of plastic which while fun to watch the coffee is an inferior material and many customers have felt negatively impacts the flavour of the coffee. Also because it is an electric appliance there are simply more things that can go wrong or malfunction.
In many ways it feels like we have started with Italy of the past (Bialetti) and finished with Italy of the future. In fact Alessi intentionally designed this futuristic looking coffee maker as a ‘moka pot for the new millennium’ and they certainly met their brief! As well as looking frankly incredible (thanks to professional designer Michele De Lucchi), the internal shape of the Pulcina was researched extensively to optimize brewing capacity. The biggest aspect of this optimization is that the Pulcina automatically stops filtering the coffee at the right moment, helping to decrease the possibility of over-extraction. Basically as well as looking utterly sophisticated it has the potential to make a very high quality coffee.
The Pulcina is made of Aluminium and takes its name from the spout which looks similar to a chick’s beak (chick’s beak in Italian is pulcino). This is a great Moka Pot for the highly cultured who love good coffee or those who love pushing the boundaries of traditional brewing styles.
What To Look For In A Moka Pot?
While we believe any of the above stovetop coffee makers could be a worthwhile investment, it can be hard to know which is the right one for you. So here are a few considerations to help you make the choice.
Aluminium vs Stainless Steel
One of the earliest decisions you will have to make is whether to go for a stainless steel or aluminium make. The long and the short of it is that aluminium heats more quickly and tends to be cheaper, but requires more maintenance, is more likely to rust, and is less durable. Stainless steel makes for a heavier Moka Pot that, if made of high quality stainless steel, should last a lifetime and arguably brews better coffee.
However, the more important consideration is the quality and origin of a given material. For example, Aluminum from Italy tends to be very high quality and better than cheap stainless steel from an unknown brand. So stainless steel is probably the better material but consequently will cost you more. Also high quality aluminium really isn’t a cop out but can still make the highest quality of coffee. If you do decide to go with Aluminium it is vital that after hand-washing your brewer you dry it extensively as left over water can lead to rust.
Will it work on your Stovetop?
Another incredibly important consideration is what type of stovetop you are intending to brew your coffee on. I can think of nothing more frustration that getting a shiny new coffee maker only to discover that it won’t work on your stovetop! If you will be using gas then you will basically be fine with any Moka Pot, but if you use electric or especially induction you will have to look carefully at which are compatible. The Bialetti Venus and the Cuisinox Roma are our recommendations for those cooking on induction cooktops.
How many cups of coffee can it make?
One of the classic mistakes buyers often make when purchasing Moka Pots is to mistake the advertised cup sizes for normal cup sizes. For example the most common Bialetti Moka Express is the 6 Cup model, but 6 cups sounds huge right? Wrong. The six cups is based on espresso shots and so is approximately a quarter the size of a normal coffee cup. This means that a 6 cup model will typically make 1-2 cups of coffee.
The sizes of Moka Pots tend to come in multiples of 3 such as 1 cup, 3 cup, 6 cup, 9, cup, and 12 cup (depending on the model). So think carefully about where and when you will be intending to use this. Is this going to be part of your morning routine just for you? Or will you be brewing for the whole family? And do you want to use it when those guests pop around? It is frustrating to have to make multiple brews back on back so choose carefully. However, there is something to be said for erring on the smaller size as these brew quicker and so, some think, have better extraction.
FInally, as with anything coffee we believe it is important to buy a moka pot that you can come to love. So buy one that you love the look of whether that is the rugged beauty of the Moka Express, the elegant beauty of the Roma, or the futuristic beauty of the Pulcina. Buy a Moka Pot (dependent on price of course) that you can be proud to showcase.
We hope we have persuaded you that buying any one of these Moka Pots is an investment into your coffee future. Our recommendation is that we believe the Bialetti Moka Express is the single best model to go for. It has almost a century long track record of quality, is made of high quality aluminium, comes with an attractive price tag, and most importantly brews a great cup of coffee.
Alternatively if you are looking to spend a little more or will be brewing on an induction cooktop then we recommend either the Cuisinox Roma or Alessi Pulcina as excellent high end options that can brew on any stovetop.